Tuesday, December 20, 2011


HAMDEN – Steve Coxon has been synonymous with soccer in central Connecticut for the better part of two decades.

The native of Newcastle, United Kingdom, first earned acclaim as a player for Central Connecticut State University. He went on to play for the former New Britain-based A-League side, the Connecticut Wolves, turned in an ultra-successful stint as girls coach at Farmington High School and was an assistant coach at Quinnipiac University.

All the while, Coxon was formulating strategy to grab the lead in the field of youth soccer instruction and development, which he has done as one of the founders of the Connecticut Football Club (CFC).

Coxon’s latest endeavor is CFC AZUL, the newest addition to the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League for 2012 and the sole franchise in Connecticut. In addition to being co-owner, Coxon will serve as president. Since the announcement was made Dec. 12, he is diligently working on providing a solid foundation for the club.

“I played in the A-League (now USL PRO, USL’s professional division) for more than six years with the Connecticut Wolves and I learned a great deal about how to run a USL team,” Coxon said.

“Many of my former teammates are still involved in the game and we are going to lean on them and many others in the Connecticut soccer scene to help make this into a top-notch franchise.”

The team has yet to decide on a home venue or coaching staff.

The AZUL will become the pinnacle team in the CFC family, which harbors more than 70 youth teams. Incorporating a PDL team, Coxon said, will enable the CFC’s top players an opportunity to return to the organization during and after competing in college.

The AZUL will play a 16-game schedule between May and August in the PDL, the top supplier of talent for professional soccer in North America.

In 2011, 37 of the 54 players selected in Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft graduated from the PDL. Eight of the first 10 selections in the draft had PDL experience, including 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong of Sporting Kansas City, who previously played for Reading United AC.

The team is co-owned by Costas Flessas.

“I believe sometimes things are just meant to happen,” Coxon said.

“Out of the blue I received a phone call from Costas asking me if I was interested in discussing some soccer expansion plans. The next day I received an email form the USL asking us if we were interested in putting a PDL team together. Six months later a new PDL franchise was born and we can't be more excited.”

CFC AZUL will hold open tryouts.

Coxon guided the Farmington High girls to a 116-10-7 record from 1999-2005. The Indians shared a 2003 Class L title with Guilford and defeated Wilton outright to gain the 2005 crown. Farmington advanced to the final four times in Coxon’s seven years.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The high school football season ended abruptly for me when Northwest Catholic fell to Cromwell in the Class S semifinals Saturday.

Hall and Conard each earned home-field advantage in the Class LL tournament, but were beaten by teams from the Southwest Conference and FCIAC respectively.

While Northwest was losing in Cheshire, this year’s flag-bearer for the CCC and greater Hartford area – Windsor – was losing to New Canaan in Class L after a last-second field goal. With that fateful kick, the CCC was precluded from any of the four championship games slated for this weekend at Rentschler Field.

I would be remiss if I didn’t relate just where the CCC rests in the football pecking order.

When the lights go out at Rentschler on Saturday night, the CIAC will have awarded 38 championship plaques since 2005. Two have gone to CCC teams. Berlin defeated Bethel for the Class M title in 2009 and Glastonbury won the ‘LL’ crown in 2008.

Since I administer the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance High School Football Poll, I am keenly aware that the 32-member CCC not only falls short of the Southern Connecticut Conference (New Haven area) and the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference but also the Southwest Conference. Certainly the Naugatuck Valley League (Waterbury) and the Eastern Connecticut Conference (New London-Norwich) can also claim superiority.

So how important is it that Hall, Conard, Northwest Catholic, Glastonbury, Windsor, Berlin and Rocky Hill all made the playoffs but couldn’t get out of the semifinals? If I was sanctimonious enough to place my own desires above the overall picture, shame on me. Some day I would like to get the chance to cover a title game at Rentschler, but how do my needs stack up against what high school football is really all about?

They don’t amount to a hill of beans.

