For incoming high school fall athletes and coaches, the last month has already had all the twists, turns, and drama of an entire sports season.
The rollercoaster of a ride has included a plan to play, countered by a recommendation from the Connecticut DPH (Department of Public Health) to reevaluate ‘risky’ sports which putting a hold on any organized practicing, followed by a student athlete-led protest, and finally a decision to move forward with a modified version on the original plan to play.
The latest development is a victory for the athletes and those of us that value the importance of the mental and emotional well-being of our youth.
However, the sage seems far from over.
Last Thursday the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) announced that they would proceed with all fall sports including football and volleyball, which were in jeopardy after the recommendation from the DPH.
After a whirlwind of starts and stops, many athletes and coaches were already emotionally and psychologically drained before the official season had even begun.
It all started on July 31 when the CIAC released a ‘plan to play’ for this fall. CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini described the plan as “fluid” and said that details could change based on the state’s current health metrics regarding COVID-19.
In mid-August, the DPH categorized football as ‘high risk’ and labeled volleyball as ‘moderate risk’. This sparked debate and opened the possibility of reconfiguring the fall/winter/spring sports season format, like some neighboring states have done.
Some suggested that football could change to 7-ON-7, which would basically eliminate any contact from a game built on contact.
The proposal angered many coaches and players because it disregards many important aspects, including linemen, and is the equivalent of turning a basketball game into a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Stafford/Somers/East Windsor head football coach Brian Mazzone summed it up perfectly in a post on social media, saying, “I hate 7 on 7 Football more than anything on earth.”
Volleyball is the only fall sport that is played inside a gymnasium, so there were discussions of moving the sport to the great outdoors. The logistics were impractical, and it was eventually deemed unreasonable to move matches to a parking lot or field, or possibly to a beach.
Over the past several months the CIAC has dealt with several difficult decisions, two of which have prompted protests from student athletes. The first was in March when high school sports were shut down in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and the second was on Aug. 20 after the CIAC paused practices until further conversations with the DPH to work out the details on how to proceed with the season.
Both protests took place outside the CIAC headquarters in Cheshire and allowed athletes a chance to make a plea for playing sports.
The latest protest was organized and led by Southington quarterback Brady Lafferty, who was one of several players to give heartfelt speeches in front of the headquarters. Lungarini warmly greeted the athletes and agreed that the student deserved an opportunity to have their voices heard.
A week after the latest protest, the CIAC released the latest plan to schools.
“Our plan will be fluid. It will change as the information changes, as the metrics change, and we will continue to monitor that information from our offices,” Lungarini said on Aug 27.
The new plan will restrict all fall sports (cross country, swimming, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and football) to low risk conditioning and non-contact sport specific skill work, in cohorts no larger than 10, through September 20, 2020.
On September 21, two weeks after most schools are in session, the CIAC believes it will have enough COVID data to determine whether the return to on-campus instruction have impacted extracurricular offerings.
At that time, a decision on returning to full team practices and competitive play will be made.
Lungarini stated that, as of now, the metrics in Connecticut have supported playing sports, but the CIAC will continue to monitor the number closely.
“We want it very clear that we are listening to the recommendations from the Department of Health. We are aligning in many ways with the recommendations of the Department of Health and we still have some questions in some areas as we move forward.”
The latest decision provides hope to all fall sports athletes, including the football athletes and coaches that saw their seasons hanging on by a thread, especially after the CIAC announced that any sport unable to play would be cancelled rather than moved to later in the school year.
Football still may have the biggest hurdle to overcome, but during his presser Lungarini made a valid point regarding fall’s only high-risk sport.
“Football, unlike any other sport that we have in Connecticut, is unique because there really isn’t that club or AAU experience for kids. The opportunity that they have to perform in 11v11 in the recruiting process for colleges really are confined to the high school sports season. And so, if we can give the kids that opportunity from that experience, more than any other sport, this may be the only opportunity that they have. And if we can provide that now, when the metrics are good and would suggest supporting that, that’s when we feel the best opportunity may be. As we move into the winter and spring, it’s anticipated that there will be an uptick in the COVID metrics. Now may be the only opportunity to provide kids this experience.”
