Jean Hunt, the legendary Farmington High coach who helped expand and establish opportunities for girls to compete in high school sports in Connecticut, died on Friday in her hometown of Lexington, Mass., where she had been living for some time.
Hunt helped establish the first state tournaments in volleyball, basketball and field hockey. She coached for more than 30 years beginning in 1952 at Litchfield High School and ending in 1981 in Farmington.
She coached field hockey, basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, track and field, badminton and cheerleading. Her teams won over 500 games (502-139-44), 11 state championships and eight conference titles. Her various teams had 20 undefeated seasons.
Hunt was inducted into seven Hall of Fames including the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000. She was also recognized by the Connecticut Field Hockey Hall of Fame; Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame; Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame; Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the New Agenda Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame and the Litchfield High Athletic Hall of Fame.
But it wasn’t about awards and championships for Hunt. It was providing opportunities for young women competing in athletics. “We weren’t pushing for records,” Hunt said in 2000. “If they got together and enjoyed the game that was the important thing. It was the enjoyment of the game and being active.”
“She was far ahead of her time,” said former student Christine O’Connor, who went onto be a middle school physical education teacher in Farmington. “She gave opportunities to girls before opportunities were given to girls in most places in the state. We were taught skills, learned about expectations and self-discipline,” O’Connor remarked at a 2000 event honoring Hunt for her induction into the NHSCA Hall of Fame.
Suzi D’Annolfo was a teacher and coach in the West Hartford school system. She started her career in 1970 and eventually served as athletic director in West Hartford. There were many play dates with the girls from Farmington and D’Annolfo’s teams from Conard and Hall.
“Jean was a great role model and served as the epitome of high standards, integrity, and joy in sport,” D’Annolfo said. “She always had a smile on her face and exuded kindness to all, while demonstrating a fierce competitiveness on the field. She was a pioneer and a leader in the field of girls’ sports in Connecticut.”
Hunt graduated from the Sargent College at Boston University with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education in 1952. That fall, she began teaching in Litchfield where she coached soccer, basketball, field hockey, cheerleading and softball.
Hunt and her fellow coaches decided to offer field hockey because women had no opportunities to play soccer outside of high school in the 1950s. But there was field hockey for women at the collegiate level and in some adult leagues.
In 1957, Hunt came to Farmington where she coached basketball, field hockey and softball. She also coached volleyball, badminton and track and field. In the 1960s, some teams were fortunate to play 10 games against other schools. Many schools didn’t offer sports for girls.
“When we first started basketball in the 1950s and ‘60s, we were only able to use the gym on Tuesday and Friday afternoons because the boys played their games at night,” Hunt said when she was inducted in the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989. “We played maybe six games in a season.”
One of the ways to promote girls athletics was to provide the opportunity to compete in state tournaments. Hunt worked with several women to organize the tournaments and iron out the details. Eventually, the CIAC took them over.
One of the first state tournaments for girls was badminton. The first CIAC tournament for volleyball was held in 1965. Hunt had a hand in development of the first field hockey (1973) and girls basketball tournaments (1972).
“We started with badminton because we wanted to go through the process,” Hunt said in 2000. “If we made mistakes, we wanted to learn and correct the before we went onto a bigger tournament.
“It grew from there,” Hunt said in that 2000 interview. “By having those state tournaments, we created a situation where schools wanted to get involved in those activities.”
Hunt’s volleyball teams at Farmington won six state titles (1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972) and finished second in 1974. In field hockey, Hunt’s 1979 squad won a Class M championship and the 1976 team was second in Class M. The softball team won four Northwest Conference titles (1975, 1977-79). Hunt’s 1971 track and field team was second in Class M. In badminton, Farmington had state champions in doubles for four consecutive years.
In 1967, Hunt’s Farmington teams in field hockey, badminton, basketball and volleyball each finished the season undefeated. The volleyball team won a state title. In track, the Indians were second in an unofficial state girls meet.
“As is often stated, “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.” No doubt, Jean Hunt’s shoulders supported many of us in our formative years and throughout our long careers,” D’Annolfo said. “She was one of a kind and I will be forever grateful I had the opportunity to learn and grow from her.”
Hunt was also a basketball official for 24 years at the high school and collegiate level. She was the chairman of the Connecticut Board of Women Officials and a CIAC Committee Member for Tournament Play.
“As a teacher, coach, official, advocate, mentor, innovator, and driving force to promote competitive athletic opportunities for Connecticut girls, Jean Hunt left an indelible mark on those of us fortunate enough to work with her,” said Linda Wooster, executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “Her fierce drive, coupled with sincerity and a wonderful sense of humor, opened many doors for both her students and those of us in coaching and athletic administration. Jean leaves a legacy that truly makes her one of the cornerstones of Connecticut girls’ athletics.”
In 2001, Hunt received a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. In 1999, the Hartford Courant named Hunt was one of the best coaches of the 20th century. In 1986, the most valuable player award in the Class M girls basketball tournament was named in her honor.
Hunt lived in Canton for many years. She is survived by her sister, Rita E. Casey of Lexington and several nieces and nephews – Paul Casey of Cape Elizabeth, ME, Janet Blythe of Litchfield, ME and Mark Casey of Lexington.
A funeral service will be Wednesday, May 25, at Douglass Funeral Home, 51 Worthen Road, in Lexington, Mass., at 11 a.m. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m., on Wednesday at the funeral home.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Jean’s memory to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association women’s field hockey, c/o John Fontanta, P.O. Box 632, Southington, CT 06489 or the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, c/o Louise Albrecht, 323 Old Mill Road, Fairfield CT 06824. Click here to leave an online condolence.
Coaching highlights and honors
CT High School Coaches Association coach of the year (field hockey), 1977
CIAC Class M girls basketball final MVP award named in honor of Hunt, 1986
CT High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 1985
CT Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, 1989
New Agenda Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame, 1989
National high school coaching award, field hockey, 1989
CT Volleyball Hall of Fame, 1998
Best of Century coach, Hartford Courant, 1999
CT Field Hockey Hall of Fame, 2000
Gold Key from the CT Sports Writers Alliance, 2001
National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 2000
Litchfield Athletic Hall of Fame, 2003
Litchfield High (1952-57)
Coached soccer, basketball, field hockey, cheerleading and softball
Farmington High (1957-87)
Coached badminton, basketball, field hockey, softball, track and field, volleyball and cheerleading.
Coached at Farmington 1957-72, 1976, 1981. Overall record of 89-62. Two undefeated seasons
Coached at Farmington 1957-81. Overall record of 214-45-44. Five undefeated seasons; Farmington won 47 games in a row; four-time Northwest Conference champions (1975, 1977, 1978, 1979); won Class M title (1979); finished second in Class M (1976).
Coached at Farmington 1957-65, 1975-79. Overall record of 111-27. Three undefeated seasons; four-time Northwest Conference champions (1976, 1977, 1978, 1979)
TRACK and FIELD
Coached at Farmington 1968-72. Led Farmington to 2nd place finish in 1971 at the State Open and fifth place finish in 1969 in the first year of the State Open.
Coached at Farmington 1965-74. Overall record of 73-3. Led Farmington to state championships in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972. Indians were second in 1974.
Coached at Farmington 1966-71. Overall record of 15-2. Four doubles teams won state championships in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Portions of this article were previously published by this author in a story about Jean Hunt’s induction in the National High School Coaches Association in November 2000 in the now-defunct Farmington Valley Post.