By JOHN GORALSKI
Commuters racing across town might not stop to think about the origins of Savage Street or the family that lent its name to the Southington landscape. Sports fans, boasting about the town’s rich sports history, might pass over James “Jimmie” Savage when they argue about which athlete launched Southington’s rich sports legacy.
That’s why the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee highlighted Savage as the cornerstone of their seventh class of inductees. For most local sports fans, his name has been lost to history.
“He might be the original professional athlete to come out of Southington,” said Southington Sports Hall of Fame chairman Dennis Stanek, Jr. “That’s exciting, and I think we did a good job of finding him and revealing him to the town.”
James “Jimmie” Savage was born in Southington on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1883, and he was 29 years old when he broke into the big leagues on Sept. 3, 1912 as the second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Savage appeared in a major league lineup for three seasons, including 1914 when he played as the regular outfielder for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the old Federal League. Over 66 games with the Rebels in 1914, Savage played primarily in left field but shifted to shortstop and third base as he was needed. He finished his short career with a .276 batting average, 139 hits, one home run and 26 runs batted in.
“We know that he’s buried at St. Thomas Cemetery. We know that he was born in Southington, and most likely Savage Street is named after his family,” said Stanek. “Who knows? We might be able to track down a long lost heir to him that can come forward with a picture of him playing ball. I think this an exciting part of what we’re trying to do here with the hall of fame. We want to recognize athletes, coaches, boosters, supporters, and fans that have been a part of Southington sports for over 100 years.”
With his posthumous induction, Savage will be joined by another strong class in 2016, which includes an array of athletes from football, wrestling, and soccer to baseball and softball. The Class of 2016 athletes includes household names such as Andy Liseo, Kim Lynch, Lisa Matukaitis, Ted Wallace, and Jessica Gianatti. All were leaders in their sports, and many went on to contribute to sports well beyond graduation.
In addition, they’ll be joined by Pete Sepko, a multi-sport athlete at Southington High School during the football team’s storied 33-game undefeated streak (1962-1966). But Sepko is best known for his work after graduation.
When the wrestling team was in danger of folding, Sepko rolled up his sleeves and threw himself into the fray. In the spring, he coached the local track teams for more than two decades, marshaling the Knights through the postseason to their best finishes in program history. This fall, he will be honored for his 26 years as a coach for the Blue Knights.
Off the field, the late Doug Topshe made just as big of an impact. The former owner of Tops Supermarket lent his time and money to developing Southington athletes. He was a founder of the town’s midget football leagues and a former UNICO gold medal winner for his work around town. Topshe will be honored posthumously as a local booster.
“It gets more difficult as each year progresses to limit the list of athletes and coaches getting in,” said Stanek. “We’re getting down to the nitty gritty now. We’re looking at stats, not just name recognition because this is not a popularity contest. We’re getting down to those hardcore stats.”
That’s why the hall of fame will welcome two more Southington High School teams to its roster—the 1994 baseball team coached by John Fontana and the 1986 softball team coached by Joe Piazza. Both were littered with hall of fame athletes as they marched their way to state championships.
“I think it’s really exciting that we have some great men and women that are getting inducted this year,” said Stanek. “They’ve all proven themselves and their value. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, they will be honored in an induction ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. Tickets will be available soon and will cost $50. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
“The dinner is always a huge success, and it’s a sell-out every single year. As a matter of fact, every year we end up asking the maitre d’ to set up a few more tables because we get more people than we expected,” said Stanek. “We think that friends and family are going to come out in droves to celebrate this class of athletes, and it’s going to be a great time.”
The committee has already begun compiling statistics for next year’s induction class, and they continue to welcome nominations from the public. To nominate a team, player, booster, or media member, send a request along with supporting documentation, statistics, and contact information to: Mike Boissonneault, 115 Panthorn Trail, Southington, CT 06489, (860) 628-5225, email – email@example.com.