Published November 22. 2013 4:00AM
New London - Scott Beeney: Whaler. Yikes. To his old Fitch High pals, this would be sacrilege. An affront to all the Sons of Fitch who loathe the green and gold.
But to reiterate: Scott Beeney, Whaler. He loves it. Almost as much as New London High loves his contribution.
"Scott has been at our last two games and takes great joy in watching our team succeed," football coach Duane Maranda was saying the other day. "He should, because he is truly part of it. Without him and what he has done, it wouldn't be possible."
Beeney, a former lineman at Fitch in the late '90s, runs New London's academic support program for student-athletes. The same program former athletic director Jim O'Neill launched 19 years ago ? in O'Neill's words "because this is a high school with an athletic department attached, not the other way around" ? remains a haven for tutoring, mentoring, learning and achieving.
It is also tragically unappreciated outside the high school's doors, especially to the folks who refuse to acknowledge the relationship between academics and athletics.
Particularly in New London.
New London High athletes must pass four credits with a grade point average of better than 2.0 to remain eligible. Violators are placed on a five-week probation period, after which they would become ineligible if their grades don't improve.
"That's where Scott comes in," Maranda said. "He mostly works with the kids on probation. He works with tutors and most importantly the teachers. His support helps me immensely because when you're trying to facilitate support for over 70 football players, some could slip by the wayside."
Beeney's not alone. Karen Fischer, the wife of superintendent Nick Fischer, volunteers her time as well as Connecticut College students in the "Camels for Whalers" program. This, however, is Beeney's baby.
"It's the perfect job," he said. "I don't know how long it takes you to find what you were meant to do, but when you find it, you think, 'wow, this is it.' It's the best thing I've ever done in my life."
Quite a life, too. Beeney went to Eastern Connecticut. He ran for - and won - a City Council seat in Groton at age 19. (No, really). He served two years and later worked for an insurance company.
"The company got bought out and I had to move to Rocky Hill," Beeney said. "I thought, 'am I going to move for a job I hate?'"
That's when he met Jack Chaplain, who runs Chaplain's, the hip little eatery on Bank Street. Beeney did the bartending and was the unofficial host while Chaplain was cooking (and the man can cook) in the back.
"I figured I'd work with Jack until I could find a job I wanted to do," Beeney said. "All my friends kept telling me I needed to work with kids. A couple of friends working at New London High reached out to me."
Beeney and Chaplain are still together. It's just that Beeney has discovered his other vocation in the most unlikely place.
"I hated New London. They were our rival. It was Red Sox/Yankees. Growing up, I was taught to hate them," Beeney said. "Now? I love it. I am all in. (Assistant coach) Tommie Major and the 'train's comin.' I love that. I could listen to (assistant coach) Juan Roman sing Barry White all day.
"Once these kids accept you, it's just an unbelievable feeling," Beeney said. "I texted with (former New London great) Troy McKelvin a couple of weeks ago and I said how there's not a better feeling than once they trust you and respect you, they'll run through a brick wall for you."
It helps, too, that Beeney has an athletic background. He used to be the kids he mentors. There's not a trick he hasn't seen.
"We didn't have anything like this at Fitch and I definitely could have used it," he said. "I don't let these kids slack off. I email teachers every day. 'Did so-and-so do this?' I find out their assignments. Where's your essay? I don't let them (deceive) me. That's what I was great at doing."
And so now the Whalers are winning in more places than their seven straight on the field. Surely, such a sentiment runs counterintuitive to the diminished expectations the public heaps on New London kids. Except that all those kids you see running around the field on Friday nights are given every chance to achieve off it.
"Scott takes it personally if the kids he is helping don't succeed," Maranda said. "The week leading up to the end of the five-week probation period, Scott seemed as if he was preparing for a big game. His role here is vital."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.