Foran girls hoop program celebrates success

The Foran High girls basketball alumni game had an across-the-generation feel to it on Saturday night, as current head coach Scott Nails brought players together from the 1970s, 1980s, and many from the two latest decades.

Throw in the fact that revered Lion three-sport coach and former athletic director Edna Fraser was at center court for the entire contest, and it turned out to be quite a night.

It really didn’t matter whether the red or the white squad won, the true meaning of the night was for Nails’ current players, including 2013 All-Stater Taylor Ceballos, injured and out for the season, to have a chance to meet and talk to the school’s stars from the past like All-Staters April Hunt and Meg Winfield.

The Lions’ other girls basketball all-stater, Rhonda Boyd (1986-88), was unable to attend.

Members of the white team included Ashley Fitzgerald, Rebekah DeRosa, Shalonda Hill, Casey Blake, Haley Blake, Maggie Folsom and Liz Pozello.

Playing for the red team were Alicia Mezik, Brie Russo, Genna Savoca, Steph Griswold, Jess Radecki, Alex Librandi and April Hunt.

“I’d heard so much about Miss Fraser and her impact on Foran girls sports back when Title Nine was first enforced (1973),” said Ceballos, who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game during her freshman season (2012-13).

“It’s really amazing to look how far the girls sports have come since then. It must be exciting for them to see the level that we’re playing at today. To see how far the sports have come.”

Now 80 and still very active within the Milford community, Fraser was a true pioneer. The Foran gymnasium has been named in her honor and, when it happened, it was a total surprise to the former Raybestos Brakettes softball standout (1953-65).

“I remember when it occurred,” Fraser said. “One of my former players, Dorothy Franco, invited me to a game. I got here and they told me there was going to be a celebration in my honor and the gym was going to be named after me. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”

While she was still playing for the Brakettes, as an all-star center fielder and two-time team batting champion, Fraser already had her eye on the future.

She enrolled at then-New Haven State Teachers’ College (now Southern Connecticut State University), got her degree in education, and was hired as a girls physical education teacher at Foran when it opened in the fall of 1973.

During her more than 30-year tenure, she coached volleyball, basketball and softball, eventually becoming the school’s athletic director.

And, the awards kept piling up. She was named to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame (1986) and received a Gold Key, symbolic of overall-athletic achievement, from the Connecticut Sportswriters’ Alliance in 1996.

Hunt, perhaps the most accomplished girls’ athlete to ever come out of Foran, quickly saw what made Fraser such a terrific coach.

“Her passion for sports was almost unequalled,” said Hunt, an All-Stater in basketball and in volleyball, who played on the 1975 team which won the first state title for the sport.

“She was tough,” Hunt added. “And, in retrospect, we needed that. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a more competitive person in women’s sports.

“I took away from my Foran experience a respect not only for the game but for everyone involved in it. I always knew that I’d play because it seemed to be in my genes.

“But I drew an even deeper love and what would become a life-long commitment to stay in shape.”

When Hunt graduated in early summer, 1976, she was recruited by New Haven’s Edwina Qualls, who was leaving Hillhouse to become the women’s basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin.

Hunt, along with New Haven’s Ann Hyslop, both received scholarships, making her the first girls’ scholarship athlete in Foran history.

Having had a basketball net in her backyard and three brothers (Russ, Tim and Matt) who all played the game, Hunt was destined to become a first-rate high school athlete.

“I remember going to Milford High basketball games when I was eight years old,” April said. “My brother Russell played back then for Ray Mahon. I still remember most of the guys on the team. There was Kenny Walker, Joe Kelly, Pete Axten and Kevin Katzmatrsic.

Her teammate on both the basketball and volleyball courts was Winfield, who, after graduating, attended Princeton University in an era where women were just beginning to bring down the all-male barriers at Ivy League schools.

“One of the best girls high school basketball players along with April at the time was Clara Beth Tomaskowitz (from Weston),” Winfield said. “We both ended up at Princeton where she majored in civil engineering and I majored in geology.

“But before that, there were my years at Foran High School. It was both a wonderful and a challenging time. Once title nine came in, the games were no longer informal. We put on uniforms with numbers on the backs and had travel bags. It was terrific.”

The driving force behind it, of course, was Fraser.

“We began sharing practice time in the afternoons with the boys’ team,” Winfield said. “Edna saw to that. With her, there was no negotiating. It was a declaration. We were going to have afternoon practice times. That was it.”

Like Ceballos, Winfield didn’t play in Saturday night’s game.

“Two years ago, I was chasing after a loose ball in this game and I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL),” Winfield said. “I’ve been cautious about it ever since.”

More than 10 years later, Rhonda Boyd came along.

“She told me that a lot of her young life revolved around playing sports at Foran,” Nails said. “It was that important to her. She told me that she wants to get back to the school. She reads the papers all the time and keeps up on Foran sports.”

An interest in Foran sports, both past and present, is also vital for Nails.

“I’ve met Miss Winfield for the first time tonight,” he said. “I’ve known Miss Fraser and Miss Hunt for a few years. You have to know the past in order to understand the present and realize what’s ahead in the future.”

Saturday was a perfect night to get a feel for what girls athletics are all about at Foran High School.