Print this story

There's no night like Rivalry Night.

POSTED January 15, 2019
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                TERRYVILLE – Ya gotta love Rivalry Night.

                The Thomaston and Terryville boys and girls basketball teams hooked up Friday night, the four teams with a combined record of 5-25. Mid-season, colder than a Trump- Pelosi,-Schumer get-together, no title or hopes of a title even remotely on the line. 

                And you know what? It didn’t matter one little bit. The fans still came. They filled every nook and cranny in the Kangaroos’ gym, sharing breathing space and heating up the night like no oil delivery could. They traded chants and cheers and verbal one-upmanship.  They had a good time and that’s the way it has always been.

                Rivalry night in the Berkshire League is a throw-back to the days when the high school gym was the place you wanted to be and had to be. Before video games and I-phone and social media addiction became only second to water in the survival game. Before times changed and students and fans found something more worthy or just lost interest, this is the way it was. Every night. It wasn’t just a game, it was a town thing and source of cultural identity.

                With the added attraction of the boys and girls playing back-to-back, rivalry night reminds us how fun and cool it was and how fun and cool it can still be.  It is still a night that draws you in and creates a place you want to be and somehow feel left out if you are not there. 

                For years there have been three very cool rivalries in the Berkshire League – Thomaston and Terryville; Litchfield and Wamogo; Northwestern and Gilbert. Geography fueled, they are rich in history and spirit.

                Thomaston and Terryville are about three and half miles apart. Way, way back when they were one until those rebels from Plymouth Hollow decided to separate. They have fought, respected, made fun of each school’s colors and entertained generations.

                Litchfield and Wamogo are even closer, a mile and a half or so. They have done the same, making memories for their communities and trading those precious bragging rights.

                Gilbert and Northwestern Regional are cross town. Maybe a couple of miles. In recent times they have had the audacity to combine for a football program. Blasphemy say some.  They have spiced up winter nights with a fierce competition in Northwestern’s spacious venue and Gilbert’s place of business which is slightly bigger than a mailbox.

                In this journalistic journey I have been fortunate to cover all three rivalries in overheated gyms with titles up for grabs. I have seen Cowboys, real Kangaroos, Bears, Warriors, Highlanders and Yellowjackets.  I have seen buzzer beaters, son play against dad, a cheerleader fall from the top of a pyramid and fans turned away. I have seen great coaches, players and games.  I have seen fights and I have seen respect. Each rivalry is special in its way, none is better, all are unique.

                It was Thomaston and Terryville this time around. Admittedly there are ties. I taught at Thomaston, my son Jon finished his playing career there in June. His three roommates at Eastern Connecticut State University – Mike Tiscia, Evan Dorso and Riley Zappone all wore the black and orange proudly. Geez, how the times have changed. There was a time you wouldn’t have thrown a rock at them for fear of hurting the rock.

                Even more so, Terryville is five minute ride from my house.  It was easier. I brought my 87-year-old aunt Betty who had her hair bun all in a tizzy just to be there and sit in those ungodly bleachers that are a curse to mankind.  Hey, this is the class of 1949. She remembers when the gym was the place to be and the game produced the electricity not the generator. So to be there was pretty darn special for her.

                This rivalry has taken on extremes.  The Terryville boys beat Thomaston for 12 straight years up until three years ago. Since then the teams have split. But, Thomaston has never beaten Terryville in its new gym which isn’t so new anymore.

                Nobody remembers the last time the Terryville girls beat Thomaston,  either home or away.  So in a sense if you are fair-minded person, both sides usually leave rivalry night with something to cheer about.

                This night was no different. Thomaston got a 16-point effort from senior Megan Guay and a 15-point, 12-rebound effort from freshman Emma Sanson. Yep, that’s right another Sanson.  You might remember her older sister Morgan who graduated two years ago and had a career of accomplishments that would fill up your computer memory bank. Then here was Alexa who made you take notice.  The Sansons are the gift that keeps on giving in Thomaston.

                While the girls were rolling, 53-25, The Terryville boys were making sure they kept the night balanced. In competitive game the Kangaroos ride the 14-point performances from Albert Molina and Zack Rikavage to a 54-46 win over the plucky Bears.

                There were the sights and sounds you always take with you from this rivalry night. Terryville assistant coach Dave Alacon in his bright orange pants in case a light goes out.  Art Hamm tooting the whistle for the boys game. Hamm coached Terryville to two state titles in the 1980s. He is ingrained into the rivalry.

                A multitude of ex-players, current and ex-faculty members. Outstanding rooting sections from each side that included a couple of Terryville students doing push-ups when Thomaston went to the foul line.

                The gym was sweaty, loud with seats at a premium. Just the way it should be.  A cornucopia of competition with a touch of chaos.

                I’m sure it was the same with Litchfield and Wamogo and Northwestern and Gilbert.

                Rivalry night  - one part the way it was, one part the way it still is a couple of nights during the basketball season.  You walked out into a mighty brisk night, knowing you were glad you were there. Young, old, former player or never a player, it still grabs you and I hope it always does. 

For more from Rick Wilson click here