There is nothing I would like better than to see the local kids standing on top of that hill after the final game. I have experienced the joy that comes from being the best of the best many times on the scholastic scene after 20 years on the beat. But the scholastic sports culture must refrain from placing the standards of the professional and major college ranks on our neighbors’ kids.

High school football, like all team sports played by teenagers on down, provides lessons in how unity, synergy and mutual respect can build something far more satisfying than the accomplishments of any one person. What can be more important for our children to recognize that working together with peers toward a common goal is one of the most significant lessons that high school can teach.

So to the boys of Hall, Conard and Northwest Catholic, the boys at Farmington, which went 9-1 but did not qualify for the playoffs, I raise my glass of well water and say congratulations and thank you.

Congratulations for outstanding achievement on the field of play under the guidance of some of the finest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to have known.

Thank you, because you all go out there for 10 or 11 weeks after spending months in training and you give it your all for your schools and towns, and you give me the pleasure of being able to occupy my time with your noble exploits.

I can watch you play and not miss the game at higher levels, where the human specter of greed hovers over the proceedings like the grim reaper.

I don’t concern myself with the greed-driven machinations of the Big East Conference, which is about to have members on the West Coast. Or Major League Baseball, where men in their 30s demand 10-year contracts at $20 million a year knowing that their self-indulgence will preclude more and more fans from ever being financially capable of attending a game.

Oh, the NBA hasn’t been playing games due to the lockout? Thanks to our hard-working local athletes, I truly didn’t notice. Even if I wasn’t covering games, I can think of no better way to support the community and all things that are good by pulling up a portion of grandstand and cheering on the kids.

Kids, don’t fret that you didn’t win a championship. I’d love to see it happen for you but be proud of what you accomplished, even if you stuck with it on a winless team. You will be a better person for it in the long run, and if our youngsters become better people, life in the USA can only improve.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


NEW BRITAIN – The CIAC and school administrators expect high school coaches to keep any uncomplimentary thoughts about how games are officiated away from where the public can consume it.

But there are times in the scholastic realm when the quality of officiating simply falls short. Officials are entitled to the same consideration everyone should receive in regard to human error. We all make them. The folks in stripes ought to be commended for performing tasks that many find distasteful, and most of the time their work is impeccable. Where would our sports be without our officials?

Yet sometimes honesty should prevail.

Those who either did not attend the New Britain-Berlin football game or were too far from the action to formulate an opinion deserve to know what went down.

To start with, the New Britain High football team has absorbed its share of detrimental calls from officials over the years.

I was on the sidelines for virtually every game Jack Cochran coached at New Britain. He was winning games by lopsided scores and rode the officials relentlessly when calls went against him.

It seemed whenever a New Britain player made a long punt or kickoff return, yellow flags would litter the field. The 50-point rule was not in effect then so perhaps officials took it upon themselves to manage the score. The fumes continued through the realm of Cochran’s successor Paul Morrell, who told me several times that he was putting together a film for evaluation.

There’s no way I can confirm that the refs took it upon themselves to manage the score, of course, and I understand why they might consider such action, but the New Britain kids who were achieving were bearing the brunt of the perceived indiscretion. Adults behaving badly? Some saw it that way, and I must admit I did on occasion.

With that as a backdrop, I commend current New Britain coach Tebucky Jones for being candid and honest after the Hurricanes’ 14-7 loss to Berlin on Thanksgiving Eve. He was frank about the calls that hindered his team and the fracas that led officials to clear the field with 1:46 still remaining.

“[The officiating] was horrible,” Jones said. “They always tell us not to get involved with the officiating but you know what? I’m saying it. It was horrible. … You shouldn’t talk about officiating but I’m gonna talk about it. It was bad. They can say what they want to say.”

QUESTIONABLE CALLS: On the fifth play of the game, senior defensive end Jared Boddie was ejected for allegedly throwing a punch. I did not see it, but I saw Boddie’s tears. Was it really so blatant that he couldn’t be warned first? Nobody I talked to actually saw it so I’m not certain about the severity of Boddie’s action.

