Tuesday, December 18, 2007

WRESTLING THRIVES AT FARMINGTON

The Fall All-Herald section is out today and I think I can speak for the entire sports department at our paper when I say I'm damned proud of it. We all worked very hard and we're so pleased to honor some terrific student athletes.

We also included a King and Queen of the autumn season -- Newington football star Nathan Pagan and Plainville multi-sport dynamo Desiree Pina. In addition, we voted Southington girls soccer coach Sal Penta as Coach of the Fall. While there were many good choices, Coach Penta was an excellent one with what he and the Blue Knights accomplished in the face of adversity.

I have an early nominee for Coach of the Winter. We don't even know how his team is going to fare but it matters not because what Farmington wrestling coach Eric Misko has done spans the last few years. After seeing his Indians perform at their own invitational last Saturday, I'm sure they will be fine.

Misko, the athletic trainer at FHS, has put wrestling on the map in town by methodically building a program with some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Farmington isn't like Southington, Berlin or Bristol when it comes to wrestling. There is no elaborate feeder system in place. As coaches came and went, the Indians had state-class wrestlers like Pawel Szajda now and then but almost always had holes in their lineup. Forfeits generally would pile up and Farmington was unable to compete for Northwest Conference superiority.

But Misko sold his sport to the kids persistently without being overbearing. Gradually, athletes came forward, enough to fill the 14 weight classes and win an NWC title. He systematically upgraded the schedule so that coaches of the traditionally elite programs could no longer charge the Indians weren't wrestling good competition.

Last year, Farmington went 29-2 and flirted with a top 10 ranking in the Norwich Bulletin's coaches poll. The Indians have lost some solid competitors to graduation (Mike Brignano, Jim Coyle and George Robinson primarily) but have a nucleus that will again challenge for a league title.

Some of the names that will headline articles in The Herald this winter are Luke Walsh, Evan Baily and Malcolm Yancey, who climbed to the top of the podium at the Indian Classic on Saturday. Others, like Eric Orrell, will undoubtedly emerge under Misko's sound tutelage.

The evidence that wrestling has graduated from winter pastime to a well-organized program lies in the list of wrestlers who come back. Chris Thomas is one of Misko's hard-working assistant coaches. Coyle, fifth in Class L at 189 last year, was among the dedicated workers at the Classic. Craig Suhre and Matt Jurkiewicz ably administered the tournament under the direction of Misko's colleague Kelly Stokoe, and they did it without the benefit of the software that crashed the night before.

Another assistant who has helped bring credibility to the program is Mike Daniels, a product of the fertile Bristol wrestling scene.

Yes, wrestling is alive and well at Farmington, and it's only going to get better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GLOWIAK'S HAPPY AND THE 'CANES LOOK GOOD

New Britain High boys basketball coach Stan Glowiak could have easily hung up his clipboard prior to this season.

His oldest son Brian is captain of the University of Hartford team and having quite an impact. Stan could have hitched his wagon to the Hawks. His younger son Steven, a sophomore at Berlin, will be starting at guard. Stan could have planned his winter around the Hartford and Berlin schedules, but he chose to lend his years of expertise in basketball and leadership to a new group of Hurricanes.

We all know what kind of talent Stan has coached in his years on the New Britain bench. He built a powerhouse that featured Tebucky Jones and Malcolm Yelling. Tebucky's brother Shon and later Roosevelt Lee were two of the most talented basketball players the city has ever seen.

He had a superb Division I (Siena) player in Austin Andrews, 6-7 Eastern European import Darius Lugauskas and 6-8 Jon Plefka who went on to play for Bobby Knight at Texas Tech. He had his son Brian, who holds all New Britain's three-point shooting records, and perhaps the program's finest point guard in Alexis Hernandez. More recently, he harnessed the talents of Windsor transfer Anthony Madden and power forward Daryl Velez.

But when Stan surveyed the talent that he had coming in this season, he saw a group of players willing to put aside their individualism to forge a team. There are no superstars. There is no true center; he lacks height. Yet Stan has bounce in his step, perhaps as much as he's had going into any one of his most productive seasons.

Wednesday's opener against Bristol Central was ample evidence why Stan is still relishing his role. Never before in my 12-plus years of my covering the team have I seen so many capable players doing so many of the right things from the very start of the season.

Point guards Phil Smith and Robert Bryant seem perfectly willing to eschew three-point shots to deliver timely passes. Both are quick and aggressive on defense, and make good decisions when they penetrate the lane.

Stan says that Darius Watson, a 6-4 sophomore who exhibited exceptional post moves as a freshman in varsity waters last year, will be playing some guard and forward as well as center. Central was even more height-challenged than New Britain so Watson was asked to reprise last year's role. The result was 23 points and nine rebounds.

Quashon Moore (6 steals) was at the heart of a defense that bounced back from a lackluster first half to chill the Central offense in the second half. Raheem McKinley played a lot taller than his 6-2 frame because he was willing to play the role that Stan designated for him. The 17 points he scored should convince him that the coach knows his stuff.

Shooting guard Justin Mercak needs to refine his jumper. The rotation was off on his first few shots but he had the backspin going early in the fourth quarter when he knocked down two treys that virtually ended Central's hope of making new coach Tim Barrette's debut a success.

The match-ups indicated that this wasn't a great spot for shooting junior guard Robert McKinnon, but McKinnon made the most of his playing time. He drained a three-pointer and played intelligently.

Mike Szuba, a 6-3 senior, provided some front-court strength off the bench. Evens St. Juste also came off the pines and played well, as did first-year senior Josh Hudson, who will be playing college football next fall.

Robert Mayer, formerly the head man at Plainville and an assistant on successful teams at St. Thomas Aquinas and Berlin, is a welcome addition to an outstanding coaching staff.

Does it sound like a winning combination? Absolutely. Nobody is picking the 'Canes to be playing on championship Saturday in March, but as Stan says, by tournament time they may surprise some people.

Stan has said over and over how much he likes this group, and if they continue to follow his guidance, we all know that chemistry and unity can propel a team beyond expectations. This New Britain team is going to be fun to watch.

Friday, December 7, 2007

NBHS MADRIGAL PERFORMANCE EXCEPTIONAL

As I grow older and, I hope, smarter, I find the urge to wander from the world of sports for relaxation and entertainment more and more.

So on Friday night, my wife and I decided to take in a performance by the New Britain High School madrigal singers at a church hall on the city's west side.

Please bear with me because I may not get the wording perfect but here it goes.

Those who administer the high school's sensational music programs arranged a sumptuous dinner that was integrated into an enjoyable musical and dramatic performance that took a lot of work to arrange. With members of the high school band playing in the background, the madrigal singers performed a holiday-oriented skit punctuated by Christmas carols and medieval music.

Now most of New Britain knows that I have been publicizing the names of the high school's great athletes in The Herald for about 13 years. I have watched them grow from boys and girls into productive men and women.

But Friday's event displayed that there are far more great things going on at NBHS in addition to Paul Morrell's hard-working football team, the incredible basketball programs built by Beryl Piper and Stan Glowiak, Michelle Abraham's successful volleyball program, etc.

I don't know the names of the music program's movers and shakers. I don't know the names of the brilliant youngsters who dedicate themselves to the arts, but I just had to relate the wonderful work they're doing.

The church hall was adorned with a medieval backdrop and a holiday touch. The musicians and singers dressed in medieval garb. The sellout crowd was fixated on their marvelous efforts. The catering was exquisite. The waitresses were dressed in peasant garb.

For three hours, we were swept away to a world that left the problems of modern life outside. The harmonies and the acting were magnificent and if anybody went home hungry, it was their own fault.

We see high school kids on the police blotter. The bad news that all too often comes out of NBHS and high schools everywhere is well-documented. Administrators draw criticism when test scores are low. But trust me when I say that there are great things happening on Mill Street, and they're not always touchdowns, 3-point field goals and home runs.

I'm constantly urging sports fans to get out and support the high school athletes. There many more programs at the school that deserve support, too.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

GIRLS STEP OUT IN FASHION

The girls basketball season is two days old and the quality of play gets better and better.

You have to feel sorry for new New Britain head coach Karen Byrne. She steps into the unfillable shoes of Beryl Piper, meets one of the better teams in the region in Windsor and has to do battle without the availability of one bona fide frontcourt player.

Cassie Bell, as remarkable a person as she is a multifaceted athlete, will be back soon. So will 2006 Class LL tournament star Tyler Kimball, although groin injuries can linger. When they return, New Britain will be as formidable as expected.

Watch out for Wethersfield and Berlin.

Both have their entire squads back from last year when they came of age in the season's waning days. Both have good size. Both have quality depth. Both will have to learn to deal with superior speed if they are to go deep in the tournament.

Coaches Russ Crist of Farmington and Lisa Mandeville of Plainville will have to replace great players. At least Mandeville has Desiree Pina, who gets my vote as the finest female athlete I've had the pleasure to watch in 15 years of high school coverage. Farmington's fortunes will rely on the development of sophomore Emily Kitching, the assertiveness of center Chelsey Marsh, and the emergence of support for that pair and Tessa Ramsay.

Rocky Hill's Pete Egan has a superior front court but will need his ballhandlers to handle the pressure that he'll no doubt face.

However things develop, local folks should go out to their schools of choice and support these fine young athletes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BERLIN PUTS ON A SHOW

What a pleasure going over to venerable Muzzy Field Tuesday night for the Class M semifinal football game between Berlin and Bristol Eastern.

Since I wrote for The Bristol Press from 1991 to 1995, I made lots of friends there and spent many happy hours covering baseball and football at that quaint old lady in Rockwell Park.

As I walked through the old archway guarding Muzzy's entrance, I saw one of my favorites in former Bristol Eastern athletic director Jimmy Tetro. I've never seen Jimmy when he wasn't smiling, and what he's done for Eastern athletics would require a whole website instead of a blog. Just ask Lancers football coach Paul Philippon.

Walking along the concourse, the delightful fragrance of pine invigorates me for the 54-step ascent to the press box -- one of the best for football but a horror for baseball. A visit to the Muzzy press box wouldn't be the same without a friendly greeting from Dave Greenleaf. Dave, a revered math teacher at Bristol Central, has done more for a city's athletes than anybody I know has ever done anywhere. Again, I'd need a website to elaborate, but you can check the new-and-improved CCC site to sample his handiwork.

