By John Goralski
For two years Pete Meade paid his dues as a backup quarterback while the Blue Knights clawed their way to .500 records. Fans were looking forward to seeing Meade behind the center when Southington stormed onto the field in the fall of 1984, but the senior co-captain had other plans.
Former Blue Knight assistant coach Brian Stranieri can still remember his amazement when Meade approached coaches after a preseason practice to throw his support behind someone else.
“Pete came up to Coach Dom D’Angelo and myself and asked us to move him to wide receiver,” said Stranieri. “He said that it would make us a much better team. We were impressed that he was willing to give up the quarterback job. We made the move, and the rest is history.”
To most people, it might be hard to understand how a player could give up the spotlight so easily. But to those that knew Meade, it isn’t hard to understand. Many players talk about team and equality, but Meade actually did it. It’s just who he is.
“I want to be remembered as a good teammate,” he said. “I want to be remembered as a guy that worked hard. I never did anything for the spotlight. I just enjoyed the game and enjoyed being part of a team. I think that’s what motivated me, and that’s how I want to be remembered.”
As it turned out, Meade’s decision paid off handsomely for the Knights, and the senior co-captain developed into one of the top players on a dominant team. He led the offense with touchdowns in each of the first three games, and Southington surged to the top of the state’s rankings. On special teams, Meade’s kicking accounted for two field goals and 24 extra points.
On defense, Meade’s two interceptions anchored a power blitz that’s been touted as one of the best in Southington history. The steel curtain defense actually out-scored every one of the teams they faced in the regular season as Southington rolled to a perfect, 10-0 record.
“That defense went eight or nine games without being scored upon, and we took a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Back then, we played smash-mouth football. We took a lot of pride in shutting the other teams down. We counted the number of first downs. We wanted to shut them down completely, and we often did.”
When the dust settled on the regular season, Meade had done it all. Along the way, others grabbed headlines. At the end of the game, other players claimed the spotlight, but according to coaches it was Meade that led the charge.
“He’s one of the best athletes to come out of Southington High School in the last 35 years,” said Stranieri. “He led by example. He was always the first player on the field and the last to leave. He had great hands, quick feet, and a knack for being around the ball. He was more than just an athlete. Pete had character, class, and resilience. He was a coach’s dream.”
As luck would have it, Meade finally got his chance at quarterback when an injury struck the Southington lineup late in the regular season. With two victories as quarterback, Southington earned a berth in the championship game, but even Meade couldn’t overcome the injury on defense that left Southington open to a Glastonbury running attack.
Glastonbury exploited the injury by consistently running away from Meade. The Tomahawks rolled out to a 23-7 lead, but Meade wasn’t finished. He hadn’t practiced all week because of the flu. He had to struggle just to get back to school on the day of the game, but Meade paced the Knight offense with 101 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. He marshaled two scoring drives in the second half and completed two long passes on a final drive that ended on Glastonbury’s 33 yard line as time expired.
In his last varsity play, Meade completed a pass that almost reached the end zone.
“It was one of the most courageous games that a high school kid could play,” said Stranieri. “He did it on adrenalin, putting his teammates first, and never used his illness as an excuse. This was the type of player Pete Meade was. He was a winner on and off the field.”
“I can still see that last play in my sleep sometimes,” Meade said. “We got so close to the goal line. I often think about what it would have been like if we scored, and I kicked the extra point. It would have been 24-23, and that would have been pretty sweet.”
Meade’s commitment to team play didn’t end at the championship game. A few days later, he was named captain of the basketball team. As a sophomore, he missed most of the season with a collarbone injury, but as a senior, he helped quarterback the Knights as a guard.
Meade could score. Once, he posted 50 points in a junior high school contest, but once again he put the team first. He scored more than 20 points twice in his senior campaign, but Meade settled into his role as an assist man to Southington’s big players in the paint.
“I could put it in the bucket, but I liked to distribute the ball and get other guys into the game,” he said. “I played with some big guys like Robbie Thomson, Andre Green, and Dave Queen. We played the inside-out game, so sometimes it went in and didn’t come back out. We had so many guys in the middle, but that was fun for me. I like to make assists and get other guys involved in the game.”
It was Meade’s blue collar work ethic that finally caught the attention of college coaches in the spring. According to former Blue Knight baseball coach John Fontana, the Knights were going through some lean years with pitchers. Once again, Meade rose to the challenge as one of Southington’s main pitching threat.
“I remember pitching a lot. I didn’t have blazing speed, but I had really good control,” he said. “I thought of myself as more of a pitcher than a power guy, and I think that’s why I was able to throw so many innings. I didn’t rear back and just throw every pitch with everything I had. I tried to put a little bit of thought into it to limit my pitch count.”
It was an approach that worked. Meade managed to score a 14-3 varsity record with 120 strikeouts in 130 innings. He only walked 25 batters in his career and only allowed 13 earned runs. At the plate, Meade managed a .328 career batting average.
“He was always around the plate,” said Fontana. “He could hit. He could steal bases. He was an athlete no matter what he did. Look at football. Who would have thought that a kid his size could step onto a football field and do so well? But that’s what he did. You could count on him.”
Once again, Meade wasn’t the one stealing headlines. He was throwing strikes and keeping the ball in play while scouts studied one of Southington’s star outfielders. At the end of one game, a division one scout approached Fontana, and the coach was ready to talk about his all-state fielder. The scout wanted to talk about Meade.
“Dick Teague, the scout, came up to me and asked about where our pitcher was going,” Fontana said. “I told him, ‘What do you think? Division II?’ He said, ‘The hell with Division II. After what I saw tonight, I’m going to call South Carolina.’ That’s how Pete wound up with a scholarship at South Carolina.”
Meade went on to capture two varsity letters in three seasons with the Gamecocks. Two of Meade’s teams clawed their way into the NCAA tournament until a shoulder injury helped him make the decision to end his athletic career. Meade said that he never looked back on the decision to play baseball even though he had chances to play football.
“I loved baseball during baseball season. I loved football during football season, and I loved basketball during basketball season, but if I had to rank them, football was actually first,” he said. “That made it a tough decision, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was a blast. It was some great baseball. I got to play against some professional athletes, and had a chance to play in the Cape Cod league. I certainly don’t regret it.”
How could he? Meade is one of the most accomplished three-sport athletes in Southington’s storied history. That’s why it’s no surprise that Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee will induct him as a member of the Class of 2014.
“There aren’t too many three sport athletes, and even fewer that did it that well. Pete was definitely one of them,” said Fontana. “He led in a quiet way. He wasn’t boisterous. He wasn’t one of those kids to chest bump or anything like that. He was the kind of guy that you would want to get into a huddle to talk. He wasn’t shouting. He would inspire them.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Meade will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.
By John Goralski