By John Goralski
The argument had been dragging on for almost an hour in the high school football room before former Blue Knight coach Jude Kelly had to jump into the middle of the fray. Two assistant coaches were burning off stress with a friendly debate about former players, and it had grown in strength like a hurricane.
Everyone in the room seemed to share a different opinion. Every coach seemed to champion a different player in the debate about which one was the best. They argued about different eras, different coaches, and different positions. In frustration, Kelly turned to his Stephen Daniels for help.
The Blue Knight statistician was the only one not locked in debate. He was listening patiently like a fly on the wall while the battle waged all around him. A hush fell across the room, and Daniels began to speak…
“Out of respect, he was just sitting there the whole time until we asked him his opinion,” Kelly said with a laugh. “We finally turned to Stevie and asked him if he knew anything about it, and he started rattling off the exact stats, year-by-year, off the top of his head. These guys were arguing for 20 or 30 minutes about it, but he had the answer the whole time. That’s the kind of guy he is. He just didn’t want to interrupt.”
Boosters come and boosters go. Volunteer fathers take booster clubs hostage while their children battle through the ranks of varsity programs. Mothers tireless campaign during events, fundraisers, and pregame bonding parties. They whirl through booster clubs like tornados and disappear just as quickly after graduation.
Then there’s Stevie Daniels.
Nobody has helped more varsity programs with a more delicate touch. No one has helped more athletes in their quest for college scholarships, and nobody has done more behind the scenes than Southington’s prized statistician.
Newspaper stories are filled with Daniels’ intricate statistics, so that Southington High School sports stories read like NFL features. Scouting reports and college applications are filled with his meticulous calculations, and no school record is ever validated without Daniels’ stamp of approval.
“He is just so meticulous, and he does it all behind the scenes,” said Kelly. “He’s never looking for glamour. In fact, I’d come into my office and I’d find everything already there on my desk. Everything would be impeccable and to the ‘T.’ If anybody ever said anything bad about him, I think I’d go through the wall. He has a Christian attitude about everything he does, and he’s just a beautiful person.”
Born and bred in Southington, Daniels has always been a fixture on the Southington sports landscape, and it all started when he was a student in the mid-1970s. For two years, he served as team manager for the Blue Knight cross country squads. For two years, he filled a position on the wrestling roster as the team’s first 98-pound wrestler.
In fact, it seems almost fitting that Daniels was the first Southington wrestler to ever take part in a varsity match as the lightweight entry against Maloney in the program’s first varsity contest.
“They started the team when I was a junior,” he said. “It was the first year for the team. They had tryouts, and I went to the meeting. I was nervous, but I loved sports.”
Was he good? Daniels just shrugs and laughs. He was good enough to represent the Knights for two seasons. He was good enough to try out for his college team at Central CT State University, but Daniels isn’t one to brag. He always seemed more comfortable behind the scenes.
That’s why, when a neighbor asked him to help out with the SHS Gridiron Club in 1985, the former graduate jumped at the chance. He quickly rose to treasurer, and that’s where Daniels grabbed the attention of the late Dom D’Angelo. He began to get more involved with the program, and by the time that Kelly arrived at the program in the early 1990s, Daniels was already an institution.
When Kelly arrived, he needed a statistician, and Daniels volunteered. Kelly called it one of the best coaching decisions, and Daniels quickly showed a knack for being one step ahead of any request.
“I remember trying to set up a scouting schedule in the old days when schedules came out in the newspapers,” said Kelly. “It would come out in the papers, and the next day I would find a report on my desk. It would have everyone’s full schedule and would have the dates that we would be able to scout them. Stevie Daniels would have it all done for me without even asking. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask me. It would just get done.”
It wasn’t long before other coaches began to court the former wrestler. In 1993, he joined the boys basketball team as their statistician. In 2006, he added baseball to his resume. When Mike Forgione earned the coaching position for the girls basketball team, his first order of business was to reach out to Daniels for help.
“I knew that he was already doing football, boys basketball, and baseball, but I asked him if he’d be interested in working with the girls. He didn’t hesitate,” said Forgione. “He can’t come to our games because he’s always with the boys, so I send him our game films. He goes through each play to compile our stats. He does it after every game, and I can’t say enough about what he does for our program and how vital it is for me and our girls.”
Daniels brushes off any of the credit. “I like the players and the coaches,” he said. “It’s a good group to be around. I think I get more out of it than I put into it. I get to know all the players and the coaches. I really enjoy it.”
Over the years, he’s become the go-to guy in the press box as reporters scramble for stats. He helps the play-by-play announcers during football games. He fields questions between games and certifies that the statistics are correct by studying game film to ensure that the numbers add up and provides reports to college scouts.
When he was sidelined by a surgery in recent years, he compiled stats from a hospital bed with game videos supplied by high school coaches.
“It’s important that I get it right because it’s only fair to the coaches and the kids,” he said. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes. That’s why I watch the films.”
His efforts haven’t escaped notice. In 2000, Daniels was presented with the John Wentworth Good sport Award from the CT Sports Writers Alliance. In 2013, he was one of four Southington residents to receive a Hometown Heroes Award from the United Way.
It’s no surprise that Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee chose Daniels as the only booster in the Class of 2014.
“He’s a guy that’s given 25-plus years of service to Southington High School,” Forgione said. “I can’t think of a more deserving individual to be in the hall of fame. I can’t tell you how detailed he gets with the stats, and he does it just because he likes to see the kids do well. He’s been a great impact on the program.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Daniels will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.
“I’m not looking for awards. I appreciate it, but I know that there are a lot of other people that deserve it more than I do,” he said. “There are a lot of people that have done things even before I was born. They’ve done it longer. They’ve put in a lot more hours. It’s good to be recognized, but I’m a little embarrassed.”
Daniels isn’t in it for the glory. He’s in it for the kids and his hometown. When it comes to boosters at Southington High School, Stephen Daniels is the true measure.
“When I went to St. Paul, I asked him if he wanted to come and join me. He wouldn’t say no to me, but I knew that he wasn’t going to leave Southington,” said Kelly. “He bleeds blue. There’s no other way to say it. He loves Southington, and he’s so humble and meticulous. I don’t know if I’ve ever known a better human being.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.