Class of 2017: Southington’s hall of fame reflects every level of play

By JOHN GORALSKI

EDITOR

Joe Triompo’s homerun captured the attention of Southington sports fans when he used a Yankee Stadium “bat day” bat to clinch Connecticut’s Little League state title in the summer of 1969. His team pushed the Yankees off the front page of local papers when an eighth inning balk led to a victory over Rhode Island at the regional championship.

In August of 1969, Southington’s all-star teens came one victory short of a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and it still stands as the best Little League rally in town history. They were invited to walk in three separate parades. They were toasted at the Apple Harvest Festival, and old-timers still talk about that summer whenever temperatures start to rise.

It seemed fitting that the team would be inducted into the Southington Sports Hall of Fame on the 50th anniversary of that storied run. The timing couldn’t be any better.

“The committee really felt that it was their time,” said Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee chair Dennis J. Stanek Jr. “It’s probably overdue, but they’re finally in. We’re really excited about it.”

Stanek said that this is an example of why the Southington Sports Hall of Fame is so unique. It isn’t just the high school teams, college standouts, or professional superstars that have influenced the town’s rich sports history. Athletes at every level have influenced the town’s sports landscape, and the selection committee considers this when making their selections.

“I played Little League in the 1970s at Recreation Park, and there was this giant black and white team photograph of the 1969 team hanging up at the concession stand,” Stanek said. “The kids we played against sort of looked at it with awe. Several the kids from that team went on to play for the high school and made it to the 1976 state championship game. That’s the same team that [retired] Coach John Fontana said was the best team in Southington High School history.”

With their induction, the 1969 sluggers—along with the 1957 Southington High School Class B football champions—will spotlight another strong class of inductees, which includes an array of athletes from football, baseball, softball, and volleyball to gymnastics, track, basketball…and even billiards.

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The Class of 2017 includes household names, such as Henry Cence, Leslie Dunn, Colleen Klopp, Gerry LaMontagne, Yvette Mirando, and Mark Sobolewski. Each had success long after high school graduation.

Cherraine Davis, who shattered local, state, and regional records at almost every competition during her short track and field career, will be inducted posthumously.

Sal “Cool Cat” Conti is a world champion professional trick-shot pool artist, billiard instructor, tournament director, and member of the New England Pool and Billiard Hall of Fame. The Southington native will be recognized for his athletic accomplishments at the international level.

Former Blue Knight wrestler Mat Florian will be inducted as a booster for his unselfish and unwavering support of Southington sports, often at his own expense and without taking credit.

In addition, the town will induct former Blue Knight football coach Jude Kelly, who is still racking up victories as coach of St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol. Kelly coached the Blue Knight football team from 1988 to 2004. His 17-year career with the Knights still stands as the third longest tenure in program history behind fellow hall of famers Jay Fontana (23 seasons) and Dom D’Angelo (21 seasons).

Kelly’s career record in Southington was 115-62-2, and his team captured Southington’s first CIAC championship game victory in 1998.

“I think this year’s inductees are as talented as any previous class,” said Stanek. “However, it’s also very unique in the sense that we have a pool shark, a Little League baseball team, a former professional baseball player, and an exceptionally talented Lady Knight who passed away far too soon.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, this group 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 brings this all together. It’s what makes being inducted so important. It’s the friendships. It’s the time spent together,” said Stanek. “I’d encourage all the past recipients to attend, sponsor the event, and be an advocate for what the Southington Sports Hall of Fame committee has been doing. It gets better every single year.”

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 – mikeboissy@cox.net.

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