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It's not supposed to end like this and it hurts

POSTED March 11, 2020
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

          Thomaston High boys basketball coach A.J. Bunel had his team still practicing Tuesday afternoon. Less than 24 hours after watching his team win its first state tournament game since 1995, he was hoping for a miracle that wasn’t going to come – another game. He refused to give in as did others around the state including the No. 1 ranked boys team, Windsor, on the darkest of high school sports days.

           Damn, it’s not supposed to end like this. For better or for worse, the dream gets to be played out, right? At the very least the ending is supposed to come at the end of competition, verified by the scoreboard.  At the very best, the ending  comes at the magical destinations of high school winter sports – Mohegan Sun or Wesleyan pool or other championship venues.

                The “Run to the Sun” isn’t supposed to come to an end in the middle of the classroom, the coach's office or at the high school lunch table and through an announcement from the CIAC relayed by school officials. This world rises and falls with wins and losses. The journey isn’t supposed to stop halfway home.

                But it all did Tuesday morning. The dream died, taken away by the uncontrollable, by an  opponent with an erratic game-plan with the potential consequences being a  little more serious than a lost game.

                The CIAC pulled the plug on all winter tournament games due to continuing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 (Corona Virus). It is tragic and sad, a belly shot that takes your air away and casts a mighty pall over what is normally a dynamic time.  A time where big players, big plays and big teams usually dominate is now being dominated by big depression and frustration.

                There are loud, passionate voices decrying the decision. Over 60,000 people have signed a petition at this writing to reinstate the tournaments and there as a protest attended by hundreds of high school students at CIAC headquarters Wednesday morning. Twitter feeds have lit up, a life’s nerve has been struck. I get it. I am not one of those voices nor am I a voice that would complain if they did not cancel or decided to reinstate.  There are a lot of moving parts here.

                The CIAC explained their reasoning like this:

                 "Due to continuing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the responses from local school districts and third part ventures have greatly varied. Some districts have informed us that will no longer participate in our tournaments; other have indicated that they will play while limiting crowds to less than 100 people; still others have stated that they will play without any spectators in attendance; and finally, neutral sites have informed us that they can no longer host our events.

                Given the wide range of direction local districts are considering, coupled with diminishing availability of neutral facilities, the CIAC needs to take the leading in providing logistical direction to our membership. “

Unnecessary panic, safety first, logistical nightmares, find a way to finish the tournament sooner……you decide. I know this. I am sick about it. This is my favorite time of year. A game every night, high drama, agony and ecstasy. The tears and the cheers.  Watching marvelous runs to Mohegan Sun and yes, the disappointment of coming up short. Watching players pump up and towns turn on. It has it all.

                Now it has all been taken away with the numbing realization  that it can’t be repeated. You can’t get time back. Kids graduate, chemistry changes. There ae no do-overs.  It is the letter and package you can’t open. Nobody will ever know what was inside.  The road went nowhere.

                Holy Cross was in the Class M girls semifinals with their dream of a title. They will never know. Canton didn’t even to get to finish its quarterfinal game with Coginchaug as an electrical problem ended the game late in the second quarter with the Warriors leading. Canton and Holy Cross would have met in the semifinals both with legitimate state title hopes.

               Who knows better the idea of cruel than the Naugatuck boys. They dethroned Sacred Heart for their first Naugatuck Valley League title since 1969, ending the Hearts 125-game NVL win streak in the process. This team was generational with state title hopes very much a reality. Naugatuck hadn’t won a state title since 1942.

               Hearts coach Jon Carroll in a class tweet knew how much this hurt congratulating Naugatuck and saying he would buy them the trophy.

               They cried in Naugatuck Tuesday.

               The Thomaston and Shepaug Valley girls were heading into very winnable quarterfinal matchups with Mohegan Sun a very real destination. BL champion Wamogo boys were hoping for one more shot at the ring. The list is endless, the pain is timeless.

               Coaches and underclassmen get another chance even if the situation can’t be duplicated. But the seniors? Done. No repeat. No coming back. The death of a dream as they sat  so far away from the venue and collaborators of that dream.

               The CIAC does deserve to be taken to task for this beauty along these lines – State Tournament events do not create lifetime memories like other parts part of the HS sports experience. Pardon? Really?

               Let me introduce you to Thomaston, Sacred Heart, Crosby, Torrington, Anthony Ireland, Abby Hurlbert, Dennis Fowler, Matty Kalin, Christine Wallace, Morgan Sanson,, Tracy Stolle, Mike Fabiaschi, Sarah and Katie Ciarleglio and so many others. Rediculous comment.

               I watched Thomaston senior Sydney Stevenson run around the court for a half dozen games this season. Not a big scorer but a defensive buzz saw and hustling rebounder. She doesn’t get to finish. Canton’s Abby Charon has had a wonderful career that might have ended at Mohegan. She’ll never know.

               Wamogo’s Ethan Collins no last basket. Shepaug’s Karen Puskus and Holy Cross’ John Greene, the basket half full. A finality but no finality to it all.

               This is not the end of the word, there will be worse to happen in life’s journey but on a sun-filled early spring day, there was a dark hole in the heart. You saw empty brackets that will stay frozen in time, never completed.

               We saw a shared experience and time that can’t be reclaimed, only remembered now. We saw dreams die. We will always wonder what would have happened. It will always be the season of What If……A question with no answer. Ever.

               It’s not supposed to end like this. But it has. And damn, does it hurt.

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