Hall of Fame – The joker’s wild: At every level, John Bores put the ‘fun’ in fundamentals

John Bores took over one of the biggest sports dynasties in Connecticut and kept it going. Bores captured two state titles, five state championship game appearances, three undefeated seasons, and two national rankings during his nine years at the helm.

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

John Bores couldn’t wait to get away from Connecticut when he was done coaching but being tired of softball, but it had nothing to do with it. He ended up in Vero Beach, Fla., but it didn’t take him long to find himself on the sidelines again.

“I had a hard time putting it away in the rearview mirror,” Bores said.

Bores would watch high school softball and basketball in the Vero Beach area. If a former Lady Knight’s college team was playing nearby, Bores made the trip. He watched former players like Jordyn Moquin and Lauren Zazzaro take the field, and he got to see Elisa Van Kirk coaching her own team. He would also text former players, like Kara Zazzaro when she signed to play with Iona College.

Bores never lost his love of coaching and never stopped caring about his players, but that’s no surprise. “I had the time of my life,” he said. Bores was a teacher at heart.

With almost 40 years as a coach at almost every level of Southington sports, Bores’ enshrinement in the Southington Sports Hall of Fame comes as no surprise. But Bores said he was stunned when he found out via a letter. He had to read it twice.

“I was shocked, absolutely shocked,” Bores said. “I had no inkling that it would have happened.”

Of course, he was the only one shocked. According to former Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza, his former assistant was a lock for the hall of fame.

“If they had a hall of fame for assistant coaches, he should be in there, because he was a great assistant coach for softball, a great assistant coach for basketball, a great assistant coach for soccer,” said Piazza. If there was something to be done, Bores did it, Piazza said.

“He was that kind of coach,” Piazza said. “He did what he was asked to do, and when it was his to run with softball, he ran with it.”

When it comes to softball, Bores coached at almost every local level. He was DePaolo Junior High School’s first coach when the program was established in 1979. With Title IX opening the door for female athletes, Bores rode the wave of excitement. He coached softball and soccer at the junior high school, and he said that it was an exciting time.

“I used to have a ton of kids,” he said. “I would have 80 to 90 kids try out for softball. It was the same thing with soccer. I would be out there with 70 to 80 kids.”

Bores said that the rivalry against Kennedy Junior High School used to draw crowds that rival high school varsity games, and his Patriots embraced the big stage. If his teams had more than two losses in a season, the kids were disappointed. His high school feeder program was as dominant as the Lady Knights, so it was no surprise that he was swept up by the high school when the freshmen migrated to Southington High.

“I wasn’t crazy about the move at first,” said Bores, who noted that the school was huge and crowded. Freshmen teams had to battle the established varsity programs for facilities, fields, and resources that were already stretched thin during the muddy spring conditions. Freshmen were the last to get gym time, so it was a challenge to work on fundamentals such as defense, bunting, and baserunning.

For 34 years, John Bores was a fixture on the Southington sidelines, first as a junior high school coach, then as a freshman and assistant coach for three high school teams, and finally as the head coach for the Lady Knight softball team.

“It was an adjustment for everybody,” Bores said. Once again, the coach embraced the challenge. “I had a lot of unselfish kids, and they knew the goal was to win no matter what.”

Bores worked with his players in every season, joining the coaching staffs for basketball and soccer. With his experience as a teacher and a coach, Bores was always ready to step in when needed. When Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza suffered a potential career-ending medical condition in 1999, Bores’ experience helped prepare the softball team for an eventual state title.

Piazza said that his team was in good hands, especially with Bores’ sense of humor helping the high school players deal with a stressful situation.

“He would just say something and you would say ‘What???’ and bust out laughing,” said fellow Class of 2018 inductee Heather Brousseau-Poutouves, a key player on the 1999 state championship softball team. “I’m so happy for him that he’s getting inducted.”

“He would crack jokes at them all the time,” Piazza said. “He had that way with the kids. It was his way of kind of keeping them in their place and loosening them up.”

Bores wasn’t shy about saying what he felt. He said his basketball players told him that he had “no filter.” That extended into postgame media interviews when Bores would break the tension with a well-timed joke. Bores was good at getting the most out of his players, their parents, and even the press.

“I could be sarcastic, I could be charming, I could be funny,” Bores said.

Piazza said it was a sort of “good cop, bad cop” situation at times. When Piazza had to be tough on a player, Bores would swoop in to loosen her back up, usually with a wisecrack of some sort. When the head coaching position opened in 2002, Bores was the perfect person to step in and continue the winning legacy.

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The program never missed a step. His players were the most supportive, returning the favor to their former assistant coach.

