WINSTED – The winningest coach in Connecticut high school girls basketball history. It is an honor and accomplishment claimed by only one person and he is Northwestern Regional’s Fred Williams.
He wears the title oh so well.
Williams became the big dog on the victory block Wednesday night with historic win No. 705 an easy waltz over Wolcott Tech in front of family, friends and a proud student body and fan contingent. Williams entered the season tied with retired Masuk High coach Dave Strong at 704 wins.
Williams’ accomplishment was duly and can we say without embarrassing anyone lovingly acknowledged with warmth that permeated the atmosphere and included a healthy media contingent. How could it not be? Nobody has done it better.
At this point what do you say about Williams who has honed his craft over a brilliant 45-year career. He has checked all the boxes. The number is a marvelous mark and tells a story (705-322). But numbers are never the whole story.
I have known Fred Williams for the better part of 40 years. First as a much younger reporter with a mini-Afro. Then as an older reporter with a reverse Mohawk. I wrote about his daughters and then worked with two of them in recent times. His wife, Donna, the Captain Kirk of Northwestern Regional, doing much to keep the Highlander craft running smoothly, has become a partner in conversation. I have spent more time in his Athletic Director’s office than some of the many horse pictures he has on his wall.
We have talked hearing aids, ailments, medical bills, horse racing, teaching, golf, social security, Christmas presents, vacations and travel, field drainage, UConn men and women, coaching philosophy and even some basketball. Probably a few other things too. We have aired it out.
Here are a few things I have seen with Fred Williams. Some are numbers but more about a guy that Northwestern has been lucky to have and other schools could only dream of having.
I have seen a guy who has welcomed and nurtured family into his professional life. Daughters Stacey and Lyndsey played for him, teach in the same building with him and have coached beside him for years. In the mid 1990s Stacey and Lyndsey along with Christie started for the Highlanders at the same time. It was a Williams’ family feast. Starting three offspring has the potential to create some mumbling. It was not an issue because Williams was trusted and it was obvious all deserved to be on the floor.
I have seen a guy who won a head-spinning 141 BL games and eight titles in a row from 1987-1994 and did it with class. Many of the games he could have won by about a 100 points yet he always had his bench cleared for most of the second half. Winning and how the Highlanders won took equal billing. One of the BL’s all-time greats Beth Finn has more than 1,300 points and she did it playing half-games. Who knows what the final total could have been.
I have seen a guy win those eight titles in a row, an era of dominance not scene in the BL. Yeah, there were stars like Finn, the Bloods, Julie and Trish, Steph Winn and the list goes on. But they were efficiently guided to be what they became.
I saw a guy teach a match-up zone that drove opponents crazy. Ask former Wamogo coaches Kevin Crowley and Ken Gladding and they were just a couple of opponents who needed therapy after Fred’s defense befuddled them one more time.
I saw a guy who could squat in front of the bench for seemingly hours (always in a nifty sweater). I wondered what was holding him up and my knees gave out just watching him.
I saw the most humble of guys, proud of his record but not a big fan of the spotlight. Asked about the secret of his success he would always defer to `longevity, great players and great support.’. Certainly major ingredients in the basketball soup success that is Northwestern. With a glaring omission – Fred Williams. A tactician with the ability to adapt to different players from different eras, who has watched the game change, he has coached comfortably through all the challenges that time has offered. Never believe that all the wins and titles would have been there without Fred Williams.
I have seen a coach coach with class. With a strong E.F. Hutton style – `When Fred talks people and players listen.’ Not a yeller or foot stomper he handles frustration with sterness and makes a message not a scene.
I have seen a man win a state title and make two appearances while losing some memorable semifinals to New Fairfield (Jen Rizzotti) and North Branford (Holly Oslander – Syracuse).
I have seen a guy correct math papers in the bleachers during JV games.
I have seen a guy never trade his values for victories.
I have seen a guy who has done nothing but bring pride to his team, school and family.
Down the road someone will break Williams’ record. Records get broken. But nobody will ever wear the title of Winningest High School Girls Basketball Coach In Connecticut History better than the guy who has coached the Northwestern Regional Highlanders.
It is the perfect title for a guy who has always done it the way it is supposed to be done. The final number will be great. Fred Williams is better.