Farmington High boys soccer coach Steve Waters will be one of four prominent state athletic figures to receive a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance and their 76th annual Gold Key dinner in April.
Dwight Freeney, the Super Bowl champion defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons, five-time U.S. Olympic archer Butch Johnson of Woodstock and former Cheshire High swimming coach Ed Aston will also receive Gold Keys at the banquet on Sunday, April 30, at the Aqua Turf in Southington.
The Gold Key is regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state. Since 1940 the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance has recognized individuals who have achieved excellence on the amateur, high school, collegiate and professional levels.
Past recipients of the Gold Key include: Connie Mack (1940), Willie Pep (1961), Lindy Remigino (1975), Walt Dropo (1975), George H.W. Bush (1991), Gordie Howe (1992), Bill Rodgers (1994), Geno Auriemma (2001), Jim Calhoun (2003), Kristine Lilly (2012), Amby Burfoot (2014), Craig Janney (2015) and Marlon Starling (2016).
Waters is no stranger to Avon soccer fans. In his 34-year coaching career, the Indians and Falcons have battled in many soccer contests here at Fisher Meadows, at Tunxis Meade and in the state finals. Farmington’s first state championship under Waters came in 1986 in a 3-1 victory over Avon in the Class M final.
In 34 seasons in Farmington, he has led the Indians to nine state titles and 529 wins. Waters (529-82-48) is one of two soccer coaches in the state with more than 500 victories. He is currently one win behind E.O. Smith coach John Blomstrann for most career victories in state history.
After taking over an already strong program in 1983 with plenty of pressure, Waters has put his own touch on the program and made Farmington one of the premier high school soccer towns in Connecticut. He has proven to be a master at getting the most out of his teams and competing against the best.
He has helped the Indians advance to the state finals 14 times and capture Class M, L and LL championships. Farmington won the 2016 Class LL championship several weeks ago – their third Class LL crown. They also won in 2008 and 2010.
Recently, Farmington has advanced to a state final in six of the last eight seasons, losing just once to Glastonbury in overtime in 2014. The Indians won their first Class LL championship in 2008 and have since won it again in 2010 and 2016. They won Class L titles in 2012 and 2013. The 2012 title came following a 5-0 win over Avon in the championship game.
Waters grew up in Wethersfield where he led the Eagles to the Class LL championship with a win over Manchester in the final. He played soccer and baseball at Wethersfield and did the same at the University of Hartford for two years. Waters eventually focused on soccer at Hartford and played pro soccer with the Philadelphia Fever in the MISL.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame.
Freeney, who was born in Hartford and played high school football at Bloomfield High, is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time First Team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl champion.
After finishing his senior season at Syracuse, Freeney was selected with the 11th pick in the 2002 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He spent the next 11 seasons with the Colts, playing in 163 games. Freeney was the NFL sacks leader in 2004 with 16 and was the AFC defensive player of the year in 2005.
From 2002 to 2012, Freeney had 107½ sacks with Indianapolis. Freeney helped lead the Colts to their first Super Bowl title in Indianapolis, recovering a fumble in the championship victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. After leaving the Colts in 2012, Freeney has played for the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. He has played in 13 games for the Falcons this season and has three sacks.
In his career, Freeney has 122½ sacks and has forced 47 fumbles.
At Bloomfield, he switched to football from soccer as a sophomore. He helped Bloomfield win a Class S state title as a senior and graduated as the all-time state leader in career sacks (60) – a record that was recently broken.
Johnson has represented the United States in five Olympics Games, most recently in 2008, at the age of 52. He made his first Olympic team in 1992. He won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
At 15, Johnson got his start in archery. He began winning competitions in the early 1970s, and he never stopped. Johnson won team gold medals at the Pan American games in 1999 and 2007 and individual silver and bronze medals at the Pan American games in 1995. He has also won countless national titles.
Aston had tremendous success coaching the Cheshire High girls swimming and boys swimming programs. He coached the Cheshire girls for 37 years and the Cheshire boys for 33 years.
Aston, who went to Croft High in Waterbury and swam for Southern Connecticut State, finished with 824 wins, 43 state championships and a historic dual meet win streak of 281 straight wins. In 1974, Aston started the boys team at Cheshire. A year later, he started the girls program.
His girls teams won 13 State Open titles and 26 class championships. When he retired, he had a record of 410-19-1 as the girls coach. But his most famous achievement with the Rams was his record dual meet record. From 1986 to 2011, Cheshire had won a national record 281 straight dual meets. It is the second longest streak by any high school girls athletic team behind Amherst (New York) girls volleyball, which had 292 straight.
His boys team won the State Open championship in 1992 and 18 class championships. In 2013, Aston was inducted into the National Federation of State High Schools Hall of Fame.
Tickets to the 76th Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166 or firstname.lastname@example.org or dinner chairman Tim Jensen of Patch Media at email@example.com. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085.