An All-Star professional basketball player and humanitarian, as well as a record-setting high school soccer standout, have b een selected Athletes of the Year by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.
Center Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun will receive the Hank O’Donnell Female Athlete Coach of the Year Award and state scoring record-breaker Alfonso Vazquez Villar of Windham High School will be presented the Bill Lee Male Athlete of the Year Award from the CSWA at the 79th Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 26 at the Aqua Turf Club in the Plantsville section of Southington.
On the court, the 6-foot-6 Jones led the Sun all the way to a fifth and final game in the WNBA finals before falling to the Washington Mystics. She finished with 32 points and 18 rebounds in a Game 2 win to even the series, becoming the first player in WNBA finals history to record 30 or more points and 15 or more rebounds in a game. Jones, 26, won her second WNBA rebounding title in her fourth season in the league and was named to the WNBA All-Star team for the second time, all while raising thousands of dollars to contribute to her native Bahamas, struck by Hurricane Dorian in August.
Vazquez Villar finished his prolific high school soccer career with a state record 149 goals, punctuated by 55 tallies this fall, and was named All-New England and All-American following the season. He is a 4-time first team all Eastern Connecticut Conference player and 3-time All State honoree.
Lyman Memorial coach Ryan Fabry told the Norwich Bulletin, “Vazquez is Messi-esque,” in reference to world soccer superstar Lionel Messi. “He hides out for stretches and when he gets the ball, he invites defenders to press him before dribbling away for a shot or a pass to an open teammate. He’s very dangerous.”
Gold Key Award recipients for 2020 are five legendary scholastic coaches: Cookie Bromage (Enfield field hockey), Joe Grippo (Morgan girls volleyball and girls basketball), Lou Milardo (Hale-Ray softball), Ricky Shook (Danbury wrestling) and Angela Tammaro (Greenwich Academy field hockey and lacrosse). Baseball Hall of Fame honoree Claire Smith, 2017 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, will receive the President’s Award.
The Gold Key Dinner was inaugurated in 1940, with baseball legend Connie Mack and golf superstar Bobby Jones among the initial recipients. The roster of honorees since then reads like a Who’s Who of Connecticut sports – Joe Cronin, Julius Boros, Willie Pep, Lindy Remigino, Floyd Little, Joan Joyce, Otto Graham, Calvin Murphy, Gordie Howe, Bill Rodgers, Geno Auriemma, Rebecca Lobo, Brian Leetch, Kristine Lilly, Marlon Starling, Dwight Freeney and ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen are just a few of the past Gold Key winners. A complete list is available at www.ctsportswriters.com.
Tickets to the Gold Key Dinner are $75 apiece, and may be reserved by contacting CSWA President Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds from the event benefit the Bo Kolinsky Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship, named after a longtime Hartford Courant sportswriter and past CSWA president who died unexpectedly in 2003.
Villar photo by John Shishmanian, courtesy Norwich Bulletin; Jones photo courtesy Connecticut Sun.