So, for now, sports are on.
Universally athletes and coaches have cautiously praised the decision and it is now up to them to take the ball and run with it.
With the latest decision, the teams have a chance to show the state that sports do matter.
Wethersfield football coach Matt McKinnon voiced the collective feeling of most athletes and coaches when he posted a message on Twitter following the CIAC latest decision, “THANK YOU!! Regardless of what team you play for, every fall athlete get after it this season! You deserve it after what you all been though!”
The mantra for athletes and coaches since last March has been---if we can have school, we can have sports.
School has started and, if all goes well, games will start Oct 1.
We should all be rooting for that.
Despite all the craziness of 2020, Newington’s boys of summer were able to complete a little league season on the diamond earlier this month and will keep playing his fall.
The Dodgers ended up winning the 2020 Newington Little League Summer Championship on August 15th at Volunteer Field in Newington, giving hope that other sports leagues and high school sports can follow suit with seasons of their own in the fall and beyond.
Chris James, who is on the Executive Board and the VP of Baseball for NLL, wrote this about the summer season that went from mid-June until mid-August.
“Just a few short months ago, Newington’s Little League players were eagerly waiting to see if there would be ANY baseball in 2020. They trained all winter… then they practiced alone or socially distant during the spring; hoping and praying that the fields would open. Finally, on June 17th, the kids were finally given the green light to “PLAY BALL!” Coaches, players, volunteers, and parents jumped into action. Thanks to everyone’s tremendous efforts during an unprecedented summer season, our boys were able to play baseball in Newington.
The 8U division saw some great hitting, pitching, fielding, and comradery. New players were introduced to baseball, and the season ended last weekend under the lights as the Sharks and Panthers battled to the finish.
The 9-12 division was a season unlike any other. Young players were tested by facing older pitchers, and the older players were given the opportunity to play the final season of Little League that they had worked so hard for. Home runs were launched into the night skies, and socially distant crowds were dazzled by diving catches and double plays. The Scrappers, Dodgers, Sun Devils, and Cobra Kai battled all summer long. The teams showed grit and determination, while improving their skills one game at a time.
The summer season culminated in a Saturday night championship matchup between Cobra Kai and the Dodgers. It was a clean game full of great pitching and strong defense by both teams. After a hard fought six innings, the Dodgers came out on top, earning the 2020 NLL Summer League Championship. Congratulations to all players, coaches, parents, and volunteers that made this crazy season possible.
Final score: Boys of Summer: 1, COVID-19: 0. (quote courtesy of Skip Reporterson)”
Following the season, 14 players were names to the 12U All-Star team. The team will compete against other local towns for the chance to play for the District 7 Title. The All-Star players are as followed: Colin Braga, Kevin Batista, Dylan Chamberland, Dominic Creaco, Sean Devanney, Reece Hollfelder, Mason Iskra, Brayden Karanian, Steven Kiniry Jr, Nikolas Klin, Jaylin Manson, Ben Michaud, Ellis Peterson, Nate Piechowicz
The team will be led by manager Rich Hollfelder, and coaches Keith Chamberland, Jeff Devanney, Steve Kiniry, and Mike Michaud.
Next up is the Greater Hartford Fall Baseball League, which is a new league starting this fall and will include players from the towns of Newington, Hartford, Cromwell, Rocky Hill, and Wethersfield.
The league is split into three baseball divisions: 8U, 10U, and 12U. The divisions will focus on training and development of skills and fundamentals with most attention to players' achievements and fun with minimal attention to game scores.
Travel will be limited to the Greater Hartford area. Games will be held on Saturdays and Sundays starting on August 29th and will run through mid-October. There will be playoffs for each division.
All teams will make the playoffs. Playoff brackets will be determined by a random drawing, encouraging teams to focus on developing all players throughout the regular season.
