By KEVIN ROBERTS
Going undefeated in one season is hard enough. Try doing it over two seasons.
That’s precisely what the Southington Knights fourth grade travel football team did in 2017 and 2018. Southington went undefeated in 2017 at the third grade level, which didn’t have playoffs.
“The league promotes safety at all levels and in order to enforce a learning year – there’s no playoffs,” coach Jeff Bell said.
The fourth grade team finished the 2018 regular season undefeated. Three weeks of playoffs followed for the Shoreline League’s No. 1 seed.
“The games became more competitive as we progressed but they continued to overcome any obstacles,” Bell said of his players.
That included a 13-12 comeback win over Cheshire in the Shoreline championship game.
“This was the second week in a row where we had to maintain our composure and overcome a deficit to come away with a win,” Bell said.
The championship is the second in the Shoreline League for the Southington Knights Travel Football & Cheer program. The Shoreline League has been operating for 35 years and is made up of 17 towns. Teams compete by grade from third grade until eighth grade. How did Southington win the championship?
“We have a great group of kids, from extremely talented to those that are learning the game,” Bell said. “Our focus though is to push them all to become better team players. We coach them to understand that at any point in a game – you need to be ready to perform and can be put in a position that you may not be familiar with but we expect them to play hard at all times.”
The 35 players on the team come from six different elementary schools, but they all meshed together. Bell credited the parents with helping to fuel that feeling of an extended family. The family element goes much further than that.
“Four of our fourth graders have big brothers who won in 2017 and watched them celebrate,” Bell said. “To have them have this experience to share with their big brothers and family has been fantastic to see.”
The camaraderie and feeling of family are combined with Bell’s three rules – sportsmanship, play with class, and have fun.
“Even with all of the success this team has accomplished – we still have opposing coaches telling the team how respectful our boys are to play against,” Bell said. “This, to me, is the most lasting component to this game. Teaching life lessons is as important if not more important than the wins and losses. That will be with them forever. I still, to this day, remember my coaches from youth sports more than I do the wins and losses.”
Bell also noted the success of the cheerleading program, which saw its Division 14 team win a national championship in their division.
“The Knights program is doing great and it is a pleasure to be a part of,” Bell said. “The players, parents and board members make this program so much fun to be a part of and we look forward to many years of championships ahead.”
The fourth grade football team contributed to that championship feeling, and the group hasn’t lost a regular season game in two full years.
The players on the fourth grade championship team are: Stephen Rahenkamp, Nicholas Leggett, Chase Boudreau, Jaxson Musshorn, Evan Morgan, Danny Marino, Mason LeFort, Dylan DeGumbia, Trenton Bougie, Nicholas Andrews, Thomas Carr, Benjamin Kielbowicz, Luke Bell, Austin Brennan, Joey Tardif, Fabio DeLucia, Ryan Porzycki, Ryan Kratzert, Evan Herron, Owen McQuatters, Charlie Peterson, Connor Orange, Oronde Moore Jr., Gabriel Stevens, Aiden Tulacro, Jonathon Sipley, Ean Herron, Jeffrey King, Ethen Clements, Cole Hinckley, Alex Witherell, Christian Bonola, Luke Prozzo, Nico Sena and Bryce Upson.
The coaches on the championship team are: Jeff Bell, Jamie Leggett, John DeGumbia, Rick McQuatters, Greg Witherell, Matthew Orange and TJ Musshorn.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com