By John Goralski
Rifling through an old picture album, Andy Meade brushes past the headlines to point out his teammates in the photos. He brags about them one by one, and the list reads like a Who’s Who of Southington sports.
Of course, he fails to point out that it’s his name that’s scrawled across the the top of the page. He looks puzzled when asked about any all-conference or all-state nominations. Meade was never one to search out the spotlight. Headlines just seemed to find him. Whether he was serving on the town council or on his high school football team, Meade was a natural born leader that was just as happy being a role player as being the star.
“Andy played all three sports—football, basketball, and baseball—and he was good at every one of them,” said former Southington High School coach Joe Orsene. “He was a good athlete and a really nice fellow to begin with. He was a really nice fellow to coach. They really don’t come any better than Andy.”
The town looked much different when Meade was growing up in the 1940s, and sports was a way of life for the young athlete. Southington was a small town, filled with open spaces and small neighborhoods. There were no youth leagues, but Meade battled his neighbors in pick-up games or played basketball and a make-shift baseball game in the YMCA gym.
It wasn’t until Meade was 10 years old that the town finally opened its doors to Little League baseball, and Meade outlasted dozens of hopefuls to earn a spot on one of the Southington four teams.
“At that time, Little League was the only thing going,” he said. “We didn’t have midget football. We didn’t have farm leagues, and we didn’t have anything else. Of course, I played sandlot ball and everything, but it was Little League where I started to come into my own.”
The young Meade quickly rose to the top, hitting .571 in his second year. Over three Little League seasons, Meade averaged over .500 at the plate to earn himself a mention among sports writers as one of the best young players in the state. But Meade was already beginning to show signs of his versatility. In eighth grade, he joined a CYO basketball team at St. Thomas and helped them to the state semifinals. Then came the high school.
Suddenly, Meade had a chance to test his skills against the top athletes in a number of different sports. In all three seasons, Meade threw himself into competition. In all three seasons, he fought his way to the varsity roster. He earned nine varsity letters over three years at the high school, and spent most of his career in the starting lineup.
He earned himself a role as quarterback for the football team. He was a guard for the basketball team, and a pitcher and left fielder in the spring. As a junior, Meade was a crucial part of Southington’s Class B championship in football. That spring, he helped lead the baseball team to the championship game where they lost to Woodrow Wilson in the final game.
“It was a dream for me to get up there and play,” he said. “There was a lot of pride and a lot of fight for the reputation of Southington no matter what sport you played. We were quite well known, and we probably had the best coaches in the state with Jay Fontana, Walt Lozoski, and Joe Orsene. Those coaches were great, and they didn’t pull any punches. They were out to win ball games.”
Meade’s football team in 1954 is considered by many to be the best in Southington’s history. As quarterback in the single-wing offense, Meade was a blocker and runner. The Blue Knights knocked off a pair of Class A schools on their way to a perfect 8-0 record and a Class B title.
“For me, it was more about being a team player than being out there for myself,” he said. “The greatest thing was being a part of that team and going undefeated. Even in our senior season, we did pretty well even though we lost a lot of players. It was a team effort. We were all friends, and everybody played their hardest.”
Meade managed to convert seven extra point plays as a junior in 1954. He didn’t score a single offensive touchdown, but his blocking and leadership helped set up a passing game that was ahead of its time and a running game that dominated Southington’s competition.
“He was an outstanding blocker and an excellent defensive guy,” said Ray Thorpe, the top scorer on the team. “He was a leader. He was level-headed, and he had the respect of everybody. He was the commensurate player, and he could play any position in the backfield. He was the general, and he was a mature guy at a young age.”
As good as Meade was on the offensive side of the ball, it was his defense that helped secure his spot in the center of the lineup. He led the team with three interceptions, including a 60-yard touchdown return during a 60-12 victory over Plainville.
“I played offense and defense, but I think I did even more on defense because I was able to intercept a pass or recover a fumble,” he said. “As a single wing quarterback, you work your butt off. You’re either blocking or touching the ball, but it wasn’t the sort of position where you scored. I had some plays where I ran, but I was primarily running pitchouts and passing. I was determined to do everything I could because I didn’t want to let those guys down.”
His efforts helped him secure a co-captain nomination as a senior. Southington returned just four seniors from their state championship team, but Meade helped lead them to a 5-2 record. Over three years, Meade’s teams went 19-2.
“The quarterback was called the blocking back, and Andy did a great job as a blocker with that 1954 team. Then, he moved to tailback the next year, and that is a really key spot in the single wing,” Orsene said. “He played good defense and good offense. He really just did a solid job all around, but he was a great all-around athlete.”
After Thanksgiving, Meade shifted his attention indoors where he led the offense at guard. Once again, Meade wasn’t the top scorer but he helped distribute the ball to prolific scorers like Dick Lorenzo and Corky Casella, and Southington rallied for three consecutive titles in the Central Valley Conference and a trio of postseason appearances, including a rally to the quarterfinals in 1955.
“He was such a good athlete,” said Casella. “I’ve known him since my sophomore year, and he’s always been a good athlete at everything. He was very competitive at everything.”
Of course, baseball was his best sport. He dominated in Little League, and that carried over to the high school. Meade alternated from pitcher to left fielder, but it was his bat that really set him apart. In both his junior and senior seasons, Meade batted over .400, and he helped lead Southington to the Class B state championship game in 1955.
Over the summers, he batted over .400 in four seasons with the local American Legion team. In 1956, he was named as the outstanding hitter for Southington Post 72. In 1992, Meade was inducted into the Southington High School baseball hall of fame.
“He was good at basketball and football, but baseball was probably his best sport,” said Orsene. “He was a good hitter, a good fielder, and I really felt that was his best sport.”
Soon, scouts began to appear on the sidelines. Meade received invitations to try out for both the Cincinatti Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies, but his mother waved off both offers. Instead, the small town star went to Villanova University and he walked onto the baseball team to earn a trio of varsity letters.
“There were a lot of scholarship players. I played, but those scholarship guys had preference over guys like me,” he said. “I did have three letters because I played varsity, and it was great. We played Navy. We went to Annapolis. We traveled all over,a nd it was a great experience.”
After college, Meade returned home to marry his high school sweetheart. He began a successful business in town and served on the town council and a number of local boards. He said that his experience in sports helped pave the way for everything that followed.
“I told my own kids as they were growing up and now my grandkids that you win some and you lose some,” he said. “There isn’t any place better than sports to teach you to be aggressive. It’s a challenge. You’re out there to win, but in the same token you take your bumps and bruises.”
With his excellence in three sports and his leadership on and off the field, it was no surprise that Meade was selected to represent the town in the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. On Thursday, Nov. 8, he will be inducted in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“I consider it a real, real privilege. We’ve had so many good ball players, and I almost feel that there are a lot of guys that deserve it before me,” he said. “We had a reputation to uphold, and I feel good that I was a part of it. That’s one of the reasons why, later on, I went on to serve the town council. It was great to work for the town or play for the town. I really owe so much to this town, and I always felt good to represent them.”
For tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.