For more information on the new fall league, visit www.newingtonll.com or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Fraleigh and Ryan Robb (center) are flanked by Ryan Boyle and Matt Sevigny. The four 2020 Rocky Hill graduates won a summer baseball title with RCP on Aug 9
2020 has been relentless.
It seems like each month delivers another Mike Tyson uppercut.
But the last couple of months have been free of uppercuts and full of upper-deck blasts for recent Rocky Hill graduates Justin Fraleigh and Ryan Robb, who helped lead the Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland summer baseball team to another title.
For competitive high school baseball in Connecticut, this summer marked the first action in a year.
“At that point I didn’t care how many games we were going to play,” Fraleigh said about finding out that summer baseball was a go, “As long as we got to play baseball, we were ready. Especially the way that the high school season got cancelled, the fact that we were able to play at all was a great thing.”
Normally referred to as American Legion Baseball, CT Elite Baseball Association was established in June of this year to allow American Legion teams to play non-CT sanctioned games in 2020.
RCP, who won U19 Legion titles in 2015 and 2016, took home another trophy last Sunday by defeating Northern Connecticut 3-2.
Robb drove in a run on two hits and Fraleigh pitched the final out to close out the championship game, sealing the win for starting pitcher Tyler Baldwin from Cromwell.
“I was super excited from the first practice to the last game. There was not a doubt in my mind that we would win the championship,” recalled Robb.
The summer season, which culminated with the championship, eased months of frustration after COVID-19 cancelled the entire 2020 high school baseball season.
“It was honestly devastating,” Fraleigh recalled about the lost senior season, “Growing up and playing with these guys for 12 years, this was supposed to be the year.”
After finishing 0-20 in 2017 (when Fraleigh and Robb were freshmen), the Terriers clawed back into the tournament picture in 2018 and 2019, which included major tournament upset victories in each of those seasons.
Entering year two under head coach Bill Eller, the expectations were high in Rocky Hill this spring.
“Coach Eller brought a winning culture to us, he changed us and made us a dangerous threat in the tournament. The program is in great hands with him” said Ryan, who pitched and played third.
“He’s one of those coaches that is all about family. The more chemistry that the team has together, the better you’re going to play,” added Fraleigh, who specialized in playing the left side of the infield at RHHS.
Both had lofty personal and team aspirations entering 2020. Fraleigh was coming off an all-conference selection in 2019 and Robb was fresh off an incredible offseason in which he gained six miles per hour on his fastball.
Spring’s high school season never came to fruition, yet summer league went off without a hitch.
After shaking off the rust, RCP’s talented roster jelled into an eventual champion.
“Once we were on the field, we could focus. You’re just playing the game that you love,” said Robb.
It was Robb’s first season playing Legion ball and he wasted little time making an impression. He was dominant from the mound, not allowing a run the entire summer and ultimately earning MVP honors.
“I had so much confidence going into this year. I just wanted to go out and give my team a chance every time I stepped on the field and help out the best way that I could,” said Robb, who also played shortstop.
Everything started to click for RCP midway through the season and the team won six straight games to finish the regular season.
“We just came together. We felt like this was our season. We knew we could be dangerous this year and we even started hanging out more outside of baseball and became really close, kind of like a brotherhood,” recalled Fraleigh, “Every time we got into a tough situation we knew we had been there before and we trusted each other.”
Once the tourney stated, the streaking co-op team continued to surge with a convincing victory (7-3) over Berlin.
“We felt that Berlin was going to be one of the toughest teams that we faced in the tourney. Once we knocked them off, we had so much confidence going forward,” said Robb, who took the hill in the first-round win.
The team would go on to defeat Orange (4-1) in the semifinals before wrapping up the title on August 9.
Cromwell’s Nick Polizonis was recognized as the most valuable hitter of the tournament, slapping three hits including a two-run double to give RCP the lead in the championship game.
Fellow Rocky Hill graduates Matt Sevigny and Ryan Boyle joined Fraleigh and Robb, securing a piece of a baseball title for the Class of 2020 at RHHS.
