Category: Current Issue
By Ron P. Coderre
This week’s RPC column is dedicated to former Putnam High School football co-captain Shawn Johnston.  On the gridiron Johnston was a rugged lineman who was feared by opposing running backs.  He later went on to a starry career in the Connecticut State Legislature.  Today he can be found working diligently for Eversource.  Johnston blows out another candle on the cake on Thursday, Oct. 8.
UConn has had a number of legendary sports figures in its long and storied history.  Before the Huskies had Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemema there was someone who paved the way to a National championship.
One name that is often mentioned in Husky lore but is sometimes overlooked is former soccer coach Joe Morrone.  The reason he may occasionally be overlooked is because he coached a sport in its infancy that didn’t receive the public notoriety that the men’s and women’s basketball teams, football team and even the baseball team received.
Joe Morrone died on Thursday, September 17 at 79 after suffering for the past few years with pancreatic cancer.  Morrone’s name should never be left off the lists of greats who have graced the sidelines of the Storrs campus.
I was fortunate to meet coach Morrone maybe three times in my lifetime.  Our meetings were thanks to his son Bill Morrone, who in his own right is a soccer legend at UConn.  Coach Morrone was a very courteous and erudite gentleman.  Meeting him you immediately felt you were in the presence of someone special.
A graduate of Worcester State University, Morrone began his coaching career at Middlebury College in Vermont where he posted a 64-21-11 record in 11 years.  But Morrone’s star didn’t really begin to shine until he took over the reins of UConn soccer.
Task master doesn’t due justice in describing Morrone as a coach.  As a person who served in the National Guard and Army Reserve from 1953 to 1964, Morrone carried his military training to the soccer pitch.  He was regimented and expected 100 percent from his players, his assistants and game officials.  It was this strict regimentation that earned him the reputation of a “no nonsense” coach.  A person who wouldn’t tolerate anything but the best, beginning with himself and filtering down to the ball boys and water boys.
His reputation on the sidelines often alienated him from others but you couldn’t argue with his success.  At UConn he was 358-178-53 in 28 years.  The culmination of his coaching success came in 1981 when he led an upstart and home grown UConn soccer program to a National Championship.  The title came in a 2-1 overtime victory over Alabama A&M, in which his son Bill scored one of the goals.
As the years went on Morrone finally began to receive his due recognition.  A man who cared enough about young people that he started the Mansfield Youth Soccer Program, Morrone is in the NSCAA and Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame.  He was a four-time New England Coach of the Year; twice selected Big East Coach of the Year; received the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Golf Key; and was recognized as one of the 20 most influential people in soccer in 1991.  He concluded his coaching career with a record of 422-199-64, one of only four coaches to ever record 400 victories.  His most notable recognition came when the UConn Board of Trustees renamed the soccer stadium Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in 1997.
Two weeks before he died, Morrone sat in the in his wheelchair and watched his beloved Huskies beat the University of California-Santa Barbara 2-1.  Following the victory every member of the Husky team came to his side and thanked him for his role in making the program what it is today.
In my “man cave” sports collection, where there are numerous famous signatures, a center piece is a blue and white collegiate soccer ball signed by coach Morrone.  In his humble words he wrote on the ball – “Dear Ron, Thanks for your support.  Coach Joe Morrone UConn Soccer.”
It’s a piece that I’ll cherish along with the memories of our brief meetings.  Rest In Peace, coach Joe Morrone.
Umpires Honor TriTown American Legion
The Eastern Board of Approved Baseball Umpires honored the TriTown American Legion Baseball program at its annual season ending banquet on Thursday, September 24.  The event was held at Dodd Stadium in Norwich.
The team, which was represented by Executive Committee Secretary Joe Lindley, Committee member Stan Lesniewski and Senior team head coach John Foucault, was presented the Ralph Brennan Memorial Sportsmanship Award by Board President Ed Nevin.
The award reads – “Presented annually to that American Legion team whose conduct as displayed by its baseball team, its fans, its community and its officials is the most outstanding of all teams in the Eastern Connecticut area.”
The award is named in memory of Brennan who was a long time umpire and American Legion coach.  During his many years spent on the diamond Brennan always respected the game of baseball and its participants, whether it was as a player, coach or umpire.
Honoring A Grand Lady
The Yantic River Inn in Norwich was the scene of a surprise party for a lady who for years was the backbone of a sports family and all the teams and organizations with whom they were involved.  Lee LaFrancois was honored on Saturday, September 19, by her children on the occasion of her 90th birthday.
A gathering of family and friends from around the area and throughout the country and beyond were on hand to help in the celebration.  Among the guests many associated with the sports world were Richard “Dish” Marien and his wife Gerri, Dave Boland and his wife Marilyn and former Griswold High School Principal Norm Gileau.  A video highlighting her life was the center piece of the celebration.
The event was arranged by Mrs. LaFrancois’ children, Linda Christensen, Kenny LaFrancois and former Boston Red Sox catcher Roger LaFrancois.
Walkers Check Off Another Hike
Local hikers Jay Wade and John Dignam recently completed walking Rhode Island’s North-South Trail, which begins in Douglas, Mass., and ends at Blue Shutters Beach in Charlestown, R.I.  The pair hiked the 77-mile trail in eight day hikes over a 10-month period.  Each hike ranged from nine to 14 miles.
Wade and Dignam remarked how rural the western half of Rhode Island is, with much of the trail on dirt roads and some blister-raising asphalt roads.  Once in Charlestown, the duo concluded their journey with a swim in the Atlantic Ocean.
The North-South Trail connects to the Massachusetts Mid-State Trail, which runs from the New Hampshire state line to Douglas.  The two hikers finished that 94-mile hike in November 2014.  The plan for their next sojourn is the 215 mile New England Trail that meanders through 39 communities from Long Island Sound in Guilford to the Massachusetts-New Hampshire line in Royalston, Mass.
The hike may not be as adventurous as climbing a noted mountain but it is an accomplishment for these two very fit individuals who are both in their sixties.
A Great Day on the Links
Putnam resident Jeff Rawson and your truly enjoyed a great day on the golf course on Monday, September 21 for a wonderful cause.  The two of us are Assumption College graduates, different eras of course, but were playing golf in support of the school’s scholarship program.
The tournament was held at the prestigious Worcester Country Club.  We enjoyed being paired with former president of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Fred Bayon and board member Tom Manning.  For the curious, we didn’t win but we didn’t finish last.
RPC’s Closing Thought For The Day:  In honor of the great Yogi Berra who died last week we close with one of his sayings: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” 
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