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."