SOUTHINGTON, April 29 – There were 36 tables set up for Sunday’s 77th annual Gold Key banquet. But it was hard to miss one table near the front of the room.
Nearly all 10 women at one table had Granby Memorial field hockey state championship jackets draped over the back of their chairs. But when the banquet started with their traditional induction march, the women put on their 1980 and 1982 championship jackets.
And when their former coach Dot Johnson was introduced as one of the five Gold Key recipients, they cheered loudly.
Johnson was one of five Gold Key recipients at the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance’s Gold Key banquet Sunday. She was honored with PGA professional Dennis Coscina, New Canaan High football coach Lou Marinelli, retired UConn women’s soccer coach Len Tsantiris and Gretchen Ulion-Silverman, who won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s hockey team in 1998.
The Alliance also honored state athletes of the year, coaches of the year and presented six Good Sport awards to men and women who unselfishly devote their time and energy to the promotion of athletics in their communities.
Two courage awards were presented along with the Bo Kolinsky Memorial Scholarship award and the Art McGinley Award for meritorious lifetime service to journalism.
Johnson coached field hockey for 34 years at Granby and coached several other sports, including softball. Her field hockey teams won seven state titles and finished second four times. Under Johnson, Granby won the first state field hockey tournament in 1973 when it was one Open division.
The Bears won a Class M championship in 1974 and added five Class S titles in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1985 and 2000.
She didn’t expect so many of her former players to show up and she was touched. Former assistant coaches and other coaches from the field hockey world were also there to honor Johnson – just the third field hockey coach to receive a Gold Key.
Farmington’s Jean Hunt (2001) and Branford’s Cathy McGuirk (2014) also were honored with Gold Key awards. The Alliance has been hosting Gold Key banquets since 1940.
“I am truly moved that you all showed up,” Johnson said to her former players. “I really can’t say enough about them. I want to share this honor with them. Because without them, I wouldn’t be up here.”
Johnson stepped away from the game in 2002 with a career record of 393-83-80 in field hockey. But it wasn’t about wins and losses on Sunday. It was about reconnecting with a coach and mentor that helped so many young girls on and off the field. There were plenty of smiles, laughter, a few gifts and a lot of hugs.
Ulion-Silverman, who grew up in Marlborough, was the first women’s hockey player to be recognized by the Alliance. She spoke about getting cut from the U.S. national team in 1995 after a stellar four-year career at Dartmouth. “I had grown complacent,” she admitted.
She got the chance to tryout for the 1998 U.S. Olympic team and with a renewed sense of work and commitment, she rejoined the team. It was the first year that women’s hockey was being played at the Olympics. And the Americans beat Canada in the gold medal final with Ulion-Silverman scoring the first goal of the game.
As a youngster, she didn’t have any women role models to follow so she looked up to Hall of Fame hockey player Gordie Howe, who finished out his professional career with the Hartford Whalers.
After winning the gold medal, Ulion-Silverman was able to visit schools and youngsters across the Northeast. After one visit, a little girl began to tell anyone who would listen that she would win a gold medal for the U.S. in the Olympics when she grew up.
That little girl was Mehgan Duggan – captain of the 2018 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team that beat Canada for the gold medal in February.
Coscina talked about his love of the sport of golf that he has carried since he was a boy in New Britain and how the support of his friends has helped him throughout his career.
Marinelli, the winningest high school football coach in state history, praised the coaches and administrators he was has worked with throughout the years to help him with the Rams. He praised his players and thanked the men and women that run the youth football leagues in New Canaan that help provide him with talented athletes at the high school level.
He praised his wife for her informal Football 101 course to many of the mothers of the players.
Tsantiris, 68, talked about his passion for soccer that still hasn’t waned even after his retirement from UConn after 37 years, 570 victories, 31 NCAA tournament appearance and four national title game appearances. He played a game on Saturday. He thanked the late Joe Morrone for an opportunity to play at UConn in the 1970s and his UConn peers that helped him grow as a coach — Dee Rowe, Andy Baylock, Diane Wright, Nancy Stevens and Geno Auriemma.
Autumn Sorice, an All-New England women’s soccer player from Western Connecticut State, was named the state female athlete of the year while Eastern Connecticut State’s Alex Zachary, a Division III All-American, was the state male athlete of the year.
New London girls basketball coach Holly Misto and Darien’s Jeff Brameier were named the state coaches of the year. New London won a Class LL title in 2017 and was second in 2018. Brameier’s Darien squad has won 65 consecutive matches and four straight state titles.
Abby Abramzon was named the state high school player of the year for helping Cheshire win a Class LL title in softball last spring with a 23-2 record, a 0.96 ERA and 306 strikeouts in 159 innings. Killingly running back Spencer Lockwood was the male state high school player of the year. He scored 44 touchdowns and ran for 3,137 yards to help Killingly win the Class M championship.
RHAM’s Katie Shea, who played on the Sachems’ state championship winning basketball and volleyball teams this year won the Bob Casey Courage award along with Southington High statistician Steve Daniels.
Meriden’s Ed DiPersi, Windsor Locks’ Dave Farr, Forestville’s Maryellen Holden, Middletown’s Dom Lombardo, West Haven’s Mike Madera and New Britain’s Paul Majeski received Good Sport Awards.
Retired Hartford Courant sportswriter Tom Yantz received the Art McGinley Award while RHAM’s Ryan Farleigh was awarded the Bo Kolinsky Memorial Scholarship.
Former Enfield resident Leah Secondo received the President’s Award for her play on the field as a youngster and her work in the television industry. Secondo was the first woman sportscaster hired at a western Massachusetts television station in 1984 at WGGB Channel 40. She was the first woman sportscaster in Connecticut when she was hired at WTNH Channel 8.
She was the first woman to host a NBA pre-game or post-game show for the Boston Celtics on their regional cable network and was a finalist for a New England Emmy Award. She moved to Florida in 2000 and continues to work across the country covering the NCAA field hockey championships and ACC lacrosse championships.