What I witnessed during the New Britain girls' impressive victory over Lauralton Hall of Milford in the Class LL quarterfinals at Sheehan High Saturday raised the hair on my neck.
The Sheehan site director was kind enough to provide me and Will Schubert of The Courant a table opposite from the scorer's table from which to cover the game. Most of the New Britain fans flanked us on our left, the Lauralton fans on our right.
Sitting just above me was a couple who I'd guess were the parents of a Lauralton Hall player. I never could discern exactly which one. Now I'd be proud as can be if I had a child playing basketball at that level and cheering your child on is absolutely essential, but ripping everybody else on the floor from the referees to the opposing coach and even extending to the youngsters on the other team is reprehensible.
The man showed a blatant disregard for everything high school sports stand for. Winning was all he had in mind, and he was going to chastise the officials, harass the opposing coach as she tried to do her job, whistle while New Britain players were on the foul line and even cheer when a Lauralton player committed a hard foul on New Britain's high-scorer Symone Roberts.
Every New Britain defensive effort was a foul. Every Lauralton hack was a clean play.
"You're on their payroll," he kept shouting at the refs.
This ignoramus had no clue how detrimental his actions were. We as adults need to set an example for our kids. If we act like barbarians, they're going to interpret those actions as acceptable behavior. Is he too ignorant to comprehend this?
When I look out on the floor and see 10 dedicated teenagers playing basketball, I see 10 great kids who are striving for excellence. Above and beyond winning the game, they are learning lessons on how to cope with the challenging journey we call life. They are learning how to work together with their peers toward a common goal.
So many youngsters come back to their high school haunts five, 10, 15 years later and tell their former coaches how valuable their high school sports experience was toward building a foundation for their life. That's why we playe these games.
Was this idiot unable to understand that each of those New Britain kids have parents, too? Doesn't he realize that the stinking few bucks he puts out for a ticket do not give him license to hurt kids? This isn't Fenway Park where athletes are being paid princely sums to play games. It isn't even Gampel Pavilion where elite athletes are provided four expensive years of college for free in exchange for their athletic services.
These are high school kids, folks. The next time your kid's team gets beat, why not exercise some sportsmanship and congratulate the winners like your children are told to do after the game.
The experience reminded me of a few autumns ago when the Xavier rooters made complete asses out of themselves by using vulgarity and boorish behavior to distract the Southington players and even harass the other school's marching band. Real classy.
I credit the Northwest Conference for making fan behavior a policy and explaining it before every game. Judging from the games I was at, I'd have to say the strategy worked to a large exgtent. It doesn't please me that administrators have to threaten wayward fans with banishment and that youngsters can't look into their own hearts and see that they're being hurtful.
Maybe it's time for the South-West Conference -- Lauralton Hall's league -- to implement the same method. Although a reminder over the public address at Sheehan didn't stop one idiot from making a spectacle of himself and misrepresenting what I'm sure is a very fine school.
Here is a rule-of-thumb for Mr. Personality. If you find yourself cheering for your school's players, you are doing what you're supposed to do. If you find yourself deriding the other team, pal, you're out of bounds.
I hope we can all learn from this so an episode like this doesn't evolve into an embarrassing fracas that sets high school athletics back.