If he builds it, they will come; Joe LaPorte has spent 4 decades building youth sports

“I never expected it to grow to the extent that it did, but I knew that it would grow because we had girls playing and a lot of other leagues didn’t allow that yet,” he said. “Football was the only game in town, but this allowed our kids another outlet. You didn’t really need to know a lot. If you were willing to run and put in the effort, you could play soccer.”

It didn’t take long for the startup league to outgrow the small facility. On Sundays, it was standing room only from dawn to dusk. Once again, LaPorte’s league needed a new home. Once again, he rolled up his sleeves. This time, he was able to secure an old dumping ground at the back of Recreation Park.

“It was just a big pile of junk, but we got it all removed. We got it graded, seeded, and developed,” said LaPorte. “The cost to the town was only $20,000, but it took a lot of work. Jiggy Egidio helped me out with the bulldozer. Gene DeRosa lent us a bulldozer, and we did it. The engineering department would come down and give us the grades. Everyone helped out.”

Soon a soccer complex took shape with four soccer fields with parking and room for spectators. Bob Swanson was one of the league’s first coaches before he took over the reigns years later. He’s seen the local soccer program continue to grow with a club house, more fields, a travel soccer league, and a feeder program that helped lift the Lady Knights to a state championship in 2002.

Swanson credits LaPorte as the catalyst for all that followed.

“He was the godfather,” he said. “He’s just a great guy, and he’s very interested in kids. He wants them to have fun and learn how to play a sport. They don’t have to be involved in a having-to-win-at-all-costs kind of thing. They don’t have to worry about titles or all-star teams or anything like that. He just wanted to form a program where they could learn to play soccer. If they got to a point where they wanted to go further, that’s where the travel club came in.”

With that project finished, LaPorte turned his sights to something new. Dave Kanute envisioned a wrestling program as a feeder program for Southington’s youth, so he turned to LaPorte. Once again, there was no hesitation.

“He’s probably one of the best supporters of sports, especially since it’s all been volunteerism,” said Kanute. “He didn’t run paid clinics. It was never to further his kids or anything else. It’s easy to get volunteers in kids sports when their kids are involved, but to have parents stay after they leave is unusual. That’s Joe. He’s a tireless worker. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical work, organization, or helping to raise some money. When you talk about it and it needs to be done, there’s Joe.”

That’s one reason why LaPorte was drawn into local government. He served his first stint with the park board from 1979-1984. He took a five year break before he was pulled in again, and he continues to serve through the present. LaPorte was appointed as chairman from 2000-2009.

When the town purchased the former drive-in site, town officials turned to LaPorte once again. He spearheaded the project to create an all-purpose field to be used as an additional field for one of the town’s midget football leagues. Last June, LaPorte was awarded a CT General Assembly citation for his public service.

“I just want to be remembered as a guy that really loved this town, loved the people that were working for it, and I did the best I could to make this a better town,” he said. “I’ve never been one to attend a meeting once a month and approve the minutes. I’ve always been involved. Maybe that’s one reason why I’ve been around for so long. I’ve been reappointed by Democrats, Republicans. It doesn’t matter.”

With his decades of ongoing service, it was no surprise that committee members selected LaPorte to be inducted into the Southington Sports Hall of Fame as a booster. He will be inducted during a ceremony at the Aqua Turf on Thursday, Nov. 8. For tickets, contact Jim Verderame, (860) 628-7335.

“I’m sort of disappointed that I didn’t make it on my athletic ability,” he said with a laugh. “I’m honored. It puts me in with a lot of really great athletes, and I never was a great athlete. Being associated with them is a great honor for me.”

Of course, without his contributions, many of the other hall of fame honorees might never have had the opportunity.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.

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