SOUTHINGTON — You've got to be awfully careful when it comes to writing about high school sports. You've got to remember the athletes are kids playing for the love of the game. You've got to remember they are still learning the lessons of life.
Because when it comes to the 2013 Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year Award and the scheduling of the Class L state football championship the kids can learn plenty — like how not to act like some adults.
With their high schools only 4 miles apart, people in Darien and New Canaan wanted to move their state title game Saturday from Arute Field at Central Connecticut, about 60 miles away, to Boyle Stadium in Stamford. In fact, Paul Hoey, CIAC associate executive director, said the schools approached him before the semifinals about the possibility.
"Obviously, folks in Fairfield County and the two schools involved would like to see the game moved," Hoey said Wednesday at the state football luncheon at Aqua Turf. "They felt more people would attend the game and also were concerned about their children driving all the way to Central if they didn't have to."
Much of their argument is based on this: The 2008 Turkey Bowl game on Thanksgiving between the schools also decided the FCIAC title, and when it was moved from New Canaan's Dunning Field to Boyle Stadium it accommodated a crowd that grew to more than 10,000. Yet when the schools played a few weeks later for the Class MM title in Trumbull (only 25 miles away), the crowd was estimated at about 4,000.
Yet here's the thing. The CIAC has contracts for the various sports at pre-announced sites and there are all sorts of logistics, police, concessions, field workers, etc., that go into an event. This is also the first year for the games at Central, after moving from Rentschler Field. There are working relationships at stake. Yet more than any of that: This event belongs to the CIAC and collectively to the entire state. Not two schools. Not two towns.
Moving it would set a lousy precedent. What about the next schools that pushed to change venues in any given sport?
"It definitely would be a precedent-setting move to do it without good cause like a weather-related issue," Hoey said. "We have a little more flexibility with the smaller sports, but with football you move it and maybe the next time you ask them to use the site you might get a no."
I could go into a little Fairfield County rant here, but I won't … OK, I will. Look, if Ledyard and New London played for the Class L title out in the wilds of eastern Connecticut, here's one bet they'd be laughed all the way to Rhode Island. Fairfield County has gravitas. Fairfield County has influence.
Sure, it would be a little snarky to point out that the Beemers can find their way to hard-hittin' New Britain without great human suffering. It's only 60 freaking miles. And it would be even snarkier to suggest the towns play in New York where they probably wish they belonged anyway. But I won't do that, because our state desperately needs the Fairfield County tax base. Maybe others will be so snarky.
"They can say whatever they want," said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, whose team lost to Darien 28-24 this Thanksgiving, yet is favored Saturday. "The casual fan, they're not driving 120 miles round trip. The suggestion was made strictly as a financial decision [with money to be made with a big crowd]. One of the reasons we left the Rent was finances.
"We'll play in Massachusetts, I don't care. I'm just saying they sold 10,000 tickets [in 2008]. You couldn't get a seat. Sometimes when I speak at a clinic, I'll put that game on and people think it's a game in Texas.
Darien coach Rob Trifone agreed.
"To ask two communities that live five minutes apart to travel an hour and 15 minutes in the height of Christmas season, I understand their commitment to Central Connecticut, but especially with the impending storm I think it's only logical to move us," Trifone said. "Logic doesn't always prevail."
The schools, of course, asked long before the lousy weather report. And folks — OK, folks like me — see Fairfield County as coming off haughty and controlling in all this.
"I get it," Trifone said. "Let's put the shoe on the other foot. If it was two teams way up in the eastern part of the state and they wanted to do it, I don't think it's a Fairfield County stigma. It's a hometown thing. If I'm 75 I'm not going to travel to New Britain. Lou and I are obviously going to respect the CIAC, but we felt it was a viable attempt."
Here's great meteorological irony. After turning down the schools' bid, the CIAC still might play the game downstate. With a snowstorm expected Saturday, Hoey said, there's a good chance the 6 p.m. Class LL game between Southington and Fairfield Prep will have to be moved to 2 p.m. Central, Hooey said, has requested to have the LL game.
This means the New Canaan-Darien game scheduled for 2 p.m. could end up in West Haven or Stamford, Hoey said.
"If it's going to be lousy weather, we're looking at the safety of the kids," he said. "We need to do something with that Saturday night game."
Which only goes to show, folks on the Gold Coast can even influence the weather gods.
"I must say the Fairfield County parents were very polite in their emails," Hoey said.
If only some of the adults around Connecticut were as polite when it came to Dario Highsmith of Middletown High.
I admit my head turned when Highsmith and not Arkeel Newsome of Ansonia won the state Gatorade Player of the Year Award. Newsome, who said he's "committed to playing at UConn right now," crushed the all-time state career rushing records, heading toward 11,000 yards. He has run for 3,608 yards and 60 touchdowns this season alone. His team has won 42 games in a row.
Yet it was with dismay I read some of the social media comments directed toward Highsmith after he won the award. Some cutting stuff. Nasty stuff. Mike DiMauro of the New London Day went on a pretty good rant and I agree with him 100 percent. Highsmith deserves so much better. He ran for 2,565 yards and 27 touchdowns while throwing for 895 yards and nine touchdowns, but more than that, as DiMauro pointed out, he's a B student in Advanced Placement courses and is a community service volunteer.
The Gatorade award is based on athletic achievement, academics and exemplary character. Highsmith is a worthy winner. Yet Newsome's not getting the award, when clearly he is the best performer, makes it look as if he isn't worthy. And that's wrong, too.
"Highsmith deserved it," Newsome said, showing the dignity some others lacked. "He's a really good player. I'm not mad about it at all."
"Highsmith is a great player," Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. "Obviously he's a great kid. Let's celebrate what he has accomplished. Arkeel will win plenty of awards. I don't want to see it become a negative spin.
"What Arkeel has done on the field speaks for itself. Off the field, he has been nothing but a class act. Humble. Team first. In this day and age, it's special. He has handled so much success early in life. You don't seem him over-celebrating, taunting."
That's what made what Coginchaug-Durham coach John Bozzi said after losing to Ansonia in the playoffs rather unfortunate. It put Newsome in an awkward position with his own teammates.
"Flat out, we lost to one guy," Bozzi said. "You take away Arkeel Newsome and this is a less than average football team. … [T]hey wouldn't be the best team in our division let alone the state. Arkeel Newsome impressed me, but nothing else impressed me."
Asked if Bozzi's words riled him, Newsome answered. "They made him look bad. We got that win as a team."
Kids. Sometimes they know what to do and say better than adults.