On the very next play, Berlin’s junior running back Kevin Main threw a haymaker that many did see. It didn’t connect, and it drew an identical 15-yard penalty, but Main was not ejected.

The New Britain sideline led by athletic director Len Corto was incredulous. The game was only three minutes old and the officials had lost control.

“They threw one of our kids out, one of our top players and our best defensive players. They said he threw a punch,” Jones said. “Then their kid – one of their top players – threw a punch, which the whole stadium saw, and he finishes the game. It’s all on film.”

Late in the first quarter, Berlin’s superb wide receiver Tom Undercuffler was covered well on an out pattern. Like many receivers are wont to do when coverage is tight, he created separation with a little shove, most likely without even realizing it. Quarterback Mitch Williams delivered a strike. With the defender down, Undercuffler turned it into a 61-yard catch and run that became a touchdown two plays later.

Late in the third quarter, a punt by Berlin’s Tyler Bouchard struck one of his blockers in the back to give New Britain beneficial field position. NB back Devante Gardner gained 23 yards to give the ’Canes first-and-goal at the start of the fourth quarter.

On second down, Malique Jones broke the plane of the goal line on a quarterback sneak. The ball was spotted three inches short. The Berlin defense stiffened and prevented what would have been the game-tying touchdown.

“We scored on the quarterback sneak and they didn’t call it a touchdown,” Tebucky said. “Push off? You name it, it happened in this game.”

With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Berlin was faced with a third-and-2 at the New Britain 30. A first down would all but end it. Undercuffler ran the ball and rolled when he hit the ground. The play happened right in front of me.

Did Undercuffler make the first down? I would say he did, but the ball was spotted after he rolled, giving the appearance that he made it by two yards or so. New Britain requested a measurement but the chains already had been moved. According to Tebucky, the chief official said the pin hole was still evident, although I would guess there may have been a few pinholes in the mud by that juncture.

“They blew it dead and they were supposed to come out and measure it,” Tebucky said. “He said, they moved the chains already but they said the pin was set in the right place. But it wasn’t. They moved the pin. I said, ‘Well you can’t give them a first down.’ They ended up giving the first down. There were a couple spots like that.”

THE FRACAS: Shortly thereafter, a shoving match between two players evolved into Scene 2 of adults behaving badly.

Coaches came out on the field as the pushing and shoving escalated and proceeded to toss kerosene on the campfire. A video on the Berlin Patch website shows indisputably that Berlin coach John Capodice was rather animated and could be seen gesturing toward Tebucky Jones.

“I just saw two players arguing and it got a little wild,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘Everybody calm down,’ and [Capodice] got smart. He was running like he wanted to fight me. I don’t think he’d want that. He shouldn’t act like that in front of kids. … Instead of trying to break up the kids, he’s running his mouth.”

Berlin was in a kneel-down stage so continuing the game wouldn’t have served any purpose. But the officiating and the fiasco damaged the integrity of a great local sporting event that needs to continue for a long, long time.

Capodice was never a proponent of the so-called Wishbone Bowl due to the size discrepancy between the two schools, but Berlin has won two of the first three encounters. It looms as a great rivalry, if the Berlin people allow it to continue.

“It’s a good thing,” Jones said. “It’s good for the schools but you know what, [Capodice doesn’t] want it. That’s what I think part of it is. [Football] is a tradition in Berlin and New Britain. The town is right there. It should be played every year. It should have been played when I was in high school.”

THE INTERVIEW: After the field was cleared, Tebucky responded to a request from John Pierson of WTNH-TV for an interview.

Pierson asked the tough questions and Jones answered candidly. The interview was still in progress when an adult from the Berlin team pushing a carriage with equipment interrupted the proceedings.

“Tebucky, Tebucky. Why don’t you go after my kid again? You went after my kid,” he shouted, loud enough so Pierson had to alter his interview.

Jones looked at me with a perplexed look on his face.

“What’s he talking about?” Jones said.

And with that the curtain came down on a hard-fought game that Berlin deserved to win. Maybe next year we’ll get a game that’s better officiated and perhaps the adults can set a better example for the fine lads who play the game.