Jim Branfield: Big time football is back at Middletown High School

Big time high school football is back at Middletown High. The Blue Dragons are ranked in the Top 10 in every state poll and the games on Friday nights at Rosek-Skubel Stadium are happenings.

At the beginning of each game, the band, flag corps, dance team and cheerleaders — more than 200 kids — form a corridor from the end zone to midfield. While the band plays the school’s fight song — a song written by an MHS alum Eli Fieldsteel, when he was a high school kid — the team runs through that corridor onto the field.

The band then plays the National Anthem from the field. Its halftime show, which features music from current pop icons Kanye West, Nikki Minaj and the like, and has the band running on to the field and doing dance routines, is a show-stopper.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the 3-0 team is really good and has a genuine star in Dario Highsmith. Among the more than 1,000 fans in the stadium Friday for the 40-0 win over Bristol Eastern, were the kids of the Middletown Tigers youth football program and cheerleaders who were guests.

During the game, the kids chanted, “Dar – ee – o, Dar – ee – o.” Doesn’t hurt, I guess, to have a local hero for local kids to look up to, huh?

How good is MHS? We’ll see as the toughest part of the schedule — Farmington, New London, Simsbury and Windsor — are down the road. This Friday the Dragons play at 0-3 Fermi, then host Hartford Public on the 11th in the school’s annual Homecoming game.

MHS took a step on the road to elite status by making the Class L playoffs last year. Masuk won the game 21-14 after MHS led 14-0 at the half. No question coach Sal Morello expects this season to be better. Big time football at MHS. Been a while.

XAVIER REBOUNDS

This was no surprise. After losing at North Haven last week, the Hamden game loomed as a key game on which the Falcons’ season could turn. Hamden was 2-0 coming in, but the feeling here was that the Green Dragons weren’t quite ready for prime time.

They weren’t.

Xavier won easily, 33-0. Its stars, Joe Carbone and Andrew Meoli, played like stars and Xavier won going away. Now it’s home with old friend Class M champion Hillhouse Friday night. But this isn’t the Hillhouse team of 2012. The Academics lost to a very good Darien team 46-26, then lost a 28-26 toughie to Hand. The Acs got their first win this weekend over Jonathan Law of Milford 41-14.

Xavier must win this one. Waiting in the weeds are Fairfield Prep, Shelton and West Haven. One of the trademarks of Sean Marinan coached teams is that they get better as the season goes on. Bet money that happens this season, too.

CIEBIELSKI THE REAL DEAL

Middletown High’s girls swimming team is having one of those character-building years at 0-5. The latest loss was to Hall on Friday. On Wednesday, city rival Mercy beat Trevor Charles’ team, 91-80. But in Adrianna Ciebielski, MHS has the best female swimmer in school history.

Ciebielski holds the school record in the 500 yard freestyle, the 100 yard breaststroke, the 200 yard individual medley and the 100 yard butterfly. Charles said that Ciebielski is aiming to get to the state open finals in the breaststroke and the 200 yard freestyle, too.

“Right now we’re tinkering with technique and little things,” said Charles. “I give her a lot of credit as she does a lot of training on her own.”

FOOTBALL WEEKEND COMING UP

Everybody but Middletown is home this weekend. On Friday night, besides Xavier, Haddam-Killingworth (0-3) is home with Granby at 5, Valley Regional (2-0 and loaded), is home with Avon at 6:30, and Coginchaug (1-1) is home with The Morgan School.

On Saturday, the headliner is Wesleyan, 2-0 and fresh off a 35-6 win at Hamilton, at home with Colby at 1 at Andrus Field and Cromwell (2-1) is home with Stafford/East Windsor at 1:30.

Lots from which to choose for area fans.

SPRING IS COMING

I took down my Yankee flag and Yankee lights from my deck Sunday night. Those items are put up on opening day and stay up until the last Yankee game is played. Usually they’re up well into October, but there is no October on the Yankee calendar this year.

