Hunt steps down after 12 years leading the Hawks on the court

Tom Hunt, left, pictured in 2012 coaching during a basketball practice, resigned this month as Woodland’s boys basketball coach after leading the program for 12 years. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Almost every basketball conversation with Tom Hunt over the last 12 years invariably came back to two words: the program.

So was the case one more time when Hunt looked back on his dozen years as Woodland’s boys basketball coach, a position which he resigned July 2 because of increasing commitments to his full-time job.

“We always preached that no matter what the score was, Woodland basketball was going to play the full 32 minutes, whether we were ahead or behind,” Hunt said. “We were going to work hard for every second we were on the floor. The kids bought into that for all 12 years. I don’t think we were a program that was ever overlooked because of how hard we worked. Everybody felt they were going to get a game when they played us.”

That hard work didn’t always pay off with victories in the rugged Naugatuck Valley League — the Hawks were 86-166 under Hunt — but Woodland became a regular postseason qualifier starting in Hunt’s third season. Over his last 10 years, the Hawks reached the state tournament seven times and won first-round games in 2011 and 2013.

Not bad for a Class M school at which basketball has never been the go-to sport.

“In this day and age, it’s not a school where we have one-sport athletes,” Hunt said. “Kids play multiple sports and don’t really specialize, so making the tournament most years definitely felt good. It was nice to see the kids get paid off for their hard work.”

Two players from Hunt’s tenure stand out for another reason — becoming the program’s first 1,000-point career scorers. Tanner Kingsley set the all-time mark of 1,312 points from 2010-14, and Zach Bedryczuk joined him last season by finishing with 1,218 points.

Hunt still holds Kingsley’s achievement in high regard, especially since his dad, Mike, was on Hunt’s staff for nine years and older brother Shane was also on staff for several years before becoming the head coach at Ansonia.

“Tanner being the leading scorer in school history was one of my prouder moments, watching him during his senior year to complete that task,” Hunt said.

Hunt thanked the Kingsleys, who “helped me build the program,” he said, as well as former athletic director Dan Scavone for hiring Hunt to his first head coaching job in 2007.

He also cited athletic department secretary Jill Spiwak — “she holds it all together,” he said — as well as the team’s booster club, Woodland’s administration and Region 16 Superintendent Michael Yamin.

“That’s what made it difficult to go,” Hunt said of people with whom he worked. He admitted, though, that this was the right time for him to hang it up: “They always say you know when it’s time, and I just felt like it was time.”

Hunt, who would also frequently be seen at Woodland football and baseball games, said he’s optimistic for the basketball program’s future. Rising seniors Tyler Bulinski, Trey Mastropietro and Mike Szturma will lead the way, along with rising juniors Nathaniel Smith and Joey Giuliani and rising sophomores Jason Palmieri and Nate Bodnar.

“With me leaving right now, I feel like I’m leaving the cupboards full for the person who’s lucky enough to coach the kids who are there and the future kids who will come in,” Hunt said.

Hunt hopes that the foundation he helped lay over the last dozen years will stick with the program.

“Sometimes we weren’t the most talented team on the floor, but there was never going to be a case when we put the uniform on and we were going to be outworked,” Hunt said. “That just says a lot about the kids that I was lucky enough to have come through the program.”