Fred Williams: Hall of Famer
Fred Williams: Hall of Famer
WINSTED - The school sits at the end of a winding uphill road at the top of a hill. Surrounded by a bevy of athletic fields and a forested view that stretches for miles, there is more than a bit of the mesmerizing bucolic here.
Northwestern Regional is where Fred Williams has always done his thing. Away from so much of it all that begins at the entrance to that twisting ascension just a long three-pointer off the end of Route 8 in Winsted to the top of the hill.
In a good sized gym that stretches to the back of the school and once ran east-west and now runs north-south, Williams has coached the heck out of the game of basketball. For 35 years he and his program have never changed direction.
On a field outside the gym, Williams coached the heck out of the game of soccer until he retired as a math teacher and took on the duties of Athletic Director at which time he was told he could only coach one sport.
You can easily bypass the school and hardly even notice the hill. Take a left off of the highway and you are in downtown Winsted. Take a right and you zip off towards Barkhamsted and a lot of God’s country.
You can’t bypass Williams. You can miss the school and the top of the hill. You may never even know either is there. But, excellence and its classy manner of achievement aren’t stationary. It all travels up and down the highways and byways with you.
Geographically, Highlander heaven hasn’t ever been in the center of the athletic universe. Williams has done much of his magic out of the limelight. Yet you are struck by the idea that he done it all at the top of the hill.
A long time ago Fred Williams drove his car up that winding road and he parked his programs at the top of the mountain.
Williams will be inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Nov. 21 at the Aqua Turf in Southington. The key was put in the door a long, long time ago. He gets to turn it and walk in now.
You want titles, he’s got titles. How about 10 Berkshire League girls basketball titles? How about a Class M state title (thank-you Christine Wallace for that short jump shot off the Beth Finn pass). How seven BL boys soccer titles?
You want a winning streak? How about one of the granddaddies of them all, 141 straight Bl wins. Heck four of his players graduated never having lost a BL game. How about 905 victories? He is in calculator territory with around 550 of them coming in basketball.
How about National High School Athletics Coaches Association Girls Basketball Coach the Year in 1997? Don’t be fooled, Williams has never been out the limelight he only half enjoys.
There has been a machine-like efficiency and monotony (if you are the opposition) to Williams’ teams. They are always there either winning titles or making you go some to those who have the same aspirations.
Ask Thomaston who en route to a third BL title in four seasons and the Class S championship game in March lost two BL games. Both to Northwestern. Ask Ken Hoagland, Williams old coaching foe who had his own share of special teams with the likes of Heidi Law, Karin Crompton Jackie and Joann Gallagher and more.
Yet, it was the Highlanders who always seemed to upset the Spartan’s dreams. You have either admired the Highlanders’ relentless victory run or cursed the red and white hammer that always seems to be the dispensing agent of disappointment.
There’s assuredly been large doses of both. There has to be.
But if numbers are Williams’ ticket to the Hall of Fame at best they have to share the story the way it has all been done. You are hard pressed to find a coach that doesn’t have good things to say about Williams.
Don’t take that for granted. There are plenty of coaches who aren’t enamored with their counterparts when the notebooks are put away, the tape recorders are shutoff and they gyms and fields have emptied.
Yet, round them up, Thomaston coaches past and present Bob McMahon, Bill Ryan, Paul Ebbs, Wamogo’s Kevin Crowley, Nonnewaug’s Tom Morgan, Gilbert’s Schroeder, Mills’ Hoagland, Housatonic’s Kevin Riley and the others.
Theirs is nothing they will tell you in the darkness and empty offices that they wouldn’t tell you otherwise. Most if not all lost a lot more to the Highlanders than they won, but it didn’t matter. They want revenge, that is what they do, but they speak of respect.
Williams seems to win 13 games in his worst years, the regularity enough to make you want to let the air out of the bus’s tires after the game or steal Williams’ famed sweater(s). Yet, you have to give a man his due and they do.
And it hasn’t always been a walk through those forested woods for Williams. At one point he started his three daughters, Lindsey (1997), Christy (1996) and Stacey (1994) at the same time.
He took some heat. You know how it works. Forget that they should have been starting, the fact that they all had the same last name as the coach, clouded some suspicious eyeballs. They played, Northwestern won.
One night after a game at the end of the season that was Senior Night, one parent with a full tank of fury on overload, descended on Williams’ office after a game and told him how he had ruined the game for her daughter because she hadn’t played.
Forget that the Highlanders were fighting for a BL title, there is no fury like that of a parent who feels scorned. Williams and his daughter Lindsey handled the situation with calm although I could tell he was stunned and a bit taken back.
It is all part of the job, but it isn’t all handled the same way. This was handled Williams’ way, calm cool and collected. He has always made people think, his players, his opponents, the decision-makers.
When the BL changed the time of its girls basketball games from 5 to 7 p.m. quite a few years ago it was almost universally hailed as a great move to give the girls equal billing with the boys. Yet it was Williams, who was concerned with parents having to be in two places at the same time, who offered this.
“Are we more concerned about what is good for the girls or just trying to do what the boys do?”
He continues on, a comforting presence on the basketball sidelines. The court has changed directions, his long-time aide-de-camp for so many years, Rik Fritch long gone, most of his early coaching fraternity now memories.
The hair has thinned and he now has grandchildren at the games yet, he can still get down on his haunches in a trademark sweater with his hand under his chin. Stacey and Lyndsey are now his loving coaching brain trust.
He doesn’t broadcast any of it. The eye-opening numbers usually come from his daughters. We had to make calls when he hit No. 400 and No. 500 and it was his daughters who supplied the information. The Hall of Fame selection notice was released by the CHSCA not by Williams. Yet, it has been a career that doesn’t need a press release. It all speaks loud enough on its own.
A long time ago Fred Williams drove his car up to the top of the hill. He parked his presence and his programs at the top of the hill. The car has traveled back down the winding road.
His program and the presence have never come down. The school can’t always be seen. Williams and what he has accomplished can never be missed. But just in case, the Hall of Fame will insure it all.