SOUTHINGTON — It’s safe to say Southington High School’s gymnasium had never hosted so many champions on a single night.
Then again, no high school program in America has dominated its sport like Southington softball.
Nearly 30 former softball players, along with the 2022 team that won Southington’s national record 20th state championship last June, were on hand to be honored by the school, its fans and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.
The celebration, which came during halftime of the SHS boys basketball team’s 65-20 win over Rocky Hill, included a proclamation from the governor’s office and a ring presentation for the 2022 state championship team.
Last year’s title was just the latest example for a high school that’s become synonymous with softball domination over the past 44 years.
Since 1978, Southington has been a premier high school softball team not only in Connecticut, but nationally. Last year, the high school solidified it place atop of the sport by capturing its 20th state title.
SHS now stands alone when it comes state titles, setting itself apart from Salem High School of New Hampshire and Crescent High School of South Carolina, which both have 19 state softball championships.
The numbers, read during the ceremony Friday night by Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser and former SHS softball player Christine Shanley-Buck, are mind-boggling.
In winning 20 state titles, the Blue Knights won over 93 percent of their games (444-31).
Southington won four straight state titles from 1985 through 1988. On three separate occasions, the Blue Knights won three state titles in a row.
Shanley-Buck was a member of the school’s first three-peat in 1981, ’82 and ’83.
Tracy Ciosek and Kris Mach were on hand to represent the squad that won state titles in 1985, 1986 and 1987.
And three members of the 1986, 1987 and 1988 state-title teams were on hand as well: Colleen Steinnegal, Robbie Lipetz and Jeannette LaRose.
Also coming back to where they enjoyed so much high school success were the following state champions:
Paige Kopcza and Sherri Pelrin DiNello (’82, ’83);
Chris Wanner and Holly Donahue (’83, ’85);
Anne Bouchard (’86, ’87);
Christine Gombotz-Mikosz (’87, ’88);
Karen Sweezey (’88, ’90);
Missy St. Onge Ferri (’93);
Karen Fornier (’95, ’97);
Heather Brousseau Poutouves (’97, ’99);
Amanda Buckler Savage and Rachel Girouard (’04).
There were others from recent SHS teams — players from teams who, after Southington went 10 years without a title, won state championships in 2014 and 2015, as well as last year’s seniors, who started the school’s current run of success in 2019.
But SHS’s softball dynasty started in 1978. Back from that team was Irene Mach, who pitched the Blue Knights to state titles in 1978 and 1979.
“I never thought it would become a dynasty like it has,” Mach said. “It’s crazy. I couldn’t even play Little League baseball, that’s how old I am.
“Coaches said I could play softball in high school,” Mach continued. “I thought it would be (slow pitch). I never even knew fast-pitch softball existed. It’s crazy to think what this program has become. You read about it all the time.”
Southington’s remarkable run of softball success is something Risser witnessed from afar as an athletic director at other schools prior to coming to SHS.
“It’s extraordinary,” Risser said. “It’s unmatched in the country. It’s really a national phenomenon. We are just so proud of them. It just puts shivers down your spine.
“You are just in awe,” Risser continued. “The percentages speak for themselves. We are so proud to have them as part of Southington athletics.”
There isn’t anything to suggest Southington’s success will end, either. Last year’s seniors graduated having never lost a playoff game, capturing titles in 2019, 2021 and 2022. (There was no 2020 season due to the pandemic.)
The Blue Knights return a team in 2023 that will challenge for the school’s 21st state crown.
“It’s just amazing to be part of this,” said Samantha Rogers, who returns at shortstop after being named the state’s 2022 Position Player of the Year. “It’s just special.”
Southington head coach Davina Hernandez says the support of the community and nights like Friday, with so much tradition, are what sets Southington apart from other elite high school softball programs.
Hernandez has won six state titles at SHS, the last five as head coach and the first as an assistant coach. But before she arrived at SHS, she knew the program was special.
Hernandez played against SHS at Bristol Central. As a junior, she lost to Southington in the 2004 state title game.
Hernandez beat SHS as a senior in the state semifinals before losing to Amity in the 2005 title game.
“It is so cool to see all the women come back, because they are part of this record,” Hernandez said. “That record isn’t possible without all the women who were here.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s just tradition,” Hernandez added. “There is so much tradition rooted in this program. You can see it; look at how much people care. It’s genuine tradition and just so much pride in wearing those jerseys. They are proud.”