By John Goralski
Tracy Beloin—or Tracy Ciosek as she’s remembered by Lady Knight fans—almost missed the 1986 championship basketball game because of a severe back problem that had plagued her all season, so nobody expected her to carry the team on her shoulders in the final minutes of the game.
Rockville’s game plan was working. A box-and-one defense held Tracy to just one basket in the opening quarter. A relentless attack held her to just three scores in the opening half, but Southington opened an almost insurmountable lead by the break.
Nobody thought they needed her scoring until Southington’s collapse after the break. The lopsided lead shrank to just three points. Coaches screamed for Ciosek. Fans screeched for their junior scorer, and her teammates begged her to score. Ciosek called for the ball.
“She fired four times. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang,” wrote former Southington Observer sports writer Jim Senich. “Rockville was history. Southington High School’s girls basketball team was a state champion in the Class LL division.”
Tracy was crowned as the tournament’s most valuable player. Her photo was splashed across the state’s media, and her name was scrawled across the headlines. Former Lady Knight coach Joe Daddio bragged about his junior star.
“The girls sensed right away Tracy would win the game for them when she hit her first shot,” he told reporters as she climbed the ladder to cut down the net. “Hey, we have so much confidence in Tracy, we had a play where we set a pick for her 18 feet from the hoop. And she hit it. Beautiful.”
Most athletes would champion a moment like this when they start to weave stories about their glory days as an athlete. Actually, most would have to choose a moment much smaller than Ciosek’s buzzer-beating performance in a championship game, but Tracy never mentioned it during a 45-minute interview about one of Southington’s greatest female careers.
More than a quarter century has passed since her last-second heroics captured the title, but it’s the loss in 1985’s championship game that Tracy remembered the most.
“It still irks me today that we only won five of our six state championships,” she said about the Lady Knight storied runs in softball and basketball in the mid-1980s. “We should have won. We were winning the whole game and killing them in the state championship game at halftime, but we lost by two points. That was disgusting. I really think that was the best team we had, and we didn’t win…We should have been 6-for-6.”
The sports landscape was much different when Tracy arrived at the high school before Title IX forced schools to catch up to Southington’s lead. Some Connecticut schools didn’t even offer high school sports to their girls, but Southington was already as state power. Wins and titles were expected, and players almost felt like rock stars as they stepped onto the field.
“I can remember our gym being filled, not only with parents but with the students and all our friends. Everybody used to come out to watch Southington,” she said. “The gym was filled. We used to play softball, and all of our home games were under the lights at Recreation Park. I can remember having huge crowds cheering for us, and that was amazing. We had such huge support, and I guess I thought that everybody had that. I kind of took it for granted.”
For fans, it was worth the price of admission. Tracy was among a list of multiple sports athletes that raised the bar, even for Southington’s expectations. To this day, there are very few athletes that can compare to Southington’s success when Tracy was at the center.
She was a guard/forward on a team that rallied for back-to-back titles. She was a shortstop during her a title run in her sophomore year, and stepped to the mound to lead them back for two more titles during a pair of undefeated state title runs. Tracy seemed to excel when the game was on the line.
“She was just a great athlete. Tracy was a natural, and she seemed to enjoy everything about her high school experience,” said former Lady Knight coach Joe Piazza. “I don’t think you’re ever going to find another pitcher that started 48 games and won 48 games in her career. For a high school kid to say that they won 48 games in a row is something, but for Tracy to say that she never lost is incredible. That means that she didn’t have a bad day. Even if she had an off-day, she pitched well enough to win.”
For Tracy, it was just about the competition. She grew up at a time when there were no girls softball leagues. There were no girls travel teams or summer camps at the high school. If she wanted to compete, she had to beat the boys. And that’s exactly what she did. Tracy joined pick-up games in the neighborhood. She practiced with her father in the back yard and earned her way onto the Northern Little League Braves where she out-played the boys to earn a starting position as a shortstop.
“I was the only girl on the team, and I think I may have been the only girl in the league,” she said. “I actually had to purchase my own pants because I was the tallest on the team. The boys pants weren’t long enough. They wouldn’t have gone past my knees. I still laugh when I see the old pictures. My pants are a slightly different color and I’m the tallest one.”
