On Sept. 21, 1996, I wrote my first article for the Naugatuck Daily News. My wife, JoAnn, came out of Cumberland Farms in Naugatuck the following day with a bundle of newspapers under her arm proclaiming, “You are famous,” as the tears streaked down her face.
I still smile when I think about that moment. I even overheard my grandson, Odin, telling his friends at a baseball camp I took him to saying something of the sort that his grandfather was famous. Maybe not a monumental event in the annals of Naugatuck sports, but to me it marked the beginning of an adventure that is going strong 23 glorious years later, and I have been blessed by the friendships that have been made over those years.
Joe Palladino, now a sports writer for the Republican-American, was my very first editor, so you can blame him for the Kenny Mo era. Actually it was my fourth editor, Brain Campbell, a former ESPN guy who is now with CBS sports, that gave me that moniker.
My first job was to cover the Naugatuck Junior Football League, an assignment that was supposed to last just six weeks and the job would be over. Here I am two plus decades later still typing with the two-fingered approach.
Over the years I have found my way into 16 weekly newspapers, one five websites and even a stint that lasted two years on the radio with WWCO covering Naugatuck football. To date 5,391 articles have been written and 1,100 photos have been published, but the thrill has never gone away.
The beginning of the high school sports season brings up many memories for me. It also conjures up hopes for a great season and the ability to make history.
Through the years, I have witnessed some remarkable events and some unbelievable coaches and athletes that I will never forget.
I was there at the start of the 2001 boys soccer season, and little did I know history was in the making. The Naugatuck boys went on to win the first state soccer championship in Greyhound history.
I still remember Brian Mariano with his somersault flip throw-in, game-winner that traveled 40 yards into the goal. At the game’s end, the Naugy fans stormed the field and knocked down the temporary fencing that surrounded the field, in spite of the public address announcer warning fans to stay off the field.
I’ve witnessed the beginning of the Woodland athletic program, and was so excited to cover the girls soccer team in 2004 that brought the first Naugatuck Valley League title to Beacon Falls under the guidance of then-coach Loren (Wright) Luddy.
I remember Woodland coach Jim Amato was aghast when I proclaimed his volleyball girls would challenge for an NVL title in 2007. With a lineup of all seniors it wasn’t a guess on my part, and I reminded him of that the night they brought home the first NVL championship for the volleyball program.
In 2001, Darryl White engineered one of the greatest victories in recent memory on the gridiron, as the Greyhounds earned a gutsy 47-40 win at Torrington. A few weeks later on Halloween, the Woodland Hawks trailed the ‘Hounds 18-14 going into the final quarter before the two teams exploded for 45 points as the Black and Gold escaped with a 40-37 win.
More recently, there was the Woodland girls soccer team’s run to the Class M semifinals in 2015, and the Naugatuck boys basketball team’s march to the Class L championship game 2015.
And, last season the Naugy boys soccer team again appeared in the Class LL state championship game in the fall, followed by the girls basketball team’s surprising run to the NVL title game in the winter. And who could forget the Woodland girls swim team winning the program’s first NVL championship.
As the 2018 high school sports season gets underway, the excitement continues to build because anytime two teams meet on the field of athletic competition anything can happen. I have seen that thrill of victory and agony of defeat for two-plus decades, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store this year.
Let the games begin.