Seeing those silver helmets and blue uniforms brought back memories, and it was good to see the Lancers back in the postseason after almost 20 years. But as happy as I was for the Eastern faithful, I have been at The Herald for more than 12 years and the Redcoats are near and dear to my heart.

There was a certain confidence to the way they took the field for pregame workouts. Their body language exuded supreme confidence for a team playing a road game against an opponent that dominated virtually every team it met. I hadn't seen Eastern, but figured any team that pounded once-beaten Newington by 25 and a good Wethersfield group by an unthinkable 47 had to be quite the juggernaut.

Berlin quarterback Jimmy Connelly was sensational. He stood back in the pocket and fired lasers at his talented receiving corps. His uniform virtually was unsoiled at the end of the game, a testament to the exceptional work turned in by the offensive line.

The underdog Redcoats showed Eastern what they could do in the first half, then dropped the hammer in the fourth quarter with two unanswered touchdowns. Eastern, which bases its attack on running the football, wasn't adept at playing from behind.

Now it's on to the 'M' final for a date with Ledyard, yet another classy outfit led by the state's all-time winningest coach, Bill Mignault. Yet another game where I hate to see somebody lose, but the local boys are carrying themselves like destiny's darlings. Get your tickets early!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

ENOUGH TO MAKE A GIANTS FAN SICK

In spite of a persistent head cold, I was feeling pretty good over the weekend.

The Thanksgiving football game didn't go Southington's way, but it was a stirring example of how the power of positive thinking, engendered by Cheshire coach Mark Ecke, affected momentum and resulted in his team's thorough execution. The Rams certainly deserved to win and it will be compelling to see if coach Bill Mella can fire his Knights up for Shelton in Tuesday's Class LL semifinal.

Thanksgiving dinner was sumptuous as usual, and the turkey soup that simmered away on Friday sure was soothing for the sinuses, the soul and the stomach. It didn't make it through Saturday.

We had no place to go, so my wife and I watched a whole lot of sports. (Boy did I get lucky! Lisa started out loving baseball and UConn hoops, but now she can't get enough Celtics, NFL and college football action. And we both agree the NHL isn't worth watching). But I digress.


We watched some stirring college games ... Kentucky and Tennessee having at it in overtime, unbeaten Hawai'i on a mission, Missouri beating up on Kansas, only to have the resolute Jayhawks make a game of it. (UConn/WVU? Sorry, but the Huskies never truly belonged in the top 25.)

We grinned when Ray Allen sank an improbable game-winner against Charlotte that was reminiscent of the miracle that D.J. and Bird pulled off in the playoffs against the Pistons the last time the Celts were this good.

With all the appetizers out of the way, Sunday's main course -- Giants-Vikings -- was next on the menu. As the game played out, nobody in this Big Blue household felt much like eating.

The Giants played the most pathetic football game I've seen any team at any level ever play, and I've been watching since the NFL was just something to tide you over until Opening Day.

The Giants should refund all the cash they took from the poor suckers who sat in the cold at the Meadowlands. They simply did not come ready to play ... stupid penalties, a quarterback who has absolutely no clue, an overrated defense that forgot how to tackle.

Eli Manning sure took a proud franchise for a ride when he bilked the Mara's out of millions. Awful is an understatement. You look in his eyes and you see fear. You read his body language and you see apprehension. Ill-fated passes became interceptions, and not just the kind where cornerbacks fall down. Three picks for six? Confidence seeps out of Eli like air out of a slashed tire.

Batted passes. No ability to avoid the rush. Not an elusive bone in his body. He telegraphs passes. Hey, my wife is trying to grasp the full meaning of football. It sets her back when a quarterback's pass hits an offensive linemen in the seat of the pants and an intended receiver's nowhere to be found.

Then there's head coach Tom Coughlin. The worst thing that ever happened to NYG fans was when Big Blue made the playoffs last year and ownership felt compelled to keep him on the job. Stupid penalties. Not enough players on the field. Quarterback not knowing where his receivers are going. Receivers spreading their arms in frustration when they run an outside pattern and see the pass bounce five yards wide. Whose fault is that?

Please, Santa, can you put either Hawai'i's Colt Brennan or Mizzou's Chase Daniel under the Giants ornament on our Christmas tree?

And please, Santa, no worthless playoff berths this year. Use some high-tensile tinsel to strap Coughlin, his coaching staff and Manning to the first westbound train out of Penn Station come New Year's Day, never to darken our HD TVs again.

And with another set of Thanksgiving memories having been stowed away until next November, let it be said that at least we have tonight's sporting fare -- the UConn women against Duke and the Patriots/Eagles -- to forget about the Giants and top off a long and glorious holiday weekend.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

AN APB FOR COACH RODRIGUEZ?

Boy was I glad when the UConn football team scored that last touchdown in Saturday's 66-21 loss to West Virginia.

Should WVU coach Rich Rodriguez have decided to make a recruiting trip to Connecticut for Tuesday's high school semifinals, agents of the CIAC's football committee may have been staked out in Greenwich and Danbury, ready to nab him for violating the 50-point rule.

I saw Coach Rodriguez emit a big sigh when the Huskies scored. He wouldn't want to be suspended for next year's game at The Rent had he won by 51.

You see sportsmanship in Connecticut, Coach R, is next to Godliness.

Friday, November 23, 2007

STRIKING A BLOW FOR SPORTSMANSHIP

Two years ago, a 12-year-old boy and his dad disembark from a car behind West Haven High School prior to the Class LL championship football game between Southington and Xavier. The family is in Connecticut for the high school football playoffs from Wisconsin to see their relative – former Southington quarterback Matt Kelleher now at Yale – play in the Class LL championship.

As they make their way toward Ken Strong Stadium, they hear the black-clad rooters from the opposing team chanting the following epithet, “Kelleher swallows! Kelleher swallows!”

The boy turns to his father and says, “What does that mean, Dad? Why are they saying our name and then ‘swallows’ after it? The father struggles to come up with an answer.

I was at the game. I can attest to the aforementioned behavior and then some. So why dredge up bad old memories?

The Northwest Conference on the eve of the basketball season has issued a proclamation to its member schools that sportsmanship will be required fan behavior at its events.

While I think it is a sad day when administrators have to become proactive in creating such rules and regulations, there is no question that it is necessary. Abusive taunts and ridicule of our high school athletes has spread like a brush fire through the populace of our schools, some much worse than others.

One school does it and another picks up on it. One group of face-painted banshees mocks a player because of what they perceive as his resemblance to the bumbling character in a popular movie. The other school’s fools respond with indignities about a Catholic school education.

Somebody’s got to stop this. No one at our seats of higher learning, like Duke, for instance, chose to nip it when otherwise intelligent human beings started acting like idiots to attract ESPN's attention. Of course, ESPN responded predictably. I guess the politically correct thing to say is that putting an end to this nonsense violates free speech, but I’m sure this isn’t what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had in mind.

From where I’m sitting, I’d like to offer my congratulations to the NWC administrators for having the foresight to legislate before it touches off some real violence. I urge athletic directors across the league to take enforcement seriously. Perhaps the CCC and other leagues across the state will take a look, and the CIAC will adopt the measure.

Maybe even Duke will listen.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

TOUGH END TO GREAT H.S. SEASON

Instant heartbreak for the boys soccer team from Wethersfield and the Farmington girls.

I hope a stellar group of Eagles can overcome the last-second defeat at the hands of Joel Barlow Friday. Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym is the consummate gentleman in the way he handled the sudden reversal of fate that saw the team lose a 1-0 lead in the final two seconds, then lose the match in OT.

The Farmington girls had their bid for a state championship and an undefeated season go by the boards Saturday afternoon at the beautiful new field at the Municipal Stadium complex on Waterbury's west side.

Anybody know why the games weren't at Willow Brook this year? I hope to find out and write about it. It revolves around money, of course, and at the heart of the matter is the New Britain parks and Recreation Department. I will try to learn the position of that department and report it to you.

I'm also wondering why New Britain never gets the state baseball championships with two excellent fields and plenty of parking at Willow Brook. We keep getting the track and field championships, but never football on the well-manicured Veterans Stadium sod.

Good luck to the New Britain PAL Raiders' A team in its pursuit of a youth football crown. Perhaps the talent on that team will help usher in a new championship era in NBHS football.

Watching the Hurricanes fall to Weaver, 35-0, on Friday night was a stunner. Some of that was due to academic problems that beset Morrell's Marauders. I know Morrell and his staff did everything they could to keep the kids academically solvent but no matter what a coach does, the kids have to accept some personal responsibility in this matter. You would hope that parents and/or guardians would keep a close eye on classroom responsibilities as well.

New Britain was missing its leading receiver and a big lineman, both of whom play both ways. The special teams were also ripped apart. But let's not take anything away from Weaver. Weaver coach Rob Fleeting is outstanding and had his team fired up for the 'Canes. He couldn't have had any more than 30 kids in uniform, and New Britain with its academic casualties still numbered in the neighborhood of 60.

It's almost time to turn our attention to winter sports. Hoop enthusiasts can mozy over to Chick Shea Gym Tuesday and catch many of the state's top scholastic players in action, courtesy of NB coach Stan Glowiak's promotional efforts. There are numerous Division I players-to-be in the field.

Locally, Glowiak's son Steven (Berlin soph) and his best player Darius Watson (6'5 soph) will be players to watch. Farmington junior Spencer Noon and sophomore Tebucky Jones Jr. should help absorb the loss of Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame).

Wrestling should also be fun this winter. I understand the state's perennial kingpin -- Danbury -- will be making a rare visit to Southington for a dual meet. The Knights have been making the trip to Danbury the last few years, wrestling before a packed house at the Hatters' gym. Southington has some good ones in Dave Badgley, Trevor and Dilon Ritchie. Farmington coach Eric Misko continues his unbelievable work in placing wrestling high on the ladder there.

With UConn tickets expensive and good seats hard to obtain, sports-minded folks should turn some attention to CCSU and the local high schools. Most of the time, you'll leave feeling like you were in on quite a bargain.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

KEN'S CORNER KICKS

Some opinions, tidbits and meanderings from the CIAC soccer tournaments ...

