Bright red autumn highlights showing up among the withering remnants of summer green on New England boughs mean it’s almost kickoff time.
It’s a time to be cherished.
The oppressive humidity is whisked away by cooling breezes. The kids having gone back to school has its advantages. You can sit out on the deck and hear birds chirping and the distant sound of dogs barking instead of the booming bass of what today’s generation considers music.
One disadvantage is getting caught behind school buses in construction zones, but I always leave early when I’m headed to games anyway.
The sound of the New Britain High Marching Band practicing “Bingo” cascades over Willow Brook Park as I count the innings remaining in the most forgettable Rock Cats season in anybody’s lifetime.
As I crossed another day off the calendar Friday afternoon, the telephone rang. I looked at the Caller ID and smiled when I saw “George DeMaio.” The name isn’t as familiar to sports fans north of Wallingford and Cheshire, but those in Greater New Haven and along the Shoreline know him as, “The Coach.”
The Coach has no equal in the Hartford region. He is 110 percent dedicated to high school football in a way that transcends what most of us comprehend.
Listeners in the New Haven area can tune into WELI-960 AM to hear him from 5:30 to 8 a.m. Saturday mornings, but DeMaio’s legacy is his high school football broadcasts.
The Coach and his entourage – and I’m happy to be considered at least on its periphery – bring you reports from across the state as he broadcasts from those tiny press boxes behind the high schools of southern Connecticut.
The broadcasts were on ESPN 1300 AM for the last two seasons but listeners on the northern fringe – New Britain, Berlin and Southington – can get back on the Coach’s team now that he can once again be heard on the more powerful frequency. If only one of the Hartford area stations could do the same.
So The Coach was calling me to ask if I would go on WELI with him Saturday morning. That means 7 a.m., folks, which is a flat-out culture shock to a guy watching A’s-Angels wrap it up at 1:15. But for The Coach, the least I can do is wake up in the middle of the … er, morning?
I get the call at 7 a.m. sharp and I was awake, awake and studying up on my 2009 CIAC championship results and my Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance final poll.
As I waited on hold, the Coach was going over Friday’s sports results. He topped his presentation by telling his listenership where all the high school scrimmages were, when they were starting and who would be getting together to crash helmets on the final weekend before the curtain rises.
Now that’s coverage.
And if you’ve heard Coach’s voice, that’s passion. If you haven’t, I like to say Coach DeMaio is to Connecticut high school football what Dick Vitale is to college basketball. You may love Vitale or you may bristle every time you hear his voice but one thing cannot be denied – the man is passionate about his pastime.
We talked for about 15 minutes about a variety of football-related topics, none having anything to do with UConn or the Patriots. We talked about the new playoff format that stretches the season to Dec. 11. We talked about the incident in Middletown where two young coaches thankfully were exonerated from criminal charges after a youngster swooned in the summer heat from dehydration.
That’s The coach, right on subject.
When I think of the Coach, I think back to Thanksgiving morning 2001. The soon-to-be state champion Hurricanes traveled to Glastonbury for a game vital to their playoff hopes. The late, great Bo Kolinsky was covering for the Hartford Courant and after the game, we retired to his car to justify and standardize our statistics.
Bo turned promptly to WELI, fine-tuning the station with the fingers of a concert violinist. The strains of the Coach and company pierced through the static. He kept a count of how many of the scores he had from that busy morning. Keep in mind, there wasn’t any texting going on then. There were no smart phones conveying internet messages as events happened.
As another of The Coach’s correspondents phoned in, he bubbled over with excitement about breaking the record for the most scores ever. He had the playoff scenario virtually all mapped out before he left the air for some hard-earned turkey and stuffing. Bo and I smiled. “He’s one of us, isn’t he?” we agreed.
So why is what The Coach does important? That’s easy. Like Bo and the late Hal Levy did with similar conviction, the Coach, a grandfather of three, knows what it means to our society to honor kids who excel.
He knows that following professional and college sports is a worthwhile infatuation but the significance cuts much deeper when we’re supporting the neighbor’s kid. We’re fanning their youthful flames of determination, helping set a foundation so they can ascend tomorrow’s mantle of leadership.
If you have any doubts, just take a look in City Hall where former NBHS baseball player Tim Stewart makes big decision. You might also want to check in on Berlin Mayor Adam Salina, the Stanford grad who knocked on the NFL’s door before coming back to bolster his community.
So with fall season here and lots of great kids striving for that sweet smell of success, do your part and cheer them on. We at the Herald and Bristol Press, with help from dedicated coaches keeping us informed, will do our part. You don’t have to fret about The Coach doing his.