Norwalk soccer team in elite group
By George Albano
As the curtain comes down on the 2012 high school fall sports season, there’s no question what the No. 1 story in the city of Norwalk was.
Hands down, the Norwalk High School boys soccer team winning its first state championship in 46 years was a defining moment that has the community still buzzing 10 days after the final whistle.
For many, the Bears’ 2-0 win over Fairfield Prep in the Class LL final on that beautiful Friday morning in New Canaan is still sinking in. Winning a state title in any sport is a wonderful memory that will be celebrated for years to come.
So with that in mind, here’s a question for local sports fans to ponder: How long had it been since the last time the city of Norwalk brought home a high school state title?
Five years? Nope.
Ten years? Wrong again.
No, it had actually been more than 12 years since Norwalk last won a state championship, the last time coming on June 10, 2000 when the Brien McMahon boys lacrosse team captured the CIAC Division II state crown with a thrilling 12-11 win over Guilford.
That state title came only 10 days after the McMahon boys track team won the 2000 Class L state championship on May 31. And less than three months earlier, on March 11, 2000, the Norwalk High girls basketball team edged NFA, 47-45, to claim the Class LL state title.
Three state championships in one year by Norwalk schools, and all in a span of three months. Then 12 long years before another one.
It doesn’t matter, though. All of them were worth the wait — short or long — and all of them were special.
Just ask Wayne Mones, the NHS athletic director. He came close to tasting a state championship in soccer at the high school level as a player and even closer as a coach.
As a player at Brien McMahon, his team twice lost in the state semifinals, once on penalty kicks. Then as a head coach at Central Catholic, his 1986 team reached the state finals, only to lose to Granby Memorial, 1-0 in sudden-death overtime.
But 10 days ago, Mones finally got to taste a state championship as an athletic director.
“Being on the field watching our boys win the state championship as an athletic director-slash-spectator was surreal,” he said Tuesday morning. “It made me reflect back on my days as a player when we won the FCIAC (in 1969 when his goal with 13 seconds left beat Staples 1-0) and I remember how surreal that was.
“We won the FCIAC, but these guys won the states and that’s even bigger,” he added. “Our kids are gonna have this for the rest of their lives. Even when they’re 60 years old they’ll always think back to when they won the state championship.”
Yes, it is indeed a special achievement and something the city of Norwalk has now experienced 27 times. That’s 27 Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference state championships.
Let me clarify. The CIAC was founded in 1921 and the first sport it sanctioned a state tournament in was basketball in the spring of ’22. Then track and field in 1929. Then baseball in 1938, and soccer and hockey in 1948.
CIAC state tournaments in girls sports didn’t begin until 1974, after the adoption of Title IX.
And football, which dates back to 1895 on the high school level in Connecticut, didn’t have a CIAC-sanctioned state tournament until 1976.
Prior to that, high school football teams in Connecticut played for the Waskowitz Trophy, which went to the top team, or the “state champion,” as voted by the state’s sports writers. The 36-inch high trophy was passed from school to school from 1933 to 1971 when Stamford High retired it after winning it for a second consecutive year.
From 1972 to ’75, the state champion was determined by a state poll. The unbeaten 1975 Staples won the final state crown before the playoff system was implemented in 1976.
So with apologies to my esteemed colleague Frank Fay and his teammates on the 1948 state champion Norwalk High School football team — winner of the Waskowitz Trophy that year — the aforementioned 27 state champs from Norwalk are CIAC state champions.
By no means does that lessen what the ’48 NHS gridders or any of the other state champs prior to 1976 accomplished. Let’s clear that up right now. They were, and still are, all recognized as state champions.
The 1948 Norwalk High team even has a banner saying so on the wall of the Thomas Scarso Gymnasium at the current high school, which was presented by the Norwalk Old Timers at its 1998 sports awards dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that state title.
Heck, that NHS team and many of the other state championship teams prior to 1976 were probably better than some of the state champions of the last 36 years when four — and sometimes as many as six — class winners were crowned compared to just one back in their day.