A point of contention that will be difficult to repair has "surfaced." Let my put down the base coat before painting the picture.

The Rocky Hill boys played their final eight games -- six regular-season and two tourney tilts -- on the new artificial turf that is proliferating around the nation, known as FieldTurf.

FieldTurf has been a Godsend at three local high schools -- Rocky Hill, Berlin and Wethersfield -- but gives the game a different feel than natural grass (or in many cases in late November, dirt and mud). The ball skips off the rubberized surface, something that takes some getting used to; something that two or three practice sessions will not rectify. Add a little moisture, whether it be a light rain or evening dew, and the ball really takes off.

The Rocky Hill boys, being so used to the new surface, looked like they were wearing ankle weights at the start of their game against Ellington on a grass field at the latter school that was worn down but far from the worst I've seen. Nevertheless, Ellington, which did not play on turf at all in the NCCC, was at home in more than one way.

Hill coach Carl Lombardo talked about it after the game, and I didn't consider his commentary to be laced with sour grapes, especially when Ellington coach Ray Gurnon corroborated Lombardo's thoughts. Gurnon was concerned that he may face FieldTurf in the next round, something that did not come about. Ellington is playing fellow NCCC school Suffield, which also doesn't see turf, on the natural grass at Plainville.

Here's the other end of the spectrum. Avon, yet another NCCC team (pretty good conference, huh?), pauid a quarterfinal visit to Wethersfield Monday and took a 5-0 beating. While I did not talk to Avon coach Patrick Mulligan, I have to figure that the Falcons found Wethersfield's turf quite unfriendly.

So what's the CIAC to do? It's not as easy as one might think to consider where two quarterfinalists played most of their games, then find a suitable location. It isn't every athletic director and staff, like Rocky Hill's Brian Fell, Farmington's Jack Phelan, Plainville's John Zadnik and their people, who give of themsleves and offer their fields as neutral sites.

But quarterfinals are still being played at the home of the higher seed anyway, something which perhaps should change if more athletic directors and schools would step forward and volunteer.

Other personal observations ...

Congrats to the Plainville girls, who put together a fabulous year under one of the sport's great teachers -- Leszek Wrona.

Wrona felt blessed to be able to coach a girl possessing the athletic talent of Des Pina, but there's no doubt he's saddened that she's primarily a basketball player. His love for soccer and his players goes very deep, and he knows Des could have played any sport in college she may have chosen, but she loves hoops.

Pina will play basketball at Fairfield, and believe me she won't be sitting on the bench. Fans have another season to watch her play the point for Lisa Mandeville's Blue Devils, and if you think that isn't worth the price of admission and the chance to buy one (or two) of those enticing Plainville foot-longs grilled up by the athletic backers, you haven't lived. ...

Speaking of great players, how about the run that Berlin's Blair Ferry made in the tournament (7 goals, 5 assists!). And she's only a sophomore. When Pina leaves, the cupboard won't be empty as far as great local female athletes are concerned. Ms. Ferry is powerful, smart and savvy, and opposing defenses are going to want to know her whereabouts for two seasons to come. ...

The CIAC has gone to three-person referring crews for the tournament with a primary official running the center and linesmen on either side. I don't pretend to be intelligent enough to criticize, but I've heard more than one soccer person's opinion. Most say that the CIAC should either stay with the two-person system used all season, or go to three all season. The inconsistency probably doesn't do anything to enhance play.

So many of the whistles in soccer are spontaneous judgment calls that the refs have taken a beating among fans. I think they deserve a little more respect. Consider where we'd be without them, and if there is anybody in the audience who hasn't made any mistakes lately, the line forms at the right. I suspect it will be rather short.

Come on out and root the kids on. I know it may be chilly but put on the layers, tote a hot beverage, wear two pairs of socks and give these wonderful kids the support they so richly deserve. ...

An aside to junior Liz Middleton, the gallant goal-scorer for Bacon Academy who went down early in the game against Farmington Tuesday night. I sure hope everything will be alright and she'll be back. The same goes for all the kids who sustain bumps, bruises and worse in these rough-and-tumble contests with everything on the line.

Monday, November 12, 2007

THE NEW LONDON FOOTBALL FIASCO

I'm not generally an "I told you so" kind of guy but the railing I've done about Connecticut's affront to the game of football -- the CIAC's ludicrous 50-point rule -- stands up in light of New London's 51-2 win over Tourtellotte/Ellis Tech Saturday.

The game itself is being compromised and the rule must go. I have every confidence that it will.

If Jack Cochran's approach to the game of football offends anybody, drop a line to the New London athletic director or bring it up at the next school board meeting. All Cochran does is work harder than anybody else, and impose that work ethic on his young men, which will serve them well as they navigate the choppy waters of life.

Rather than my imparting the details of the "game" here, I suggest you read the superb article written by Owen Poole of the New London Day -- http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=a5848b0a-a72b-4513-8b2c-8d22471fee78 . The integrity of the great game of football has been impugned.

I don't hear anybody dissing Cochran when the subject turns to Mike McLeod. McLeod, a running back from New Britain who is in the process of rewriting the Ivy League record book, learned his football from Cochran and look where it's taking him?

Hey, I don't like to hear about games where a team wins by 50 or more points. I surely don't like to cover such games, which I was challenged to do some weeks during Cochran's four-year stint here.

I will say that something needs to be done with scheduling. I don't have all the answers, because what may be right for football isn't right for many of the other sports (I refer you to the senseless revamping of the CCC when schools of similar size refused to play New Britain).

I saw that Bristol Eastern played Norwalk this year so there are situations where teams from the CCC can play teams from the FCIAC. Maybe Greenwich, instead of traveling all the way to Naples, Fla., to find a challenge, can hook up with New London, although there is little for a Class LL team to gain by playing a Class S squad.

Perhaps the regaled Chargers of Ansonia could be convinced to leave their accomodating NVL slate to play a challenging game. I know the Northwest Catholic people are upset with Cochran over charges that he spied on their practices prior to their opening-day game, but it was a great game.

Yes, something needs to be done, but the 50-point rule must go and we need to put our heads together on how to fix Connecticut football.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

24: A SPORTS WRITERS' ODYSSEY

Twenty-four hours of a classic gridiron joust sandwiched by tournament turbulence, a day's work in the chill of a nippy New England autumn.

The Southington girls soccer team would be hosting a talented troupe from Trumbull in Fontana-ville in a Class LL quarterfinal at 2 p.m. The Mella-men would be squaring against Morrell's Marauders right next door at 7 p.m. Hmm, how to get it all done and tuck in the football story by 11 p.m.

How about the great job that Sal Penta did with a resilient group of girls who epitomize the meaning of the word team. Team as in family, that is.

Now the Knights have some serious soccer talent in Shauna Edwards, Molly Alfieri and Paulina Koziol. The supporting cast has been resolute all season in helping beat back the Simsburys, Glastonburys and Manchesters in the rugged CCC North.

But Trumbull, like other traditional soccer towns across the state, has a roster filled to the brim with talent. Like Southington, the Golden Eagles face their share of battles in Fairfield County against the likes of Greenwich, Wilton, Staples, Ridgefield et al. The Eagles massed their defenders around Southington's big three throughout and ignited dangerous counterattacks in the hope of catching the Knights' midfielders napping.

Finally, Trumbull's rangy junior forward Kristen Forster received a friendly cross directly in front of Southington keeper Alexis Braziel with all the defenders behind her. She knew exactly what to do, and the result ended the Knights' dream.

So it's 4 p.m. It doesn't make sense to venture home or to The Herald and lose my parking spot for the football game. I'm going to have to make a beeline after the football game to put that story to bed and timing will be everything.

Rich Marietta to the rescue. Rich and interim Southington athletic director arranged for me to use the AD's office to type up the soccer game. By 5 p.m., my soccer work is finished. The New Britain football team has arrived. The Southington players are out warming up, too, but how the heck am I going to warm up?

Aaah, those awesome Southington boosters have their football concession stand up and running, and yes, their hot chocolate is hot! The burger hit the spot, too.

Up in the football press box, the windows are open and there's no heat to be found. I hope the laptop functions OK in 35-degree temps.

Speaking of the press box, Steve Risser is quite the trouper, too. Risser assists Penta on the girls soccer team (his daughter's a freshman) and then he moves over to football where he's a meticulous PA announcer. He wants to know what the emperature is but there's no internet access up there. He checks and double-checks starting lineups and his peripheral announcements revolving around Senior Night and introductions for the magnificent Southington band.

The game goes on, I haven't had any coffee since breakfasts and I'm starting to feel that second-game slump. The game is exciting. New Britain fights the good fight but goes down 34-21. I get my quotes, hop in the car and go home to finish my story. I get it in just under the wire at 11.

My head hit the pillow and there was no need to count sheep. But noontime comes early, especially when you have to drive up to Suffield -- a tobacco farm or two from the Mass. border -- for the girls soccer game between Cinderella Plainville and perennial small-school soccer power Suffield.

It didn't seem that cold after Friday's double feature. The sun was shining, but that wind really whips through those northern Connecticut flatlands. It was cold. Plainville coach Leszek Wrona was so wrapped up in his parka that all you could see were his piercing blue eyes and rosy red cheeks.

As it was with the Southington girls against Trumbull, Plainville has some great talent up front but not enough to match Connecticut's northernmost soccer enclave. Suffield scored in the first half and the Plainville bus was about to turn into a pumpkin.

I drove back through East Granby, skirting the northern border of expansive Bradley International Airport. I just had to stop for a capuccino at Starbucks in Simsbury -- double shot of espresso to fulfill my caffeine addiction, of course.

It's 5 p.m. now. The Plainville story is finished. My cold fingers are still working well enough to wrap them around a few pieces of Joey Garlic pizza that my wife volunteered to pick up. I applied the kiss of death to two soccer teams and Paulie Morrell in a matter of just 24 hours. I hope I have better luck with Rob Jachym's Wethersfield boys and the girls teams at Farmington and Berlin next week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

GAMESMANSHIP? GET TO THE GAMES ON TIME

The high school tournaments are rolling and my only regret is that I can't be in two or three places at once.

Things got a little heated at Tunxis Mead today (Tuesday) when the Bridgeport Central boys soccer team was about a half-hour late for the scheduled 2 p.m. kickoff for its game against Farmington.