It wasn’t until seventh grade that Tracy was able to compete as a part of a girls team, but the results were the same. She quickly rose to prominence at St. Thomas Junior High School in volleyball, basketball, and softball. It was here that she began to mingle with other female athletes to lay the foundation for their high school dominance.
“She didn’t really get a lot of instruction,” said Piazza. “There wasn’t a lot of summer activity back then, and kids like Tracy were involved in two or three sports. Tracy was the type of kid that would play basketball during basketball season, play softball during softball season, and if she decided to play volleyball, that’s all she would do during volleyball season. She didn’t do all that extra work. She was just a natural athlete, but you’d never know it by looking at her.”
When she arrived at the high school, Tracy quickly rose to the top once again. She battled her way onto the varsity basketball roster as a sophomore and worked her way into the main rotation by the end of the season. Piazza shuffled her throughout the infield in the spring to get her into his softball lineup, and she settled into the shortstop position during her first of three title runs.
As a junior, she was shifted to pitcher, and that catapulted her to a different level. Just a few days before opening day, doctors had cleared her from her back injuries in the winter season, but Piazza said he still didn’t believe them. He sent her to practice against the wall of the school and returned to his infielders.
“I kept hearing, ‘Ba-boom. Ba-boom.’ I looked over, and she was throwing like she had been throwing all year,” said Piazza.
“She just kept getting better and better and better. Defensively, there wasn’t anybody better. She was a shortstop, and you don’t get a lot of shortstops that pitch at the high school level. It gives you a lot of leeway. You can play your third baseman back a little bit. You can keep your first baseman back a little bit. It allowed us to do different things because Tracy could cover so much ground and throw overhand.”
Nobody could stop the Knights with Tracy on the mound. The Lady Knights already had a 4-0 winning streak from their championship run in 1985, and Tracy added 48 straight victories to the rally. Her teams won two more state titles and the winning streak set a new state record.
“We had a lot of great teams, and I had a lot of good friends on the team,” she said. “We had a lot of fun playing, and that’s what it was about. I had a lot of help. Melinda [Silva] helped me behind the plate. We had a great defensive team and a great hitting team. My parents were very supportive, and we had great coaches. It wasn’t just me.”
Scouts began to appear in the crowd as Tracy continued to manhandle opponents. She worked her way into a pair of all-state rosters in basketball and a pair of all-state rosters in softball. Ciosek-Beloin could have her pick of division one programs, but she settled on the University of Hartford. The Hawks were a struggling division one program at the time, but Tracy chose it for academic reasons.
“Do I regret not going to UConn or one of the schools down south? Yeah, a little bit,” she said. “I wish I had a little bit more of that athletic experience, but I never regretted going to the University of Hartford. It’s a great school, and I ended up getting a full scholarship. I didn’t have to pay a dime and I got a great job and great career out of it.”
Although her statistics never matched her high school career, her impact might have been greater. She joined teammates in an effort to attract anybody with playing experience just to field a competitive team, and she went on to lead them into a competitive program despite their lack of talent.
Tracy still ranks among the top five in eight different categories including a pair of single season lists and six career categories. She is ranked second in single season shutouts (24 in 1989) and fourth in games started (24 in 1989). She ranks fourth in starts (58) and shutouts (11) over her career. She is still ranked fifth in triples (6), appearances (63), innings pitched (385.2), and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (2.63).
Tracy still shies away from taking credit for all of her accomplishments.
“You can’t say that I was a great pitcher, and I have the stats to prove it. You have to have a good team around you,” she said. “If routine balls aren’t caught and routine ground balls are not fielded and you can’t score runs, you aren’t going to win. No matter how good the pitcher is. You can’t strike everybody out, and you can’t do it with one person. It takes a team. That’s what Southington softball is all about. It was never about just one person.”
Still, she was an easy choice for the selection committee as they compiled the list of athletes for the 2012 Southington Sports Hall of Fame. She will be inducted during a ceremony at the Aqua Turf on Thursday, Nov. 8. For tickets, contact Jim Verderame, (860) 628-7335.
“It’s exciting to know that, of all the people that have gone through Southington sports, I have been selected,” she said. “Southington’s always been such a big sports town. It was a great place to grow up and a great place to play sports. It was such a supportive town, and you don’t get that everywhere. I’m very appreciative and I’m very excited.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.