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On a lovely autumn Saturday orchestrated, perhaps, by Robert Frost, a lot of New London kids experienced the pageantry of college football for the first time.
As part of the first “Celebrate New London,” a collaborative effort between the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the City of New London, free tickets for the game between the Coast Guard Bears and the Western New England Golden Bears were made available to city public school students and their families.
More than 400 took advantage of the offer, a figure that pleased Tammy Daugherty, New London’s director of the Office of Development and Planning. “We’ve had a tremendous response,” she said. “It’s important to find ways to expose kids to the Coast Guard and have an authentic experience here, and a football game is a great way to do that. We’re hoping that New London starts to think of the Coast Guard team as their team.”
Five New London students were also selected to serve as honorary captains alongside the player representatives in the pre-game coin toss ceremony.
They were Myastar Fletcher, a fifth-grader at Jennings; Izellah Radicioni, a fifth-grader at Nathan Hale; Elijah Rogue, a fifth-grader at Winthrop; Nashon Fletcher, an eighth-grader at Bennie Dover Jackson; and Elijah Parker, also an eighth-grader at Bennie Dover. Parker and Fletcher also served the whole game as “kick-off kids” — the personnel who run out on the field and remove the tee after kickoffs.
“I’ve been doing well in school for three years and they picked me to do this,” Nashon Fletcher said. “We’ve always driven by and you could see the field. It’s cool to get to actually be down there.”
Myastar Fletcher (no relation) said she was happy and proud to have been selected a captain. Her mother, Aja Barcomb, said, “This is wonderful for her, and nice for all of us. I drive by the Coast Guard every day and didn’t even know they had a football team. This is fun and different. We’re definitely fans now, which is great because we didn’t even know you could do this.”
That’s a big part of the idea.
In a formal capacity, there’s always been a warm relationship between the city and the academy. At the same time, in part because of the layout of the city and because of a perception by citizenry that the academy is a sort of official, standalone facility, there’s been a bit of a disconnect between the two entities on a personal level.
Tim Fitzpatrick, the athletic director at the academy, said the game ticket giveaway was just one of several ideas that grew out of a conversation he had with New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio when the two of them sat next to each other at last spring’s Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremonies.
“We were talking about ways for the academy to engage the community outside the gates,” Fitzpatrick said. “As we talked, we were both amazed at the number of people we knew that had never been on the installation. We have vibrant sports and arts programs, and we want the city and its constituents to know they’re welcome here. Our motto here is to be nationally prominent and locally relevant, and we mean that.”
Over a series of weekly meetings between the city and the academy, the idea of a game ticket giveaway gained traction. Not only was Saturday’s game approved, but an additional football game event will take place in 2014.
New London City Councilor Adam Sprecace attended the game with his daughter Samantha, a freshman at St. Joseph School in New London.
“We wanted to support the effort,” Sprecace said. “I’d started riding my bicycle here on the grounds a few years ago, just to see if it was as accessible as they say it is. And it is. They’re very welcoming here and I think people would enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity if they knew about it.”
“We’re going to continue to find ways to expose kids to the Coast Guard experience,” Daugherty said. “If they grow up feeling proud of the Coast Guard, and that their town has a relationship with the Coast Guard, that’s excellent. Maybe it becomes a career possibility or an educational opportunity.”