“I didn’t know I was going to be the coach until two weeks before the season,” Bores said. “Lindsay Fish and the other seniors said: ‘Don’t worry coach, we’ve got your back.’”

Bores, a hands-on coach who could get excitable, saw his first Southington softball team reach the state final in 2002. The same was true of 2003, but the problem was the Lady Knights ran into Amity in both finals. The Lady Spartans won 1-0 in 2002 and 3-0 in 2003. Under Bores’ leadership, the Knights never faltered. Southington High School was still the team to beat in Connecticut softball.

The third time was the charm. In 2004, Lady Knights were stacked with an unselfish team of “big personalities” that couldn’t be rattled. And after two losses in the state finals, they were highly motivated. Bores said that his three seniors were soft-spoken and all business.

“Nothing bothered them,” he said. “Nothing fazed them.”

Bores worked to keep things loose, joking that he would “need to feel someone’s wrist to make sure there was a pulse” before each game. Freshman pitcher Nicole Davenport stepped into the circle for the first two games, while senior co-captain Natalie Volpe was sick, and Southington won both games, including a 1-0 victory at perennial powerhouse Bristol Central.

When it comes to pitching and defense, the 2004 Lady Knights live in rarified air. The two runs allowed in 24 games is still second fewest all-time in United States history, according to the National Federation of High Schools record book. The two earned runs allowed is tied for fourth fewest all-time nationally.

The 2004 Southington softball team wasn’t scored upon for 154 1/3 innings. The first run didn’t score until the sixth inning of the Class LL state semifinal game against Cheshire. The Lady Rams got the only two scored against the Lady Knights all season but still lost the game 5-2.

“I told them ‘We don’t care about the streak. We want to get back to the state championship game and win it,’” Bores said of a team talk before the postseason began.

Offensively, the team could hit—1 through 9 in the lineup—and they were good at getting bunts down. Volpe, Steph Kowalec and Kelly Anderson, the three quiet seniors, were the team’s clutch hitters, along with catcher Elisa Van Kirk providing power behind the plate and at the plate.

“They did everything I wanted them to do,” Bores said about that 2004 team. “We got the absolute most effort that we could have from that team.”

Including Bores’ first state title. Bores won his second and final championship in 2013. Does that mean that Bores and the Lady Knights were unsuccessful? Absolutely not.

“He would make the tournament every year, he had great years every year,” Piazza said.

Southington returned to the state final in 2012, its first appearance since 2004. The Lady Knights were playing long-time foe Amity, a team that has been a thorn in their side on multiple occasions. In the 2012 Class LL state final, Southington fell on its own thorns.

“We played the worst game that any of my previous teams had ever played,” Bores said.

Amity hit the ball all game long, and Southington couldn’t pick it up on defense. Two underclassmen pitchers struggled against the Spartans. According to Bores, the Lady Knights “got whooped.”

That 2012 game was hard to swallow for Bores and his players. It should have come as no surprise that the Lady Knights were determined to redeem themselves the next season. Pitcher Jordyn Moquin, now a senior, attacked batters with a vengeance, earning all-conference and all-state honors as she raced through teams, and the rest of his lineup was just as focused.

“They were just a great group of kids,” Bores said of his 2013 team, a good mixture of experience and youth.

Most importantly, Bores began grooming his own replacement, enlisting Davina Hernandez onto his staff as an assistant coach. The coach reached out to her through her family, and within an hour Hernandez responded. Bores knew right away that he’d found his new assistant coach…and his eventual successor.

“We hired her, and the rest is history,” Bores said.

Bores, being Bores, couldn’t help but bust his new assistant’s chops when Southington lost 4-0 to Bristol Central at Bristol Central, the only loss for the 2013 team. Hernandez endured some good-natured ribbing from those wearing Lady Ram maroon on the hill that day, and her own boss to boot.

When Southington made it to the 2013 Class LL state final against Mercy at West Haven High School’s Frank Biondi Field, Bores was emotional. “When we stood out on the field for the National Anthem, I had tears in my eyes, because I knew I was gone,” Bores said.

The 2013 season would be the last for Bores as head coach, but he made sure that his program was in good hands and ready to continue as a powerhouse. His 2013 state title sparked a three-year title run that continued with his former assistant.

“To go out with a win and win the way we did, it was really, really gratifying,” Bores said. To have that winning tradition continue was pure Bores.

“To see him win in his last year, that was probably the best thing for me, to see him going out like that,” Joe Piazza said.

So it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Bores as a member of the Class of 2018. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the coach will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.

“You take a guy that really had a lot of experience in softball, but no experience as a head softball coach, stepping into a great program, and continuing the tradition?” said Piazza. “They didn’t let up once. He was the finals, semifinals, quarterfinals at the least, almost every year.”

To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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