SOUTHINGTON — The region’s best and brightest high school athletes were honored by the Record-Journal at its fourth annual “Best of the Bunch” Brunch at the Aqua Turf Club on Sunday.
The Record-Journal recognized 454 athletes from the paper’s seven area high schools for the 2018-19 school year — 157 Record-Journal Scholar-Athletes, 177 Athletes of the Week, 297 All-Record-Journal Team selections, and a dozen Athletes of Distinction. Some scholar-athletes received recognition in multiple sports.
The proceedings had a touch of glamour, with athletes’ video highlights playing on big screens as they walked a gauntlet of photographers before settling in for brunch. Joe Zone, sports director of WFSB 3, was the master of ceremonies.
“We wanted to give you your own red carpet experience with your own paparazzi to recognize the stars that you are and celebrate each of you,” said Liz White, executive vice president of the Record-Journal.
The state champion Southington High School softball team, led by coach Davina Hernandez, was honored as team and coach of the year.
Ian Agnew of Platt High School was named the 2019 Record-Journal Sportsman of the Year. Cheshire High School senior Mia Juodaitis was named Female Athlete of the Year for her accomplishments in basketball, softball, and volleyball. Elliot Good, a three-sport star from Maloney High School, was named Male Athlete of the Year.
Cam Germe of Platt and Kailey Lipka of Lyman Hall were the Record-Journal Scholar-Athletes of the Year. Each received a $1,000 scholarship from the R-J.
Matt Bahre of Maloney was the Bongiovanni Insurance and Financial Scholar-Athlete. He, too, received a $1,000 scholarship.
A complete listing of all award winners can be found in the Sports Section.
“You’ve gone the distance, turned two with a runner bearing down, marked the opposition’s top scorer, made the open-field tackle, delivered the match-clinching kill, drove in the winning run and perhaps, became a champion. You put in the work, the passion, the sacrifice,” said Record-Journal sports editor Bryant Carpenter.
Both White and Carpenter were former athletes, and that experience always informs the planning of this event.
“We understand what it takes to do what all of you do every day — balancing academics, athletics, and family and all the other responsibilities you have in your life,” White said.
Keynote speaker Joe Linta, a Branford resident and National Football League agent, spoke of the importance of family.
“Never ever forget that these people sitting next to you are always going to be there for you. Value and love every day,” Linta said.
In the scrum of congratulations after the event, the excitement of the major award winners was palpable.
Southington softball coach Davina Hernandez said that, in her sport, teams tend to have a dominant pitcher who leads them to greatness. Without one, this past season was going to go differently for the Southington squad.
“Our girls considered this to be a rebuilding year,” said Hernandez, the coach of the year.
However, Hernandez said they committed to improving the mental aspects of their game, improving communication, and making sure they didn’t make mistakes. The plan worked, giving Hernandez her third championship in six seasons at the helm.
“This is probably the best team chemistry we’ve ever had. They just love each other; we are so close,” Hernandez said. “I get emotional thinking about it.”
Good, the Male Athlete of the Year, said he believes that coming back from an injury in his junior year helped propel him to the award. He also had a word of advice for athletes beginning their high school careers.
“Enjoy it while you can because it ends very shortly,” said Good, an infielder who will play baseball at Central Connecticut State University next year.
Mia Juodaitis, the Female Athlete of the Year, had the kind of high school athletic career one can only dream about. She hit over .400 in softball this spring, slugging 12 home runs while being named the state Positional Player of the Year. She was a conference champion in volleyball and scored over 1,000 points in her scholastic basketball career.
For all the athletic exploits on display, Platt High School senior Ian Agnew showed that, once again, it is conduct off the field that counts the most.
His father, Glenn Agnew, passed away suddenly last year. Ian then suffered a knee injury that cost him his final year of football.
Rather than hide, Ian Agnew put himself forward. He got involved with his school’s special needs students, helping them through adaptive physical education classes and was deeply involved with his school’s Unified Sports Team.
“He could’ve gone to a very dark place,” said assistant football coach Brian Frederick.
But Agnew wanted to give back for the help he received during his difficult time. He wanted to help give the Unified athletes a positive outlook.
“It made me feel more involved with the community of Meriden,” Agnew said. “Giving back is not a hard thing to do.”
There were a lot of winners on Sunday, but underlying the entire proceeding was the idea that participating in something difficult, striving for a kind of greatness on the field and in the classroom, was an inherent good.
“No matter how naturally gifted you are, none of you got invited to this event without putting in a lot of hours of hard work,” Carpenter said. “When your sports career ends, if it hasn’t already, remember the drive and dedication of your high school years and may they serve you well in your professional and personal lives to come.”