(From November, 2010)
We’ve been through an awful lot together since my byline first appeared on these pages but my time is drawing near. I will be leaving the New Britain Herald for another journalistic endeavor by the time Thursday’s paper hits the street.
The decision to leave the Herald was a very difficult one. The coaches, athletic directors, student-athletes and parents representing our six schools are good friends and have been steadfast partners in my quest to bring our readers breaking news and poignant features.
My intent has been primarily to inform you and at the same time entertain, although sometimes I feel more informative and other times more like fishing for a chuckle. Of course, there are times when I get very serious, and I want to offer one interesting paradox before I go on to some nostalgia.
What bothers me most about sports journalism these days, particularly in the electronic media and uncontrollably on the internet, is that so many writers/talk show yappers are putting themselves ahead of the events.
There is no ‘i’ in team but you don’t have to do much scrambling to see there is ‘me.’ Egotism covers up low self-esteem very nicely, so those who jam themselves to the forefront are sending us that kind of message about themselves. If you’ve ever done any research using newspapers from long ago, you had trouble even finding bylines.
Yet where would local sports be without the people who do belong in the headlines? The people who have made sports work in the greater New Britain area are some of the finest I have ever known.
My time with the Herald began in 1995 alongside legendary sports editor Bart Fisher. Now there’s the perfect example of a man who worked overtime to keep himself in the background while he expounded about what separates New Britain sports from the rest of the world.
Before I could pinch myself that I had the chance to work side by side with the man who must go down as New Britain’s greatest sports journalist, it was over. Bart moved on to take a position at Central Connecticut State University.
He was replaced by Gerry deSimas Jr., whose dedication to high school athletics and their legacy was second to none. But Gerry’s time at Herald Square was also far too short for the good of us all. Neill Ostrout, Billy Bernardi, Marcus Rosano, Brian Straight and current staffers Matt Straub and Brad Carroll followed and I enjoyed working shoulder to shoulder with each and every one of them.
The highlights have been many and I’d like to share my thoughts about a few of them with you.
For the first few years, covering New Britain High sports was about the same as covering the others. My wife Lisa is an NBHS grad and even before I began with the Herald, I recall going to Chick Shea Gym for a tournament basketball game between her Hurricanes and my Hamden High Green Dragons.
I saw Stan Glowiak for the first time, slamming his shoes to the hardwood to get the attention of a team led by Tebucky Jones and Malcolm Yelling. The Dragons won the game to my extreme satisfaction. Little did I know that a time would soon come when I’d feel differently. Stan is now a treasured friend and my dresser is packed with NBHS t-shirts.
I remember exactly when the transformation occurred. I was at Manchester High in 1998 for a football game. Coach Lenny Corto’s club had its eye on a Class LL berth. Its only defeat came at Southington when a two-point conversion fell short. Just around kickoff time, I heard the big sound of the Golden Hurricane Marching Band piercing the chilly air with their trademark fight song, “Bingo.”
Don’t ask me why but it moved me. Tailback Chris Bellamy, who would later excel at UConn, ran wild that night and the Hurricanes crushed the Indians. Unfortunately, one of the better New Britain teams did not qualify for the tournament despite losing just one game. I began to understand the New Britain High mystique, and shortly thereafter, it was engraved on the walls of my heart.
Later that winter, I fell in love with Beryl Piper’s fabulous basketball team that won a Class LL title by avenging its only defeat of the year versus Fairfield. What a team! Center Kenitra Johnson, Lindsay Ryba, Lindsey O’Neil, Missy Czeremcha had that special chemistry.
The following fall, O’Neil and Czeremcha led the NBHS volleyball team back from an 0-2 deficit in the Class L final to humble Cheshire and hush its rooting section that began to celebrate just a little too early. It was the crowning moment for coach Michelle Abraham, who still brings that same unbridled passion to every match.
The tenure of controversial football coach Jack Cochran will always elicit heated debate. Some say he helped a lot of kids find their way. Others say he helped only those with Division I talent. Some were glad to see him go. Many wish he never did.
I know Cochran did some things that he shouldn’t have but speaking from my perspective, I had a ball covering his teams that won three Class LL championships in a four-year span.
Soccer. It was a dirty word to me before I arrived at these papers (I worked at the Bristol Press from 1991-95) but venerable Farmington High boys coach Steve Waters took me to school. So did Wethersfield boys coach Rob Jachym. I began to comprehend the difference in covering their sport as opposed to baseball, football and basketball. Soccer gave me the chance to be more descriptive, even a little poetic.
During my winters at the Herald, I would circle all the Wednesdays and Saturdays for wrestling. I had always been a hockey guy in the winter – Hamden never even had wrestling – but I relished the great match-ups and superb wrestlers at our schools.
Former Berlin High coach Jim Day was and continues to be one of the state’s premier ambassadors for the sport he loves. His coaching staff, the parade of supportive alumni and the supreme dedication emanating from every corner of the program made it special.
As I sort through the memories, I realize that it probably wasn’t a good idea to mention names because there are so many more, enough to fill this section for a week.
Fifteen years is a substantial portion of a lifetime. Performing the duties of a sportswriter has been a labor of love. When you love what you do and you care deeply about how your paper is perceived, you don’t walk away when your 40 hours elapse. For that reason, 15 years seem more like 25 but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s because of the supreme reward you receive when you write local sports for so long.
When I first joined the Herald, I promptly fell in love with girls basketball due to the amazing battles between Newington and Southington. Southington’s premier player was Jen Gombotz, tough as nails and as determined to win as any athlete I’ve ever met. She’s now Jen Micowski and she’s coaching Newington volleyball in the fall, Plainville basketball in the winter and Blue Devils softball in the spring.
I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again – if I ever have to go to war, I want Jen in the foxhole with me.
Todd Stigliano was a scrappy guard for Newington basketball and an amazing enough soccer star that he played in college. He is now giving back as a soccer official and Glowiak’s replacement as the NBHS boys hoop coach.
Jeff Brunetti and Dave Francalangia were awesome soccer players. They’re now coaching soccer at their respective alma maters, Newington and Berlin. Russ Crist was a standout for Farmington High basketball. He now stands out as the FHS girls coach. The common theme is that these people have dedicated their lives to giving back. I am thrilled that I may have been a part of their development in a small way.
And then there’s Erin Pac. How ironic that the former FHS three-sport star and Olympic bronze medal winner would tender her retirement as a world-class bobsled driver the same week that I’m leaving the Herald.
Last but certainly not least, there are the New Britain Rock Cats.
Spending hours and hours with people like CEO Bill Dowling, his brother/media relations man Bob, radio voice Jeff Dooley, venerable scoreboard operator Larry Michaels, official scorer and former NBHS wrestling coach Ed Smith constitute one of my life’s greatest pleasures.
Getting to know and gaining the respect of incredible baseball people like former Twins GM Terry Ryan, the Cliburn brothers Stu and Stan, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, redoubtable ex-skipper Tom Kelly and players like Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Doug Mientkiewicz was wonderful beyond my wildest dreams.
I promise you that if you’re looking for me, I will still be a constant visitor to the New Britain Stadium press box, my second home. I made sure of that during negotiations for the new job.
Leave it to my favorite president Theodore Roosevelt for coming up with the thought that sums up my feelings about my Herald tenure.
“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” My work here was well worth doing and I’ll relish that prize until my dying day.