Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sara’s Surprise and Melanson’s Marvels make season special

Emotion plays such a vibrant role in sports.

From my perspective, the challenge is to convey the two-dimensional world of words and photographs to provide a multi-dimensional effect so you can capture the essence of the pure emotion that I witnessed first hand.

Over the last two weeks, I have been afforded two opportunities to absorb emotional moments in the arena of play and try to stir my words to paint an appropriate picture.

The first came on March 4 at Hall High’s Frank Robinson II Gymnasium in a girls basketball game I chronicled for the previous issue of the West Hartford Press.

The Hall girls, enjoying the finest season in program history, faced a daunting second-round challenge from Sacred Heart Academy. The Hamden squad built a six-point lead on the strength of its three-point acuity late in the second quarter and the Warriors were in desperate need of a lift.

Hall was toward the end of a 15-point run to close out the half when emotional leader Sara Binkhorst made a play that will forever serve as a signature of the team’s success.

The senior guard motored over the time line and into the forecourt when a Sacred Heart defender knocked her to the floor along the right sideline. She hit the floor with a thud, her elbow absorbing the brunt of the fall.

She grimaced in a way that indicated she may have been hurt seriously. My heart quavered with that sinking feeling. How much I hate to see a young athlete’s heart ripped from its moorings by injury.

Teammate Moira Honyotski helped her up and asked if she was okay. She nodded that she was. I wasn’t convinced, and the tear rolling down my cheek was ample evidence of that.

Binkhorst turned to the official and asked if the Warriors were in the one-and-one bonus. When she was told no foul was called, her mouth formed a perfect circle and her eyes widened three times their normal size. She was stunned and so was I. We were both incredulous but the game must go on.

With only seconds remaining, Binkhorst received the inbounds pass, made a couple dribbles and uncorked a 20-foot shot that swished through the net. She pumped her fist in the air and circled toward the Hall locker room with her teammates.

The fact that a bewildered Sacred Heart team never recovered was of no surprise. I had witnessed one of sports’ beautiful moments, one that Binkhorst will remember at high school reunions for many years to come. I hope that the words I used to describe the moment last week and this retrospective glimpse back will help her remember.

Yet as poignant as Sara’s Surprise was, an even more emotional circumstance was awaiting me at the Newington Arena three days later.

On that very day Sara was enjoying one of life’s uplifting moments, Northwest Catholic’s hockey-playing brothers Jeff and Matt Greenwood were trying to cope with life’s ultimate anguish. Their father David lost his battle with cancer.

The Greenwoods had the weekend to sort through their feelings, but hockey was such a huge part of their lives that there was little doubt as to what they would do.

“From what I gather, hockey was real important to David,” said Margaret Williamson, principal and chief administrator at Northwest Catholic. “The older son Jonathan (now 28) also played for our program. Hockey was something they all did and associated it with family.

“We weren’t surprised the boys wanted to play and Mom made it clear to [coach Don Melanson] over the weekend that it was going to happen.”

As the game between the Indians and Rockville-Manchester-Stafford began to unfurl, the teams were just getting warmed up when a Northwest wing honed in on goal, fired a shot and thrust his stick high in the air.

It was No. 2, sophomore Jeff Greenwood, celebrating a goal that surely had David gushing in heaven’s front row.

The Northwest student body was there in mass support.

“Once the rest of the students [knew the Greenwoods would play], they wanted to make a good showing for the team,” Williamson said. “The energy got transmitted to the players who wanted to win it for their teammates. It spread to the parents, who made ribbons and patches for the players’ jerseys.”

The yellow ribbons and patches had the boys’ numbers – 2 and 35 – along with David’s initials.

The game went back and forth. With just over three minutes left, the Rockville co-op had a 5-3 lead, but over a purely magical sequence of just 27 seconds, Northwest struck for two goals. The Indians won it 34 seconds into overtime to earn a spot against the tournament’s top seed, Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury.

“It doesn’t really matter what happened in the grand scheme of things but they persevered and made a miraculous comeback,” Williamson said. “Maybe there was an angel watching over but it was very special and it helped the boys.”

At one time in my life, I probably would have written off such an ethereal thought, but not after observing Melanson’s Marvels. Top-seeded Brookfield (et al) was absorbed into the local version of “Miracle on Ice,” too, with Northwest’s 5-2 win on Thursday night March 10.

I wonder if Al Michaels is available to broadcast the next game against Watertown.

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