This was one for a good guy

In the pantheon of Stonington institutions past and present, there are, in no particular order: Stonington Point, CC's, Dave Erskine, the COMO, the McGugans, Sea Swirl, Whit Davis and Maple Breeze, give or take some others unintentionally omitted.

And not that there's a formal ceremony for such things, but it's time another made the directory:

George Crouse.

You know. That championship winning coach.

All hail, all hail.

Now it is very likely, of course, that Crouse, a native of the town, graduate of the high school, 37-year teacher there, voice of athletic events, 700-win coach and Board of Selectman member became an institution long ago. Maybe all the institutions belong under the heading, "The George Crouse List of Stonington Institutions." But an event from late last week provided the exclamation point, perhaps making George Crouse the town's once and future king.

Crouse has been coaching either boys' or girls' tennis at the high school for five decades. He's won enough awards to wallpaper Water St. Not since the state moved girls' tennis to the spring, though, had Crouse led the Bears to the elusive Class S state title.

Maybe it is more than coincidence that a tennis guy, Vitas Gerulaitis, uttered the immortal line, "Now let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody, but nobody, beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."

(That's after Gerulaitis beat Jimmy Connors in 1979. Connors had beaten him 16 straight times. One of the greatest sports lines ever.)

Now it can be said:

Let this be a lesson to you all: Nobody, but nobody, beats George Crouse eight times in a row, either.

That's right. Crouse got the Bears to the finals the previous seven years. He lost them all. He made Marv Levy jokes. He said he's a lock for "The Hall of Fame for No. 2s." He'd lost several times to Weston. Then Westbrook. Anything with a "west" sent the Bears south.

Then came last Friday. It was Weston again. And finally, George Crouse got his state title. The first ECC tennis team to win a CIAC-sponsored title.

Crouse was no better a coach at 6 p.m. Friday than he was at 3. Still, people all over school - and the town, too - were thrilled as the news spread. That's because they know that the person who best embodies the unflagging loyalty that defines the town just got his ring.

George Crouse has been there for everyone and everything in Stonington since even before Mazeroski homered. George and Ann raised four children there, put them through the schools. He's coached kids, the kids of those kids and the kids of the kids of those kids.

"I just love George. He was my seventh grade social studies teacher at Pawcatuck Junior High, and his son was born when I was in his class," said Jennifer Norcross, an English teacher at the high school and de facto town historian. "All three of his girls were on the team I coached at Pawcatuck Little League, and when I came back to teach at SHS, young George was in my homeroom.

"Of course George was always a supportive colleague, and in his last year, we co-taught an interdisciplinary ninth grade English/Social Studies class which was a great experience. I look forward to seeing him when we work at home basketball games together, and of course at the mike for home football games. He is the best."

Norcross speaks for everybody. In and out of the town. This bears further examination. If you are around sports long enough, you know this much: Detractors hover around successful coaches like mosquitoes at the family picnic. Maybe they didn't play you enough, your kid enough. Maybe they won too much. Maybe it's jealousy. Maybe you're just miserable. But negativity is a veritable guarantee.

Dare you, though, to find one person who doesn't like and respect George Crouse.

He is a promoter of his school and his town, never himself. The self-deprecating sense of humor. The steadfastness (he's never left). It's hard to aw-shucks your way to more than 700 wins and careers in teaching, coaching and politics.

This was one for the good guys.

So maybe we can humbly ask First Selectman Ed Haberek to alter the signs at the town borders. They should read, "Welcome to Stonington, est. 1662. And George Crouse is all ours."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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