Naturally, you figure that the bus driver got lost. The Mead isn't real easy to find; it's not at the high school for those who have never visited the beautiful riverside soccer/baseball haven.

But the two Bridgeport coaches arrived in a car at least five minutes before the bus carrying the players. Was there a legitimate reason? Read on.

Farmington coach Steve Waters was understandably perturbed, and he isn't the kind of guy who keeps things to himself. He chided the Bridgeport coach before the game, before the players even arrived.

The Farmington players' pregame routine was upset. Before anybody says, "Oh, isn't that too bad," there is some legitimacy to the importance of the pregame. Was Bridgeport's late arrival gamesmanship?

The game began and the Bridgeport kids gave a good showing. Farmington created many more chances and filled the air with corner kicks but the Hilltoppers' goalkeeper Denardo Dixon was fabulously athletic and the Indians' attack wasn't crisp from a finishing standpoint.

Farmington had a 1-0 halftime lead but the Hilltoppers tied it early in the second half. They made two serious bids to take the lead in the two minutes that followed. But Farmington took a 2-1 lead and made it 3-1 shortly thereafter.

Bridgeport began playing more aggressively and one player was banished after receiving two cards. The Bridgeport coach screamed at the referees for not calling it both ways, a view that I felt was unsubstantiated. Farmington scored a fourth goal to win going away. Waters reacted angrily to a play in which he felt a Bridgeport player purposely tried to injure one of his players. I couldn't begin to tell you whether that was the intent or not.

When I tried to interview the Bridgeport coach after the game, he simply said, "Tell your coach to get some sportsmanship," and walked away. Again, was Bridgeport's late arrival legit or just a ploy to throw Farmington off its game? Chances are the Bridgeport coach (Jay Silverman) wasn't going to answer that question anyway, but I may have gotten a clue by hearing how he addressed it. I wasn't afforded that opportunity.

The Bridgeport kids played a solid game for group that came in as the 34th seed. They were playing a long way from home and I commend them for their effort.

I certainly understand Waters' anger. The rules must be followed. Teams need to get to games on time.

I understand that there may have been traffic. Going through Waterbury on I-84 these days poses problems, but going through there at about 1 p.m. shouldn't be too bad. Delays need to be taken into consideration when teams plan long trips for tournament games.

Regrettably, I'll never know why it happened, but I hope it never happens again. It detracts from a great event.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

NEW HAVEN: PRO SPORTS GHOST TOWN

I see that the New Haven County Cutters have ceased operation.

Who?

Yeh, most folks didn't even know they existed. The Cutters, members of the independent Can-Am League managed by Berlin's Mike Church, moved into Yale Field after the Eastern League's New Haven Ravens moved to Manchester, N.H. in 2004. They attracted painfully few fans to the historic but archaic ballpark.

Without a major league affiliation, the quality of the baseball in the Can-Am League remains lacking. At least the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League bring in some interesting ex-big leaguers, but the novelty there has worn off, too.

There's no replacement for having ballplayers like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau playing in town, which is one reason why the Rock Cats are thriving like no other minor league franchise in state history. There's also the team's solid commitment to the community through the Rock Cats Foundation, and the hundreds of appearances by team ambassador/mascot Rocky, Rock Cats players and the coaching staff.

As a New Haven native, I am saddened that the people of that area don't embrace the Rock Cats. I truly believe their response would be a lot better if they only knew how easy it was to get to Willow Brook Park from places like Wallingford, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden.

The New Haven Register reports that 2008 will be the first time in 109 years that Greater New Haven will not have a professional team. In modern times, the area hosted the West Haven Yankees (1972-79), the West Haven Whitecaps (A's affiliate, 1980), the West Haven A's (1981-82) and the New Haven Ravens (1994-2003).

Hockey teams proliferated downtown for years at the old New Haven Arena and then the New Haven Coliseum, but the Arena is now a parking lot and the Coliseum has been razed.

To my old friends in New Haven: join the party at New Britain Stadium in 2008. If you were there this past year, you would have seen Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Joba Chamberlain play. You would have witnessed visits from Reggie Jackson and Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Haven't you missed enough already?

Friday, November 2, 2007

LET THE BOYS PLAY THE GAME

Two games remain in the regular season and Berlin quarterback Jimmy Connelly has a chance to make his senior season memorable and impress some college coaches along the way. With a huge game at Middletown looming next week, playoff implications to the hilt, Jimmy can use as many snaps as possible to stay sharp, but on this Friday night, that isn't possible.

Jimmy and his teammates are being punished for being too good. He spends most of the second half walking the sidelines and tossing a football to himself. With Berlin cruising to a 34-0 lead and the coaching staff very sensitive about the CIAC's infamous score management policy, Jimmy and the starters are reduced to spectators.

Well, sitting it out is probably better than having to purposely overthrow passes. It wouldn't be right to ask leading rushers Jack Cooper and Kevin Tatro to fumble or fall down in the open field. Kick return demon Drew Hornberger shouldn't have to run out of bounds. The coaches don't want to require Matt DelConte, Ben Domurat and Patrick King to stop blocking.

So the minutes tick quickly away, the sophomores are rushed into the fray and the score of the game is appropriately manipulated to prevent you readers from knowing the true nature of the game at a glance. 34-13. "Hey, RHAM gave Berlin a decent battle," somebody who wasn't at Sage Park may surmise. Not even.

I don't wish to take anything away from the Sachems' young program, which is obviously trying to find its way toward competitiveness in the Nutmeg League. But what can their seniors gain from pummelling Berlin's underclassmen? Somebody is sitting somewhere in the state and smiling because the game of football has been compromised to suit a politically correct agenda.

Football isn't meant to be politically correct. It's a rugged sport in which players need to rev up their emotional level to live up to their potential. It's a sport that the best players on the better teams train for year round and in Connecticut have their playing time decimated as a reward for their diligence.

I'm not going to condone 80-0 games. I agree there is no need for that. At some point. any right-thinking coach will substitute and make the necessary adjustments so it doesn't get to that point. If a coach has trouble adhering to that, any right-thinking athletic director would establish some parameters to rein him in. If a coach cannot execute to an AD's satisfaction, perhaps the prospect of being without a job the following fall would be ample incentive.

We don't need a 50-point rule. Let's get rid of it and write off the two-year travesty to political correctness gone amuk.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

GREAT GAME, GREAT COACHES, GREAT KIDS

The Farmington High boys soccer team had its bid for an undefeated, untied season dashed by East Catholic Wednesday.

After the match, the boys were obviously dejected. They wanted the 16-0 ledger badly and played their hearts out on a rocky, bumpy field that is not conducive to the finesse game that they so artfully exhibit on their impeccable playing surface at Tunxis Mead, Al Bell Field.

So many times after difficult defeats, high school coaches have either shunned or tried to shun the media. I understand what defeat and disappointment can do to a coach. I try to approach such delicate situations diplomatically and get what I can to give our readers an inside view of the games.

That could have easily been the case in Manchester Wednesday but FHS' Steve Waters is anything but your run-of-the-mill coach. He approached me and asked if I would like to sit in on his postgame address to the team. It was a rare chance for me to witness how a great coach deals with a setback of such proportion and points his young men to the next task at hand -- going for a Class LL state championship.

Waters spoke eloquently to the boys. He spoke of the feeling they had in their guts and how different it was from the day earlier in the season when they beat East Catholic at home, 3-0. He equated it to getting dropped by your girlfriend -- an incredible analogy, I thought. He compared the loss to a scar, one that would heel if they went into their next training sessions with the thought of going deep into the 'LL' tournament. He told them what a marvelous achievement it was to go 15-1 and be considered among the top two or three teams in the state. He allowed his three captains to speak and offered a forum to any of his seniors who had something on his mind.

It was an eye-opening experience for me, one that made me so proud and happy to be a sports writer on the high school scene. It also made me proud, as a Farmington resident, to know that the young athletes of our town have such a role model from whom they can absorb some of life's most valuable lessons. It put the entire notion of why we play interscholastic sports in perspective.

There's also another part of this story that made Wednesday one of the finer days I've had as a sports writer -- the East Catholic side.

The East head coach/athletic director is Tom Malin, surely one of the great coaches and administrators that state high school sports has ever seen. Any time I've ever been assigned to cover an event at East, Tom has made me feel welcome, providing drinks and snacks, a courtside chair and table for basketball games, his office and desk for filing stories on deadline.

Tom and his awesome assistant Mike Hickey had their boys playing at the peak of emotion. One of the boys -- T.J. DiFiore of Wethersfield -- had set up the winning goal and agreed to a postgame interview. DiFiore reflected all the virtues that coaches like Malin and Hickey imbue -- courtesy, clarity and honesty among them.

As we walked up to the school parking lot from East's lower field, the two of us chatted about his future. What a great kid. His parents should be so proud. It gives me such faith in the future knowing people like him will be leading the way.

Was I sorry that Farmington didn't get its undefeated season. Yes, almost to the verge of shedding a tear, but if they had to lose, I'm glad a young man like DiFiore had a chance to enjoy a major victory.

With a day to reflect, I'd like to make this conclusion. I'm glad that East can go for gold in Class M and Farmington in 'LL' because maybe two excellent programs can emerge from the 2007 season bathed in the glow of a championship. They're both very deserving.

WEBB BLOG

Every week is a good week covering high school sports. As I've blogged about ad nauseum, that's how I feel and that's where I want to be. I have no interest in getting treated like excrement by NFL coaches or in the say-nothing quotes blathered by a certain state college football coach.

I made a visit to Rocky Hill and was greeted with a wry smile from a girls soccer player. "Did you have to wear that sweatshirt?" she said.

She was referring to a big old comfortable Ohio State hoodie that I often wear when the weather gets chilly. I went to college in Athens, Ohio, and my sister went to State so I've always had an affinity for the Buckeyes.

I asked her why she doesn't like Ohio State and she answered, "I was at the game. I was in Happy Valley." Of course she was referring to the Buckeyes successful invasion of Penn State last Saturday night. Yep, while everyone else in New England was reveling in the Red Sox' success, I was watching OSU-PSU.

