Sunday, March 22, 2009


CIAC administrators, sports writers, fans, parents, coaches and players alike have been assessing the pluses and minuses of holding future state tournament final games at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Of the eight games played there over Friday and Saturday, The Herald had only one dog in the fight -- the Berlin girls in Class M -- so I can't speak to the overall impact, but I think the atmosphere was quite favorable.

I'm not a big supporter of gambling. I can't for the life of me figure out why people want to bring wads of cash into a building knowing they have only a 13 percent or so chance of leaving with the wad intact, knowing that the tribal council didn't construct the glorious site figuring on turning away legions of winners. But we're all so different.

Anyway, I don't believe the players were exposed to the detriments of gambling by playing basketball there. From what I understand, the youngsters were ushered into the building through a direct entrance without having to listen to that mind-numbing drone, inhale the second-hand smoke in the casino proper or witness desperados mesmerized by slot machines.

The arena is cozy; not a bad seat in the house. The accomodations for the media were exceptional, thanks in no small part to the game administration provided by Central Connecticut State University sports information director Tom Pincince and his able staff. In other words, we were handed statistics, which is a true luxury to a lifelong scholastic reporter like myself.

If you consider that the one-year arrangement between the CIAC and Mohegan Sun was based on finances, the games would seem to qualify as a success. The CIAC, I'm told, did not have to pay for use of the building. The tribe must have made its money with basketball fans enjoying the amenities of the destination -- the wagering, the restaurants, the shops, the lodging.

Sounds like a classic win-win scenario to me.

The only drawback, which has been brought out by many of my sports writing colleagues, is how the games were scheduled. Two teams -- Coventry and Old Lyme girls -- played at 9 a.m. Cromwell and Hyde boys played at 11 a.m. While I find 11 a.m. early, 9 a.m. is like the middle of the night to me. I was thrilled that Berlin played at 1.

As my colleague Matt Straub suggested, why not three games on Friday and five on Saturday rather than the two/six split they went with this year? Maybe Saturday's slate could begin at 11 and run the others at 1, 3, 5 and 7. Friday's games could run at 3, 5 and 7.

But I haven't thoroughly investigated how the CIAC feels or how the tribe feels so my opinion doen't have much depth. I do believe it is a workable situation. The kids seemed to enjoy it and that's what's most important.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Farmington's Malcolm Yancey was a wrestler.

Not just a rank-and-file wrestler but a powerfully built middleweight certain to be a competitor for a Class L championship. He finished fifth in Class L at 135 pounds as a junior last year and was projected by the Pin to Win website to be one of the eight best in the state this season.

I wrote about Malcolm's wrestling exploits, interviewed him several times and worked out at Valley Fitness Center with him as he labored to make weight and get stronger.

But Malcolm Yancey decided not to wrestle in his senior season. Coach Eric Misko, who built Farmington from also-ran to one of the state's more respected programs, was disappointed when he told me the news last fall. He said Malcolm opted to concentrate on the arts instead.

Well, that's what high school is all about. Farmington High offers its students many extracurricular options and produces so many well-rounded youngsters. Students should experiment with the options at their avail if they have multiple interests, and Malcolm loves to act.

I had to know more. What would make a wrestler of Malcolm's ability and potential eschew an opportunity to stand on the podium at Bristol Central or even at the State Open in New Haven?

So on Saturday night after I thoroughly enjoyed watching and writing about the marvelous Berlin High girls basketball team's excursion to the Class M title game, I went to Farmington High with my wife. We entered the lobby and took a rare right turn into the auditorium instead of our usual left into the gymnasium.

Malcolm Yancey was playing the lead role in "The Diary of Anne Frank."

For anybody unfamiliar with the story, Anne Frank was a 12-year-old Jewish girl from Amsterdam whose family was forced to live in hiding after Hitler's Germany conquered Holland. Miss Frank, her parents, her sister and four others didn't see the light of day for well over a year as they hid from Nazi persecution.

Anne Frank died in a German concentration camp just three days before the Allies liberated it. Her mother and sister were also holocaust victims. Only her father, Otto Frank, survived the war. He shared his daughter's diary with the world.

The story was a commonly told one in Jewish homes when I was growing up. It served as a vehicle for my sister and I to understand what had transpired in Europe less than 10 years before I was born. As youngsters, we took the freedom we enjoyed for granted but the story planted a seed that would send a shiver up our spines as we grew old enough to understand that freedom is no guarantee.

Malcolm played the part of Otto Frank. He played it magnificently. His passion flowed. He absorbed the pain and suffering that Mr. Frank endured. He touched my heart, particularly his soliloquy that explained what had happened to his family after Nazi's marched them out of their nest. His voice cracked with emotion as he brought down the curtain and lifted the audience out of their seats for a lengthy standing ovation.

I now understand completely why he opted to spend the winter season emoting rather than pinning.

Malcolm wasn't the only FHS athlete in the cast. Shannon DeBari, the Indians' All-Herald volleyball star, played the part of Anne Frank. She was equally magnificent. One can only marvel at her commitment, playing a fall sport at the highest level before dedicating her extracurricular winter hours to drama.

I would like to pay tribute to the rest of the Anne Frank troupe:

Katie Johnson as Anne's mother Edith
Abigail Greene as Anne's sister Margot
Christine Ogonowski as Miep, the courageous woman who supplied the family with food

Dylan Gibbs, Margaux Leigh Hamilton, Tyler Riordan and Michael Blunt played the other people who were holed up with the Franks.

Justin Lizon, Conor Brooks, Mikala Francini and Stephanie Scholoss rounded out the cast.

The play was directed by Tracy Kane. Many others contributed behind the scenes.

They touched me very deeply, and like the sensational young athletes I get to cover, proved to me how wonderful our youngsters can be.