Creating ‘Hawks Pride’

Woodland volleyball players celebrate after beating Foran High, 3-1, to win the Class M championship on Nov. 16, 2013. –RA ARCHIVE

Woodland volleyball players celebrate after beating Foran High, 3-1, to win the Class M championship on Nov. 16, 2013. –RA ARCHIVE

This fall will mark athletic anniversaries for Naugatuck High School and Woodland Regional High School. This week, the third and final installment of this look back series, won’t examine one specific team or moment. Rather, this week the Citizen’s News will look back on building the athletic program at Woodland and the success that followed. This fall is the 15th anniversary of the school’s opening.

BEACON FALLS — They say that a little encouragement goes a long way. That encouragement was out in force on Sept. 4, 2001 when Woodland Regional High School opened its doors for the first time to the communities of Beacon Falls and Prospect and their 340 freshman and sophomore.

The number of athletic accomplishments that followed in the next 15 years is nothing short of amazing.

The numbers are staggering: 37 NVL titles and three state championships, and still counting. Out of the 18 varsity sports played by the Hawks, 14 of those teams have won an NVL championship, with several teams winning multiple titles.

Along the way records were set, records were broken and eight student athletes went on to earn All-New England honors, including Eric Dietz in soccer and track and Mike Lang indoor and outdoor track.

There were numerous All-NVL and All-State athletes, including Eric Alfiere, who was the first Class M champion, State Open Champion and New England Champion in outdoor track. And through it all the legend of Hawks Pride has grown.

This year marks the 15th anniversary for the school on the hill located off Route 42 in Beacon Falls. The success on the field has brought recognition to the Black and Gold.

“The community support was just tremendous,” said Woodland softball coach Loren Luddy about the backing for the school in 2001. “The kids were so invested in creating Hawks Pride. After two years at the school we moved to Prospect because I wanted my son to experience something like that when he eventually goes to high school.”

Luddy started out coaching soccer for the Hawks.

“We took our lumps that first year but my soccer team told me that in four years they would win the NVL title, and they did, and it was the first in school history,” Luddy said. “I still get to see some of these girls now playing soccer in an adult league and it just makes me so proud to see how they have succeeded in life.”

The beginning wasn’t without its challenges. Teachers, coaches and administrators alike had to overcome hurdles to establish the foundation of the program.

“It was probably the most unique experience I had as an administrator,” said Dan Scavone, who was Woodland’s first full-time athletic director. “We had the opportunity to shape our own athletic program. There were no shoes to fill we were walking on our own path.

“There were some challenges as some of our facilities weren’t finished, but we improvised and made it happen. I think the parents in the communities came from so many different high schools in the area before this school was built. They were so eager to get behind this school for their kids and root for the Hawks.”

There were obvious growing pains with teams made up of just freshman and sophomores. Some teams didn’t field a varsity squad until two or three years in, while others went at it right from the get-go.

The girls soccer team made history by recording the first ever varsity victory in Woodland history — a 1-0 win over Sacred Heart on Sept. 17, 2001. Kim Lombardo netted the game-winner.

“We had a special group of kids who wanted so much to be part of something and they bought in to the Hawks Pride,” Woodland cross country and track coach Jeff Lownds said.

“No one knew who Woodland was and then Loren took her softball team to the semifinals of the states. Chris Anderson and his boys won back-to-back state championships. Joe Steele and Mike Kingsley shocked the NVL winning the baseball tournament in 2004. We have a lot of great coaches here and our first AD Dan Scavone got the community behind us.

“We’ve had a great run,” Lownds continued. “Jim Amato with the volleyball team winning a state championship. There isn’t a team in the state that doesn’t know who Woodland is now.”

Lownds and Luddy are the only two original head coaches remaining that stalked the sidelines when Woodland opened in 2001. Amato was an assistant coach for volleyball when the first varsity team came together.

Then-Woodland football coach Chris Anderson holds up the state championship trophy while getting carried on the shoulders of his players in December 2004 after the Hawks beat Holy Cross, 35-0, in the Class SS state championship game. The state title was the first in Woodland’s history. –RA ARCHIVE

Then-Woodland football coach Chris Anderson holds up the state championship trophy while getting carried on the shoulders of his players in December 2004 after the Hawks beat Holy Cross, 35-0, in the Class SS state championship game. The state title was the first in Woodland’s history. –RA ARCHIVE

One of the most influential hires made by former Principal Arnold Frank was Chris Anderson as head football coach.

The football team was scheduled to play a junior varsity schedule for two years before starting varsity as the newest member of the NVL. After the first season Anderson pushed the envelope and sent his team headfirst into its initial varsity campaign the following year. The Hawks played an independent schedule against some of the toughest teams around.

After their first year in the NVL, the Hawks banded together in 2004 and 2005 to win back-to-back NVL and Class SS football championships. That’s when everyone knew who the new kids on the block were.

“We got to establish a program the way we wanted it and set up the fundamental aspects to be successful and got the full support of Arnold Frank,” Anderson said. “That was the key. The parents showed us tremendous support and Dan Scavone set the integrity and pride of the Hawks and Brian Fell has upheld those traditions till this day.

“We were supposed to play two years as a junior varsity team but after the first season I realized we had the talent to push this thing ahead and the kids responded. When we went undefeated in 2004, and we beat some great teams, Naugatuck, Seymour, Holy Cross, Ansonia, we knew we had something special.”

Special indeed. Thirty-seven NVL titles, 14 undefeated seasons, and three state championships. The foundation of Hawks Pride that was created 15 years ago high up on the hill in Beacon Falls is still strong today.