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    Sunday, May 28, 2023

    Where are they now? Montville girls' cross country put together a long run of dominance

    From left to right, former members of the Montville High School girls' cross country team Kathy (Hawkes) Imbergamo, Kim (Hawkes) Weidman, Mary (Bridge) Baker, coach Kevin Crowley, Karen (Hawkes) McAvoy, Kelly (Pinckney) Perkins, Elizabeth (Kolodziej) Mauro and Kelly (Hawkes) Wasserman gathered this week at their alma mater. Montville, led by these women, won the Class M state championship every year from 1978-83 and won the prestigious State Open title in 1981-83. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The members of the Montville High School girls' cross country team during this stretch had a head coach in Kevin Crowley, who one year subscribed to the newspaper from Greenwich so that he might harvest every scrap of information on a rival that could prove valuable for his runners.

    They had various other informal coaches, too, such as Fred Bridge, the father of runner Mary Bridge, who once took his daughter and all of her teammates on vacation to his hometown of Willsboro, N.Y., where they ran in the Adirondack Mountains. Fred would drive in front of the girls with the car's hatchback open so they could hear the music blaring: "The Long Run" by the Eagles.

    "It was amazing," said Kelly Pinckney Perkins of Waterford, a member of Montville High's Class of 1985 and one of the group. "It really was a situation where I had the opportunity to start to gain some confidence. And in the '80s, it was common for girls not to be so confident.

    "We did really well and proved that we were strong and that we were dedicated. It went a long way to building confidence."

    They embraced the hard work. They loved the camaraderie.

    And it was in 1978, just a few years removed from the first Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association state championship event for girls in 1973, that Montville commenced a streak of dominance so complete that one local newspaper ran a headline alongside a photo of the team which read "The Cadillacs of cross country."

    By the time 1983 rolled around, Montville had put together 70 straight dual meet victories and seven straight Eastern Connecticut Conference titles. The Indians won a record six straight Class M state championships from 1978-83 and three State Open crowns from 1981-83.

    Among the run of State Open titles, Montville won the 1982 meet with 46 points, with each of its top six runners finishing in the top 25.

    "The first year I get out there, I find out nobody's into it," Crowley said of the start of his eight-year coaching career at Montville in 1976. "They're just on the cross country team. That summer, I went to the rec director, Jim Butler, and we set up a recreation program. Every Monday at Fort Shantok, I would run it.

    "It would be something like 10-and-under one lap, 11-12 two laps, junior high 2,000 meters, adults 5K. I started doing that. I told the girls, 'You guys got to come to the races to get in shape.' The kids got into the running. You set up for the kids to have the opportunity. They all bought into it.

    "Then I think that the talent came out. There were days we were doing hard work, harder work than a lot of other girls' cross country teams. We could do it because we were in shape."

    But the athletes never thought of it as a chore. Sometimes, Crowley would strike up a soccer game or a field goal kicking contest at practice as a diversion. He even bargained with the girls to allow them to watch Luke and Laura's 1981 wedding on the soap opera General Hospital if they promised to return to practice afterward.

    "It was a good run, a good time for Montville," said Kelly Hawkes Wasserman, a 1986 Montville graduate and now a Milford resident. "In Montville, it was a village, our parents, our friends' parents, our coaches. Just the town gave us the opportunity, a lot of opportunities.

    "It was a lot of fun when you were continually able to improve. To see the results of that hard work, it made it all worth it. It was a group of girls that were just really into it."


    In the midst of a recent afternoon drizzle, seven former members of that Montville cross country dynasty, all still Connecticut residents, spilled out of their cars into the parking lot of their alma mater for a photo session, joined by Crowley.

    The former runners were also accompanied by Jerry and Shirley Hawkes of Oakdale, once a part of the village described by their daughter Kelly. The Hawkeses had four daughters compete in the state championship era of cross country at Montville, Karen (Class of 1981), Kathy (1982), Kim (1984) and Kelly, who helped reclassify the trajectory of the program.

    The younger three won State Open titles and went on to run at UConn, yet they credit Karen, who captained the team as a senior, for being the one to get them out the door running most days.

    "Probably with my sisters," Kim Hawkes Weidman, now of Guilford, said of her start in running. "They would say, 'We're going running' and it would be like, 'Ugh, can you wait until later?' There would be Kathy, Mary and her brother Brian and her father, too. We would plan group runs. We all kind of got motivated. My older cousins ran for Clinton so it was kind of like a natural thing. I fell in love with it.

    "It was pretty cool. There was three of us (sisters) on the team at one time when I was a freshman. There was always a couple of us. Karen started and my sister Kathy followed behind."

    Kim became the first athlete in Montville history to earn all-state honors in four consecutive years, later equaled by Kelly. She was the Class M champion as a freshman in 1980 (Bridge, also then a freshman, was second) and was inducted along with the inaugural class into the Montville High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. Kim would later earn 12 varsity letters at UConn.

    "We all kind of just pushed each other," said Kelly, who followed Kim by earning Montville Hall of Fame recognition in 2017. "If you didn't feel great that day, there was always someone that got us out the door."

    Upon her induction into the Hall of Fame, Kelly still held multiple school records.

    "Whenever I see track or cross country races, I always look at the time and think, 'I could beat them back in the day,'" Kelly said with a laugh. "(When I got inducted into the Hall of Fame), it was kind of amazing just to reflect back; to think that you still hold a record after 30-some-odd years is impressive. I like to hold that over my kids' heads."


    Kevin Crowley left Montville after eight seasons to take a position in the guidance department at Norwich Free Academy. He retired in 2011, after 28 years at NFA, 36 overall, but he can still be found at track and cross country meets as a volunteer coach, starter, fan or in any number of such roles.

