By JOHN GORALSKI
The coach of Plainville’s all-star team gathered her players and pointed to Southington’s outfield at the small, under-aged fielder that looked out of place in a squad of teenaged all-stars. Doreen Lumbra wore her age, No. 8, on her chest like a badge of honor, but Plainville coaches saw an opportunity to take advantage of the one small child in Southington’s lineup.
It turned out to be a big mistake.
“She really stood out. She wasn’t afraid of anything, and she was out there with all those kids that made up Southington’s ‘82 and ‘83 state championship teams,” said former Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza. “They were all younger. They might have been 12 or 13 years old, but Doreen was only eight. She hung with them every step of the way.”
Nobody knows what inning it was that Plainville coaches shifted their strategy. Southington went on to win that summer contest, and Lumbra stole the hearts of Southington fans. It wouldn’t be the last time that the local fielder would turn heads in a big game, but it might be the last time that anybody underestimated her.
“I always had a competitive edge, and I didn’t like to lose,” Lumbra said with a soft laugh as she remembered that game almost 40 years ago. “Even today, when I play, I want to be the best at everything that I want to do. Losing isn’t the end, but I always want to win. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve always been a part of winning teams.”
Sometimes players are lucky, and sometimes they forge that luck. Lumbra’s success was no accident.
She was born as the youngest of four children, the daughter of a competitive bowler and basketball player and a father that was always athletic. She grew up in a burgeoning Southington, honing her skills in backyard contests against the neighborhood boys during that era when girl youth leagues and camps were just getting started.
The neighborhood “tomboy” was well ahead of that curve, holding her own against the neighborhood boys, proving her mettle through actions on the field.
“I was just a big tom boy. I latched onto my brother and his friends when I was younger, and I was an athlete all my life,” she said. “There was a pond right behind her house. We were always ice skating or bike riding. We grew up with a big field behind our house, and we made a make-shift baseball field back there. We’d drag the lawnmower out there, we’d make our own bases, and we’d play out there for hours…We didn’t go home until we heard the whistle.”
That’s why Lumbra wasn’t overwhelmed as an eight-year-old player going against pre-teens and teenagers at Piazza’s summer camp. It was no different than proving herself against those older neighborhood boys. Lumbra had learned to play softball, but she forgot to learn about fear.
“She’s a fabulous athlete. If they had those flag football games back then like they do now, I think she would have been awesome. She was that type of athlete,” Piazza said. “She was always strong. She was a leader whenever we did drills, whether it was speed swinging, weighted bat swinging, pushups, or whatever. She was always at the top.”
And that says something, since Southington was already set apart as a sports dynasty when Lumbra arrived at the high school. The team had won back-to-back titles in the late 70s, and her former youth teammates had won three straight from 1981 to 1983.
When her sophomore season didn’t end in a championship title, Lumbra returned the following spring with a mission. She set single season records in at bats (96), doubles (7), triples (8), total bases (84), and hits (41). She shattered the previous record with a mind-boggling slugging percentage of .854.
It was no surprise when the Knights regained their crown with their first of two championship banners. Lumbra led the way.
“She led by example. I had total faith that, if a ball was hit to her, she was going to come up with the play. And if she was on base, she was going to try and take that extra base with her speed,” said her former teammate, Kris Mach. “She was a hard worker, had great instincts, quick reflexes, speed, strength, and overall great knowledge of the sport. Doreen is a natural athlete.”
During that first championship rally, Lumbra was shifted from outfield to third base in order to tighten up the defense, and the all-state junior dominated the infield.
Mach said that she still remembers a play where Lumbra fielded a ground ball, caught an opponent leaning off third base out of the corner of her eye, and caught everybody off-guard—her own team and the opponent squad—as she faked the throw to first, wheeled toward the unsuspecting runner, and scored the out like a magician misdirecting the crowd for her signature trick.
“It looked so convincing,” said Mach. “She turned around and tagged the girl out who was on third. It was an awesome play which showed you how good of a player she was.”
At the plate, Lumbra was just as convincing, leading the way with her bat. On the bases she was just as fierce. It was no surprise that college scouts began to pepper the sidelines at Southington games.
“It really wasn’t about me. It was about what I could do to help my team win,” Lumbra said. “How can I get on base? How am I going to field the ball? What kind of captain or teammate am I going to be? It was all about being a part of the team. How can I make this team complete, so we can win a game together?”
Her coach said that Lumbra always had that little something extra. “She was one of the first kids that I had that did that fade-away slide and grab the base with her hand, so she could avoid tags,” Piazza said.
Her high school records have all been broken, but Piazza said that she was one of the best position players and clutch hitters in the history of the program. At the time, Southington was competing in one of the toughest conferences in the state, and that was compounded by an out-of-conference schedule that was littered with top programs.
Still, Lumbra managed to put up numbers that had never been seen before.
“We didn’t play the kids for a lot of innings in a game. We didn’t have as many blowouts, so kids weren’t able to rack up the number of hits that they are able to do now,” said Piazza. “We faced good pitchers. There were six to eight out of league games that we could pick up back then, and we always picked them up against good, quality teams. We might have had a couple of teams that we could blow out, but for the most part our kids had to earn every hit, stolen base, or run scored.”
Lumbra carried her momentum into the next level. After being wooed by a number of regional teams, she settled on Adelphi University, a small division one program in Nassau County, N.Y. She loved the school. She loved the organization, but most of all she loved the opportunity to play with former Southington standout Julie Bolduc in her final year at Adelphi.
DePaolo Junior High School and Southington High School were both three-year programs at the time, so the two Southington stars had never stepped onto a field together…befor college.
“I finally had a chance to play with the great Julie Bolduc—even if it was only for a year,” said Lumbra. “It was a little scary at first. I was no longer the senior winning championships. Now, I was a freshman playing with all of these great, division one girls. It was a great experience. I mean, I played in a college world series. How many girls can say that they did that?”
Once again, Lumbra hit the ground running, and she quickly became a central part of the Adelphi offense. She started in every single game during her four-year varsity career from 1987 to 1990, and she was named to the all-conference team in each year, including the first team all-Northeast region during her senior season.
Lumbra still ranks second in career at bats (608) and triples (18) at Adelphi. She’s ranked third in stolen bases (81) and eighth in runs scored. After a quarter century, she’s still ranked No. 9 in single season runs scored (39) and she is ranked No. 5 (28 in 1990) and No. 6 (24 in 1989) in single season steals.
Still, it was the team’s surge into the college championships in 1989 that stands out in Lumbra’s memory.
“It was unreal. It was an intimidating experience because we were little Adelphi from the Northeast. Now, here we were, traveling to play against the top teams in the country,” she said. “It was an experience that I’ll never forget. I had played softball all my life, and here I was on a big stage.”
Even after graduation, Lumbra still had more to give. Aldephi’s program didn’t continue to grow when Lumbra left. In fact, in 1994 the underdog titans disbanded their team for a season. The following spring, they enlisted Lumbra as part of a coaching staff that was challenged with rebuilding the once proud program.
That’s why it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Lumbra as a member of the Class of 2015. She has been a star at almost every level of softball.
“Doreen’s induction is long overdue,” said Piazza. “She definitely belongs. As a position player, she was in my top two. She did everything. She could play pretty much anywhere that you wanted her to play.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, she will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. It will be the fourth hall of fame for the Southington star.
“It’s very, very special to me. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe when you think about the number of people that played sports in Southington and the number of athletes that came through,” said Lumbra. “To be recognized is special. You know you made an impact on somebody…Hopefully, I was a role model for somebody else.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460.
To comment on this story or to contact Observer editor John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.