UNCASVILLE >> Some thoughts on the weekend’s state high school basketball championship games…
Bridgeport Central’s stunning 76-73 comeback win over previously undefeated Fairfield Prep Saturday to win the boys LL crown was one of the great comebacks in state high school tournament history. The comeback — or the Prep collapse, depending on your point of view — cost Prep an undefeated season, a No. 1 ranking, and a state championship.
But Prep lost more than a game. Because of the actions of its students in the cheering section, and the alleged actions of its players after the game, it also suffered great harm to its reputation.
That’s not said lightly. Since kids are kids, there is a level of toleration given them that adults don’t get. But much of what happened Saturday night has no defense.
It started early. The huge Prep student section began its night by interrupting the National Anthem long before it was over with thunderous cheers. OK. Youthful exuberance.
The hundreds of kids then proceeded to boo the introduction of Central players. Not one of the other 15 student sections did that. No adult for Prep was visible to shush them. Classless.
Then, at a crucial point of the game, one of their kids may have cost Prep the title.
Prep may have lost anyway. It had blown a 19-point lead and was in the fight of its life when the following happened. With 39 seconds to go and the 7,000 plus fans in an uproar, Prep’s terrific guard Keith Pettway drove the lane and scored to give his team a one-point lead. On top of that, he was fouled.
But in the celebration of the basket, water was thrown on the court from the area of the Prep student section. The game had to be halted for several minutes while the court was mopped. Did I see a Prep kid throw it? No. But there was nobody else in the area but white-shirted Prep kids. The guys on press row, including the guy next to me from Fairfield, were sure it was the Prep kids.
During that time, Pettway cooled his heels. That worked for Central, which got a timeout to ice Pettway without having to call one.
When the kid finally took the free throw, he missed. He might have missed anyway, but the delay didn’t help. How big was the miss? Enormous. Had he hit it, Prep would have had a two-point lead and when Central scored it would have produced a tie and Prep could have set things up for a last shot to win it.
But he missed, Central raced down court and scored to take the lead. Down by a point, Prep hurried and threw the ball away. Pascal Chukwu, the 7-2 center, fouled to stop the clock. Central made both freebies with 10 seconds left and held on to win the dramatic game.
Then it got nasty.
The players from the all boys, Jesuit-run, Roman Catholic college preparatory school from Fairfield walked off the court and had to be called back for the postgame ceremony. They straggled back, got their medals and walked off the court again, so there was no one except coach Leo Redgate to accept the runner-up trophy, even though CIAC protocol is for assistants and captains to accept said trophy. Where were the kids? Multiple reliable sources say they were busy trashing the locker room.
Sources say that tables of food provided to Prep by the Mohegan Sun were dumped on the floor. Damage was done.
Immediate question: Where were the adults who are paid to coach and supervise these kids?
According to one take-it-to-the-bank source, a high-ranking Mohegan Sun security official was incensed not only at what was done, but by the attitude of the Prep kids and fans. Reportedly, he called them the most arrogant he had ever run across.
The CIAC, which does a great job at this event, was understandably mortified. They apologized to their hosts, the Mohegan Sun, I am told. The Sun, if it so chooses, could throw the tourney out of the arena in a heartbeat.
Again, multiple sources say the CIAC assured the Sun that Prep will be billed and will pay for the damage done.
Central will also receive a bill, the source said, but the damage done by their kids was much more benign.
In their joy at winning, the Central kids jumped into the arms of their joyous fans in the end zone, breaking chairs in the process. That they jumped over press tables, causing some dislocation is not acceptable. But the damage done here was clearly not malicious, rather the by-product of happy kids not thinking.
The same cannot be said of the Prep players. Fact is, they embarrassed their school. I least I hope the school is embarrassed.
I said this to CIAC Associate Executive Director Paul Hoey Sunday: “I’m told that the Prep players behaved badly last night.”
“Oh God, yes” he said in response. “They [Fairfield Prep] need to learn to lose gracefully.”
Stephanie Ford, the Director of Marketing for CAS-CIAC, said she knew what happened. “I heard all about it,” she said Sunday afternoon.
I don’t get it. If I had been part of a team that blew a 19-point lead, had no answers for a withering Central press, and allowed one of the greatest comebacks in state championship history, I might have gone into hiding. I would be devastated. But I would not have been destructive. I would still be grateful for the opportunity the CIAC had given me to play in such a magnificent arena in front of so many people.
So we’re left to wonder why. Maybe losing to an inner-city team was part of it. Sometimes kids who attend choice schools get caught up in the silly notion that their school is by definition better in all kinds of ways than their public school counterparts. A goofy notion in state when first-rate public high schools are all over the place. I dunno, maybe it was a combination of all of that, plus losing the way they did.