I told her I was sorry I disappointed her and went on my way to the cozy McVicar Field press box and some great local sports chatter with the Terriers gang. (Why do they call us the Terriers. shouldn't we be the Rocky Hill Raptors, somebody said. Hmm. How true with the dinosaur museum in town.)

Well the Terriers under Bill Pacelia put an exclamation point on their late-season turnaround with a stunning 1-0 win over Berlin. And who popped in the winning goal? My little friend the Nittany Lion, whose name happens to be Nicole Webb.

Rachel Rozewski set things up by passing to Joyce Grodovich rushing down the center of the field toward the Berlin goal. Grodovich touched a through ball to Webb, who banged it home for the game-winner. Wasn't I shocked that the young lady who scored the winning goal was the personable young lady who made me feel welcome with that pregame small talk.

The Terriers (8-7-1) barge into the Class M tournament with a tie against Farmington and four straight wins. If you're looking for a darkhorse, take in a practice at McVicar Field. Credit a veteran coach who knows what buttons to push.

"They believe that they're in every game, that they can beat any team now," said Pacelia, who has made an effort to tone down a bit this year, but surely not enough to bury the personality that makes him unique and effective.

"It's an understanding that we have. There is one of two ways I'm going to coach; either I'm goinna stand here and not say anything, which I'm perfectly happy doing now. ... Or I'm going to be getting on 'em. They said when I'm not saying anything, they don't like it. They know it's nothing personal."

Two weeks ago they were 4-7 and the tournament looked iffy. Now higher ranked Class M teams are looking at the projected seedings and saying, "Uh-oh."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A MARVELOUS NIGHT AT THE MEAD

The right side of the tree-lined lane that leads to spacious and beautiful Tunxis Mead Park was decorated with staggered signs honoring the seniors on the Farmington High girls soccer team.

On the left side, a little further ahead, the six seniors on Nelle Andrews' resurgent field hockey team were given their due.

The soccer field, named after the inimitable godfather of Farmington soccer Al Bell, was brightly lit with the junior varsity teams from Farmington and East Catholic squaring off. The baseball field, named for venerable Farmington sportsman and educator John Grocki, had its outfield adapted to host the field hockey team as is done once a year so the girls can play under the lights.

The field hockey parents had a gas grill smoking, churning out burgers and hot dogs to the folks on hand to watch Farmington play its last home game as an independent team. No FHS program will benefit more from the school's move to the Central Connecticut Conference next year. For the first time in generations, the girls who don the skirts and wield the curved sticks will get a chance to play for a league championship next fall.

The field hockey game started at 6:30 p.m. after the seniors were honored. The soccer game went off at 7 p.m. What a brilliant night for girls sports, for two teams that figure to go deep in their respective tournaments that begin next week.

Depth and determination were keys to two Farmington victories.

The stickers grabbed a 2-0 lead, ran fresh legs out in the second half and a decent Watertown team (6-6-1) couldn't keep pace. And Farmington, after getting a week off due to the cancellation of a match with Northwest Catholic, will end up playing five games in seven days.

"They're tired," Andrews said. "It's definitely been stressful. A lot of them have tons of schoolwork going on with the end of the quarter last week. It's frustrating, but it's definitely because we've been a non-league team and we have to get squeezed into everyone's open week. We'll be in a league next year and hopefully won't have that problem."

The booters withstood a game East Catholic squad, that outplayed Farmington early and had the game tied at 1 until Bonnie Boornazian, Kaylin Berger, Holly Cherlin, Taylor Escajeda, Kelly Boudreau and company took control.

Boornazian, a junior who had the game-winning goal in the state championship as a freshman, proved that she has recovered sufficiently from knee surgery. Her game gets better and better by the day. She scored twice in the 3-1 win over East.

"Two years ago, we lost to East Catholic on senior night and we didn't want to let that happen again," she said. "This was the last time playing in (the Northwest Conference) so we wanted to play well for our seniors and ourselves and end on a good note."

Boornazian had surgery January 31 and nobody was sure what kind of impact it would have on her game.

"The season was hard for me," she said. "I worked a lot but I finally got back to where I want to be. ... Coach (Steve Jarvis) said I'm getting my confidence back and that's all I want -- to get better every game."

Grocki Field went dark first. As the lights went out on Bell Field shortly thereafter, Farmington athletic director Jack Phelan had reason to smile. It was a marvelous night at the Mead.

Friday, October 26, 2007

THE GOOD IN GOODWIN

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to visit with the Goodwin Tech soccer team on Thursday. The kids on the team are reaching out to be appreciated. They may not compete at the same level as the Farmingtons and Wethersfields but they work just as hard and want to win just as badly.

The interaction between coaches Paul Soucy and Laura Waz, who are filling in for head coach Jerry Barner, and the kids is poignant. The players -- male and female -- hail from no less than 7 different countries. Some of them are still learning the English language but the universal languages of soccer and love break through such barriers.

I enjoyed writing up the Gladiators' 4-2 win over Grasso Tech that enabled them to qualify for the Class S tournament for the first time since 1991 (historical data courtesy of former Herald sports writer and dedicated high school sports historian Gerry deSimas Jr.). How they fare in the tournament is not nearly as important as the lessons and the love being disseminated by Soucy and Waz. While I have never met Barner, I'm sure he would be contributing more if he wasn't trying to shake off an infection that set in after foot surgery.

The team has some genuine talent in striker Pawel Siwinski and freshman midfielders Arek Wrobel and Raul Canales. Many of the others have the potential to be fine players if they heed the teachings of Soucy, who has coached soccer at Plainville, St. Thomas Aquinas and Wolcott.

I truly hope that the word passes through the student population at Goodwin that playing for the varsity team can be rewarding, great fun and a vital learning experience. Please look for the feature story I'm writing as a follow-up that should appear in Monday's paper. Whether or not you have an interest in Goodwin soccer, I urge you to read it and I think you'll enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PC POLICE INVADE LOCAL SPORTS

The thinking behind the horrific 50-point rule, or score management policy as some Bohemians call it, is beginning to infiltrate other sports.

Look for soccer to follow football's lead. I wouldn't be at all surprised if soccer coaches who dare go beyond a seven-goal cushion start getting banished to purgatory in the near future. I haven't seen one 8-0 game all season. They all seem to stop at six and seven.

The same arguments that make the football rule a travesty are relevant in soccer. Say the score is 8-0 with 15 minutes left in the match. A coach must tell his players to just knock the ball around and not to shoot on goal.

Why is it less embarassing for a player on the losing team to be a victim in a humiliating game of keepaway than to lose 13-0? The answer to that is clear. Administrators don't want to see 13-0 scores in the newspaper.

Swimming has been doing it for years. When a team has clinched a victory, it swims the remainder of the events as "exhibitions," which means competitors will swim to win but their scores won't be counted in the team score. A 95-81 score looks so much better than 135-40, but what is that approach telling people who have dedicated their lives to delivering the news? Simple, it is more important for the meet to appear to be close that it is to tell the readers the truth.

In all these cases, kids are being given the wrong message. They're being sheltered from a reality that is just around the corner in their lives. They need to know that when other teams work harder, big deficits happen. If they feel a sense of embarassment, they need to work harder, and influence their teammates to work harder, so that deficit will diminish.

Getting back to soccer, I notice that many of the matches involving the girls and boys teams from St. Paul are not being reported. Here I am trying to maintain standings and my list of scoring leaders and I can't find information on the St. Paul games anywhere.

Unfortunately, these teams have struggled mightily and there seems to be a conspiracy among coaches, parents and/or school administrators around the Northwest Conference to keep their winless records a secret. That, by the way, is why you don't see my accustomed list of scoring leaders anymore.

Back to the gridiron. If we have such an aversion to football games won by more than 50 points, just stop the darned game and send everybody home. Let's not tarnish the game itself as it was meant to be played. What kind of message are we sending to kids when we require them to run out of bounds, drop passes and miss tackles on purpose so the head coach doesn't get suspended?

What's next? Maybe every football team in the state should be mandated to go 5-5, with each making the postseason and all playoff games ending in ties. After all, we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

INGRAM, CUELLAR AND THE CATS

The announcement that Riccardo Ingram has been replaced by Bobby Cuellar as New Britain Rock Cats manager for 2008 elicits several emotions.

Ingram will be missed. His demeanor was always upbeat and he was congenial even in the throes of losing streaks. Knowing that he would be waiting for you in the manager's office was always a welcome thought. You knew you'd be able to crack a little joke and he would smile from ear to ear.

Cuellar, not to be mistaken for former Orioles 20-game winner Mike Cuellar, is a longtime minor league coach with exceptional credentials. He handled three Cy Young Award winners during his tenure -- Pedro Martinez when he was with the Expos, Randy Johnson during his tenure with Seattle and Johan Santana when he pitched with the Twins in Triple A.

I go back a ways with the new skipper. I first met him when he was the Expos' pitching coach. I went to Fenway Park to cover the Expos against Boston when Southington native Carl Pavano pitched for Montreal. During batting practice, I talked to Bobby about Pavano and received a very detailed, clear assessment that became a lengthy feature story in The Herald.

I ran into Cuellar numerous times at spring training when he was with the Twins organization from 2002-05. I awlays like to remind him that he's just a kid. He was born on Aug. 20, 1952, one day after me.

While I will miss Rico Ingram, I know I'll get to see him at Fort Myers next spring and hopefully during the season if I can escape to Pawtucket when Rochester comes in. As for Cuellar, I'm sure fans are going to like his affable, easy-going nature as well.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

FALL FOLIAGE TOUR

Come with me on a little fall foliage sports tour of central Connecticut ...

Kudos to East Catholic boys soccer coach Tom Malin on his 300th career victory. Boys soccer just scratches the surface on how much Malin has contributed to youngsters at his school over the years. He is always very amenable to the needs of the media, and in case you didn't know, sports writers getting what they need at high school events is often quite difficult.

Thanks, Tom, for all you do. ...

Oh, the wind and rain ... Anybody who went out for a sporting event Friday night will no doubt have mold and mildew growing in their footwear by now. At Fontana Field in Southington where the mighty Blue Knights splashed past East Hartford, the mist and rain were horizontal for a good part of the night.

The conditions didn't bother Savino Melluzzo. He stands but 5'7 and even Friday night couldn't have weighed more than 175 pounds, but he follows his blocks magnificently and keeps those feet moving, even in puddles.

