Manchester Community College is cutting their athletic programs.
One night during the fall of my third semester at Manchester Community College I was sick of going to class and coming home without meeting anyone new; I knew I had to do something. I sent an email to Cynthia Washburn, the director of athletics at the school asking if there was anything I could do to help out. She directed me to Paul Ofria, the Sports Information Director and the rest is history.
I started out slow in the athletics office, first I was just a ball boy during men’s and women’s soccer games. I would have an extra ball and had to throw it in play when the game ball left the field to keep the game going. Sounds pretty simple, but you have to pay attention and be quick to not disrupt the game flow. Yeah, still pretty easy. By the end of the season and the next year, I held down the end of the field not near the baseball field (I still don’t know which direction it was).
That first soccer season I was at every home game, both men and women and did not see a single MCC Cougars loss. I have never been a soccer fan, but that season and those teams got me so emotionally invested, I was as nervous as the players when the district finals hosted by MCC came down to penalty kicks. Kevin Battista buried the winning goal to give the Cougars the victory and a trip to Texas for the national championships.
The women’s team did not make it as far, but I believe still made the regional finals as one of the best women’s soccer teams the program had ever seen.
One of the key players to that team was Julia Connor. She was fun to watch on the field and great to work with in the SID office. She had been working with Paul for at least that whole season, still not sure how much longer than me, but the three of us became quite the team.
Once baseball season began, the favorite sport of the entire sports information department; and we are all Red Sox fans. The season before, the spring of 2008, the baseball team qualified for their first NJCAA Division III World Series in Tyler, Texas. The spring of 2009, Chris Strahowski and the Cougars fielded an even better team, qualifying for their 2nd straight national tournament. A.J. Lowers, a catcher from Newington was a freshman on that team and I believe either led the team in batting average or was top three, but either way, I could tell the kid was a player.
A couple other players on that team that I enjoyed watching were pitcher Steve Simon, who led the nation in ERA his sophomore year, Juan Bisono, a middle infielder and father, just living out a dream, playing college baseball and finishing his education, Vin Sommo, a DH who swung out of his shoes on every pitch, Tyler Wenz, who, um, I don’t really know what he did besides give us the best game program title of my two years, “Wenz-Day,” his last start of his career and Kevin Wodatch, a pitcher/infielder/outfielder/shark look-a-like…I loved those guys, even though I never really became friends with any of them.
Baseball at Manchester Community College is where I refined my score-keeping skills, even if I still forget to record RBI’s. It’s where I realized my love for baseball outside of playing myself or watching the pros. It’s where I wrote my first press release and realized I wanted to be a sports journalist.
Paul Ofria is a journalist by trade, among other things, but working with him for almost two years, I realized I wanted to be a baseball writer. Being a sports information director at a small community college may not be the most glamorous job, but we had fun. Almost everyday when I was not in class I would go to the office to either hang out or do some work. Rosa, the secretary, would great me with her Chilean accent everyday and was always happy to see me.
Whether it was working with Julia “The Boss” Connor or Paul, I wouldn’t have traded those two years for anything. Paul taught me a whole bunch of stuff that I would never had learned in a journalism class. He told me stories that not many people knew about him. I say to this day that the reason I am becoming a sports journalist is because of him.
Even after I transferred to Central Connecticut State University after spending three years at a two-year school, I came back to visit and work and hang out in the athletics office whenever I had free time and Rosa was always there. I have gone back and been a ball boy behind the goal for soccer games, I have gone back and kept score for baseball games and even just stood on the sidelines in the Great Path Academy gym for women’s basketball. MCC athletics will always be a home for me, but not physically any longer.
The athletics program was cut by president Gina Glickman this past week due to budget cuts. The school will save over $300,000 a year and in times where the economy is not great, I can understand why they are doing it, but it’s not right.
A majority of the athletes who have competed for the MCC blue and white were at the school because they didn’t have the grades to attend a four-year school, didn’t know what they wanted to do and used the school as a stepping stone or were international students needing somewhere to start along with a number of other reasons. I was one of those students who had no idea what he wanted to major in and decided to go to a community college to save money while trying to figure it all out. MCC helped me figure it out.
My dad wanted me to go to CCSU right out of high school and I very well could have, but decided not to. He brings it up once in a while and it bothers me, but I would not be where I am today if I didn’t attend MCC. This is what he had to say when I posted the Hartford Courant article on my Facebook page yesterday…
“Tax payers can’t afford to keep giving away money but when the decision makers are in cushy overpaid jobs they are going to protect themselves and use the kids as pawns to try to squeeze more money out. Time for MCC students to transfer to Gateway and put Glickman out of business.”
He is one of the smartest people I know and even though he didn’t want me to attend the school, he knows what it means to me and what it has meant to the student athletes who have attended the school.
The last few months since I got an internship at the Middletown Press, I have wanted to go back to MCC and step into the athletic office once again and just talk and work like old times with Paul Ofria, but that can’t happen. Not only him, but the coaches and athletic trainer are all losing their part-time jobs. I can’t imagine walking into that room now and not seeing Paul getting ready for a game that day.
This is a tough time for everyone who has ever been associated with Manchester Community College athletics. We all wish we could do something about this decision, but at this time I don’t think anything can be done. When the baseball program was cut in 2011, Strahowski tried to fund raise enough to have another season, but fell short. I don’t think there is anyway fund-raising enough for four sports will happen.
I really don’t know what else to say besides I am thankful for MCC athletics for everything the program did for me and I am not even an athlete.