My greatest ongoing educational experience has been the 20 years spent around the students at New London High School.
What they've taught me about tolerance, diversity, people and life in general could never be duplicated or repaid. To think that so many of them have become acquaintances and friends just isn't something I saw coming as a snot-nosed, know-it-all, shielded and generally clueless kid of 22 when I got here.
It is for this reason that I, like many others who see Whalerville through green and gold, not black and white, feel a need to protect the place sometimes. The kids need a voice. So do the teachers.
It's not like I've never written anything critical. Or won't again. It's just that the circumstances - hell, the reality - at New London High is different than any other school in this region.
There was never a greater example than Tuesday.
It should have been a triumphant day at the school. Home football playoff game on the new turf and under the new, bright lights. All these years I've seen and heard New London kids get conditioned to thinking that they don't deserve what everyone else has because that's just the way it is in New London. And now there's this nouveau athletic complex that just might be better than all the rest when it's done.
Instead, school officials and students were left to deal with the fallout from arrests made in the recent murder of Matthew Chew. Six teens were arrested, most with ties to the school, one the brother of a football player.
There was a sense of melancholy, perhaps unwittingly, in the faces of the teachers, coaches and administrators, some of whom I've known for all 20 years. There they stood with looks of sadness and lament, wondering where it all went so wrong. Wondering if the school system could have done more. Knowing there are so many self-appointed cultural jurists out there plenty quick to tell them their shortcomings, even if their only frame of reference to the minority population are Claire and Cliff Huxtable.
It broke my heart.
And still does.
Because it's just not changing very much.
No matter how much good the kids do at the school, no matter what they can teach us - those who are willing to listen - an incident like this churns and churns the stereotypes until they're thicker than butter.
I'm not here to lament. But I am here to reiterate how sports have an impact beyond metaphorical richness at New London High.
The new sports complex has come along at the right time. At a necessary time. Most of the people I talked to Tuesday night are concerned about an undertone of escalating violence among young people (and getting younger) in New London. I'm not sure the cause. I'm not sure the cause is all that relevant. Because the violence continues. And I'm not sure it really ever stops, all the sociological psycho-babble out there not withstanding.
What I am sure of, though, is that sports speak to kids in ways other co-curricular activities don't. I'll stop short of the old "it keeps them off the streets" bromide, because most New London kids aren't "on the streets." I don't even know what that means. But some are close to making the wrong choices every day. And I'm hoping that a shiny new place to play different sports - not just football - can entice some kids to stay around their teams and their friends, rather than the alternative.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But it's something.
I would ask that you don't think with your mouth when it comes to generalizations about New London High. Get to know the kids, their stories and their circumstances and then you can report back. I know, however, that's excavating excrement versus the current. (Shoveling you-know-what against the tide).
Meantime, congrats to the school and political officials in town who made the new sports complex a reality.
The reality is that it might be more important than anyone dreamed.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.