Gambucci shows what staying can produce

Andy Gambucci came to Colorado Springs in 1949, leaving his hockey-crazy hometown of Eveleth, Minn., to further his education and play sports at Colorado College.

Little did Gambucci know at the time where his career path would lead, both in athletics and the business world.

He certainly excelled at hockey, and Gambucci played on the CC team that won the 1950 NCAA championship. He would go on to play for the Team USA that won a silver medal in the 1952 Winter Olympics.

He wasn’t just a one-sport guy, either. Gambucci starred in football, enough that he broke the legendary Dutch Clark’s single-season CC touchdowns record with 16, and he was a standout centerfielder in baseball.

After finishing at CC, he went to play and coach for a while in Italy, leading teams to European titles, but eventually he came back to Colorado Springs. And for the next 20 years, Gambucci built an entirely different sports reputation as a college hockey official, refereeing countless games at CC and the University of Denver.

All of those accomplishments culminated this week as Gambucci was named to the 2014 class of inductees to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. He’ll go into that highly exclusive group along with just-retired Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies, former Denver Broncos running back Otis Armstrong and quarterback Darian Hagan of the University of Colorado’s 1990 national title team.

That tells you how legitimate Gambucci’s credentials are, and how impressive they still look so many years later.

If Andy Gambucci hadn’t come back to live in Colorado Springs, he might not be enjoying this recognition now.

 But it doesn’t tell the whole story, or why he’s the subject of this column in the Business Journal.

Just as much as his athletic involvements, Gambucci succeeded as a businessman, realizing Colorado Springs was a great place to spend his adult life. He had friends and connections from his college days, and that helped make him a success locally in the insurance business.

He was a top-level executive with Acordia of Colorado until his “retirement” in 1995, continuing as a director for years thereafter. He also gave back to the community, supporting various nonprofits as a donor but also serving many years on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Colorado Springs, among others.

Gambucci will be celebrating his 85th birthday next month, which makes the state honor even more meaningful (the new class will be honored next April).

If he hadn’t stayed in Colorado Springs, though, it’s likely he wouldn’t be enjoying this recognition now. Same for his 2010 induction into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.

But this shouldn’t be such an unusual case. Our city has had Colorado College hockey for 75 years, and CC played football for 127 years before the program was shut down in 2009. Air Force football has been around since the late 1950s, as have other sports at the academy.

Go to many other cities and states around the country, and programs with such long traditions almost always have many ex-players still living nearby. Besides being revered for what they did as athletes, they have parlayed that into business successes, just as Gambucci has done.

But for whatever reasons, there aren’t many others like him in our midst.

We could probably count the former CC hockey players still living in the Springs (and not involved with hockey) on two hands, and most have fared well in their business careers — Dave Delich (and brother Chuck, who played and later coached at Air Force), Bruce Aikens, Curt Christofferson, Marty Wakelyn, Peter Geronazzo, Trevor Pochipinski and Tom Pederson.

Of course, there’s CC head coach Scott Owens and assistant Eric Rud, among a handful of others who’ve stayed in hockey.

There have also been some CC football alumni who have stayed around, but not many.

It’s an untapped resource, reaching beyond just hockey or football. Colorado Springs should have strategies for reaching out more to CC and Air Force (plus UCCS as it develops more) athletes as they near graduation. Sure, the AFA cadets have to serve their commitments, but they might come back, athletes or not (former Council President Scott Hente and current County Commissioner Darryl Glenn are just two examples). As for Colorado College, many of those athletes — men and women — already are achievers and leaders, looking for immediate job opportunities.

While we have them here, we should make them feel wanted, because they could stay (or return when they can) and make Colorado Springs a better place.

This idea simply needs people and support to make it happen. If anybody else sees the potential value in this, I’ll be happy to help organize the group.

And of course, Andy Gambucci could be the honorary chairman.