Walsh Inducted in Home Town Hall of Fame

Nick Johnson, Staff Writer

It takes courage to enter the boys’ locker room and brave the stench of sweaty football uniforms, moldy swim suits and towels, and wade through a sea of misplaced gym clothes. If you do, however, you will find yourself standing in front of the office of an athletic legend.

Physical Education teacher and former cross country coach Chris Walsh was recently named to Connecticut’s Southington High School Sports Hall of Fame.

“Southington was a great town to grow up in, and I had excellent coaches,” a humbled Walsh said.

Walsh was an accomplished athlete at Southington High. He was captain of the varsity cross country and track and field teams in 1972 and earned two varsity letters in each sport. What first attracted him to the sport of cross country was the sense of independence he saw in the runners. “I thought they had a sense of freedom. They didn’t depend on a team, and they could run wherever they wanted,” he said.

According to Walsh, the most influential people in his life were his father and his high school track and field coach, Wayne Nakoneczny. “Coach was a great role model and an excellent coach. He made us work hard, but he installed a sense in us that we could prevail,” he said.

Nakoneczny, known simply as “Coach Nak” back home, still lives in the quiet, close knit Connecticut town where he coached Walsh in the 1970s. Looking back, he used two words to describe Walsh in high school: “Committed, dedication.”

“I could always count on him, he would never let me down, and he did everything with excellence. If he said he was gonna do something, it was a done deal,” Nakoneczny recounted.

Walsh went on to the University of Oregon in Eugene, and ran track. He was not one of the top runners, but he still found it to be a powerful experience. “I ran a 4:10 mile, and lived in a house with three other guys, and I was the slowest guy in the house,” he said. “But to run at Hayward Field is like performing at Carnegie Hall. It is the Mecca of track and field in America.”

The fact that Walsh had to work hard to achieve success was important to Nakoneczny. “What really pleases me is that he wasn’t a natural athlete and he had to work extremely hard. That makes me really proud and really thrills me,” he said.

Walsh landed a job at Campolindo as the school’s cross country coach in 1989. He recounted the state of the team when he arrived: “It was fairly small. They were good, and my first year, I was blessed to have Sarah Riley, who was state champion that year.”

In 1994, he was finally hired as a physical education teacher, a position he holds to this day. Walsh and his co-coaches, fellow PE teacher Alison Adams and current Leadership and history instructor Dino Petrocco, collaborated to create an inclusive team that was one of the few programs on campus without cuts, because, as he said, “You can never measure the heart of an athlete.”

Athletic Director Tom Renno praised Walsh for earning the induction: “I think it’s a great honor for a great man. He’s been an amazing and wonderful coach for our athletes here and so many of our kids benefited from being able to be around him. His enthusiasm and his compassion are both qualities we strive to have as educators,” he said.

One of Renno’s favorite Walsh memories was an interaction he had with an athlete, Parker Lothamer. “He got so engaged and excited about teaching Parker that he made him get down in the middle of the hallway and get into a starting position to practice this race, with all these people walking by,” Renno said. “He always wanted to be working with kids and bettering them, and I thought that was awesome.”

Walsh retired from coaching in 2005, and passed the torch to Chuck Woolridge.  Woolridge was then joined by Andy Lindquist in 2009.  He is still pleased with the program’s performance. “It’s great. It hasn’t missed a beat. Coach Woolridge and Lindquist are excellent coaches. They still attract a lot of student athletes and are still winning championships,” he said.

Walsh is still a familiar face on campus. He can be found patrolling the boys locker room reminding underclassmen of their “Freedom!” or in the quad at lunch with the “meats.” Students often stop and salute, knowing that if they forget, they will be jokingly chastised for “not saluting the King.”

Walsh will travel back to Southington where he will be formally inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in a ceremony on Nov. 11.

Is Nakoneczny ever surprised at Walsh’s many accomplishments? “It’s not so much the accomplishments,” he said. “It’s the work. It’s that never give up attitude that he had. Not once did I ever have to give him a pep talk and I am very proud of him.”