Championship season gives reason to reflect

Mike Magas

BEACON FALLS — A couple of weeks after Woodland High’s historic girls swimming season came to an end, longtime Hawks coach Mike Magas finally had a chance to process everything that had happened.

And it wasn’t just what took place in the local waters this fall — Woodland’s first-ever Naugatuck Valley League championship and record-setting performances of Dia Gawronski, now the undisputed title-holder as the Hawks’ best-ever swimmer.

No, Magas has been living on memory lane.

“Since the season wrapped up, I’ve been doing some reflecting on all the boys and girls I’ve coached over the years and how much it means to me that they’re part of the Woodland family,” said Magas, who started coaching the boys and girls programs in 2004. “This (NVL championship) win wasn’t just for this year’s team, but for all of them, too.”

It isn’t necessarily a new way of thinking for Magas, who is also a longtime teacher at Woodland. One unique part about high school swimming is the record board that hangs above most pools.

Those boards serve as a reminder of the past, a motivator of the present and a glimpse of the future.

“I look at it almost every day that I’m in the pool,” Magas said. “I think about some of the boys from way back when who are still record-holders, like Greg Cerrato, or some of the girls who were up there for a long time. I call Steph O’Donnell the ‘Mother of Woodland Swimming.’ She paved the way for all future generations to come on the girls side. Girls like Deirdre Burke, too. There are a lot of days when I look up there and reminisce.”

That’s why the NVL championship victory was so special for Magas. The Hawks had come close over the years with a slew of All-NVL and All-State swimmers and divers, but their tight victory over Seymour earlier this fall was a breakthrough that a whole generation of Woodland athletes shared.

“I actually texted quite a few of them on the way home from NVLs,” Magas said. “I’ve helped some kids over the years when they’re looking for houses, recommendation letters, all sorts of things. The special bonds I have with our swimmers — I can see them in 10 years and instantly know them by first name. I will never forget them and everything they did while they were here.”

Woodland Regional High School teacher and girls swimming coach Mike Magas takes a selfie with Woodland graduate Lauren Lombardo, who was on the swim team, before graduation in June 2016. –FILE PHOTO

The feeling seems to be mutual. Former Woodland All-State diver Dayna Chucta, a 2012 graduate, still fondly remembers her relationship with Magas.

“Coach Magas was amazing as a coach and someone to look up to,” Chucta said. “He cares a lot about his athletes both in and out of the water. He has dedicated so much time and effort into making the Woodland swimming and diving program into the success it is today.”

But for Magas, the success of the program isn’t one he prefers to judge by wins, records or championships — not even after his Hawks finally added their first piece of hardware. He’s proudest of the people who have been there every step of the way.

“The biggest thing that always sticks out is the class student-athletes that we get at Woodland,” Magas said. “There’s no close second. It’s not just what they do in the pool; it’s the way they carry themselves, present themselves, the way they handle themselves in the classroom and how respectful they are. I’m prouder of that than wins or losses.”