Brianna Butler. Former Washingtonville High School soccer star now standing out at UConn. Story by fellow Wizard, Tim Gaffney.
The soccer trophy that Tim Gaffney won back in '76 as a member of the Washingtonville HS soccer team. He tells the story of another Wizard, UConn star Brianna Butler.
STORRS: What are the odds?
The more I make my way around the sports world, the closer things come back home and it happened again last week when I was headed up to the University of Connecticut to do a story on a local star soccer player who started her career in Litchfield at The Forman School.
Lindsey Watkins, a senior defender who started her career at Litchfield High School, has played for the Huskies the better part of four years and has been instrumental in their current run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
While prepping to go see Watkins (who I will write about Tuesday), I took a look at the team’s roster to see who else I might recognize, not expected to see a player who starred at the same high school as I attended.
I say attended because I was far from a star but a young lady from nearby Rock Tavern named Brianna Butler certainly was during her four years in a Wizards uniform.
There’s just something special about running into a person who had made their way from a town about the size of Terryville in Connecticut (about 5700 residents) which is a whole lot bigger today than when I grew up there and graduated in 1976.
If Washingtonville was famous for anything, there were two things; soccer (boys and girls) and the Brotherhood Winery, the world oldest winery.
Now, coming from a town whose main attraction is a winery was not a huge draw for any of us kids back in the 70’s.
It seemed to be more of an embarrassment that a thing of pride but as time went on, I grew up and figured out it was probably kind of cool if you liked wine, which I don’t but whatever. Brought people in who spent money elsewhere in town as well so it was a good thing.
Soccer though, was what made being a Wizard cool although being a Wizard was one of the lamest nicknames we could have thought of, not really scary like if we had been “The Warlocks” or something like that.
A warlock is badass. Wizard, not so much.
Anyway, futbol was one of the biggest draws at the high school then and continues in that regard today.
If you played soccer in Washingtonville, you knew a legendary soccer guru by the name of Tony Martelli who was the boys coach, my coach during my senior year at the school.
Martelli owns THE soccer shop in town. If you grow up in the Washingtonville area, you bought your gear from coach.
“I get all my cleats there,” Butler said. “Have to get my cleats there.”
I made the varsity that year, still don’t know how but I did but it was the year that I not only got to ride the bench a great deal but started to write sports for our school newspaper.
It’s why I always love writing about soccer even though we live in a world where the majority of sports that people watch faithfully still involve more scoring than you will ever see on a pitch, but I have hope as the new generation seems to be embracing the sport on a world-wide basis.
Coach (and teacher) Martelli was our Spanish teacher as well, not sure how the really Italian guy was teaching Española but it worked or we worked, on soccer that is.
Spanish class was held eighth period, the last of the day and I’m not sure how much time we spent in the classroom but I know we spent a good deal of time on the practice field.
And we got A’s as well!
Couldn’t talk my way out of a parking ticket in Spanish but hey, just did what the coach said.
Did learn a couple of key curse words, but anyway.
Finding out that Butler was a fellow Wizard peaked my interest so I gave coach Martelli a call to ask what he remembered about her.
True to form, a little after 10 a.m., that voice that hasn’t changed much over the decades was on the other side of the phone, asking me how I was doing, as he does every time I touch base.
That 1976 team was a special one, we won the Section 9, Class B title and I still have the 10-inch trophy to prove it.
It now serves as my credentials holder and brings my writing passion full circle. I started writing during that season and continue to do so today.
Martelli certainly remembered Butler, whose father also graduated from Washingtonville four year earlier than I did.
“She was a terrific player for us all through high school,” coach Martelli said. “She really helped build the program up while she was here.”
Butler’s teams were strong ones, during her time there the Wizards won three division titles and three section titles. She was voted Most Valuable Defender in 2009, Most Valuable Midfielder in 2010 and Most Valuable Forward in 2011.
She captained her team in her senior year and was named to the All-State Second Team and All-Section team in leaded her team to both the section and division crowns that season.
Throw in a Scholar All-American selection and you can see why the kids a star and got onto the Huskies radar.
“There are a lot of great soccer clubs in Washingtonville,” Butler said. “It’s great that so much talent has come out of such a small town.”
Coach Martelli had an impact on Butler, just as thousands have over the years.
When asked what it was like to work with the legendary soccer guru?
“It was awesome,” Butler said. “His summer camps were terrific. He (Martelli) gave me a lot of great advice all through high school and in my college years.”
Her strength during her time at Storrs has been on the defensive side of the field, she helped the Huskies pitch seven shutouts in her sophomore year in which the team gave up and average of just 1.46 per game.
This year, Butler has truly become one of head coach Len Tsantiris’s best and most dependable defenders.
“Butler is a winner,” Tsantiris said. “She is one of the hardest players we have. She’s one of the best at winning the ball in the air. She helps us control the midfield and is a great defender.”
After winning their opening game of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday against UNH by a 2-0 score, the Huskies will move on to play # 8 Penn State on Friday on the road.
For one former Wizard, the journey has been a remarkable one and it’s enough to make her scratch her head.
“I was telling somebody the other day,” Butler said. “Everybody grew up first of all wanting to play in college and then to get to the NCAA’s. It’s crazy.”
Crazy is the people you run into when doing a job that you love that takes you back to the place where it all began.