Likewise, prior to CIAC-sanctioned state tournaments in other sports, state champs were determined in a variety of ways.
For example, did you know that before Calvin Murphy led Norwalk High School to its first CIAC state championship in basketball in 1966, the 1909-1910 NHS basketball team was declared the Connecticut state champion. There was no state tournament. Norwalk was just considered the best team in the state and declared the state champion.
So let us focus solely on the 27 CIAC state championships Norwalk schools have won. Three of them were won by Central Catholic, all in girls softball in 1986, ’87 and ’90, which happened to be the final sporting event in the school’s history before closing its doors and becoming All Saints Catholic School.
Of the remaining 24 state titles, Norwalk and Brien McMahon are dead even with 12 CIAC state championships apiece.
The first came in the fall of 1965 when the McMahon soccer team, in only its fifth year, won the Class L state title. Four months later, the Murphy-led Norwalk basketball team won its state title, and three months after that the 1966 McMahon baseball team won what is still the city’s only state championship in that sport (each of the three schools have finished runner-up twice).
And then that fall, the 1966 Norwalk High soccer team, like McMahon a year earlier, won the Class L state title (there was no LL). That, of course, was the school’s first, and only, state championship in soccer until this year.
If you’re keeping score at home, that made four state titles — two by each school — in a one-year period.
It would be eight years before the city would win another state championship as McMahon won the Class L title in soccer in 1974.
Then in 1977, the city would win three state titles, all within a few weeks of each other. First it was Norwalk High girls swim team, then the Brien McMahon wrestling team, and then the McMahon boys basketball team.
The McMahon wrestlers would add another LL state championship in 1979, while the Norwalk High boys tennis team closed out the ’70s and began the ’80s with back to back state championships in the spring of 1979 and 1980.
In fact, 1979 would mark the start of five straight years and eight out of nine years in which Norwalk schools would win 10 state championships in all: McMahon wrestling and Norwalk tennis in 1979; the 1980 NHS girls softball and boys tennis teams; 1981 Norwalk girls basketball; 1982 Norwalk boys basketball; 1983 McMahon boys basketball; 1985 McMahon indoor track team, which won a Class M crown; and the 1986 and ’87 Central Catholic softball teams, which won back to back Class S titles.
The Lady Cavaliers would add their third state championship in 1990 while the Norwalk girls softball team won its second Class LL title in 1991.
McMahon won a pair of state championships in 1994, first in girls basketball in Class L and nine months later in football as the unbeaten Senators captured the Class MM title. The 1996 Norwalk High boys basketball team also went unbeaten en route to the Class LL state crown.
Which brought us to 2000 and the aforementioned three state titles in three months. That made 26 by the city of Norwalk and the 2012 NHS boys soccer team made it 27.
Of the 24 state titles won by Norwalk and McMahon, eight of them were under coaches Ralph King and Ray Barry; King winning with McMahon soccer in 1966 and ’74 and boys basketball in 1977 and ’83, and Barry with Norwalk boys basketball in 1982 and ’96 and girls softball in 1980 and ’91.
Throw in Jeff Vingo’s three state titles with Central Catholic softball, and that trio has accounted for 11 of the city’s 27 state championships. Other multi-winning coaches are Jack Casagrande, McMahon wrestling in 1977 and ’79; John Keogh, NHS boys tennis in 1979 and ’80; and Rob Trifone with McMahon football in 1994 and outdoor track in 2000.
Other state championship coaches from McMahon were Frank Morgan in baseball, Joe Madaffari in indoor track, Ed Faulkner in girls basketball, and Mike Epstein in boys lacrosse. From Norwalk High, there’s Jack Cronin with the 1966 basketball team, Tom Scarso with the 1966 soccer team, Betty Philcox with the 1977 girls swim team, Don Foust with the 1981 girls basketball team, and Fred English with the 2000 girls basketball team.
And now we can add Chris Laughton and the 2012 Norwalk High boys soccer team to that exclusive list.
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