Shepaug field hockey coach Stuart earns Hall of Fame honors
Published 9:51 am, Sunday, August 20, 2017
When longtime Shepaug Valley High School coach Jaye Stuart got the phone call that she would be inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the CT Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame, her reaction was a little pensive.
“Oh, yikes,” she joked. “First of all, I don’t like being singled out or being in front of people talking; I’ve been to plenty of ceremonies but never for myself. Of course I’m profoundly humbled, but it’s not why I coach; I don’ think it’s why anyone coaches.”
The humility persisted throughout the conversation with Stuart, who has carved out a niche at one of the smallest schools of the state. Stuart graduated from Shepaug herself — her dad Ted Alex has a field at the school named after him for his time spent at the school.
Alex is also a Hall of Famer.
“Coming from a family of coaches, I think it’s genetics,” Stuart said. “I remember helping my mom coach in rec leagues down here in Washington; it’s always been a part of my family.”
Stuart — who will be inducted into the field hockey hall September 17 and the state coaches hall November 16, both at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington — has spent the last 24 years at Shepaug and the 13 years before that at Litchfield. Her career record stands at 302-120-32-2 more than 35 years into a stellar legacy.
She first received notice that she would hear that she was going into the field hockey hall, then found out soon after that the CHSCA would honor her as well. Longtime North Branford coach Babby Nuhn will induct Stuart. Save for one year, just two coaches have led Shepaug since it became a team in the 1950s, Joan Gauthey and Stuart.
“Field hockey is such a tight-knit group because we have fewer teams than most sports,” Stuart said. “From a competitive standpoint, it’s great because I see my kids interact all over the place (after they leave the program). For me in that regard it’s like a big family; it’s a real honor from the community.”
Stuart played field hockey at Shepaug and Springfield College. A dance major, Stuart lived in England for a year to pursue that profession and play the sport before returning to the Northeast. A lifelong teacher, Stuart coached one year at Harwood Union in northern Vermont before arriving at Litchfield High School.
The dream job for her then opened up in Washington, and a return home has turned up aces with success. Four Berkshire League titles and a pair of state titles are in the trophy case.
The highlight on the field came in the early 2000s, when the Spartans won back-to-back Class S championships. The success corresponded with one of the biggest graduating classes in school history — about 120 then; by comparison 48 students graduated from Shepaug in 2017.
Those Spartans were the cardiac kids; they won four overtime games in the quarterfinal stage or later in 2001 and 2002 to claim the titles. Stuart won a state championship in her first year coaching at Harwood Union, but had to wait almost a quarter century to capture the crown again.
“There’s a feeling you get when you get on a run,” Stuart said. “You could feel our program building a lot; we had a lot of accountability with the upperclassmen. We had a lot of hard work going on and a lot of motivation that was all internal. They wanted that payoff.”
Stuart has coached a countless number of college athletes between Shepaug and her club exploits — she’s coached at the Nutmeg Games and with the Connecticut Revolution. Two of them lived under her roof.
Daughters Mackenzie and Meredith grew up playing the sport, and would go on to play for Jaye at the high school level. Both represented the United States at the youth level in tournaments before going on to the University of New Hampshire and Western Connecticut. Mackenzie is now both a pilot and a financial adviser in the area.
“It was really rewarding,” Stuart said. “ My daughters proved their weight in gold playing for the US. They made it fun; when I look back on it with my husband, those were the best times.”
Stuart is set to start another year with the Spartans this fall; practice begins in the next week.
“I always look forward to the beginning of the season,” Stuart said. “I love fall and I wouldn’t coach in any other season. I spend all summer preparing for the new season.”