Friday, March 4, 2011

Whether it’s Hall-Conard or Conard-Hall, what a week!

If you’ll allow this newcomer some flexibility in his first few months of covering your town, I suppose I can call it Hall-Conard Week.

Why is Hall listed first? Conard comes first in the alphabet but Hall is the original West Hartford high school. Conard proved its superiority in a football season where both made the playoffs. Hall has won out in basketball with sweeps on both the boys and girls side. Blue is prettier than red.

I’m sure proponents of either school can come up with reasons why it should be first and foremost, but the late February edition of Conard-Hall Week was of consequence to me.

The pageantry and mutual respect afforded by both sides at the boys basketball game Feb. 22 was different than any high school sports rivalry phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed.

The game was at Hall so blue predominated. Everything else was even-stephen. Even Stephen Blanchfield, the public address announcer who coaches sports at both schools, balances things pretty well. Bill Watson, the peerless “Voice of Conard,” does the same.

Okay, so he accentuated the Hall players when they made hoops but that’s understandable. He made sure to balance out the halftime entertainment, which featured a routine from the Hall jazz dancers and one by the Conard cheerleaders. He also afforded equal honors to the seniors from both schools playing in their final Hall-Conard tilt.

The reason all this is so unique to me is because the crosstown rivalry is something I didn’t witness growing up in Hamden. Our rival was Notre Dame-West Haven and the dastardly Green Knights whipped my Green Dragons so soundly and so often in football that I had indigestion before the Thanksgiving meal was even served.

Prior to taking on this position with the West Hartford Press, I served the great City of New Britain for 14 years.

By the time I arrived, tales of New Britain-Pulaski had faded into the domain of men my age reminiscing at football tailgate parties and the VFW Hall. There was no arch-rivalry during my days in the Hardware City. The Berlin-New Britain football game is only two years old and the rest of the teams are in different CCC divisions.

I did cover the Bristol Eastern-Bristol Central rivalry from 1991 through 1994 but the only place it really played out in a discernible way was at the wrestling match. I’ll always remember Bristol as a wrestling town. Their Thanksgiving football game – the Battle for the Bell – never took on the aura of the Hall-Conard matchup.

To comprehend fully the nature of the Conard-Hall rivalry, I went to the annals of local history to dig up a few thoughts.

The Conard-Hall Millennium Football Game (played on Nov. 18, 2000), appropriately billed as “A Celebration of a Proud Rivalry of Friends and Neighbors,” had some juicy philosophical tidbits.

The introduction compared the game to Yale-Harvard.

“For those of us in West Hartford, reference to The Game has a meaning closer to home: the Conard-Hall high school football game wagered (sic) each November,” the anonymous introductory statement read. “We think of The Game in very intimate terms. After all, these are our friends, neighbors and relatives who come face to face each fall. … Bragging rights are a secondary byproduct of the opportunity to see old friends, exchange old memories and introduce another group of young people to this annual ritual of friendly competition.”

Perhaps nobody is more interested, yet walks the line of Hall-Conard neutrality, better than West Hartford athletic director Betty Remigino-Knapp.

“It’s like having two children and I love them both,” said Remigino-Knapp, who graduated from Hall, but coached cross country and track at Conard. “I hope it’s always good competition, that it’s not lopsided and they show sportsmanship.”

She offers the perfect analogy. Just like two children, they scrap, but when one of them goes out to face the outside world, they remember that they’re family. Blood, whether its Conard red or Hall blue, runs thicker than water.

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