Former Swimmer Jane Sclafani Paints Mural In Honor Of Benny Atkinson
Glen “Benny” Atkinson, a longtime swim coach in town, continued to be instrumental in the success of swimmers at Newtown High School years after his death in 2010. Youth he coached with the Torpedoes went on to have successful, in some instances record-setting, careers at NHS. Now, a new mural on the wall behind the pool bleachers helps keep the memory of Mr Atkinson alive.
One of his former swimmers and a family friend, Jane Sclafani, painted the mural — depicting a swimmer diving into the water, with two other swimmers and water ripples — over the course of several weeks prior to the start of this fall season.
“It felt so good. I was so happy to do it for him — I was so honored,” Ms Sclafani said. “It was really fun. It was nice to do it for Benny because I knew him so well.
“My siblings and I have always called him Uncle Benny,” Ms Sclafani added. “Until he passed, he really was like another parent, and his daughters have always been like my sisters. I showed them all my initial sketch and then the mural when it was done; they approved! The whole process was really personal and important to me because of what an amazing person he was and how much he meant to so many people, myself included.”
Ms Sclafani said Mr Atkinson went back a long way with her family. Her mom, Kate Geerer, went to grade school with Mr Atkinson.
“He was a great coach,” said Ms Sclafani, who swam with each of Mr Atkinson’s four children during her swim career, which continued until her graduation in 2013.
She went on to help coach the Torpedoes for a few seasons and now teaches special education at Children’s Academy in New York City.
Ms Sclafani has always enjoyed painting and was commissioned by the Glenn R. Benny Atkinson Memorial Scholarship Fund board to create the mural. It came together when Debi Modzelewski, assistant to the athletic director at NHS, got a call from one of Mr Atkinson’s friends, Habby Farah, looking to do something to honor Mr Atkinson. Ms Modzelewski had the idea for a mural, and Maureen Maher, NHS girls’ tennis coach — neighbor and friend of the Sclafanis and whose husband, Jay Maher, is part of the board — suggested Ms Sclafani do the artwork.
“He loved people, and he loved swimming. This was a perfect place for it,” Mr Farah said.
“He’ll be remembered forever — as long as this pool is in existence,” said Lyn Atkinson, Benny’s mom. “He dedicated all of his energy to the Torpedoes. He taught little kids to love swimming.”
Among them were his daughters Emma, Maggie, Ellen, and Abigail. There is a new generation of Atkinson swimmers with Abigail’s daughter, Lucy, recently going in the water at six months of age, Lyn Atkinson said.
“We’re so thankful for all of these guys who put this together,” said Benny’s dad, Ed Atkinson.
The mural brightens up the seating area where parents watch swimmers practice and compete at the pool where Mr Atkinson taught so many young people.
“It enhances what is a special place for the Atkinson family,” Mr Maher said.
“I think this adds color to the pool like Benny added color to everybody,” board member Moe Remitz added.
Fundraising proceeds are used for scholarships for students and contributions to the FAITH Food Pantry. Donations to the Glen Atkinson Memorial Fund for the Food Pantry are accepted at PO Box 3322, Newtown CT 06470.
“It’s something he would have wanted us to do,” said Paul Babbage, chairman of the Atkinson Memorial Fund board.