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Half century of track in Avon

AHS track and field program celebrates longevity

Former Avon High athletes and coaches gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first track and field team at Avon from 1962.

AVON, May 12 – Kurt Fioretti was a three-sport athlete at Avon High in the early 1980s. He played soccer and basketball – high-profile sports that gathered plenty of attention from fellow students and the general public. In the spring, he participated on the track and field team – a sport that usually gathers little attention.

Earlier this month, Fioretti, who lives in Las Vegas, was back in town. What drew him back? It was an opportunity to visit old friends and classmates from his track and field days and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Avon High track team.

Avon recognized its track program on May 12 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a dual meet with Lewis Mills. The Avon boys team won six events and three relays to beat Mills, 86½ to 62½ to improve to 10-2 while the Avon girls improved to 11-1 with a 87-63 victory, winning eight events and three relays.

Former coaches Ray Hanelius, left, and Kurt Fioretti greet each other. Hanelius coasched Fioretti in high school and Fioretti coached the team years later.

It was a day of memories and recognition for the athletes and coaches that have completed within the program for the past half century.

The boys program began in 1962 and the Falcons have won six state championships and seven league titles. Thirty-four boys have won individual state titles along with six relay teams. The girls program began eight years later in 1970 and they have won or shared eight league titles. Eight girls and five relay teams have won state titles.

Medals and championships took a back seat on this afternoon. This was about renewing friendships forged on cold, spring afternoons on a cinder track circling the football field. Today’s current all-weather facility is a recent addition, opening in 2000.

“In high school, it was probably one of my top experiences from the teammates I had to the coaching I received from Jeff Linton and Ray Hanelius,” Fioretti said. “Our success didn’t hurt. And some of our practices were more competitive than our meets.”

From 1979-81, the Falcons won 27 straight dual meets and won two Class S championships. Linton was the head coach with Hanelius as an assistant coach. Hanelius ran the team from the late 1960s through 1974, winning a Northwest Conference title in 1971.

Right, Travis Lytle, left, Jeff Hyman, center, and Mark Fisher check out old newspaper clips, medals and other track and field material.

Mark Fisher competed with Fioretti in soccer, basketball and track and field. “Some of the best relationships I have where formed out here in track and field,” he said. “This transforms you. Where else can you have an individual perform as part of a team? This was very rewarding. The harder you work, the better your individual results can be.”

Fioretti and Fisher coached together for four seasons in the early 1990s, helping lead the Falcons in 1994 to its only NCCC title and its most recent state Class S championship.

Years later, Fioretti recognizes, in his own life, the little lessons about working hard, setting and reaching goals, forming and establishing relationships with teammates that he learned in sports at Avon, including track and field.

Fioretti and Fisher met with several old teammates and friends the evening before the 50th anniversary meet at a local pizza restaurant. “This was much more fun than coming back for funerals,” Fioretti quipped.

Several former athletes from the girls program were also at the reunion, including Michael Williams, who helped started the girls cross country program in Avon and was one of the first girls track coaches.

“We had a lot of good athletes,” Williams said. As a coach, Williams made an effort to show the girls their progress. After every meet, he prepared a newsletter with results on one side and personal bests on the other side of the paper. Girls could earn points toward a varsity letter by achieving a personal best.

In a three-year stretch from 1978-80, the Falcons won three straight Northwest Conference titles and were 41-4. They had the only undefeated season in girls team history at 17-0 in 1980.

In the years before Title IX became a force helping girls get the opportunity to compete, Williams continually strove to provide girls with the chance to compete. “I encouraged any kid to be an athlete,” he said. “I felt sports gave so much to you. No matter what you do in life, participating in sports would help you.”

There were two special events, too, at the celebration. Alumni and members of the community participated in a 1,600 mile run. Recent graduate John Drago easily won in 4:32 while graduate Alex Hogan was second in 5:52. There was also a special relay between the Avon and Lewis Mills coaching staffs that Avon prevailed in.

Avon Booster Club member Marianne Smith, who had a son and daughter participate in the program, helped create a large poster board of the current school records in the respective events along with displays with every conference and state champion from Avon in the last 50 years.

Avon High track and field
Boys team

  • First team 1962
  • Six Class S state championships (1964, 1966, 1979, 1980, 1991, 1994)
  • Seven league titles (Four Northwest Conference, one NCCC, two Charter Oak Conference titles)
  • 34 boys have won state titles. Six relay teams have won state titles
  • David Starr (javelin, 1966), Jeff Hyman (5,000 meters, 1982), Brian Lenihan (5,000 meters, 1985; steeplechase, 1984) and Jeff Cavanaugh (1994) have won State Open titles.

Girls team

  • First team 1970
  • Won eight league titles (3 NCCC titles and five Northwest Conference titles)
  • Eight girls have won state titles. Five relay teams have won state titles
  • Karen Zaccor (1 mile, 1972), Anne Lindsay (Discus, 1973) and the 4×800 relay (1996) have won State Open titles

Click on this link for more photos from the 50th anniversary celebration on our Facebook page.

 

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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