Editor’s note: Tim Kiernan, a senior at Fairfield Prep, submitted the following response to a column written by Jim Bransfield.
This past Saturday was an athletic whirlwind for the fans of Fairfield Prep as both the hockey and basketball teams competed in their respective state championship title games. The day was off to an auspicious start as the hockey team battled back from a 1-0 deficit to defeat the Darien Blue Wave 2-1 on an overtime goal from junior defenseman Vinny D’Amore. In a game with several lurching twists and turns, the Jesuits emerged victorious, hoisting the state championship plaque over their heads for the second straight year. However, the day did not end so well for the Prep basketball team.
After getting off to a fast start and establishing its dominance against Bridgeport’s Central High School early, the Jesuits were able to go into halftime with a 19-point lead. But it was after the break that the wheels began to fall off for Prep. Upon the start of the second half, Central began its relentless comeback from down nearly 20 points. The Hilltoppers’ stifling press rattled the Prep offense, forcing countless turnovers and fueling a comeback victory like none seen so far this year.
Fairfield Prep, a team that posted an undefeated record for the season and a number one rank in the state, blew a 20-point lead in the second half to be defeated by Central High School, a team from a reportedly weaker FCIAC conference. This high-octane, underdog victory should have offered enough fuel for any sports writer to craft a decent story; however for a few writers across the state, the game was not enough to satisfy their journalistic appetites.
Instead of offering accurate coverage of this comeback, David-and-Goliath thriller, a writer published a piece on the lack of sportsmanship throughout the Prep student section and team alike, blowing a couple of harmless mistakes and innocent indiscretions out of proportion and ignoring a few glaringly classless offenses on the opposing end as well.
For instance, a sports correspondent for the Middletown Press, wrote of the Fairfield Prep student section known as the “Bomb Squad” in his article just this Monday. With just 39 seconds left in the game, Prep’s point guard Keith Pettway drove to the basket hard and nailed a crucial layup to give his team a one-point lead, and was fouled in the process. In the excitement, a Prep hockey player— who was icing his hand in the front row of the student section— threw his hands in the air to celebrate. The bag of ice exploded and water incidentally splattered onto the court. The game was delayed for a short while to clean up the ice, and the event staff addressed the issue with the student section. The situation was explained, the staff understood, Keith’s free throws were taken, and the incident was forgotten—by most at least.
The correspondent wrote in his article this Monday: “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.”
Yes, there was water on the court. Yes, the accident happened at a crucial point in the game. But it was an accident. No student in their right mind would intentionally ice their own player. It’s senseless! Not only was this situation blown out of proportion, the writer didn’t even feign any serious investigation of the incident, citing sources such as “the guy next to me from Fairfield” and even admitting to not having seen the splatter himself.
The writer went on to bash the players of the Prep team for leaving the court before receiving their medals, writing “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.”
The writer, however, failed to mention the fact that the distraught, freshly-defeated kids from Prep waited for several minutes to shake the hands of their opponents before actually leaving the court. After the final buzzer, the Central players fled the court, stripped their jerseys off, and surfed their student section without acknowledging the Jesuit players they had just defeated. The Jesuit team should never have left the court. It was a display of poor sportsmanship to do so. Of course. However, it was equally offensive to leave the court and partake in a bare-chested celebration in your student section before showing respect to your opponent.
The writer then goes on to vilify the Prep team for causing damage to their locker room after the closing ceremony. “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.” The writer is intentionally vague as to what damage was done; however, after my own investigation, it has been concluded that the food dumped on the floor was one plate of cookies. The flipped plate did not even break; however, there are no excuses for any sort of destruction of property. Even if the said destruction was a flipped plate of cookies, destroying property is an unjustifiable offense—or at least it is unjustifiable if Prep is the perpetrator.
After bashing the Prep team for flipping a plate of cookies in their locker room, the writer goes on to rationalize the destruction of property from Central players and fans: “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.”
Of course the Central players shouldn’t be attacked for their mistakes. It is entirely understandable to celebrate with your friends, families, and fans after such an incredible victory. If a few chairs and tables are banged up in the process, it is no big deal; however, it is also entirely understandable that the Prep players had lost their appetite for cookies along with the game. Flipping the plate of cookies is also a benign offense, a casualty of defeat. Many Major League water coolers have received the same treatment over the years. The Prep players shouldn’t be accused of “trashing the locker room” and disgracing their school just as the Central players weren’t accused of smashing up the arena.
The writer said, “actions of the [Prep] student fans were disgraceful”, citing the ice bag explosion and the booing of the opposing team as their two major transgressions. However, he did not mention the actions of the Central student section, a topic that was probably worth discussion. Sean Patrick Bowley, sports writer for GameTime CT, the site that this anti-prep article was found, tweeted, “Central’s celebration became a mosh pit. One of our reporters was bowled over and a Central cheerleader was carried off on a stretcher.” This violent outburst might be seen as disgraceful as well, but the writer did not choose to include it in his article. The writer also chose to omit the fact that the Central players swaggered over to the distraught Prep student section to taunt them after their defeat. An offense many high school athletes are guilty of. It’s not the end of the world; however, neither of these incidents are consistent with the picture of innocent celebration the writer previously described.
By no means do I excuse the Prep players for walking off the court before shaking the hands of their opponents and receiving their medals. As painful as it may have been for them to watch Central celebrate in their student section, they should have waited and lost with more grace. But the same goes for the fashion in which Central won. Prep should not have flipped the plate of cookies in their locker room, but Central should not have broken the chairs and tables in their end zone either. The closing ceremony was just as hectic as the game itself, and it got out of hand for both sides. However, this particular writer chose to only attack the Prep community when there was in fact much blame to go around. Neither team should have been chastised. At the end of the day, they are all just kids, and they made mistakes.
This writer chose to present one side of a very dynamic and exciting story. Whether it was because of his personal biases, I do not know. When journalism becomes personal, it becomes gossip, and gossip is not newsworthy. It was surprising to see a grown man accuse a team of kids of disgracing their school and town over a simple basketball game. When it was all said and done, Central mounted an incredible comeback and defeated a very talented undefeated Prep team. That story should have been enough for any sports writer. It’s a shame some men had to make it out to be more than that.