The sun shone brightly through a welcome autumn breeze on Tuesday, lighting the path for what we hope will be an outstanding fall season for our high school student-athletes and their teams.
It sure didn’t start out that way and it was due to something completely out of their control.
The New Britain High soccer teams were denied the chance to begin their season as planned when a Weaver administrator contacted athletic director Len Corto and told him the squads from the Hartford school were not going to show.
The first reaction on Corto’s part was anger. He knew how hard his soccer coaches Margaret Coates (girls) and Matt Denecour (boys) had worked for this moment and it was taken from them without a viable explanation.
The first reaction on my part was anger, too. The deterioration of sports programs in two of the three Hartford public schools has been a smoldering issue for a long time. Did it have to go this far without Hartford administrators reacting to the red flag that’s been flapping in the autumn breeze for at least a decade?
I sought an explanation from Central Connecticut Conference commissioner John Tarnuzzer before firing off written salvos about what has festered in my heart and mind since I moved to the region in 1990.
I asked if Weaver would be penalized for its neglect.
Tarnuzzer said that Hartford had just hired a scholastic sports administrator for Weaver, a young man named Wakime Hauser, and he wasn’t quite prepared for the negligence he encountered. Hauser could not be blamed for Weaver failing to show up yet he had to deliver the message to Corto.
The Weaver athletes, it turns out, were not attentive enough about getting their physicals and turning in the related paperwork. Hauser probably didn’t want to be liable in the event of misfortune and did what he had to do. Keep in mind that Weaver soccer player Dwight Turton, diagnosed with a rare disease, died in the summer of 2007 when he played against doctor’s orders.
Corto later realized that Hauser was beyond reproach.
What Tarnuzzer has to judge relates to upholding the conference’s integrity through sanctions as extreme as dismissing Weaver while considering that the CCC has to take a permissive stance because student-athletes should not be penalized for adults’ oversights and indiscretions.
The problems are systemic. I believe their roots are intertwined with the Sheff vs. O’Neill settlement that resulted in the establishment of the magnet schools that now dot the Hartford landscape. While I have no doubt that the addition of magnet schools was beneficial to education in general, nobody was charged with enacting the needs of the athletic programs.
I don’t want to go into a discourse on how vital athletics are in the education of our youth but they are important enough that somebody with integrity and vision should have been placed in charge to assure that the proud athletic heritage of Weaver and Public carry forward.
I have heard about the problems from people in both schools. They have been discussed in friendly conversation for much of my tenure as a scholastic reporter but nobody would go on record with the issues at hand or their potential solutions. Why would they? They could lose their jobs.
So the situation festers until some innocent, hard-working New Britain soccer players have their much-awaited opening game snatched from them.
Others around the CCC have been affected, too.
With Public’s departure from boys soccer turning the CCC East into a seven-team division, the remainder of the schools – Bloomfield, E.O. Smith, Fermi, RHAM, Rockville, Rocky Hill and Tolland – are left searching the state for two games. With the mega-conferences all restricting outside games, where were athletic directors and coaches going to find fill-ins, even as early as last spring?
That brings us to conference integrity once again.
Tarnuzzer is a capable administrator with a good heart. He will bring in veteran athletic directors and administrators from the CCC’s member schools to counsel Hauser and the Hartford Public administrators. Thankfully, Bulkeley is in good shape due in large part to its energetic administrator Diane Callis.
But at some point, Tarnuzzer will have to set policy that will disqualify member schools for such negligence. If he doesn’t, some undermanned football teams may decide they can’t compete with a powerhouse and opt to stay home, knowing that there will be no penalty.
The Hartford situation has advanced to the critical stage and it must be dealt with – whether tolerantly, punitively or a little of both – because the integrity of a 32-school conference is at stake.
The schools involved must first be willing and able to help themselves. Then we can count on the steady hand of John Tarnuzzer and the munificence of league administrators to bring Hartford’s athletic departments back gradually to the level where they can nurture the city’s kids and not inflict harm on others.