Perhaps the most stunning moment came when Southington safety Israel Burgos just flew down the field on a punt and separated the East Hartford return man from the ball and nearly walked into the end zone. Hey, Israel, it was rainy and wet. You're not supposed to be able to do that. ...

A tip of the hat and very rare exposure of the old chrome dome to the RHAM volleyball team. The Sachems challenge Bristol Eastern as the best I've seen this year, although Rich Heitz has that Southington group peaking for the Class LL tournament (if the Knights can knock off Eastern Monday, now that would be quite a statement!).

Farmington and Berlin have fine teams. Respective coaches Laura Arena and Bob Tarigo have built superb programs from top to bottom. But this is surely the Year of the RHAM. For those who don't know, RHAM stands for Regional Hebron Andover Marlborough. I've seen them play twice and a more cohesive group you won't see in any sport anywhere.

Berlin has lost to the Sachems twice. Farmington has another shot in RHAM's house this week. Time for the Indians to make a statement, or it's a battle for second place between them and the Redcoats. ...

Now get out and support your local teams. The kids work so hard, the competition is tremendous, the parking is free, the food at the concessions stands is good and tickets are cheap. You've got an invitation; what more do you want?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

THE BLAME GAME

Switching gears. Back to baseball, where I have a problem with most of the reporting I see on the playoffs.

Why, when a team loses, do writers around here have to blame somebody? Sox lose, blame Eric Gagne. Sox lose again, blame Matsuzaka. Sox lose again, blame Tito Francona for not starting Beckett.

Why can't some of these guys tip their hat to a great Cleveland team with lots of great players. I'm tipping mine to Grady Sizemore.

Grady played right here in New Britain for the Akron Aeros a few years ago. He played in the 2003 EL All-Star Game hosted magnificently by Bill Dowling and Company and I had the chance to interview him. Boy, if I were starting a team right now, I'd like to have Sizemore on the squad. He does it all and has a great attitude. How about some love for Grady?

Here's another pet peeve. It irks me when a casual fan says, "Can you believe A-Rod made an out with the bases loaded? He's making all that money." What the heck does one have to do with the other?

If a surgical patient paid a doctor five times his fee, should the doctor perform better on his surgery than on the poor guy's? Can you imagine if your car mechanic said, "Sorry, you only paid me $2,500 for that ring job. Your neighbor paid me $5K so I'm not going to fix yours as well as I'll fix his." It's preposterous. Paying somebody more money does not change human frailty. Remember, the difference between a pop-up and a monster shot is about a half-inch.

SAL'S GALS HAVE THE KNACK

I'm still trying to get this blog thing straight. I don't know if there are any rules but I've been just throwing my opinion out there on a variety of subjects then see where the chips fall. I'm supposed to direct a lot of my focus on high school sports so here we go.

I saw 2 great girls soccer games the last 2 days. Farmington spotted a goal to Northwest Catholic before its depth took over and popped in a pair of late goals. I was most impressed with Farmington's central defender Taylor Escajeda. She's smart. She anticipates so well. With her in back, Kelly Bourdreau behind her and Mary Hogan and Kaylin Berger on the defensive wings, the Indians should go far.

They do have to find some consistent scoring. Holly Cherlin has done a great job and Bonnie Boornazian is so courageous to be going all out despite her knee problem.

The biggest tragedy is poor Jewel Robinson. Jewel's high school career was so promising with her great speed and nose for the ball but she blew out one knee late last fall and then the other one when she returned to action in July. But she's still got a great attitude and I'm hoping -- praying -- that she can have a huge senior year next year.

Then there's Southington. I really figured the Knights would fade this year after a strong finish last year because of the graduation losses they took. Then Jackie Marchetti goes down with a knee injury. Charlene DaSilva, too. Heartbreaking.

But the Knights have regrouped and are leading the CCC North, ahead of perennial powers Simsbury and Glastonbury.

Shauna Edwards is as good a forward as I've seen this season. She's got these great spin moves that left several Simsbury defenders guarding nothing but empty space Tuesday. She worked her way into open space for medium-range shots all day in Tuesday's 1-0 win. Unfortunately, she was ruled offsides in the goal she scored, but she set up the game-winner in the 89th minute.

Which leads me to the other part of coach Sal Penta's one-two combo, Molly Alfieri. Every time Molly got the ball in the right corner, she either drew a corner kick or worked her way free along the baseline for a cross or a shot. She was on the receiving end of Edwards' cross that won the game. And she had to beat one terrific keeper in Jill Kelley to score that goal.

What looked like a rebuilding year has become a great season. Hats off to Penta, his girls and his staff. No longer is the CCC North the property of Simsbury and Glastonbury. Sal's Gals are leading the division.

I haven't see Steve Yanosy's Berlin squad yet, nor Plainville's resurgent Blue Devils led by one of the best female athletes the area has ever seen, Desiree Pina. I've seen Angelo Marchetti's Newington team and the Indians have a great defensive squad. They're still searching for that go-to goal-scorer so I hope somebody steps up come tourney time.

And here's to Wethersfield and new coach Miek Servedio. The Eagles are undefeated in that always tough CCC West with Conard and Hall behind them. Heather Lyhne has been sensational.

Get out and root on your local team. The girls deserve your support the way they play so hard. I hope we can crown a couple state champs come November.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

THE FIFTY-POINT FARCE

When the CIAC football committee overreacted to the manifestations of coach/oppressor Jack Cochran prior to the 2006 season by implementing its score management policy, Connecticut scholastic football became a laughingstock from sea to shining sea.

The 50-point rule, or Cochran rule as most have labeled it, was trashed by columnists from media diverse and renowned as Sports Illustrated, USA Today and Bloomberg News.

It changes the nature of the game. Suddenly, coaches who have always displayed nothing but integrity, who are guilty of nothing but working harder than their colleagues, were sweating out whether a second-string sophomore eluded a tackle near the goal line or fell down on purpose.

One local coach requesting anonymity readily admitted he had to tell a backup quarterback to purposely take a delay-of-game penalty earlier this season to avoid the possibility of scoring another touchdown.

It compromises the whole purpose for playing sports at the high school level. The theory is that sports provide a forum to teach youngsters about life. Some games end in ecstatic celebration, other in gut-wrenching disappointment. Some lives are bathed in fame and fortune, others are shrouded in gloom and doom.

Nobody wants to see a teenager to collapse on the field in tears after he’s thrown a game-changing interception, but the game is a microcosm of life. So many chapters in the book of life end in sadness and tragedy, so isn’t it better that our youngsters are prepared for this instead of offering them the illusion that a bowl of cherries will be awaiting them on every postgame dinner table?

The 50-point rule, which calls for the one-week suspension of any coach who defeats an opponent by more than 50 points, alters the precepts of football, and sets an unfortunate precedent that could lead to the same in other scholastic sports.

Have you heard about the unwritten soccer rule that prohibits teams from scoring more than eight goals? Yeh, it’s far better to have a team leading 7-0 with its freshmen in the game to play keep-away from an already humiliated opponent. I guess it’s okay because you can’t read about the deleterious effects of keep-away in the next day’s sports section. Nobody puts the "nyaah-nyaahs" in quotes.

Perhaps the academics who constructed the rule didn’t perceive its wide-ranging effects, so prior to this season, the appeal criteria were softened. Some of the items that will be considered are:

* Did the coach start substituting skill players when it was evident the game was in hand?

* Did the coach substitute “wholesale” early in the game when it was evident the game was in hand?

* Did the coach keep the play going by having runners stay in bounds, did not use timeouts, limited passing game? (sic)

* Did the coach control the kicking game – such as punt on fourth and short, fair catch returns, no field goal attempts, go for one (extra point) on a score?

These questions are all subject to the perception of a committee that may be just as skewed as the committee that came up with this rule.

When is it evident that a game is in hand? If a strong team blows through a foe for 21 quick points and the weaker team has shown it can’t compete with 5 minutes still to go in the first quarter, is that evidence enough?

If so, what kind of message are we sending to the quarterback of the winning team who eschewed other opportunities to practice all summer and got bigger, faster and stronger than an opponent who was hanging out at the mall? Work hard, son, and when the consequence of your hard works comes to fruition, we’re going to reward your diligence by benching you.

Did the coach substitute “wholesale?” What constitutes wholesale? Is that somewhere between two and five, three and six, five and eight? Hey, you shouldn’t have kept those quick, sure-handed receivers in the game. Does the committee realize that their understudies are freshmen who may get maimed by an angry senior linebacker who’s losing by 50 points?

So why does this come to light right now? Berlin steamrolled Farmington, 57-0, on Friday night and Redcoats coach John Capodice has to spend half the week preparing his courtroom defense instead of his zone defense. He has to implement an alternate coaching plan in the event he gets suspended.

Does the committee care to evaluate what that might mean to the Berlin kids, who are trying to get ready for a severe test against Northwest Catholic next week? Does the committee care to assess how their decision may affect the Redcoats’ chances for a league title and a playoff berth? Does the committee care to consider how their decision may separate a hard-working student-athlete from his dream?

Based on the new appeal criteria, Capodice should be exonerated. Another criterium is how the vanquished coach feels about the game and Capodice said he ran into Farmington coach Bruce Wearne on Saturday and there were no hard feelings.

“I did everything in my power to protect the other team and I was cognizant of the score and opponent,” Capodice said. “And (there’s) my respect for Coach Wearne as a veteran football coach. Also, our philosophy at Berlin is to never embarrass the opponent.”

This year’s Berlin team may just be the finest in the school’s storied history. Farmington, while well-stocked at the skill positions, is notoriously thin in the lines – where football games are won and lost. It was a difficult day for the Farmington kids, a difficult day for Wearne, and it was no picnic for Capodice as he fields questions from sports writers around the state who care nothing about his terrific team and sweats out the scrutiny of another committee.

Here’s my message: Free Coach Cap and get rid of this ridiculous rule.

Friday, October 12, 2007

TOURNEY CONTENDERS ABOUND

The fall season in high school sports is already half over and I'd like to provide a report card on what I've seen and what I gather from talking to our coaches.

BOYS SOCCER

The Wethersfield boys secured the top spot in the state in last week's coaches' poll and promptly lost to Bristol Central.