But in the end, it makes no difference why. Their actions of the student fans were disgraceful, and the alleged actions of the players even more so.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Prep got beat by a better, smarter, very well-coached basketball team.
The Prep kids need to understand that whenever they take the court, there’s always the possibility of a loss. It’s a rule. It’s the job of coaches to prepare their young charges for that. And to supervise them at all times.
Fairfield Prep has to begin to repair the damage done to its reputation. The first move would be an apology. A public one. That would be the Christian thing to do. Then there are some adults it seems to me who need to be held accountable.
ON THE REBOUND
The best clutch performance ever came from Thomaston’s Abigail Hurlbert. With two-tenths of a second remaining in the first overtime and her team trailing 52-49, she was fouled attempting a desperation three-pointer, an unwise foul by St. Paul standout Kelly McMahon. She made all three freebies under white-knuckle pressure to force a second OT. Her team won 61-57.
St. Paul coach Joe Mone made a questionable decision to slow things down in regulation with his team ahead 48-43 with 3:15 to play in the girls S final. It appeared his kids forgot about the basket. Thomaston outscored his team 6-1 in those final three minutes to force overtime, including that stretch plus both overtimes, St. Paul was outscored 18-9 as the Falcons snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Weaver had a chance to win both a girls and a boys title and won neither. No. 1 Capital Prep blew out Weaver in the second half of the girls Class L game to finish undefeated, as usual, Prep coach Tammy Millsaps played her starters virtually the entire game despite winning by 16 points. She used one sub for one minute. Her team is No. 1, but she continued to win friends and influence people with her mouth: “Once we settled down and played our game, it was a no-brainer. We were more talented. We were the better team.”
Say something nice about Weaver, which led for the first half? Naw.
In the Class M boys final, an all Central Connecticut Conference matchup, East Catholic ran past CCC champion Weaver 87-60 after losing twice to the Beavers in the regular season. For most of the second half, Weaver coach Reggie Hatchett was a spectator, not calling timesout and doing little to try and stop the Eagles.
…The Lauralton Hall vs. South Windsor girls LL game was won at the free throw line. South Windsor had 21 fields goals to Hall’s 18. But at the foul line, Hall had a 29-8 advantage. Tough to win when the other guys outscore you by 21 points from the line.
…Windsor’s win Sunday night over Career Magnet was terrific, ut Career coach Larry Kelley raised eyebrows. Well, at least mine. At one point he yelled across the court at one of his kids, “look at me when I talk to you, G** D*** it!” That was clearly heard on press row. Later, he grabbed one of his kids from the bench and pushed him towards the scorer’s table. Hey, maybe that’s OK in the Netherworld of magnet schools where there is no elected board of education, but I guarantee if he put his hands on my kid like that, he never would again. Coaches have been fired for that kind of stuff. And clean up your mouth. You’re an adult, these are kids.
Windsor sealed the deal with four late free throws from sub Cody Quinn. He went in to shoot free throws for an allegedly injured player, Aaron McHenry — who had just fired two bricks from the line — and he made two. At the end of the game, Quinn was fouled and made two more … Windsor won by four … the Mighty Quinn, the Register headline called him. McHenry came back in. Miracle cure. Must have been a bottle of Holy Water from Lourdes on the bench. Hey, coach Ken Smith has been around the block a couple times.
…Valley Regional’s boys gave Sacred Heart everything it could handle before running out of gas. Sacred Heart has no business playing in Class S. The Hearts play L and LL teams all year, then play S schools come the tourney. The lack of geographic limits is an enormous, and unfair, advantage, but kudos to Valley for a tremendous performance.
…The best cheer was from the St, Paul’s cheering section … when they saw the brown and yellow uniforms of Thomaston, they chanted, “U-P-S, U-P-S”
The Central Connecticut Conference had a great postseason. The CCC had five teams out of the 16 in the final games and won two state titles, Windsor in Class L boys and East Catholic in Class M boys. No other league won more than one as seven different conferences won crowns.
Two area conferences that came up empty were the Shoreline, which had two teams in the finals but was 0-2, and the Southern Connecticut Conference, which had only one team out of 16 — Fairfield Prep — and, well, you know what happened there.
…The people of the CIAC work very hard and do what they think is best for kids. But one more basketball criticism: why no females officiating boys title games? A game official said me, “If the coaches approve, and she’s qualified, it will happen.”
Uhhh, since women hardly ever do a boys regular season game, exactly how is a coach supposed to see them? Qualified? They do girls title games, so they are, by definition, qualified. In lots of ways, women are still second class citizens.
The CIAC has to demand it. After that, it will be no big deal. C’mon it’s 2014, not 1914. Some 20,000 plus paid their way into the three sessions of the tournament at The Sun, anyone doubt this is a basketball-first state?