Next year begins Life Without Rivera. Mo has been saving games for the Yankees since Bill Clinton’s first term. Five presidential elections later, he was still saving games. The good-byes were riveting theater.

I’ve had a Yankee ticket plan since 1995, which spans Mo’s career. My guess is I have seen more than 500 Yankee games over that time. I dunno how many times I’ve seen Rivera come in for the save in person, but I know this: I saw him blow exactly one (1) save in person in my lifetime.

I’ve seen a lot of great things at the Home Office of Baseball in da Bronx, too many to list. But it’s time to move on.So along with a good friend, we’re ready for spring training. The hotel is reserved. So is the rental car.

I think Jim Bouton got it right in his conclusion to his book, Ball Four. Bouton, a pitcher, said he spent his baseball life gripping a baseball. But he said, turns out baseball was gripping him.

Only 135 days until pitchers and catchers report. Can’t wait.

IOC GETS IT WRONG

The International Olympic Committee, which ranks right down there with the NCAA among the worst sports governing bodies in human history, said it is satisfied there will be no problems with Russia’s new discriminatory laws against gay and lesbian persons during the Olympics to be held in the former Soviet Union..

Despite great progress in many places, including the United States, there are still millions of haters out there and there are many countries around the world that persecute gay people. Russia is one of them. Yet the IOC ignored that and pronounced itself “satisfied.”

Imagine how this plays in the minds of gay athletes striving to get to the Olympics, and of gay people everywhere — especially high school kids — who get the message: you are not as good.

The IOC says in its charter that it does not tolerate discrimination. Really?

Still have a long, long way to go.

HERE AND THERE

Mikaela Coady is a scoring machine for the streaking MHS girls soccer team … she has 12 goals in seven games … MHS is 6-1, the latest a 1-0 win over rival Berlin Friday … Mercy’s volleyball team is another club having a good season … the Tigers are 6-1 and home with Sacred Heart tonight.

Xavier’s soccer team is undefeated through seven matches at 4-0-3 .. challenging schedule is coming up for the Falcons as they travel to Fairfield Prep, Guilford (Saturday at 7) and Notre Dame before coming home with Hamden Oct. 9 … the MHS boys soccer team is struggling at 2-4-1, the latest a 2-1 loss to Berlin Thursday … the Dragons miss Dan Kinney, who scored 12 goals last season … but Kinney, understandably, decided to spend the fall working on his diving … the kid is a great high school diver and is state open class.

Mercy’s swim team is 3-1 in a rebuilding year … coach Keith Nichols’ team will be home Friday at 7 with Hand at Wesleyan’s Freeman Center … Cromwell place kicker Mike McNally is very good … kid kicked two field goals of 25 and 30 yards Saturday, plus two extra points, one from 30 yards out, in Saturday’s win over Ellington.

Big furor I hear, over last week’s football poll which had Xavier still ranked ahead of North Haven, even though North Haven won its game with Xavier by two touchdowns … some have said that the individual votes should be public … I’m a voter in the Register poll and I agree … so you know, I voted New Canaan No. 1 this week, Ansonia No. 2 … Middletown No. 5, North Haven No. 10 and Xavier No. 12 … although in truth, I don’t think there’s very much difference among the top 10 or 15 teams and the final poll could look — make that will look — a heckuva lot different than this week’s.

Schools need to look at separating fans from the football teams and playing field a bit more than they do … at Ellington Saturday, Cromwell fans standing on the sideline took loud umbrage at a fourth-quarter pass interference call against their team .. one official came to the fans and told them if they didn’t stop, they would be removed.

Fans belong in the stands, behind a fence … and coach Chris Eckert can’t go running on the field, throwing down his headphones … got him a 15-yard penalty … I know, the game was already in the bag and the penalty had no real meaning, but this good guy and good coach looked kind of stupid.

Paul Pasqualoni, the UConn football coach, is a goner … deserved or not, the man can’t survive … the only question is when … right now, he is Dead Coach Walking.

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