Fraleigh reflected on what might have been had the four been able to play in the spring, “We thought with the four of us, we had great leadership and we could make a run in the state tournament. It showed in Legion ball. We saw how we could help the team and if we could do that at Legion, we could do that in high school.”
“We just wanted to go out on the right note and on top before leaving Connecticut,” added Robb.
The four are leaving Connecticut as champions, now heading to colleges across the Eastern Seaboard.
Sevigny is headed to St. Michael’s College in Vermont and Boyle is off to the University of Albany in upstate New York
Fraleigh will be playing ball for Roger Williams University after having an impressive workout at the Rhode Island-based school, “Everything about the culture there felt like family and what I wanted a college to be.”
Robb will be playing for Husson University in Maine, the home of the New England School of Communication, where he’ll study sports journalism with the hopes of becoming a broadcaster, “It was a perfect fit and the campus felt right at home. The coach was so genuine to me, I got to meet some of the guys on the team and they were all awesome. I loved every second of it.”
The Rocky Hill natives, who grew up playing tee-ball together, are both amped for the next challenge yet will miss the bonds they have formed at RHHS.
“I’ll miss all the friendships that I’ve made, especially with these guys. I’m going to miss playing with these guys. They’ve been my brothers and it will be completely different without them,” said Robb.
Fraleigh added, “We’ve created friendships that will last forever.”
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which serves as the governing body for interscholastic athletic activities in Connecticut, released a detailed plan for the potential return for high school athletics this fall.
On July 31, the CIAC released this statement.
The CIAC has released its plan for a return to interscholastic athletics this fall. A point of emphasis throughout the development of this plan is the fluid nature of planning around COVID. While sports in Connecticut have been successfully running since late June, with COVID health metrics in our state improving along the way, the CIAC understands that education-based athletics experiences differ from club, AAU, and recreational offerings. The plan was developed in consultation with the Connecticut State Medical Society Sports Medicine Committee, state officials, medical professionals, athletic trainers, superintendents, principals, athletics directors and coaches. Everyone involved in the development of the plan recognizes that it must remain fluid, and that it will be in a perpetual state of evaluation as COVID data and health metrics become available. Furthermore, while the fall sports committee included representation from many educational leaders, CIAC respects that a more detailed review by our exceptional education leaders may prompt changes as final preparations for the school year are made and more COVID information becomes available.
The plan allows for a shortened fall sports experience with regional regular-season play following an extended conditioning acclimation period. The season will end with the best available option for tournament play within regions or leagues. The goal is to allow for as many participation opportunities as possible for all teams and schools within the challenging current circumstances, and for that reason tournament experiences will not follow traditional CIAC Fall State Championship formats. Specific requirements and key dates for each sport are included in the document.
The plan indicates that 15 student-athletes was determined to be a reasonable number for coaches to work with on conditioning and skill progressions while schools return to in-person instruction. There will be a three-week progression designed to slowly reacclimate student-athletes to the physical and skill conditioning level appropriate for interscholastic athletics given the extended layoff
that athletes may have experienced since last March.
The CIAC further detailed the plan for each of the six fall sports.
Football will be allowed to return to modified practices on August 17 with full practices beginning on September 11.
Cross Country, Field Hockey, Soccer, Swimming, and Volleyball will return to modified practices on August 27 with full practices beginning on September 11.
Official regular season games/contests will start on September 24 and will be played through the end of October. Each sport, with the exception of football, will have 12 regular season contests. Football can play six games.
There remains a potential for fall tournaments/playoffs, starting in November. The CIAC will collaborate with league commissioners, athletic directors, and coaches to develop a tournament experience during the first two weeks in November. No team will be eliminated from competition during this experience to maximize the number of games each team will be able to play through the fall season.
CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini is optimistic that a shortened fall season can be played out, but said that plans could change depending on the ever-changing health landscape, “We do it with the understanding that the health metrics in the state of Connecticut are never going to be better than what they are now and we do it with the understanding that the information that we have today will change tomorrow. So, with that our plans remains fluid, we remain in a perpetual state of evaluation with this. As of today, when we approved this plan we feel that it is appropriate to reengage in all of our fall sport offerings, including football, however we have said very directly that we will continue to evaluate that and that could change at any time as information around COVID and the appropriate activities continues to be known.”
Visit ciacsports.com for the latest information regarding the return of high school sports.
Rocky Hill-Cromwell co-op summer softball won the Northern Connecticut Softball League Division Championship. The team was coached by Brian Dillon, Ray Lawrence and Mike Dudis.
Back Row: Faith Torello, Lauren Colasacco, Tia Sheathelm, Emily Kiloran, Kalli Lawrence, Karishma Lawrence, Christina Denovellis. Front row: Annie Ensign, Erika Dewey, Megan Khanna, Monica Dewey, Maddie Dillon. Missing from photo: Alyssa Caron, Lily Kenney.
This fall marks the 60th anniversary of the first varsity football season at Wethersfield High School.
The inaugural team in 1960 set a standard for a program, which has blossomed into one of the most fruitful and consistently successful teams in the state.
“They set the whole thing up for the rest of us,” said Bob Heimgartner, who was a freshman at the high school in 1960, “That first team really laid the foundation.”
Prior to 1958, football was something that the kids of Wethersfield only played in backyards and sandlots.
WHS was best known for playing championship soccer, capturing five state titles in the 40’s and 50’s, but in 1957 football was accepted as part of the Physical Education program and a year later the board of education allocated funds to establish an official team.
The architect hired to build the program was head coach Joseph Cottone, who was previously a three-sport star at Bulkeley High School before lettering in three sports and playing lead back for the Dartmouth College football team in the 1930’s.
After serving as a First Lieutenant in U.S. Army Service Medical Corp, Cottone eventually found his way back to Connecticut and was hired at WHS in 1957.
For the first two seasons, playing at a sub-varsity level, the team was literally flawless. In 1958 the team won all four games and the following season won all six games, outscoring their opponents 156-26.
After dominating at the JV level, the stage was set for the young Eagles to take flight at the varsity level.
In the fall of 1960, led by senior quarterback Lou “Butch” DiFazio and senior running back Greg Fay, the Eagles shut out Bristol Eastern 24-0 in the program’s varsity debut. Fay scored the first varsity touchdown and would go on to earn All-CCIL (Central Connecticut Interscholastic League) and eventually become the program’s first Division I player at Villanova University.
Heimgartner recalled Fay’s impact that first season, “They had a lot of good players and his leadership held that team together. He set the tables for the next three seasons, by bringing in all the young guys and working with them. He was a tremendous asset to the program.”
Guard Ron LaPore and Rich St. Pierre, who would later play at Colgate, were also selected to the all-league first-team following the 1960 season.
The Eagles would win four more games in 1960, finishing with a record of 5-2-1. Their tie came against Hall, who eventually won the CCIL title and the tie was the only blemish Hall’s undefeated record (7-0-1).
Other notable standouts from on the original varsity team were ends Dave Peak and Jerry Suchodolski, tackle Bill McCarthy, guards Tim Breen and Steve Desovich, center Carl Kask, backs Myles Daughn, George Mulligan, and Russ Roushon.
In a dedication to Joe Cottone and his teams, this was written about the players on the 1960 squad, “Their reputation for hard work and toughness set the foundation as role models for Coach Cottone’s future teams. Their ball control offense grinding out yardage and taking time off the clock coupled with a tenacious defense that held opponents to 45 points set the bar for the future Cottone teams. The CCIL had been put on notice that the Eagles would be a force to contend with.”
Over the first couple of seasons, the Eagles would play their home games at historic Stillman Field in Old Wethersfield while the team was waiting on the construction of the new football stadium, now known at Joseph F. Cottone Field at Wethersfield High School.
