The Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance is pleased to announce four prominent state athletic figures will receive the prestigious Gold Key in 2017.
Super Bowl champion defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Atlanta Falcons, five-time U.S. Olympic archer Butch Johnson, Farmington High boys soccer coach Steve Waters and former Cheshire High swim coach Ed Aston will be honored at the 76th Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 30, at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
The Gold Key is regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state. Since 1940, the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance has recognized individuals who have achieved excellence on the amateur, high school, collegiate and professional levels.
Past recipients of the Gold Key include: Connie Mack (1940), Willie Pep (1961), Lindy Remigino (1975), Walt Dropo (1975), President George H.W. Bush (1991), Gordie Howe (1992), Bill Rodgers (1994), Geno Auriemma (2001), Jim Calhoun (2003), Kristine Lilly (2012), Amby Burfoot (2014), Craig Janney (2015) and Marlon Starling (2016).
The Class of 2017 recipients add to that proud and rich tradition. Together, the four have played a major role in the history of Connecticut sports, and the CSWA is honored to celebrate their achievements.
Tickets to the 76th Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166 or firstname.lastname@example.org or dinner chairman Tim Jensen of Patch Media at email@example.com. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085.
More information on our four Gold Key recipients for 2017.
Dwight Freeney (Hartford)
In 15 seasons in the NFL, Dwight Freeney has left a memorable impression.
Freeney, who was born in Hartford and played high school football at Bloomfield, is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time First Team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl champion.
After finishing his senior season at Syracuse, Freeney was selected with the 11th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He spent the next 11 seasons with the Colts, playing in 163 games. Freeney was the NFL sacks leader in 2004 with 16 and was the AFC defensive player of the year in 2005.
From 2002 to 2012, Freeney had 107.5 sacks with Indianapolis. Freeney helped lead the Colts to their first Super Bowl title in Indianapolis, recovering a fumble in the championship victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. After leaving the Colts in 2012, Freeney has played for the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons. He has played in 13 games for the Falcons this season and has three sacks.
In his 15-year career in the NFL, Freeney has played in 207 games and started in 157. He has 122.5 sacks, 328 tackles and has forced 47 fumbles.
Before the NFL, Freeney was a unanimous All-American at Syracuse in 2001 and a two-time first team All-Big East selection. He was a two-year starter for the Orangeman and set a school record with 17.5 sacks in his senior season. His 34 career sacks rank second in school history to Tim Green (45.5). Freeney once had a run of 17 straight games with one sack or more. He finished his college career with 104 tackles.
At Bloomfield High School, Freeney played a year of soccer, but switched to football his sophomore year. He helped lead Bloomfield to a state championship his final season and finished his senior year as the state leader in career sacks with 60 (the record has since been broken). Freeney also played baseball and basketball at the school.
Butch Johnson (Woodstock)
When Butch Johnson competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, he had firmly established himself as a legend in his event.
Johnson, who lives in Woodstock and has helped run Hall’s Arrow in Manchester for years, was a contender for a medal in five straight Olympics.
In 1992, he made his first Olympic team and at 52 he traveled to China for his fifth straight Olympics. Johnson won the gold medal with the U.S. team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In 2004, Johnson and the U.S. team just missed a medal, finishing fourth.
At 15, Johnson got his start in archery. He began winning competitions in the early 1970s, and he never stopped. Johnson won team gold medals at the Pan American games in 1999 and 2007 and individual silver and bronze medals at the Pan American games in 1995. He has also won countless national titles.
In 2012, he was 56 and still considered one of the best archers in the country. He finished second in the 2012 National Target Championships and won a silver medal in the 2012 Hoyt World Open.
He graduated from Bartlett High in Webster, Mass. and later moved to Woodstock, where he often trained for the Olympics.
Steve Waters (Farmington)
As an athlete, Steve Waters had an impressive career at Wethersfield High and later the University of Hartford. But he’s left his mark in state history through coaching.
In 34 seasons at Farmington High, Waters has led the Indians to nine state titles and 529 wins. He has a record of 529-82-48 and his teams have made 14 state finals. After taking over an already strong program with plenty of pressure, Waters has put his own touch on the program and made Farmington the premier high school soccer town in Connecticut.
He’ll start the 2017 season one win behind E.O. Smith coach John Blomstrann for the all-time wins record in boys soccer. Since taking over as the boys coach at Farmington in 1983, Waters has proven to be a master at getting the most out of his teams and competing against the best.
Waters won his first title with Farmington in 1986 over Avon in Class M and has won titles in each of the last four decades. He has won Class LL, Class L and Class M titles.
Recently, Farmington has advanced to a state final in six of the last eight seasons, losing just once to Glastonbury in overtime in 2014. The Indians won their first Class LL championship in 2008 and have since won it again in 2010 and 2016. They won Class L titles in 2012 and 2013.
At Wethersfield, Waters helped lead the Eagles to a Class LL championship in 1975 over Manchester. Waters was an All-State defender his senior year. But he wasn’t just a soccer player. He was also a standout All-Conference third baseman. After graduating high school, he went to a Pittsburgh Pirates regional camp.
He played both soccer and baseball (switching to catcher) at Hartford. But eventually stopped playing baseball after two years to focus exclusively on soccer, where he was later drafted to play with in the MISL with the Philadelphia Fever. Waters was a central defender in high school and later played sweeper at Hartford, where he scored 13 goals his junior and senior seasons.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame.
Ed Aston (Cheshire)
After 37 years coaching the Cheshire High girls swim team and 33 coaching the Cheshire boys, Ed Aston stepped down in 2011 as one of the most successful swim coaches in state history.
Aston, who went to Croft High in Waterbury and swam for Southern Connecticut State, finished with 824 wins, 43 state championships and a historic dual meet win streak of 281 straight wins.
In 1974, Aston started the boys team at Cheshire High. A year later, he also started the girls team. It took him three years to win his first state title in 1977, beating Rippowam of Stamford.
His girls teams won 13 State Open titles and 26 class championships. When he retired, he had a record of 410-19-1 as the girls coach. But his most famous achievement with the Rams was his record dual meet record. From 1986 to 2011, Cheshire had won a national record 281 straight dual meets. It is the second longest streak by any high school girls athletic team behind Amherst (New York) girls volleyball, which had 292 straight.
His boys team at Cheshire won the State Open championship in 1992 and 18 class championships.
In 2013, Aston was inducted into the National Federation of State High Schools Hall of Fame.
Aston started as a basketball player in high school, but switched to swimming his sophomore year.
Dwight Freeney photo courtesy Atlanta Falcons.com Butch Johnson photo courtesy Hall's Arrows in Manchester Steve Waters photo courtesy of Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame and Patch Media
Ed Aston photo by Mara Lavitt, courtesy of New Haven Register