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Wamogo stood tall on and off the court

POSTED March 09, 2019
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                LITCHFIELD – The Wamogo basketball program stood tall Thursday night both on and off the court.

                On the court the No. 1 ranked Warriors were handed their first defeat of the season by No. 16 Shelton, 69-60, in Class III second round action. The Warriors grit could not be denied, about what you would expect from a team that entered the game with a 23-0 mark and has worn the description `special’ around in exemplary fashion.

                The Warriors were good just not good enough against a quality opponent that was a bigger, quicker and feistier than the bulk of opponents during the regular season. The trademark trapping defense that had unraveled teams and ignited the offense on so many nights had limited impact.

                At the offensive end the pathways to the basket closed a lot quicker and shots from the outside were more work to find. Garrett Sattazahn was his normal self with 25 points and Ethan Collins wore a hole in the basket with 22 points.  But as coach Gregg Hunt said, the Warriors needed more balance and it wasn’t there.

                Still, this was a two-point game with just over a minute to play. The Warriors traded punch for punch during the game and never went away or let Shelton get away. They could have played better but a big part of why they didn’t was Shelton.  In Hunt’s words, “We didn’t lose, we got beat.’

                But for all the pride the Warriors can take in giving themselves and their faithful red horde one final gritty effort, maybe off the court was their best performance.

                You can’t just palm this one off as a team losing a second round tournament game and move on.  There was and is much more percolating here. It would be one thing if Wamogo was just another team that made the tournament and got beat as so many do.

                But this was a team that in most seasons had every reason to believe they were destined to win a state championship or at least play for one. Coming off last year’s Class V loss to Cromwell in the title game with all starters returning, this was going to be the year. There are never any guarantees, funny things happen in the state tournament. But team and its fans had solid reason to believe.

                But a funny thing happened on the way to that dream. The CIAC basketball committee turned climbing the mountain to a state title from a hike up Mohawk Mountain to a trek up Kilimanjaro. The good folks on the hoop committee of which Hunt is a member did not mean to single out Wamogo but they lost sight of purpose and intent.

                It has been an on-going battle for decades to try to find equity in the tournament. Public schools long ago rightly tired of the unlevel playing field in which the schools of choice (i.e. Catholics and Magnet schools) recruit students and players.

                So they created a division for all the elites and came up with a points formula for the rest which includes enrollment from the previous year, success in league play duing the season in a three-year period, success in the tournament over a three-year period for a school with more than 25 students from beyond its geographical area  (town).

                Wamogo became a `school of choice’ with its vo-ag program and thus with the other factors was moved up to Division III with the likes of Shelton, Naugatuck, Maloney, Prince Tech, Farmington, etc. There was no opportunity for appeal.

                According to 2017-18 statistics used for this season when assigning teams to classes, Shelton had 785 boys, Naugatuck 671, Malone of Meriden 609, Torrington 514 and Prince Teach 398.

                Wamogo? 187 boys. The system is transparent, but the warning bells should be going off. The numbers don’t match up.

                But how about this? When was the last time a vo-ag school won a state title? They are not nor have ever been the concern. So why include them now? Certainly if the CIAC hadn’t included the vo-ag schools, there would have been complaints. Oh well. Tell the complainers when the vo-ags start impacting the competitive balance we’ll deal with them. In the meantime why create a problem that didn’t exist.

                This is where Wamogo stood tall after losing to Shelton and watching what might have been a crowning run to a title disappear in its first game.  On a night when the frustration could have bubbled over, it didn’t. You heard nothing of this.

                Sattazahn and Collins and Hunt gave credit to Shelton and pointed to their performance as not being up to par. Wamogo has embraced the challenge all season and they didn’t back away from their lot even after losing.

                “We knew from the beginning of the year who we had to play, we just didn’t execute,” said Collins.

                “They survived the dance and we didn’t,” said Sattazhan. “We didn’t play well.”

                “(Shelton) did what they had to do, they played as well as they could,” added Hunt.

                No complaints, no we got a raw deal type of stuff. Just class.

                This year’s Warriors will go down as one of the best teams in school history and Berkshire League history. Hunt called his team that best he has coached in 36 years.

                It wasn’t that the Warriors couldn’t compete in Division III, they proved they could. Shelton coach Brian Gardiner called Hunt’s club one of the top 10 teams in the state. It was that they shouldn’t have had to.

                When did we start punishing small public schools for being in a good cycle? Wamogo 2018-19 is a team that should have been playing for a state title in Division V or IV. That opportunity was taken away from them. While schools they beat by 30-40 points were moving on in the tournament Wamogo lost a rugged game to a school with 598 more boys.

                The CIAC can throw the numbers out and talk about transparency. In the end, they lost site of the intent of all of this – to provide a level playing field, an equal opportunity for all.

                You hope they fix it, but it won’t help Wamogo. Their time is done.

                The Warriors could have lashed out Thursday night. They didn’t. Good for them. They chose to look at their own shortcomings and Shelton’s obvious skills.

                The stood tall until the very end, as good off the court as on the court

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