I had the great privilege Thursday to participate in the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance selections for the Hal Levy Athlete of the Year Awards. As soon as the confab ended, I zipped from the Pine Loft Restaurant on the Berlin Turnpike to Southington High for the celebratory college announcements by two of the best football players and most well-rounded individuals I’ve covered, quarterback Stephen Barmore and defensive end Zach Maxwell.
Playing Santa Claus for those involved in state athletics is one of my life’s great passions and telling Barmore and his family that he would be the Levy Award recipient in a male sport (the female winner is Hannah DiBalsi, a sophomore track star of national proportion from Staples-Westport) was a gift I enjoyed giving. Barmore humbly and genuinely expressed his thanks, as did his proud parents.
So what constitutes a Hal Levy Athlete of the Year? Was Barmore truly the best athlete in Connecticut in 2013? What about Arkeel Newsome, the record-breaking UConn-bound running back from Ansonia High? What about Masuk baseball player Tom Milone, headed for spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays?
Is hitting home runs more impressive than throwing for 42 touchdowns? Is stopping pucks moving at 100 miles per hour more athletic than winning the pole vault? What about all the terrific offensive linemen across the state? What about the defender in soccer who doesn’t have the benefit of statistics to support his excellence?
Whenever you talk about the best athlete, the results are highly subjective, but how can anybody be deemed better than Stephen Barmore?
Looking beyond his football accomplishments that helped propel Southington to the school’s second Class LL championship in December, his character and his academic standing are impeccable.
Barmore will attend Yale University. Is Yale the best college? Let’s just say it has to be in the discussion. Are touchdowns, passing yardage, completions and his oft-overlooked accomplishments in the defensive backfield his most crucial contributions? His leadership ability certainly add a glow to his stunning numbers and that resplendent blue banner defining the Blue Knights’ win over Fairfield Prep hanging in the gymnasium.
But what continues to captivate me most about Barmore is the very night after that wondrous football game and ensuing celebration in West Haven, he was playing for the Southington basketball team.
He could have taken time off, or even opted out of basketball in his senior year when football obviously his future. It’s been done so many times before. Not a soul would have blamed him. And it was clearly evident that the basketball team would not be posting any banners on the wall. The Knights are embroiled in a rebuilding mode.
In a day and age when the “Winning is everything” credo dominates our sporting landscape more than ever, Barmore was a throwback, anxious to help his basketball team run the CCC West gauntlet. He wasn’t going to waste one moment, and that’s just part of the story about his 21 hours between fall and winter season.
“A couple of my [basketball] teammates that were on the football team, we sat on the sideline during the basketball team’s first game (December 18, the eve of the football finale). We got there after practice and sat on the sidelines in street clothes — obviously you can’t play two sports during one season,” he recounted.
“The night of the championship, a lot of people asked me how much I partied after we won. I didn’t party. I had to go home and do a physics performance task. I was up until 2 o’clock in the morning.”
His experiment was a free-fall study involving an egg affixed to a rubber band “to see how close you can get the egg to the ground without it breaking. It was like a bungee-jump type scenario.”
The game — at home against Masuk — was a 77-74 overtime win, which to date is Southington’s only win.
“I ended up playing, but I really didn’t get that many minutes because [head coach Bob Lasbury] was trying to be fair,” he said. “We hadn’t really been there for preseason and everything. I played a little bit, and anything I can do to help the team is positive in my mind.”
Barmore will be majoring in biology, and he’s just as anxious to delve into research as he is to take snaps in historic Yale Bowl.
“Hopefully, I’ll get my Masters and specifically concentrate on genetics,” he said. “It’s a growing field. Every day they find more uses for genetics. As a researcher in that field, there’s so much to expand on. I’m really excited to learn about it.”
From winning football games to being a great teammate and striving for a professional arena where he can help save lives, Barmore is the perfect fit for the second Hal Levy Award. Levy, who helped shaped my career and the lives of so many young athletes right up until the moment he succumbed to cancer in July of 2008, would have been very pleased.
Barmore will receive the Hal Levy High School Athlete of the Year Award at the 73rd Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 27 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville.
The CSWA will also be honoring the 2013 Gold Key class: Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, UConn men’s soccer coach Ray Reid, the state’s high school football wins leader Ed McCarthy, Branford High field hockey coach Cathy McGuirk and New Britain Rock Cats executive Bill Dowling.
Of local interest, Cheshire High volleyball coach Sue Bavone will receive the Doc McInerney High School Coach of the Year Award in a female sport. Longtime Maloney High football statisticians Les and Brett Zimmerman will be among those receiving John Wentworth Good Sport Awards for their contribution to community through sports.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased by sending a check or money order to: CSWA, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT 06085.
For more information, contact CSWA treasurer Ken Lipshez at 860-673-6048, or firstname.lastname@example.org.