I saw the Eagles' previous game against Fermi and while they were creating many excellent chances, they weren't finishing to coach Rob Jachym's satisfaction. Perhaps the 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Rams will push the Eagles to work just a little bit harder, for if they do, a state title is surely within their reach. ...

I haven't seen Steve Waters' Farmington squad yet but hope to soon. The Indians just may supplant Wethersfield as the state's top team, although powerful Simsbury may have something to say about that.

The problem with seeing Farmington has been two-fold. They outclass most of the teams they play in the Northwest Conference and when they do play an East Catholic or a Rocky Hill, it's on a Friday night when The Herald is obliged to bring you all the local football games.

Waters used to have the flexibility to schedule a Glastonbury on opening day and a Hand, Simsbury or Xavier in the regular-season finale, but when Rocky Hill and RHAM joined the NWC, that opportunity was lost. The coaches who vote in the poll surely consider the general condition of the NWC when they evaluate the Indians.

The fun will begin next year when Waters and his boys join the CCC and get Conard, Hall and Wethersfield in home-and-home sets, and will see the best of what the other three CCC divisions have to offer, like Simsbury, Glastonbury, Bristol Central, Southington, South Windsor and E.O. Smith.

A slate like that will prepare Farmington for the rugged Class LL tournament and the evolution will be fun to watch.

GIRLS SOCCER

The NWC, as usual, belongs to Farmington and Berlin, but the Redcoats suffered their first loss at the hands of Northwest Catholic. The teams battled to a scoreless tie in their first match (it had to be on a Friday night. Rats!). Their second one should be a doozy and it's on a Thursday. Alright, schedule-makers!

And here's a tip of the Herald cap and a deep bow for Southington coach Sal Penta. Faced with what looked like a rebuilding season, Penta has his Blue Knights among the best teams in the region if not the state. Things looked bleak when his stellar senior captain Jackie Marchetti went down with a knee injury in the preseason, but Shauna Edwards, Danielle Bottaro, Molly Alfieri and Pauline Koziol among others have stepped up.

VOLLEYBALL

When you start listing great local coaches, don't forget Berlin's Bob Tarigo and Laura Arena of Farmington. They have great teams, yes, but they have programs where the talent goes deep into the junior varsity and beyond.

Berlin was missing big hitters Katelyn Zarotney and Sarah Byrnes for the match against always-potent Avon Thursday but Tarigo received sensational play from their understudies. Avon fell in three games. Ronnie Roche is the quiet leader of the Redcoats.

Both Berlin and Farmington, however, are looking up at RHAM, which clearly was the class of the conference in the first half. The Sachems give up plenty of size against both of them, but make up for it with incredible cohesiveness and athleticism. A win over RHAM for either Farmington or Berlin would be a major coup as the teams wind toward tourney time.

In the CCC North, New Britain is coming along under coach Michelle Abraham and has a future star in Angelika Zygo. Southington coach Rich Heitz, like Arena and Tarigo, has built quite the dynasty. The Knights will be in great tourney shape if they can knock off defending Class L titlist Bristol Eastern in their rematch Oct. 22.

FIELD HOCKEY

Farmington is back.

The Indians don't have the superstar they had last year in Laura Burdick, but coach Nelle Andrews has a host of excellent players in Lauren Schweighoffer, Amy Lee, Carly Piraneo, goalie Erin Corcoran, Kristy Rider, Meghan Murray, etc.

It's a young team, too, so Andrews should make quite a splash when the independent Indians get a chance to play in the CCC next year.

MORRELL BUILDS A DYNASTY

Nobody will mistake current New Britain High head football coach Paul Morrell for his predecessor Jack Cochran.

No, Morrell has not won any state championships. He doesn't sleep on a cot at the high school coaches' office and pore over game tape in between catnaps. Winning holds plenty of importance to him and his staff, but his top priority by far is turning his football players into productive human beings.

So when I asked Morrell after Friday night's 34-6 win over East Hartford about his amazing tailback B.J. Aponte, he said the following: "I tell you guys after every game that as great as B.J. is as a football player, he's even greater as a human being. He's going to go places."

With all the negative junk that we have to report about kids, Morrell's assessment of Aponte needs to be printed. It was printed in The Herald Saturday, and now it's here for all the world to see.

It helps to hear Morrell express his love for his All-State candidate, but Aponte's determined play demonstrates quite well that he has a passion for success, a passion for life. When he hits a hole behind that big offensive line, he accelerates like a Porsche burning high test. If the hole gets plugged, he squirms and battles for every inch.

On defense, he uses his quickness and that determination to make big plays, too.

Morrell may not have the 'Canes quite where Cochran had them in a football sense, but when the final reviews come in many years from now, who do you think will be the big winner? Morrell is building men -- fine young men -- and that stands to be far more important for the school and the community in the long run.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

HOLTZ COMES FROM THE HEART

I had the uplifting experience of hearing Lou Holtz speak Wednesday night.

Holtz is a man who comes from humble beginnings (Follansbee, W. Va.) who has stared adversity in the face and come away a better man both on and off the football team. He takes great pleasure in sharing his experiences and eloquently advancing the power of positive thinking.

He appeared at the Bristol Central High School, courtesy of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, which surely is one of the oldest and best of its kind in the state.

Holtz, who turned 70 in January, interjected his unique sense of humor, some of it self-deprecating, and kept the audience in stitches. He finished the evening with a magic trick, tearing apart a copy of USA Today that incredibly became whole again right there in his hands. He did the same trick Saturday on TV in his latest endeavor as ESPN analyst.

He bluntly mentioned several times that he was not lecturing or preaching – in fact, he refused to stand behind the lectern – but he admonished the young athletes in the crowd, of which there were many, about the relationship between talent, motivation and attitude.

He stressed the meaning of teamwork, indicating that individuals cannot possibly win football games. He used the euphemism, “What’s Important Now,” to illustrate how an athlete should put him or herself in a positive frame of mind.

Among those in the audience were new Central Connecticut State University women’s basketball coach Beryl Piper and an attentive group of young ladies soon to wear the Devils’ blue.

“I just hope they listened,” Piper said.

Holtz’s message was sincere, thorough and totally honest (he let us know ahead of time when he embellished one story).

Holtz has written five books, including New York Times bestseller, “Winning Every Day,” published in 1999. Quick to point out that he wasn’t the best of students, he quipped, “I may be the only person to have written more books than I’ve read.”

One local sportsperson who shall remain nameless crossed paths with Holtz at one of his collegiate stops and referred to him as Lou Bolts. Indeed, Holtz will be remembered for taking difficult jobs, rebuilding programs and seeking other challenges. He is the only football coach in NCAA annals to guide six different programs to bowl games and four to final top-20 rankings.

His favorite resuscitation act must have been South Carolina. He ended his first retirement from coaching in 1999 to take over the 1-10 Gamecocks. He led them to an 8-4 record in 2000, a season culminated with a win over prohibitive favorite Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.

He coached at Notre Dame from 1986-96, when he walked away from a lifetime contract for reasons he never disclosed. His beloved wife, Beth, had been diagnosed with throat cancer at the time, yet is doing well.

Holtz looked at his watch and told the assemblage that he’d like to talk all night but had to leave.

“I’m dog tired,” he said. “And Beth and I have this thing where we think about each other every night at 10 o’clock.”

That’s the kind of man Lou Holtz is, and the Bristol Hall of Fame deserves a lot of credit for making such a wonderful speaker available to local fans and student-athletes. I’d like to toss out special kudos to Dave Mills, former Bristol Eastern coach who provided a stirring introduction and concluding remarks, and longtime Bristol sportsman Bob Kalat, who was nice enough to offer me an opportunity that I will remember and cherish always.

The BSHOF presented a check to Bristol Hospital in the name of Beth Holtz as a token of their esteem for the coach’s time.

But the most important facet was expressed by Piper, who wondered if the young athletes took Holtz’s messages to heart. Far too often kids will fidget and fail to pay heed. Those who didn’t will recall Holtz’s words sometime in the future and wish that they did.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

CHEW ON THIS, BASEBALL FANS

Hmmm, what can I use to illustrate my economic theory.

How about bread? Bread was once baked lovingly in the home with the finest ingredients available, but sometime after the turn of the 20th century, some savvy entrepreneurs found that it could be cheaply mass produced to take the burden off the housewife, appealing to our seemingly insatiable urge for expediency over common sense

So companies replaced the homemade, whole-grain breads of the 19th century with a nutrition-free, mass-produced substitute our grandparents came to know as white bread. It took 75 or so years to realize that the mass-produced product was removing most of the stuff, like fiber, that made bread mankind's staff of life. Check the figures on the rising tide of colon cancer.

Only now have people in the know come to realize that whole grains are essential in our diet, and son-of-a-gun if it doesn’t taste a whole lot better than that sorry Wonder Bread that held my tuna fish salad together in the Fifties and Sixties.

So what’s the point? What does bread have to do with sports?

We accepted the expedient concept of mass-produced bread. We are force-fed the concept of bottom line over common sense in professional baseball.

Yes, it all boils down to bread, man, in the sense of the world that our generation coined about the time Nixon was mining Hanoi Harbor. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and as long as the rich are in baseball’s major markets, all is well.

As the glowing reports of baseball’s increased attendance radiate throughout the industry, the once-proud Pittsburgh Pirates have endured their 15th straight losing season. Atlanta, once perceived as one of the big boys while dominating the NL East, can no longer afford Andruw Jones.

Even the considerable loyalty Torii Hunter has for the organization that nurtured his ascent didn’t stop him from rejecting three years and $45 million from the Minnesota Twins for a shot at even greater riches. Who can blame him? Did the Wonder Bread CEO consider anything but bucks?

Gluttony rules. Those of us who have lived for a while recognize this. Most of those bred on ESPN – surely one of the prime enablers in greed’s molding of sports – wouldn’t know any better, so paying exorbitant prices for entertainment is as conventional to them as consuming white bread was to us.

Bread often is examined as a barometer of economic times. Proportionally, the price of a baseball ticket has risen more than bread ever will. On the surface, consumers foolishly pay the price. Underlying research will show that corporations using tickets as write-offs are the ones footing the bill.

Naturally, most of the corporations are headquartered in large cities so the gap between the small markets and large markets is ever widening. Given the free market system that baseball enjoys, thus banishing Mr. and Mrs. Everyman and their two children from attending, the rich thrive, the poor get trashed and all that most people care about is if their team makes the playoffs.

