The CIAC state basketball championships at Mohegan Sun is always one of the most exciting weekends of the year for Connecticut high school sports and this past weekend was no different.
I got to the arena around 9:30 a.m. and for some reason I was surprised at the amount of people sitting in front of slot machines that early. As I was told later by Jimmy Zanor and Tom Yantz, there is no time in the casino.
I received my press credentials and found a seat court-side for the start of the day.
First up was the girls Class L finals, Capital Prep vs. Weaver. I had been following Weaver for a little while this year which made it more fun to watch this game with coaches and players I had gotten to know.
In the first half it had looked like the Beavers were going to knock off the No. 1 team in the state, but they had been at the top for a reason. They shook off the rust and ran away with the title.
The second game was the one I got to cover.
Honestly, this was the game I was most excited to cover, two CCC teams, including the No. 12 Weaver Beavers who had faltered early, but since Reggie Hatchett took over as coach midway through the season, lost just two games, including winning the CCC tournament and making other teams in Class M look silly on their way to the finals.
Well, they were the ones looking silly in the second half of the championship game. Weaver played like a 12 seed (which means nothing), but didn’t really have it together. They fell behind and didn’t know how to come back, losing their second straight finals game.
I made my way backstage to find the coaches and get some quotes before settled down in the media room to write. This was the real deal, real journalists from all over the state churning out stories and photos. I caught the end of the Thomaston/St. Paul girls Class S game on television. That looked like a great one.
Once I was done with my story and eating lunch with two people I look up to in the business (Yantz and Zanor) I made my way back to the court to watch some more basketball…and tweet until my fingers hurt.
The common theme of the day was the “underdog” getting an early lead and then the “favorite” coming back in the second half to win the title. That happened again with the girls Class LL game between Lauralton Hall and South Windsor. I saw the Bobcats played a few times this year, actually they played in the first game I covered for GameTimeCT this season. They are good, but the Lauralton Hall/Mercy rivalry I had heard about since last year’s championship game must have really prepared them for this game, coming back to take the LL crown.
The nightcap was the game of the ages.
I stayed, because I had heard so much about this undefeated Fairfield Prep team and their huge center, Providence bound Paschal Chukwu. I hadn’t looked around, but at one point before the game started I sat back and gazed through the arena. Wow! The place was packed.
The game tipped off and already had the feel of a heavyweight bout. Those kids were moving so fast and playing like their life depended on it. Threes were raining and Chukwu was defending the basket, scoring and dunking like no one else was in the gym. This was the game to see.
Late in the second quarter I turned to my new “friend”/co-worker Pete Paguaga of the Register Citizen and told him, “I just realized that I hadn’t looked at the scoreboard all game.”
Prep was up by double-digits, but I thought it was a one-possession game. It was that exciting and that fast-paced.
Once my computer connected to the WiFi again, I started tweeting again, just like everyone on press row, this was a good one…you had to be there.
You know the details now, Bridgeport Central came back from being down 19 to beat the “best team in the state” for the Class LL title. What happened immediately after the buzzer sounded was a different story and I had a first-hand look of the situation.
I’m lucky I wasn’t injured like a Central cheerleader was.
After the arena cleared out, a few people were hanging out behind the basket where this took place. EMT’s and a stretcher were brought in to tend to a cheerleader who had an apparent concussion and was not responding normally. This is what no one is talking about. Yes, the Hilltoppers may have pulled off the biggest upset in Connecticut basketball history and have every right to celebrate, but there’s a cost. There’s a reason why Mohegan Sun and the CIAC made it clear the no one would be allowed on the court to celebrate, injuries can occur. This time the players went into the crowd, trampled people, broke equipment and injured a classmate.
When did this become a respectable way to celebrate? Enjoy the time with you teammates, accept your trophy and medals like adults and then have a celebration, parade or whatever you want when you get home. Don’t jump into the crowd with no regard for the people who are there and come away injuring people. Multiple bodies were laying on the ground for an extended period of time while players jumped into the arms of classmates, taking their shirts off and celebrating. It got out of control and the security didn’t know how to handle it so they let it go.
When the mob cleared, I retrieved my backpack with broken headphones inside. A Mohegan Sun security person told me I should bill it to the school, which I wish I could, but when the Central administrator talked to me, he said it was a liability I agreed to working there and they weren’t going to do anything about it. Fine, I will get my headphones replaced either way, but when your school brings its own security, because you expect something to happen and it does and it can’t be controlled, something is wrong.
Thank god it’s baseball and spring sports season.