    Now 69, Crowley spends winters in West Palm Beach, Fla., and speaks of his adventures at the Palm Beach Zoo and the local art museum. He is originally from Brockton, Mass. — home of boxers Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler, who inspire the town high school's nickname, Boxers — and he ran for the cross country team at UConn.

    He coached boys' and girls' cross country at Montville, with both teams winning Class M titles in 1982.

    "Kevin Crowley was just a great coach. He was into it and he loved it," Weidman said. "We had great friends and great memories. He made running fun. He did a variety of things, so it was nice. There were days we would go and play soccer, make games out of running. It wasn't always focused purely on running. It was fun and enjoyable."

    "I had a very good system, I would call it," Crowley said. "Days you work hard and the next day an easy run or the next day we played flag football. You had to have fun days and you had work days. When Mary was inducted into the Montville Hall of Fame, she talked and she said, 'Mr. Crowley would tell us a couple of funny stories. We'd laugh at them. Then he said, 'We're going to work hard' and we did.'"

    Crowley joined four of his runners — Kim and Kelly Hawkes, Bridge and Kim Watt — in the Montville Hall of Fame in 2017.

    He led his Montville girls' team to its first state championship in 1978 at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, a team which included Watt, as well as Karen and Kathy Hawkes. He said that team, two seasons removed from finishing 4-15, became so competitive that its runners finished seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th.

    "They went out. They went out and raced," Crowley said. "They were racing each other. A lot of people thought I must have said to them, 'Just go out and run together.' I didn't. They were racing each other. Those seven athletes, they are the ones who changed the direction of the program, the ones I'm forever indebted to.

    "They changed their approach to athletics."


    In the 1982 State Open, in which Montville yielded one of the lowest team totals of all-time with 46 points, Kim Hawkes was fourth on the 4,000-meter Wickham Park Course in 16 minutes, 20 seconds.

    She was followed by Bridge, now Mary Bridge Baker, fifth in 16:23. Chris Hennessey, now Christine McDonald, an Arizona resident, was seventh in 16:45. Kelly Hawkes was 10th in 16:52, Kelly Pinckney 20th in 17:08 and Betty Kolodziej, now Elizabeth Mauro of Old Lyme, was 25th in 17:17. By today's standards, all six would have earned all-state honors.

    "It's one of those things where I'm 54 years old and it was just a snapshot in my life," said Baker, whose daughters, Cheyenne and Sierra, have since followed her at Montville High School. "We were all competitive and wanted to do well. I don't think I ever met another group of people that were so competitive and had such a desire to win. You wanted to beat everybody. You wanted to beat each other."

    Baker received a scholarship to the University of Rhode Island but lost her passion for running when her 24-year-old brother Brian, one of her inspirations in the sport, died during her freshman year. Her beloved father Fred, the team's self-appointed coach and full-time cheerleader, also died in 1998.

    Baker now works for the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut on a per diem basis and spends the rest of her time breeding dogs. She and her husband Randy have a 1-year-old grandson, Cade.

    Weidman, the former Kim Hawkes, is a nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital who still runs a couple races per year. Her daughter Erin has run the Hartford Marathon. Kelly Hawkes Wasserman works in IT for United Health Care. Her daughter, Jenna, is on the cross country team at Jonathan Law High School.

    Kelly Pinckney Perkins ran at URI, as well, where she earned All-New England honors. She has gone on to run approximately 30 marathons and ultra-marathons; she ran a 50K race (about 31 miles) not long after her 12-year-old daughter Sophie was born to commemorate the 31 hours she was in labor. Perkins is the athletic trainer at the St. Bernard School.

    Kathy Hawkes Imbergamo of Madison is a vice president of finance. Mauro, a former nurse for the Connecticut Army National Guard, is a regulatory strategist at Pfizer. Karen Hawkes McAvoy of Old Saybrook is a diabetes clinical nurse specialist at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

    Wasserman said she used Crowley as a reference when she was first out of college and looking for a job. The interviewer later told Wasserman she was amazed at all of her athletic accomplishments, which Crowley had presented to her in great detail.

    "You carry some of that through to your own personal life," Wasserman said. "The determination. The self-discipline. You bring it with you every day. You bring the work ethic every day. It's a good foundation."


    Mary Bridge graduated from Montville High School in 1984, having won four straight Eastern Connecticut Conference and Class M state championships and three consecutive State Opens as a member of the girls' cross country team. She was fourth in the State Open as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and third as a senior, earning a scholarship to run at the University of Rhode Island. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bridge Baker)
    The Montville High School girls' cross country team, with coach Kevin Crowley, left, won six straight Class M state championships from 1978-1983 and added three State Open titles, as well. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bridge Baker)
    A total of six members of the Montville High School girls' cross country team earned All-ECC honors during the 1982 season: back row, second from left, Kim Hawkes and Kelly Pinckney, and front row, from left, Betty Kolodiej, Mary Bridge, Christine Hennessey and Kelly Hawkes. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bridge Baker)
    Mary Bridge graduated from Montville High School in 1984, having won four straight Eastern Connecticut Conference and Class M state championships and three consecutive State Opens as a member of the girls' cross country team. She was fourth in the State Open as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and third as a senior, earning a scholarship to run at the University of Rhode Island. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bridge Baker)
    Montville's Kelly Pinckney, a member of the Class of 1985, joined in the Indians' run of cross country success during her career. Now Kelly Pinckney Perkins, she resides in Waterford with husband Lee and 12-year-old daughter Sophie and has run approximately 30 marathons and ultra-marathons. (Day file photo)
    Montville High School girls' cross country runners, from left, Christine Hennessey, Mary Baker and Kim Hawkes, were part of the Indians' streak of six straight Class M championships from 1978-83 and three consecutive State Open titles from 1981-83, all earning all-state honors. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bridge Baker)
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