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.