Steve Kelly, who would later be a star end on the 1962 and 1963 teams, recalled this about the original team, “The 1960 team was as good as any team around. I would be down at Stillman watching the games and my first impression was ‘I’ll never play this game’. These guys were huge, they were big, they were fast. We had played sandlot, but it was nothing like this.”
Following a successful debut at the varsity level, Cottone continue to mold the program into a league power.
The 1961 team finished 6-2, which included a season-opening victory over eventual league co-champion Maloney behind the arm of quarterback Big John Molchan, who tossed a pair of touchdowns.
St. Pierre again earned all-league first team; while Molchan, Kevin Duffy, and Big John Heaton earned second team honors.
1962 proved to be a banner year as the Eagles capture their first CCIL title, achieving perfection with an 8-0 record in their first full season on the new field.
The Eagles clinched the ‘62 conference title with a resounding 20-0 win over perennial powerhouse Platt. Junior linebacker Mike Cancelliere led a stingy defense that blanked the normally high-powered Platt offense, which came into the game averaging 29 points per contest.
All told, seven players from the 1962 team were selected all-conference (Duffy, Heaton, Cancelliere, Bill Poirot, Bob Pandolfe, Marc Cottone, Mike Tine).
Wethersfield would go on to win three more consecutive league titles from 1963-1965, amassing a record of 28-3-1 over the four-year span.
Cottone would coach the program through the 1973 season before his untimely passing in early 1974 at the age of 59.
He left a lasting impression on both those that he coached and those that followed his lead.
Longtime WHS football coach John Campanello, who played at WHS in the 70’s and served as a captain on the 1972 team, wrote this about Cottone in 2012, “Coach Cottone set the foundation for me. He did things the right way for the right reason. If I can have half the impact on my players that he had on me I will consider myself a very lucky man.”
Campanello is one of the many “Cottone Boys”, the nickname given to anyone who played under the legendary coach from 1958-1973.
Charlie Viani, who played tackle and was a captain on the 1964 title team, said this about the Cottone, “He had it all. The personality, the dedication, the passion.”
“Joe was a tremendous coach, no coach outworked him. The kids loved him,” added Heimgartner, “He just cared about everybody. He would make you be your best.”
The Cottone Boys helped immortalize their coach in 1978 when a group of players from the 60’s created the Cottone Memorial, a large cast iron archway that reads ‘Joseph F Cottone Field’ erected at the entrance of the stadium.
It serves as a reminder of the man who built a program and shaped the characters of his players.
This was written about Cottone’s legacy in his dedication---“If you had any amount of athletic talent, he would find a spot and a function for you on his team. He measured your heart in addition to everything else that would make you a football player.”
The Cottone Boys still gather for big anniversaries, which included a reunion in 2012.
Kelly helps keep his fellow boys up to date on the current football happenings at WHS.
“Steve keeps us informed about the present team and about any changes that the league has made. We are well informed because of Steve,” said Viani, “We still try and get together to talk about times passed.”
The plan was to have another gathering and possible ceremony during the upcoming high school football season to recognize the 60th anniversary, however the pandemic and uncertainty of fall sports have put that on hold for now.
Celebration or not, the legacy of both the 1960’s team and coach Cottone will live on in the hearts of the community, especially those who put on the helmet and shoulder pads at Wethersfield High School.
Front Row l-r: John Mulvihill, Russ Roushon, Joe Salvatore, Mike DeVanney, Co-Capt and All-CCIL 1st Team RB Greg Fay, Rolf Reed, All-CCIL 1st Team Guard Ron Lepore, Steve Desovich, Tim Breen, George Congdon.
Second Row l-r: Coach Joe Cottone, George Mulligan, Carl Peterson, Dave Peak, All-CCIL 1st Team Tackle Rich St. Pierre, Bill McCarthy, Myles Daughn, Doug Russell, Jerry Sucholdolski, Carl Kask, Asst. Coach Dick Lawton.
Missing from Picture: Co-Capt Butch DiFazio, Phil Mikan, John Molchan, Dick Morse, Jim Lunny, Kevin Duffy, John Heaton.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin