MIDDLETOWN >> Dario Highsmith the Elder was one of the all-time great running backs in Middletown High School history. In 1987, the Blue Dragons crushed Bristol Central, 27-0, in the Class MM title game at Veterans Stadium in New Britain and Highsmith was one of the stars.
Last night at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Middletown High faced Bristol Central again, and one of Middletown High’s stars is, no bulletin here, Highsmith’s son, Dario.
“It’s nerve-wracking and exciting watching my son play,” said Highsmith, whose induction into the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame was announced this week. “It’s nerve-wracking because you always want your son to do well and not make mistakes. Then it’s exciting when he does well.”
The younger Highsmith, only a junior, is the quarterback for the undefeated Blue Dragons. He’s the club’s leading rusher and against Hartford Public last Friday, he rushed for over 250 yards, ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more.
“My dad really pushes me to the limit,” said Dario, who is enrolled in upper level classes, including Advanced Placement courses, at MHS. “He knows what it is I have to do to get to where I want to go and he knows what it takes. My goal is to win a state championship in high school, but also to play in college.
“It’s probably every high school kid’s dream to play in the NFL, but I my goal is to play in college and get a degree.”
The younger Dario is the latest in a long line of Highsmiths to play for Middletown. These include Doug, Donald, Dario and Demont. All were stars with Dario and Demont [36-18 over Berlin in 1992] winning state championships.
“My brothers and I watched Dario last year,” said Highsmith. “And we thought he ran like Demont with those long strides. He was fast, but had my brother’s style. But this year, he’s faster and we all think he runs a little more like me. Watching him brings back memories.”
Highsmith played for powerhouse teams in the late 1980s. Middletown’s 1987 championship team lost only to Watertown, which was quarterbacked by former major leaguer Rico Brogna. That game was decided on a last minute drive by Brogna and featured a controversial pass interference call that set up the winning touchdown.
The 1988 team was figured to be even better and opened the season with two overwhelming wins. But it was discovered that Middletown inadvertently used an ineligible player in the second half when the game was out of hand. Middletown turned itself in and despite letters from the two schools in which the kid played asking that Middletown’s wins not be vacated, the CIAC would have none of it and forfeited the two Blue Dragons wins.
“The other schools didn’t want the wins the CIAC gave them,” said Highsmith. “The kid played because we were up so much and coach [John] Skubel always taught us to respect all of our opponents, so he played second and third stringers in the second half.
“In our first three games the subs played more than we did. At the time it didn’t bother us much; heck, we were just kids. But as the years have gone on it bothers me more and more. We could have won another state championship, but because we did the right thing, they took it away from us. It still irks me.”
What bothers the elder Highsmith today is the 50-point rule. That’s the rule that says if a team wins a game by a 50-point margin or larger, it must prove to the CIAC that it did not intentionally run up the score and that the coach took measures to prevent that from happening. Otherwise, the coach is suspended for the next game.
“Look at this from the losing side,” said Highsmith. “As an athlete you want to compete. You want both sides to compete to the best of their ability and you want both teams to try their hardest.
“But what happens here is that the other team tries not to score. The competition doesn’t happen and that’s not fair to either team. Also, it hurts the ninth and tenth graders that are put into the game because they can’t try their hardest, they can’t compete. The younger kids lose out.”
Highsmith has some very strong ideas about raising kids and he was to the point.
“I tell my kids that school is their job,” he said. “I do not allow my kids to have a job. Their job is to get good grades and to do what they’re supposed to do. Kids should have fun in high school, too.
“Dario gets home from practice every day at seven, sometimes later. He’s starving, so he has dinner. Then he does his homework. That’s every night, Monday through Thursday. Then on Friday, he has a game. On Saturday morning he has to do his homework for the next Monday or for any assignment he has for next week.
Then he can relax. He can have some fun then, even though he doesn’t have much of a social life during the season. But I can’t see how a kid can do all that and have a job, too. So I won’t let him have a job.”
So what does this star of yesteryear think about this year’s edition of the Blue Dragons?
“I think they are pretty good,” Highsmith said. “I think they can be as good as they want to be. If they can go without the silly penalties, they can be as good as they want.
“Are they playing at full strength? No. Have they played a complete game yet? No. Sometimes they get a little silly against not so good competition, but I have seen them step it up against better teams.”
Highsmith played for the legendary John Skubel and in his son’s coach, Sal Morello, he sees similar characteristics.
“It was a great experience playing for Coach Skubel,” said Highsmith. “He was a great man, a great coach and a great mentor. He taught us to be humble and to respect each and every team we played. Just a great person.
“You know, I coached my son and daughter early in their lives and I don’t like coaching my own kids. When they have a coach like Sal who will do the right thing by my kids, I don’t have to worry. And I don’t about my son on or off the field. because Sal is there.”
Dario the player echoed Dario the dad.
“Coach Morello is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” he said. “He’s like a second father to me and to all the guys. He connects with us off the field, too. He does a lot more for us than just coach.”