Congratulations, your team made it. Common sense dictates that people with the most money in their hands will come home with the nicest Christmas presents so what are you barking about?

Way to go. Pat yourself on the back as you live vicariously through that logo plastered on your sweatshirt, cap and car bumper. I’ll be damned if I care. To the richest go the spoils. The only reason they play 162 games is 162 more reasons to turn you upside down and shake the coins from your pockets because we all know the rich guys are going to win.

New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago. Wow, big surprise. Is anybody taking any bets for next year when Jones, Hunter, et al jump on the large-market gravy train and make the situation even more lopsided, pitting grown men on the major market squads against the minor-league youngsters the less fortunate are reduced to using?

And to make matters worse, only the richest can afford the cream of the international imports. Even the amateur draft, where small-market clubs are reduced to drafting only players they could afford and are compelled to stay away from the clients of blood-sucking agents like Scott Boras. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better as the ability to compete slowly drains from all but a handful.

And now, enjoy your playoff party, but check out that sandwich bread. It’s likely to be a whole lot better than the junk that surrounds the $8 stadium hot dogs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

IT'S THE LEAST YOU CAN DO

Pennant races are smouldering in Major League Baseball. The NFL season is in full swing and captivating a sports-loving land. College football dominates in certain sectors.

Sports are wonderful, a blessed gift presented to our nation by people of vision as part of the freedom we enjoy. But this blog will venture from our fantasy world where the worst that can happen is your team loses a game, or some athlete foolishly thinks he can make life better by taking performance-enhancing drugs.

I have eschewed the pennant races, the SportsCenters, the inane drone of sports talk on the radio this week to focus my attention on something far more important. I have been watching one of television's greatest events courtesy of PBS, Ken Burns' World War II documentary, "The War."

Everybody needs to watch "The War," at least some of it. Most of all, the young people who take their freedom for granted as they write and read this blog and so many others like it, must watch to get a sense of what life was like when madmen in Germany and Japan decided they would stop at nothing to try and conquer the world.

Imagine, you, a 19-year-old enjoying the fruits of your forefathers' sacrifices, seeing what they saw and having to do what they did. Imagine rushing out of a transport onto a beach under the fire of Nazi artillery and watching the guy you were playing cards with last week get his head blown off.

Imagine hacking through a thick jungle on a teeming tropical island, mosquitoes as thick as humid air on a hot summer day. Suddenly, you come face to face with a fanatic Japanese soldier who can only think of severing your head from your body.

Imagine getting captured by the Japanese and considered a coward for not fighting to the death. You must bow and bow deep to your captor, or he will sink his bayonet into your thigh. At any given moment and for no reason at all, he slams the stock of his rifle into the side of your head. Imagine actually getting hit so many times that it becomes routine.

And you, the 15-year-old wise guy who thinks it cool to disrespect your parents and grandparents for the sake of impressing your friends. Imagine drifting around in your blogosphere when the doorbell rings. A sober man in military garb stands there with that dreaded telegram. Your mother sinks to her knees sobbing in agony. Your father, whom you've never seen shed a tear, weeps uncontrollably. Your older brother has been killed in action.

Can't happen here? Can't happen now? Perhaps it can't, but these are real scenes that happened right here in your town from 1941-45 while some of the grandparents that maybe you've never met fought tyranny so you could log on to You Tube.

Why dredge up the unhappiness of the past? Did you ever consider that the old man who lives down the road may have witnessed one of those scenes I've described. Maybe he waved goodbye to his parents and bravely went to war. Maybe you should thank him for sacrificing three years of his life so you could be free.

My father was one of those men. He was listening to New York Giants football (remember, there was no TV then) when the broadcast was interrupted with the news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Shortly thereafter, my father, 24 at the time, went off to war.

I was one of the lucky ones. My dad came back. I, and then my sister, soon became products of his love. I got to sit on his knee and listen to his stories about his days in the bombed-out cities of Normandy and how he was in Ansbach, Germany, when the war in Europe came to an end.

Dad died in 2005. Oh how I wish I could have watched "The War" with him. I have so many questions and death has silenced his answers. Chances are your dad didn't have to go to war. Thankfully, my son's dad didn't. But I believe it your responsibility as an happy-go-lucky American kid to understand what happened.

Watch the documentary. When you go to bed, before you fall off to sleep in the darkness of your room, consider where you'd be if Hitler or Tojo had won the war. There would be no blogging. There would be no hip-hop. Hanging out at the mall would not be an option. Your father's eye that you may have been the twinkle in could have instead been glazed over in the corpse of a man staved to death in a concentration camp.

Listen to the stories of the brave men, now ravaged by age, who made it possible for you to enjoy the finer things in life. Think of them next Memorial Day. Think of them on Veterans Day. Think of them the next time you shift around and daydream when the National Anthem is played before a basketball game this winter. Give them an occasional moment of your time. It's the least you can do.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

HS FOOTBALL INTEREST ON THE DECLINE

So many of Connecticut's baby-boomer sports fans have complained to me that the atmosphere surrounding high school football games is nothing like it used to be.

Indeed, even the New Britain with its legendary past doesn't attract the kind of crowds that it did even a few short years ago. Some venues have literally been reduced to family and friends. With the advent of blogs, talk radio and blanket coverage of national and even regional sports, the hometown has fallen off the radar, and I find it very sad.

But I did find a venue on Friday night that was alive. With New Britain on the road at Windsor, the hometown folks filled the grandstands and supported their team with a passion that I rarely see these days. Sure New Britain has its wonderful marching band but neither the student body nor the community rallies behind the 'Canes anymore.

I was at Newington Thursday (the game was moved back a day in observance of the Jewish New Year) and despite having one of the state's best running backs (Nathan Pagan) and a team that is drawing votes in state polls, the grandstands were nearly empty enough to hear a pin drop.

It's doubtful that we'll ever recapture the excitement of heading on over to the football field for a dose of community spirit like we did when life was simpler. It's a slice of Americana that has withered away and died here in central Connecticut and we're much worse off as a result.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NB'S DEMISE MAY BE GREATLY EXAGGERATED

Retired New Haven Register editor Bob Barton, in his 5oth season of covering high school football in Connecticut, is the most entertaining and knowledgeable gridiron scribe in the state bar none.

His insight into the National Federation rules that govern the game and his understanding of how to compile game statistics are unparallelled. His work on the Connecticut High School Football Record Book, along with that of Gerry deSimas Jr., has revived the brainchild of the late, great Hartford Courant scholastic editor Bohdan Kolinsky and former Hartford Weaver administrator Tim Sullivan.

But has Mr. Barton misstepped in downgrading the New Britain High football program? He provided the Hurricanes some poignant bulletin board fodder in the New Haven Register's comprehensive football preview section when he wrote, "You may not find me at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain, where what I've seen the past few years makes me think New Britain football is headed for a decline."

Granted the Hurricanes' results since the departure of the oft-vilified coach Jack Cochran after the 2004 season have fallen short; they have not qualified for the Class LL tournament in the first two seasons of the Paul Morrell era after four consecutive appearances under Cochran.

Anything less than a state title is viewed as failure by those who revel in New Britain's proud tradition but Morrell's 15-5 record over his first two seasons doesn't signify a collapse. Early returns may indicate that Greenwich and Shelton are the teams to beat in the 'LL' division, and anybody who discounts Southington and coach Bill Mella can't be thinking straight, but the 'Canes are a legitimate threat to unseat the Blue Knights in the CCC North.

Senior tailback B.J. Aponte is a potent offensive force. He's lightning quick and runs behind one of the state's bigger and better offensive lines. He's also wields a major impact from his outside linebacker slot on defense, but can he withstand playing both ways all season? Does Morrell have other players in his arsenal to capture the attention of opposing defensive coordinators so he'll have Aponte when he needs him most?

Fleet senior Jamal Redding didn't push Aponte from the headlines that followed New Britain's 41-30 win over a Bristol Central squad that will win its share of games in the weeks ahead but he scored three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Rafal Garcarz has plenty to learn but he's long on ability.

If Morrell gets some of his players with bumps and bruises back in the fold and his team can avoid the mental mistakes (penalties), Mr. Barton may yet regret not placing Willow Brook on his 2007 itinerary.

Monday, September 17, 2007

WHY HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS?

The question has been posed to me so many times.

Since becoming a professional sports writer in 1992, I have been covering local high school sports and Eastern League baseball in New Britain.

I have grown to love the Eastern League, serving as an administrator from 1981-88 and writing about the circuit since 1992. I hope to continue in that regard for as long as my brain and fingers continue to function.

My work has been well-received throughout the baseball world and I've often wondered if I should have pursued a major league beat. But living out of a suitcase doesn't interest me and neither does being away from my family. No amount of money can make either palatable, so I'll live out my satisfying career perusing the local scene.

But why high schools? Why not the vibrant Connecticut college scene? The simple answer is that high school sports are woven into the dense fabric of all American communities.

Back in 1994 or so, I ran into a young man who asked me if I remembered him. I told him that he looked familiar, but I couldn't recall his name. He opened his wallet and pulled out a tattered newspaper clipping from several years prior in which I wrote about a no-hitter he pitched for the Farmington High baseball team.

It dawned on me how important high school sports are, not only to the development of the young people who play them, but to all of us. High school team sports teach young people one of the most vital lessons in life -- how to work with peers toward the achievement of a common goal. Documenting their exploits in a positive way helps construct a foundation for the future. I find that to be ultimately more important than satisfying my ego by finding a niche in an NFL or MLB press box.

Covering high schools may be at the bottom of the sports chain from one perspective, yet is more difficult than plying our craft at higher levels. When you walk into the professional or college press box, you are immediately handed media guides and more statistical analyses than you can imagine and enough minutiae to fill a lifetime's worth of notebooks.

When you cover a high school game, you're on your own. In most cases, historical facts that enrich a story have to be researched painstakingly, something for which we have so little time. There are no media relations people scampering to dig up the answers to your questions. There are no sports information mavens who maintain historical data bases passed down since helmets were made of leather and bats solely of wood.

Difficult, yes, but I find it quite rewarding and interesting. I hope you do, too.