Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TUNE IN TO CTSN

I had the extreme pleasure Wednesday night of appearing on the weekly high school football show, GameTime, hosted by John Holt and Joe Zone of WFSB Channel 3. The segment, which included two of the state’s great coaches in John Capodice (Berlin) and Lou Marinelli (New Canaan), will run multiple times on CTSN (Connecticut Sports Network). On Comcast, it is Channel 744. I think you have to have Comcast’s digital package.

I was honored to be asked to appear on the show, which along with their weekly coverage will be a huge boost for high school sports. The set is amazing. John and Joe are superb TV journalists with a great handle on what’s going on around the state. All HS fans should keep an eye on their show.

From a sports writer’s standpoint, they have already had Mark Jaffee of the Waterbury Republican and Sean Patrick Bowley of the Connecticut Post on. Two more dedicated scholastic writers you will not find. They have their fingers on the pulse of what’s shaking in their respective areas.

I hope the increased coverage of high school football will get more folks coming out to games. I know it will result in more hard-working athletes getting the publicity they deserve as they compete for college scholarships.

I can assure you the scholastic writers at The New Britain Herald will be providing more comprehensive coverage of our teams this fall than ever before. Three weekly polls are circulating around the state. You can check out the new Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance poll at http://www.ctsportswriters.org/, which offers the opinions of up to 40 writers and broadcasters from every corner of the state.

Have some fun with high school football, but please remember. These athletes for the most part are 16- and 17-years-old. We all have to keep that in perspective at a time when blogs and talk shows are leaving no stones unturned in professional and major college circles. We cannot put these youngsters under the same microscope

Sunday, September 20, 2009

H.S. SPORTS NECESSITATE COMMON SENSE

The changing of the seasons from summer to fall is always a major transition for me as a chronicler of local sports news.

My point of focus goes from the New Britain Rock Cats, a group of outstanding young baseball players extremely close to the top of their profession, to local scholastic sports, played by our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends.

The Rock Cats, while young, are indeed professional. Some fans may not realize that they received paychecks for their performance from the Minnesota Twins, not an astounding amount of money like their big-league elders get, but a paycheck nonetheless capable of sustaining them through the six months of the season.

I don’t, as a rule, offer scornful criticism of Rock Cats players during the season. I save that if I see a lack of hustle or something that doesn’t provide the ticket-buying public an honest game’s effort. Truthfully, I haven’t seen that much if at all from the young Twins, who generally have two or three years of playing the organization’s style of fundamentals-oriented baseball.

But when it comes to high school football, there is never a reason to deride a student-athlete either in print or in person. We tend to take the mentality instilled by our rooting interests in the professional and college games and apply it to our local inclinations, which is cruel to do to a youngster who may be playing the game for the first time.

My preference would be to see people keep their partiality in their hearts, in their immediate circle or the walls of their own home while giving players from the other team the credit they deserve for working hard.

If you go to a high school game, by all means, root for the home team, but if you find yourself thinking of antagonistic chants aimed toward the other team, please think twice. This isn’t the Yankees-Red Sox, Jets-Patriots or UConn-Syracuse.

We’ve got to have a little compassion for youngsters who play the game and try their best, remembering why it is that high schools engage in interscholastic sports. They provide group dynamics with adult supervision in an entertaining, work- and goal-oriented atmosphere so our youth learn about working together toward a common goal.

Let’s not place other major sports values on these kids either. The gambling element, for example, that has permeated professional and college sports sickens me enough on that level. To engage in picking favorites and underdogs among high school teams is distasteful at best to me.

In over 20 years of sports writing, I have found that today’s high school athlete is tomorrow’s leader. If we don’t set a good example for them in their formative years, it will come back to haunt us when they begin to make decisions that will affect the latter stages our lives.

I will try to set that example in my articles. Mistakes may be made in big games that need to be attributable, but that is a valuable lesson in life. I will never go out of my way to put undue pressure or inflict the values of America’s major sports on our children. If I ever do, please kick my butt.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND

A heaviness of heart lay in the background at Dodd Stadium in Norwich Wednesday night.

The Connecticut Defenders, conquerors of the New Britain Rock Cats in the recent Northern Division Championship Series, were playing their final Double-A game. They will soon be the Richmond (Va.) Something-Or-Others.

As people are prone to do, the fans who attended 4,008 strong wore smiles. They chose to celebrate the life of the Norwich Navigators/Connecticut Defenders franchise rather than weep over its demise.

There was Little Miss Norwich -- I believe Jennifer is her name -- with her UConn cheerleading outfit, pompoms, perpetual smile and gyrating dance steps. There were numerous faces I deemed familiar from the 30 or so times I've gone there who were a little less conspicuous.

There was Ed Wyatt, the perennial ballpark voice of the franchise, whose version of "Happy Birthday" has been known to melt public address equipment. And Mike DiMauro of the New London Day, surely among the finest sports columnists in Connecticut if not THE finest. Joe Perez of the Norwich Bulletin, covering his beloved beat for the final time, and didn't he go at it with his heart and soul.

But alas, the nice crowds that attended games toward the end offered too little, too late. The southeastern Connecticut baseball fans were like a man on his deathbed, lamenting the sins of his life and trying to make up for them with what time remains.

Perhaps Norwich will be blessed with Connecticut's first short-season Class A club from the New York-Penn League. The league's name may be an antiquated misnomer as there are teams in Lowell, Mass., Pittsfield, Mass., and Burlington, Vt., but nostalgia supersedes geographical correctness.

The baseball isn't as good as the Eastern League. Of that there can be no question, but it is far better than the independent leagues that proliferate in the northeast (although generally not for long). And Dodd Stadium is far too picturesque, well-kept and professional baseball appropriate to be left for the weeds, moles, birds and the ravages of neglect.

I will attend short-season A games in Norwich when I can. I like the ballpark. I like stopping at Harry's Hamburger Stand in Colchester and the various native fruit and veggie locations in East Hampton. I like skirting the Hartford traffic by ambling down Rtes. 16 and 66, even if I do get stuck behind a tractor now and then.

I never thought moving the Albany-Colonie Yankees to Norwich was a particularly intelligent maneuver. For the life of me, I can't understand constructing a stadium in an industrial park, on top of a mountain, far from the cars passing on Rtes. 2 and 395. I can't comprehend why they trashed the Norwich Navigators to hatch the Connecticut Defenders.

Yet with all those eccentricities, I love the place and I'll miss the rivalry with the Rock Cats. To Mike, Joe, Ed, GM Charlie Dowd, radio voice Brian Irizarry, the rest of the people who made a go of it, and maybe even Jennifer the Cheerleader, I'll miss you. Come visit us in New Britain, will ya?