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Ledyard - Ellen Mahoney made sure everyone knew it was about the players on Saturday afternoon at Ledyard High School.
Mahoney, standing at the microphone at the newly named Ellen Mahoney Softball Complex, called all her former players in attendance to stand around her. There were Heather Maine, who flew in from Los Angeles; Carrie Roseman, now a professional photographer; and hall of fame pitcher Christy Dukehart among them.
"That's awesome," Mahoney said. "I'm in awe of the players that showed up. It was like a little reunion.
"... My family's huge, so I knew at least they would be there."
Mahoney, who started the Ledyard softball program in 1976, went 355-84 with seven state championships in 21 seasons. Her teams reached 10 state title games, won 10 straight Eastern Connecticut Conference regular-season championships and once had a 105-game regular-season winning streak.
She is a member of the Connecticut Scholastic and Collegiate Softball Hall of Fame and the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Hall of Fame, as well as being named the Connecticut Sports Writers' Hall of Fame coach of the year for female sports in 1994.
Mahoney's remarks included an edict to the current Ledyard players to "make sure you play the game hard, as hard as you can, so you have no regrets."
"Honestly, I'm not a crying person, but it made me want to cry," Ledyard senior pitcher Jessica Monday said of the ceremony for Mahoney, which preceded the Colonels' 1-0 loss to Griswold. "I've never met her, but she's a role model to me, to a lot of girls."
"It's a privilege," said third baseman Lindsey Reinhart, who made a play of which Mahoney would have been proud, being knocked over by a line drive but hanging on for the catch. "She started this and we get to carry on her legacy. I'm so grateful."
Included in the ceremony were remarks from Ledyard superintendent Michael Graner, principal Amanda Fagan and former principal and one-time Mahoney assistant Lou Gabordi.
Attending the ceremony were Mahoney's 87-year-old mother Helen and step-father John Champe of Lebanon, as well as many of her young great-nieces and nephews, whom she says she now pitches Wiffle Balls to in summertime.
She was surrounded by former assistant coaches, a former opponent in retired Norwich Free Academy coach Jim Cotter, the current teams from Ledyard and Griswold, friends and fans.
Fagan called it a rare occasion that anyone was able to compel Mahoney into being in the spotlight. Fagan, a Ledyard graduate, said there are obvious reasons to admire Mahoney and not-so-obvious off-the-field reasons.
"She's the epitome of a strong woman," Fagan said. "She's fierce and focused and unapologetically competitive ... and let's admit it, a little intimidating. That's the obvious reason. I also love her soft heart. You can see by the number of people who are here to honor her ... she's also kind and gentle and loyal."
Mahoney's former teaching colleagues at Ledyard, the late Bob Arsenault and the late Judy Standish, were honored at a similar ceremony during the winter. The high school gym was named for Standish and the basketball court for Aresenault, both efforts spearheaded by Mahoney.
She said Saturday that she was honored to join them, as well as thinking about all the times her mom and her late dad Joe would come to watch her teams play.
"They never interfered, they never made suggestions," said Mahoney, one of six siblings. "They were quiet people, but they were supportive of us."
Mahoney's teams won state championships in 1980, 1988, 1991 and 1993-96, with the Colonels going 26-0 with a Class LL title in 1996, her final season.
"I always felt it was kind of like playing against a wall that never breaks," Cotter said. "It could be the seventh inning, eighth inning, ninth inning and they would stay through the course and win the game. That was the fear.
"I think the only time we ever beat them was in the ECC tournament (in extra innings) and we had a runner placed on second base because of the tiebreaker rule. I needed a rule to beat them. ... I have so much respect for her."