Paving the Woodland Way

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Luddy among school’s original teachers, coaches

Woodland softball coach Loren Luddy talks with her players during a game in 2018. Luddy, who is one of the original teachers at the school, has been the softball coach since the school opened in 2001 and was also the school’s first head coach for girls soccer. –FILE PHOTO

By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

With the high school sports season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Citizen’s News is highlighting longtime coaches at Naugatuck and Woodland high schools who patrol the sidelines during the spring. This week, we shine the spotlight on Woodland softball coach Loren Luddy.

BEACON FALLS — Loren Luddy remembers being perfectly content with her situation at Naugatuck High in the spring of 2001. Luddy — Loren Wright back then — was in her fifth year of teaching Spanish at the school and was coaching softball and soccer.

Her teams were good, and she enjoyed her classes. But her dad, Jack Wright, kept nagging her to submit an application to teach at the soon-to-open Woodland Regional High School.

“My dad, every single day, would remind me to turn in my application,” Luddy recalled. “He’d say, ‘How can you turn down a brand-new school? It’ll be your own program, your own classes. Nobody’s ever done it before.’ I was like, ‘I like where I am.’”

But when her world languages department chairperson, Fran Embardo, took the same position at Woodland, he recruited her to finally submit her application with the hope that she could take on the school’s advanced Spanish classes.

Five minutes into her interview with then-Principal Arnold Frank, Luddy knew she was going to make the move. She’s been at Woodland ever since.

“I was sold,” said Luddy, who also became the school’s first head coach for girls soccer and softball. “The idea of working with a group of teachers and administrators to write the school’s mission statement? I bought into the culture and everything. It was the dynamic people and the mission.”

While Luddy was excited for the opportunity inside the building, she also kept an eye on the athletes she’d soon coach.

“(Then-Board of Education member) David Byrne took me on a tour of Prospect so I could see all the girls playing soccer,” Luddy recounted. “How could I watch Meg Graveline, Alicia Salvatore, Gina DellaRose and Maria Brunetti and not be like, I’ll be their coach!”

After a successful run of coaching at Naugatuck, the first soccer season at Woodland — a varsity slate with only freshmen and sophomores — was a foreign experience for Luddy. The Hawks went 4-12, but she knew she had to keep her players optimistic.

“I’m lucky that first group of kids had such good energy,” Luddy said. “They were happy to be in their hometown. To only win four games, it was hard to keep them going. I had to be a rah-rah, see-the-end-goal person. Lisa Olivere was my assistant coach — having an AP psychology teacher with me in my first year with freshmen and sophomores losing to seniors was a strong advantage.”

The Hawks’ goal of continued improvement paid off three years later when they captured the 2004 Naugatuck Valley League championship — the first overall league title in school history.

Woodland’s softball program began a little more slowly. Luddy and the school’s administration decided the first season would be a junior varsity year before bumping up to varsity in 2003.

That turned out to be the right decision. In that first varsity season, the Hawks went 12-8 in the regular season and made an upset run to the Class S semifinals before suffering a 4-2 loss to top-seeded Hale Ray in 12 innings.

Woodland reached the Class S final the following year but dropped a 4-0 decision in a rematch against top-seeded Hale Ray. It was the first of the school’s six appearances in a state final, just three years into the school’s existence.

“We had the right combination of players,” Luddy said of those 2003-04 teams. “We had a pitcher (Tara Shingola) who threw strikes, a catcher (Corey Anderson) who worked well with her, a couple of good infielders, and a couple of good outfielders. We had an All-State centerfielder (Alice Levinsky) who saved a bunch of runs a game. They were low-scoring games. We scored runs at the right time. We had girls who would do what we asked them to do. They bought into the team mentality.”

Luddy remembers how the school’s first group of student-athletes seemed to be up for anything — even arranging for their own transportation to practice at the Beacon Falls Recreation Complex.

“Just the fact that they were so happy to have their own school — they felt fortunate to be together,” Luddy said. “Back then if our bus didn’t show up to go to the Rec, we were like, let’s run to the Rec. I don’t know what kind of faces I’d get now if I told the kids to run to the Rec.”

The two-sport coach became a one-sport coach in 2007 when she stepped away from the pitch with the arrival of her son, Alex. Luddy couldn’t stay too far away, though, often attending games as a fan.

“It was hard to walk away from that team because they were so good,” Luddy said. “The opposing coach in one game accused me of coaching from the opposite sideline with my infant son in a stroller. It was hard to walk away, but I knew Joe (Fortier, her former assistant coach) was great and I enjoyed watching them.”

Anyone who’s seen Luddy coach has probably heard a fair share of non-English words, too. That’s to be expected from an AP Spanish teacher — and even the non-fluent players catch on to a few messages.

“There are just some words or descriptions — it doesn’t describe it quite as accurately in English,” Luddy said with a laugh. “I use ‘regalo’ all the time; that’s a gift, maybe when our pitcher throws a low outside strike or the other team drops a pop-up. ‘Rapido’ just sounds faster. Any time I can roll the ‘r,’ the girls know I mean business. They understand a lot — they’re good at reading body language.”

Luddy and Jeff Lownds, the Hawks’ cross country and track coach, are the only coaches at Woodland who have remained as head coach since the doors opened. She’s determined to follow his tireless pace.

“I don’t care if he’s 120 and I’m 110 — we’ll both be hanging on,” Luddy joked.

Nearly two decades into her career at Woodland, though, Luddy doesn’t plan on making a change anytime soon.

“It’s a great place to work,” Luddy said. “My dad says, ‘I told you so,’ on a monthly basis. I still see that Hawk spirit all the time. There are still a ton of kids who really do still exemplify the Woodland Way. Every time I think about going somewhere to become a principal, I think about all the great things happening here.”