CHESHIRE, March 28 –Former Granby Memorial field hockey coach Dot Johnson is familiar with the Gold Key banquet and the Gold Key awards presented by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.
Regarded as the highest sports award in the state, the Gold Key has been presented to more than 200 men and women including Hall of Fame baseball manager Connie Mack (1940), boxer Willie Pep (1961), NHL legend Gordie Howe (1992), Hall of Fame basketball coaches Geno Auriemma (2001) and Jim Calhoun (2003), Rebecca Lobo (2004) and U.S. women’s soccer star Kristine Lilly (2012).
“When I got the email I thought it was a mistake. Then you called me and I thought you were messing with me,” Johnson said, speaking to Tim Jensen, president of the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. “Then you convinced me that I was getting a Gold Key, I was tremendously honored.”
Johnson grinned. “I’ve been to the dinner several times and have seen the (type) of people who are honored. I am totally humbled.”
The long-time coach and athletic director at Granby will be one of five recipients of a Gold Key at the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance’s 77th annual Gold Key banquet on Sunday, April 29 at the Aqua Turf in Southington.
Johnson, PGA professional Dennis Coscina, New Canaan High football coach Lou Marinelli and 1998 Olympic ice hockey gold medalist Gretchen Ulion-Silverman were in Cheshire on Wednesday at the CIAC headquarters for a press conference about the upcoming banquet. Retired UConn women’s soccer coach Len Tsantiris was on the phone from his home.
Johnson coached field hockey for 34 years at Granby and coached several other sports, including softball. But she made her mark coaching field hockey and had some legendary battles with Canton and coach Nancy Grace in the mid-1980s and 1990s.
Johnson’s Bears won seven state championships in field hockey and finished second four times. They won the first state tournament in field hockey – one open division in 1973. They won the Class M title in 1974 and added five Class S championships in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1985 and 2000.
Johnson was the national field hockey coach of the year in 1996. She stepped away from the game in 2002 with a career record of 393-83-80 in field hockey.
But she still keeps in touch. She attends many games and is proud of her former players who are coaching today. A member of her 1978 championship squad – Sandy Wickman Mason – succeeded Johnson and has led Granby to another six championships.
A member of her 1973 team – Pam Hammersmith – was a long-time coach at Simsbury and led the Trojans to a state title, too.
Johnson will be just the third field hockey coach to receive a Gold Key. Farmington’s Jean Hunt (2001) and Branford’s Cathy McGuirk (2014) also received Gold Key awards.
The game has changed tremendously over the past 40 years and that has helped fuel its growth, Johnson said.
“The thing that has helped the most are the rule changes,” she said. “You don’t have to throw the ball in (the field of play) anymore. You can actually hit it and play.”
Earlier in Johnson’s coaching career, the game was littered with whistles and stoppages in play. But the sport has evolved. Today, the referee will blow a whistle for a foul and award the team possession of the ball. The good teams have that ball on the turf in a second and quickly take off, looking to catch the defense sleeping.
Still, one writer — not this one — asked if there were too many stoppages in field hockey today.
Johnson thought for a second and smiled. “Sometimes I watch football and say what are they doing?” she said referring to all of the penalties that are called, slowing down the game.
“It depends on the sport. It depends on the official and the competitiveness of the game,” she said.
Tickets to the Gold Key banquet are $75 each and may be reserved by contacting CSWA President Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-394-5091, or Vice President Rich Gregory of the Danbury News-Times at email@example.com or 203-705-8625.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Bo Kolinsky Journalism Scholarship, named after a longtime Hartford Courant sportswriter and past CSWA president who died unexpectedly in 2003.