It was all too familiar. Flashes of last year’s selection process flooded my head as déjà vu set in. The conference table was covered with charts and spreadsheets. Torn pages from a notebook, newspaper clippings, and box scores were scattered across the floor. The arguments grew louder and the gap widened.
“That team needed her,” said Southington Observer editor John Goralski. “She made the difference in that season.”
I thought that this year’s selection process of The Southington Observer’s Athletes of the Year was going to be easier than last year’s, but was I wrong. Sure, we argued last year, but it was understandable because of the split in coverage during the seasons. Goralski covered the fall and part of the winter. I covered the other half of the winter and the spring. Picks were prejudiced and choices were biased.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things that we agree on, but this wasn’t one of them.
“He should be the male athlete of the year, and you know it,” I said. “All-state selections in multiple sports are almost unheard of.”
Goralski had been deciding the athletes of the year for over a decade before he left the sport writer’s chair for good last January. Of course, last year’s candidates turned into a heated argument that had to be broken up by the pizza delivery guy. I stormed out of the office and threatened to quit.
This year’s selection process was heading in the same direction. We met day after day to discuss candidates, and every meeting ended in an argument. But then everything changed.
One week before deadline, Goralski surrendered. The final decision was in my hands, he said. I was shocked, but never before had I been left with such a dilemma.
I spent the rest of the week trying to figure it out. I pinned notes, graphs, and statistics to my bedroom wall. I even asked other people’s opinion, including coaches. I was losing sleep over it.
One night I woke up in a cold sweat, and it hit me. I wasn’t asking the right question: what athlete meant the most to their teams?
My dilemma was solved. It was more than just stats. These two athletes not only went above and beyond on the playing field, but they also excelled off of it as well.
It was difficult, but that’s what happens when you try to pick one female and one male to represent a class of 467 graduating seniors. The Class of 2016 had approximately 138 student-athletes with 42 multi-sport athletes and eight that competed throughout all three seasons. Choosing just one female and one male in a group of so many talented athletes was an almost impossible challenge.
Obviously success on the field is a crucial factor, but we also consider athleticism, sportsmanship, teamwork, and integrity. Versatility has come to be a very heavily weighted category, but with so many multi-sport athletes, it doesn’t thin the field too much. Grades can tip the scales. Extra-curricular activities are measured, and intangibles always matter.
This has been a truly special year, so choosing The Observer’s Athletes of the Year has been no easy task. We made arguments for every single three-sport athlete, and this class had a number of good ones. Gabi Napoli, Jami Pliego, Kali Pliego, Lauren Perkowski, and Sean Garrison never seemed to stop as a group of distance runners that started in the fall, continued through the winter, and kept going in the spring.
Other three-sport athletes included Emily Maciejewski and Kelsea Allen.
There were two-sport athletes like Emily Mankus, Natalie Wadolowski, Sam Lohneiss, Andrew Rogalski, Jake Testa, Jarod Florian, Kyle Bunko, and Logan LaRosa. And there were also players dominant in one sport, like Andrew Szandrocha, Andrew Szymanski, Austin Bull, Austin Morin, Ben Chasse, Chris Gamber, Drew Farkas, Erik Schneider, Jack Dietz, and Jack Rivers. And the list goes on.
There were so many girls that could be singled out as Athletes of the Year that it boggles the mind: Natalie Wadolowski, Gabi Napoli, Erin Angelillo, Emily Maciejewski, and Sam Lohneiss. Ultimately it came down to Erin Angelillo because of her comeback story from the soccer field to the track.
Then there were the boys. Once again, you could make an argument for a number of top athletes: Logan LaRosa, Sean Garrison, Ryan Burrill, Andrew Rogalski, and Jarod Florian.
Ultimately, it came down to Ryan Burrill because of his actions on the field, as well as off of it.
So thank you to all the athletes that left us with great memories, a host of conference titles and records, and proved—once again—that Southington High School is one of the best all-around sports programs that this state has ever seen. The bar has been raised again for the Class of 2012. Who will rise to the top? Who will dominate the conversation next year, on and off the field? Who will earn that “S” that Southington athletes wear on their chests?
Which ones will battle for next year’s title? You’ll have to wait and see…
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.