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It's not lost on Marlon Delgado that residents of his hometown's rival city, New London, while admitting their hamlet's occasional dysfunction, consider "Whaler Pride" a vocation.
"It's a sense of pride everybody has," Delgado said. "Norwich doesn't have that. I've always admired that about New London. I want to bring that feeling to Norwich."
Which is why Delgado's Facebook page says it all: Marlon "Rosecityontherise" Delgado. That's "Rose City on the rise." Imagine that. Norwich has an advocate. Delgado was born there and educated there. Now he's waving the flag for his hometown by doing the educating.
Delgado, a former basketball player at Norwich Free Academy and 1996 graduate, has returned to Norwich Public Schools working with the "Aspire" program to promote positive youth development for Norwich Middle School students through academic support, civic engagement, health and wellness activities, visual and performing arts instruction and other support systems.
And when he's not working with the kids, he's working for them, making them the beneficiaries of his calling: event planning.
Delgado has quite the event upcoming, "Streetball Supremacy," next Thursday at NFA. Delgado has legendary Streetballer "Hot Sauce" (his You Tube videos are jaw dropping) scheduled to appear and break a few ankles, later playing in a game that features, among other locals, Delgado's brother-in-law, Tyson Wheeler, the former New London and University of Rhode Island great. Delgado said his friend Bruce Montey arranged for several other players to appear, too.
"Remember those days at Conn College?" Delgado said earlier this week, alluding to the summer basketball league that attracted several Division I and NBA players. "Seen anything like that since? That's the kind of excitement I want to bring back."
Delgado has some experience with basketball entertainment, coming off a successful night with the Harlem Superstars last Thanksgiving. It was a mix of basketball wizardry with an underlying message about the importance of education. This latest event will benefit motivational speaker (and NFA grad) Malik Champlain's youth empowerment group and the GameTime Summer Basketball Academy that Delgado will run with St. Bernard coach Mark Jones.
Clearly, Delgado's message resonates in the community.
"Everybody who does these things has trouble selling tickets early," he said. "So I wanted to implement a rewards system for kids tied to their grades, so that if they do well they'll get tickets early. I asked some businesses to sponsor kids who get good grades. I haven't heard a 'no.'"
Tickets for the event, beginning at 5 p.m. at NFA, are available by calling 860-861-7301.
Delgado wants to pack the place. (And "Hot Sauce" really is worth the price of admission). But even if they don't pay attention to the basketball, the kids should pay attention to Delgado. He used to be one of them. He didn't find himself immediately after school. But he never stopped trying.
"I went from job to job," he said. "And having Tyson as a brother-in-law, you have delusional dreams of playing basketball for a living. It took me a while to find myself."
The same can be said of Norwich. It doesn't foster the same sense of community as New London. And other places. Maybe because NFA isn't a high school with strictly Norwich kids. The reasons are irrelevant. The larger point is that anybody with an affinity for the place that inspires more community all while educating kids is doing something eminently worthwhile.
If Norwich has ever meant anything to you, you'll call 860-861-7301. Marlon Delgado is fighting the fight for his hometown and the kids who live there. Delgado says his calling came late. Or maybe it's right on time.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.