MERIDEN – Bob Billings had a distinguished athletic career in Meriden and he and his wife of 58 years, Patricia, opened up Billings Sports in 1969 and have been outfitting athletic teams around Southern New England for nearly a half century.
When Bob isn’t in his East Main Street office, he and Patricia are tracking their grandchildren around the state. Most notably: Daniel Hand junior quarterback Phoenix Billings.
Billings and the top-seeded Tigers (12-0) are in search of their second straight state title Class L state crown.
The only team standing in their way? The No. 7 seeded Maloney Spartans (10-2). The title tilt kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at New Britain’s Veterans Stadium.
“I’m excited to see him play a Meriden team,” Bob Billings said Tuesday night. “I know they don’t play in the same league as the Meriden schools, but I hoped some day i would be see him playing against a Meriden team and I got the wish.
“I think it will be a good game. We are looking forward to it.”
Phoenix Billings said he’s spent his fair share of time in the Silver City. His father Jeff and uncle Michael both work at Billings Sports. The company serves Connecticut, Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts. Over the years they’ve outfitted team from Little League up to UConn and Yale.
“I was in Meriden a lot at the store with my dad,” Phoenix said. “Meriden and Madison aren’t exactly close and I’m the only kid on my team that has a connection to Meriden. This is my first time playing a team from Meriden, so it’s pretty cool.
“My grandparents come to every baseball and football game,” he added. “They love sports and watching me play. I think they’ve been at almost every game I’ve ever played.”
The Billings roots are deep in Meriden. Bob attended St. Stanislaus School and Meriden High School, where he played basketball and football before graduating in 1956. While in high school, he also participated in gymnastics and track with the Polish Falcons Nest 68 in state and national competitions.
Billings remained active in recreational sports as well as with the Falcons, serving as physical instructor for 24 years and vice president for 30.
Billings was inducted into the Meriden Boys Club Hall of Fame in 2009 and was selected as a Meriden Sportsmen of Distinction in 2010.
His sons, Jeff, Michael and Gary, were all athletic.
Jeff, the elder of the trio, played basketball at Xavier. He was a captain his senior year in 1982. He also played on the hardwood at Mitchell College for two years.
Michael, who lives in Meriden, and Gary were both captains on the Wilcox Tech track team.
Gary now resides in Ohio and works as a professional sky diver.
“Gary also did the demolition derby years ago at Riverside Park and he won it out of 50 cars,” Bob Billings recalled.
Bob and Patricia have five grandchildren: Phoenix, Sydney, Quinton, Anna and Jamie.
Anna Billings graduated from Maloney in May. She played four years as the only girl on the Maloney golf team. She recently finished her freshman season as the No. 2 golfer at Worcester State University this fall.
“We love all of our grandchildren,” Bob Billings said.
Phoenix has given his grandparents and the rest of the Billings’ crew plenty cheer about in his years at Daniel Hand. He’s been the starting signal caller for the Tigers for the last two seasons. Last year ended in a Class L state title and he is looking to repeat.
This season, Billings has completed 83-of-126 for 1,661 yards for a high-powered spread offense that averages 362 yards and nearly 50 points a game. He has thrown 20 touchdowns and only four picks.
The junior has had eight games with multiple touchdowns, including three TD passes and no picks in Sunday’s 49-7 semifinal win over Windsor. He also rushed for a TD against the Warriors.
He’s also a force on the ground. Billings has rushed 37 times for 557 yards. He has 10 rushing TDs and averages 15.1 yards per carry. He’s fumbled just once.
“Phoenix is special,” Daniel Hand football coach Dave Mastroianni said. “To start at Hand High School for three years is something to be said onto itself. What he’s doing with it is unbelievable. I still have him for one more year.
“He came in and took his lumps and learned on the job as a sophomore and, this year, he has really been able to build upon it. This year we’ve been able to shelter him a little bit. We don’t feature Phoenix too much because we have so many other weapons. But we know sooner or later when we need to make a play or for something to happen, we like the ball in his hands.”
While Phoenix is a standout on the gridiron, his true love is the baseball diamond. He’s started on the varsity team since his freshman year and also plays for the Fairfield-based travel team, The Clubhouse.
“I play infield,” Billings said. “From early on in high school, I knew baseball was always the sport I wanted to play. It is my first love and I’ve been playing my whole life. It’s something I wanted to do at the next level.”
Billings received overtures from more than 20 colleges. He narrowed it down to Virginia, Maryland, Boston College and UConn, and has verbally committed to the latter.
Billings has also gotten plenty of looks from colleges for football. He drew interest from schools including UConn, Central Connecticut, Yale, Princeton and Boston College.
“I’m really happy with my choice of going to play (baseball) at UConn,” Billings said. “I have a great relationship with Coach (Jim) Penders and it seems like the place that I want to be. It’s a storied program with all of the success they’ve had in the last 10-to-15 years.”
But there’s plenty of work to be done before Billings heads to Storrs in a year and a half, starting on Saturday.
“It’s been a lot of fun doing such great things with the same guys as last year,” Billings said. “We are trying to carry on the great tradition at Daniel Hand.”
Last year, Hand defeated Masuk 35-21 in the Class L final. Billings threw a pick-6 on the first play of the game, but recovered. He said that experience of playing in a state final will help him and the Tigers against Maloney.
“We’ve got all of their film,” Billings said. “They have a lot of big guys up front and they will be the best team we have seen this year. We will do what we do every week: come into the game with a good attitude and, hopefully, make a back-to-back run.”
His grandparents, Bob and Patricia, will undoubtedly have a spot in New Britain to cheer on Phoenix.