Week 6: No. 4 Ansonia at No. 5 Newtown, Friday, 7 p.m.
NEWTOWN >> Newtown’s football practices have become a bit more crowded in recent days.
There’s a reporter over there, snapping pictures 0f linebacker drills and asking for interviews. There’s a TV anchor over there asking for a few moments with key players. And, after practice here comes another one looking for more.
And then there are the phone calls. The incessant phone calls. “You’re the 10th media outlet this week calling to ask,” athletic director Gregg Simon said. “And it’s only Wednesday.”
That’s because on Friday night the klieg lights will descend on Newtown again. A massive crowd is expected to converge at the high school when the Ansonia football team comes to town for, perhaps, the most anticipated high school football game of the year.
The three-time defending state champion Chargers, who are 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in the state, are one victory away from tying Cheshire’s state record of 49 consecutive victories. They take on No. 5-ranked and reigning SWC champion Newtown (5-0) at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast online at Ivyradio.com.
“Everybody’s talking about it,” Newtown senior Jaret DeVellis said. “It’s a huge game for ourselves and our town. A lot of people are going to see two great teams going against each other.”
“These kinds of games are why you play football,” Newtown senior Julian Dunn said.
Simon and Newtown are used to the attention. The school has hosted plenty of big athletic events over the past few years, the CIAC state tournament games and the SWC football championship on Thanksgiving vs. highly-ranked Masuk.
Then there was last year when Newtown’s teams — especially the unbeaten football team — drew intense, yet unwanted, national media attention as the anniversary of Sandy Hook Elementary shootings approached.
Thousands showed up to watch Newtown face Bethel during a ‘Green Out’ community day on the first home game played after the tragedy.
When Newtown took an 11-0 record into last year’s Class LL playoffs, thousands more showed up to watch the team play Ridgefield. The school spent much of the week rebuffing nationwide media requests to cover the game for anything other than football.
So Friday’s showdown with Ansonia will be old hat for Simon and his staff.
“We’ve lived through this the past couple of years,” Simon said. “We have plenty experience and we like to think we do a good job managing a large crowd.”
Aside from adding extra security, portable bathrooms, opening up an “express gate” on the right side of the stadium entrance for advance student ticket holders and media, Simon said Friday will be business as usual.
While he’s preparing for an overflow crowd, Simon admits he doesn’t know what the attendance will actually look like.
“There are a lot of other games going on at other schools, so you won’t get the casual crowd that we’d get if this was on a Thursday or Saturday,” he said. “But I know our whole town will show up for this game. It’s a town that always comes out and supports the high school teams, just like Ansonia’s does.”
Newtown High School’s campus sits between an interchange of I-84 and Route 34 where traffic is tight and no side roads are available . While the school’s parking lot is relatively large, especially on the wings of Blue and Gold Stadium and behind the school, there is no parking anywhere else besides school grounds.
With that in mind, Simon has one important suggestion: Get there early.
“Try to arrive at 5:30,” Simon said. “Come early, sit in your car and play on your phone for an hour and a half. People should also think about carpooling. That would be very helpful. Anything you can do to limit the amount of cars coming to the school would be helpful.
“People have to remember, this is a public high school. It’s not a stadium. Don’t expect to show up at 6:45 and get a parking spot or not stand in long lines.”
Meanwhile, Simon said “all the regular media players” from around Connecticut have, at some point, made visits to practice. “We’ve pretty much allowed open access all week long,” he said. “We always try to be very gracious and accommodating to all the media that want access to our teams.”
DeVellis and Dunn both said they’ve put the constant barrage of calls and visitors out of their minds. “We know it definitely means more than just a football game,” DeVellis said. “But I don’t really focus on that. I focus on preparing to win the game.”
As the game gets closer, however, Simon said he’s is hoping to see the media attention subside. He’s suggested that further media requests be limited to phone calls.
“These things have a tendency to pull the focus away from football,” he said. “While we’ll never limit access, there’s definitely a point where people should let our kids focus on the game. I’ve talked with (Ansonia coach) Tom Brockett and they’re going through the same thing.
“We do have a football game to play, our players have to practice and go to school, our coaches have to coach and teach classes. It’s Wednesday now, and we’re fully into our preparation for the game.”
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