Recent Immaculate Heart Graduates Honored as Top Athletes at Italian-American Civic Association Event
WATERTOWN — Two members of the Immaculate Heart Central Class of 2023 were honored Wednesday evening as the top graduating athletes and recipients of the Clarence B. “Boots” Gaffney Award. Emily L. Bombard was selected as the women’s recipient and Robert T. O’Connor was named as the men’s honoree this year.
The Italian-American Civic Association established the Gaffney Award in 1980 following his retirement as athletic director to honor his commitment to Immaculate Heart Academy and IHC students. That same year, the Gaffney Award was first presented to the top graduating male and female athletes at Immaculate Heart.
Mr. Gaffney was also a multi-sport coach at Immaculate Heart. The award perpetuates his legacy to local athletics and the greater Watertown community. The honor is awarded to an outstanding male and female graduating student athlete who demonstrates exceptional performance and personal growth. School faculty, the athletic director and designated varsity coaches determine recipients.
The Northern New York Community Foundation was selected to help continue the Gaffney family legacy by administering a charitable fund in perpetuity and raising awareness of the legacy award for students who strive to earn the prestigious honor. The Foundation partners with the Association and IHC to provide a $1,000 scholarship to each Gaffney Award recipient.
A recent Community Foundation challenge grant will build support for the award. The Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 in gifts to the fund, which it stewards on behalf of the Italian-American Civic Association and Immaculate Heart Central. Gifts to help build the Clarence “Boots” Gaffney Award at the Community Foundation may be made securely online at bit.ly/Gaffney-Award, or by mail to: Northern New York Community Foundation, 131 Washington St., Watertown, NY 13601.
“Established in 1939, the Italian-American Civic Association has at the heart of its mission giving back to the community, especially in support of our youth who excel in the classroom and in athletics,” Italian-American Civic Association President James P. Scordo said. “Many past recipients of the Gaffney Award have gone on to be leaders in our community, holding positions as teachers, coaches, attorneys, physicians, engineers, and more, while giving their time and resources to community organizations.”
Mr. Scordo added that this year’s honorees “are exceptional and embody the values that Boots Gaffney strived to instill in the many student athletes he coached and mentored.”
About the recipients
Emily L. Bombard is an accomplished three-sport athlete, competing for four years in varsity soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. She is a multi-year New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Scholar Athlete.
As a varsity soccer player, she was a four-year starter and all-star, a three-year team captain, was named to the All North and All Section 3 teams. On the basketball court, she was a four-year starter and all-star, a three-year team captain, was named to the Section III All-Tournament Team, and earned the Sportsmanship Award. On the lacrosse field, she was a four-year starter and a two-year team captain, all-star and Scholar Athlete. Emily also received the U.S. Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete Award
Off the athletic field, Emily is a top-ranked honor student who graduated as class valedictorian this month with a New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation and Honors. She is a two-year National Honor Society member who participated in numerous extracurricular clubs and activities, including Math League, Whiz Quiz, Yearbook and Prom committees, and the Rotary Interact Club. She also served as a peer tutor, a class officer, Student Council officer, and Backpack Program volunteer.
She will attend Jefferson Community College this fall as a Jefferson-Can Community Scholar where she plans to study psychology. She aspires to work as a school psychologist or in the social work field. Emily is the daughter of Jennifer Delaney Bombard and Lance Bombard, Chaumont.
Robert T. O’Connor is a standout four-sport athlete who competed for four years in varsity soccer and basketball and one year in varsity lacrosse and golf. He is a multi-year New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Scholar Athlete.
As a varsity soccer athlete, he was a four-year starter and one-year team captain, was named Frontier League All-Star Honorable Mention and was a Frontier League Scholar Athlete. On the basketball court, he was a four-year starter, three-year team captain, and a two-time Frontier League All-Star. As a freshman, he played varsity lacrosse and competed in varsity golf as a sophomore.
Off the athletic field, Robert graduated in the top five of his class with a New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation and Honors. He is a two-year National Honor Society member who participated in numerous extracurricular clubs and activities, including Math League, Prom Committee, and IHC Faith Community Service. He also served as a class officer and Student Council officer and was president of his senior class.
He will attend Clarkson University this fall where he plans to study engineering and management. He aspires to work in business management. Robert is the son of Mary and Richard O’Connor, Watertown.
About Clarence B. “Boots” Gaffney
Clarence B. “Boots” Gaffney was a Watertown native who served as a city firefighter for 33 years and retired as a captain in 1970. He was also the athletic director at Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA) and IHC for nearly 40 years before retiring from that role in 1980. He coached football, basketball, and baseball at IHA. His basketball teams captured Northern New York Catholic League titles in 1953, 1954, and 1956.
Mr. Gaffney was a three-sport star at Watertown High School and the Manlius Military Academy. He graduated in 1936 from Clarkson University where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was considered the best New York State small school quarterback and was the leading scorer on his basketball team. Mr. Gaffney was an inaugural inductee of the Clarkson Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
He also played football for the Watertown Red and Black for two seasons and coached them for four years. He was a 1995 inductee in the Red and Black Hall of Fame and a member of the North Country Sports Hall of Fame’s 2016 inaugural class.
Mr. Gaffney’s life and commitment to students aligns with another athletic legacy the Community Foundation stewards — the William I. Graf Award. Mr. Graf was a heralded teacher, coach, and administrator at Watertown High School and across the North Country. Mr. Graf died in 1954 and his passing motivated
the Italian American Civic Association to establish the William I. Graf Award to honor outstanding graduating athletes from Watertown and IHA schools. The inaugural awards were presented shortly after Mr. Graf’s passing with Mr. Gaffney’s son, Peter, named as the first IHA recipient.
The Graf Award honored students from Watertown High School and IHA until the Italian American Civic Association announced the Gaffney Award in 1980. Graf Award recipients each receive a $1,000 scholarship.
About the Northern New York Community Foundation
Since 1929, the Northern New York Community Foundation has invested in improving and enriching the quality of life for all in communities across Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties.
Through partnerships with businesses and organizations, charitable foundations, and generous families and individual donors, the Community Foundation awards grants and scholarships from an endowment and collection of funds that benefit the region. Its commitment to donors helps individuals achieve their charitable objectives now and for generations to come by preserving and honoring legacies of community philanthropy while inspiring others.
The Community Foundation is a resource for local charitable organizations, donors, professional advisors and nonprofit organizations. It also works to bring people together at its permanent home in the Northern New York Philanthropy Center to discuss challenges our communities face and find creative solutions that strengthen the region and make it a great place to live, work, and play.