The Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance is pleased to announce that four individuals, whose legendary careers left an indelible mark on the state sports scene, will receive the prestigious Gold Key in 2012.
Kristine Lilly, who began her storied soccer career in Wilton and was a member of the United States women’s national team for 24 years, Dave Shea, who has won over 300 games in three different sports at Bacon Academy in Colchester, John Dunham, who has collected over 400 wins in 37 years as coach of the Trinity College hockey team, and Mike Walsh, winner of over 500 games and six state championships at Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford, will be honored at the 71st annual Gold Key Dinner on April 29 at the Aqua Turf Club.
The Gold Key is regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state, and since 1940 the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance has recognized individuals from the Nutmeg State who have achieved excellence on the youth, high school, college and professional levels. Past recipients of the Gold Key include Connie Mack (1940), Willie Pep (1961), Walt Dropo (1975), George H.W. Bush (1991), Gordie Howe (1992), Geno Auriemma (2001) and Jim Calhoun (2003).
The Class of 2012 recipients will continue that proud and rich tradition.
It seemed as though everywhere Lilly went, winning followed as Wilton High School won two state championships and the University of North Carolina went 4-for-4 in NCAA Championships while she played for the Tar Heels, who retired her No. 15 jersey.
Lilly was only 16 and still in high school when she made her debut with the women’s national team, the first of more than 300 international games she would play in. She participated in five different World Cups, wearing the Red, White and Blue every four years from 1991 through 2007. She also competed in three Olympics, winning gold medals in 1996 and 2004 along with a silver medal in 2000. She more than likely would have played in the 2008 Games as well, but family came first as Lilly gave birth to the first of her two children.
When the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was formed in 2001, Lilly was a founding member and team captain of the Boston Breakers. She played every minute of all 21 games that inaugural season, leading the league with 11 assists.
Lilly would return to the national team in 2008, playing for two more years until announcing her retirement in December of 2010 after her 352nd cap (international appearance) for Team USA. She retired as the most capped men’s or women’s soccer player in the history of the sport.
She scored 130 goals for her country and 30 more for the professional teams she had played with both here and overseas.
The 77-year-old Shea has been a fixture at Bacon Academy for over five decades. A 1952 graduate of the school, Shea coached boys basketball for 24 seasons (1961-85), is currently in his 18th season as girls basketball coach, and this spring will enter his 25th season as the Bobcats’ baseball coach.
Shea is the only coach in Connecticut state history to have 300 wins as both a boys and girls basketball coach, compiling a sparkling 638-274 combined record entering this season. He is also one of only two coaches that have won both a boys and girls basketball state championship, guiding the boys to the Class S crown in 1981 and the girls to the Class M title in 2009.
In addition, Bacon Academy has won 12 regular-season conference titles and four tournament titles under Shea’s watch while playing in the Charter Oak and Eastern Connecticut conferences.
Shea joined his third “300 Club” in May when the Bacon Academy baseball team beat Stonington 15-5, and he is now 308-209 overall. He has guided the Bobcats to three divisional titles, four state quarterfinals, one semifinal and the 2006 Class M state final.
Shea, who retired from teaching in December 1999, was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004, and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Dunham built Trinity College into one of the most successful Division III hockey programs in the country. In his 37 years with the school, Dunham’s record of 441-306-34 ranks fifth in Division III history for wins and 20th among coaches in all divisions. At the time of his retirement in 2007, Dunham had more wins at the same school than any other Division III coach.
A former goalie at Brown University, Dunham took over as coach of Trinity’s club hockey team in 1970 and helped the Bantams gain varsity status four years later. He quickly built Trinity into a competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) program with two appearances in the NCAA Division III Championships, including a berth in the 2005 NCAA Final Four.
Overall, Dunham has led Trinity to 21 playoff appearances, four ECAC North/South Championships in 1986, ’87, ’88 and ’91, and a NESCAC title in 2003. Dunham was honored as the NESCAC Coach of the Year in 2001, ’03 and ’05, and was a finalist for the American Hockey Coaches Association Division III National Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2005.
He also received the Parker-York Award in 2009 from the New England Hockey Writers for his lifelong contribution to New England Hockey, and the 2010 John MacInness Award by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Walsh has been the architect of one of the most successful high school boys basketball programs in the state at Trinity Catholic. Now in his 33rd season as head coach (and 39th overall) at the small parochial school in Stamford, Walsh entered the 2011-12 season with a career record of 523-242.
The 64-year-old Walsh has led the Crusaders to 11 state finals and won his sixth state championship in March by capturing top honors in Class M. His first state final came in 1995 when, led by Rashamel Jones, Trinity Catholic finished Class M runner-up to New London.
Walsh and the Crusaders returned to the finals the following year and defeated Northwest Catholic for their first state crown. They won their second state championship in 1999, garnering the Class L title, and that began a remarkable run of seven straight trips to state finals, winning four of them.
Walsh has also led Trinity Catholic to 10 FCIAC finals with the Crusaders winning six of those as well. In fact, from 2001-2009, Trinity appeared in eight of the nine FCIAC championship games, won five of them, including a record-tying three straight from 2003-05, and collected nine straight East Division titles.
In addition, Walsh coached Babe Ruth Baseball in both the 13-15 and 16-18 age groups, finally stepping down after his 40th season last summer. During that time, he’s won numerous state titles and has been to 10 World Series as manager of the Stamford all-star team. He also coached in the Springdale Little League for 25 years, winning a state championship in 1990.
Tickets to the 2012 Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4:30 p.m., can be purchased by contacting either CSWA President George Albano of The (Norwalk) Hour at Truckin114@aol.com, or Vice President and Dinner Chairman Bob Ehalt of The New Haven Register at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT 06085.