Doc Sweeney would have really enjoyed this

Waterford

And to think that Jim Cavalieri, probably the one man who yearned and burned for this night more than anyone else, began pining for it 33 years earlier. Thirty-three years. Thirty-three years of asking, begging, politicking, rallying and petitioning to get this piece of real estate named for the great Francis X. Sweeney.

It would be hard to fancy that anything 33 years in the making could deliver its fullest promise. But this did. What a night. The whole act. Right to the final shot in the final second of the basketball game, the one where Seth Lake of New London High probably made Doc Sweeney wince somewhere, sticking the game-winning three as time expired.

It's the only time Francis X. Sweeney likely did anything but smile from his perch, looking down on everything he wrought in 40 years as an educator.

Pretty good trick that even in your death, more than a year later, you don't merely unite your own town, but the one next door, too.

The ceremony to dedicate the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse was perfect in tone, word and deed Saturday night. Full house. Standing room, actually. Sweeneys, Sweeneys, everywhere, driving in from various parts of the region, flying in from various parts of the country. Town dignitaries who spoke eloquently and even better: briefly. The unveiling of longtime friend Vonn Hartung's portrait of Sweeney, a striking likeness that will grace the walls outside the gym.

Many in the crowd wore commemorative, royal blue T-shirts. New London coach Craig Parker, who could have kept his team in its locker room, made sure all the Whalers were part of it, respectfully watching from behind the bench.

And then the game. Magnificent, really. How Doc Sweeney would have loved the passion and energy in the place. It was exactly what it should be for a high school game. Except that it's never this way anymore: place packed, people hollering, student section needling.

Sweeney, who began the Waterford basketball program, might never have thought basketball could occupy such an important place at the school now. The state championship from two years ago has yielded a clever student-section and a loyal following. Greg Gwudz, the coach, runs a program here now. He just doesn't coach a team.

The Lancers came within an eyelash of the upset, after Schneider Jean-Pierre's basket with 12.2 seconds remaining gave them a one-point lead. Lancer Nation was ready to storm the court, in need of one miss and the buzzer's buzz. And yet it was the New London kids who did the celebrating, maybe the best evidence yet of Waterford's emergence. It wasn't lost on a number of onlookers who never thought they'd see the day New Londoners would storm the court after defeating Waterford.

Hard to blame them, though. The passions in the gym sort of invited it. It was an atmosphere, not a setting. Old Doc Sweeney would have loved it.

It was such an inspiring night of school spirit and community unity that perhaps this is the best time to remind the 06385 that the tributes aren't done. Now that the Board of Education has rewritten its policy to dedicate schools facilities in the name of people there are two more people in Waterford lore and legend who deserve their chunk of immortality.

The football field should be named for Dick Cipriani.

The baseball field should be named for Gerry Rousseau (whom Sweeney hired, by the way).

Ask anybody - anybody - with even a hint of Waterford blue in their veins and they'll sing the same hosannas for Cipriani and Rousseau that they do for Doc Sweeney.

People who live in the 06385 should be proud today. Your elected officials listened to you and changed a policy that ultimately honors town history. Your high school is awash in a spirit that's just not evident anywhere else in the region. And your fieldhouse bears the name of a man who still brings 'em together, even in death.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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