By SPENCER DREHER
The long-time baseball former baseball coach at Southington high school, John Fontana, died last week at the age of 84. He died watching sports, something that impacted his entire life.
Fontana began coaching at Southington in 1962. In the 41 seasons that followed, the former SHS graduate compiled a 669-157 record with two state titles (1994, 1999), 24 conference titles, and 40 state tournament appearances. His 669 wins rank 20th all-time nationally.
He also coached 192 players that received a college scholarship, including nine players who competed in the Division I and II College World Series. Some notable players include Carl Pavano, who won a World Series with the Miami Marlins in 2003, and Rob Dibble, who won a World Series as a member of the “Nasty Boys” bullpen with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.
Fontana served on the executive board of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association from 1966 to 1988, and was the president and chairman of the National High School Coaches Association throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He also served on the Connecticut High School Basketball Referees Association.
“John Fontana was one of those people you come across once in a lifetime,” Dan Scavone, the director of the CIAC Officials Association, told the Republican American. “He made such a positive impact, not only in our state, but also nationally. He was so influential and had such a positive affect with the ranks of coaches. He did so much for coaches and was a staunch supporter of education through positive coaching modules. John made it his business to positively advance the whole arena of coaching across our state. You couldn’t imagine him not being present with us. That’s the bottom line.”
Fontana was inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Southington High School Baseball Hall of Fame (1988), the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame (1987), and the Southington Sports Hall of Fame (2012), which he founded in 2010.
He won the Connecticut High School Coach of the Year award in 1975, the District and National High School Baseball Coach of the Year award in 1983, and was named the American Baseball Coaches Association’s National Coach of the Year in 1993.
“With Coach Fontana’s passing a couple words continue to come up in conversation: ‘legend’ and ‘icon’, and I agree with both descriptions,” said Dennis J. Stanek Jr., chairman of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. “However the Connecticut High School, even the New England athletic family lost a tireless advocate. John was an undaunted coach, leader, and loving father and good friend. While he certainly refined many talented baseball players, and helped their careers, he was blessing to a lot of people. Not only his ballplayers, but his coaches and his circle of friends. He became a close friend of mine, I consider it a blessing that I was able to work alongside him with the Southington Sports Hall of Fame, which was an organization one hundred percent conceived by Coach.”
Outside of baseball, Fontana also served as a guidance counselor in the high school during his tenure. After he retired in 2003, he devoted a lot of his time to the Southington Park and Recreation Commission, starting in 2008.
Dave Lapreay, Director of Recreation in Southington, said that Fontana continued to help kids and athletes in his role with the department.
“Working with him, Coach always had the best interest in our program and our department,” Lapreay said. “He was on the board here for 13 years, and he always put the kids and our department first.”
Lapreay also played for Fontana in his time at Southington High, and said he appreciated how much Fontana pushed him to be at his best.
“He was the coach that every kid should wish to play for,” Lapreay said. “He wanted the best for you on the field, off the field, and in the classroom. He prepared me for baseball at the next level not just physically, but mentally as well. I owe a lot to him.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at SDreher@SouthingtonObserver.com.
To see his Hall of Fame induction poster, click here: John Fontana (2012 Coach)