Paying tribute to three young women who inspired their players

Sing it, Helen Reddy:

"I am woman watch me grow

See me standing toe to toe

As I spread my lovin' arms across the land

But I'm still an embryo

With a long, long way to go

Until I make my brother understand."

Some brothers are never going to understand. They don't want to. But in this corner of the world, our recently departed high school season of 2013-14 was a tribute to the burgeoning influence women in sports.

Three of them, specifically: Jenna Tucchio (Stonington field hockey), Kerrianne Dugan (New London basketball) and Arielle Cooper (Fitch softball).

Three young women, three state championships.

This is important.

High school kids need people to inspire them. To push them toward the right choices. To teach them to never stop believing in tomorrow. And it's sure easier to believe in someone who isn't all that much older than you and who hasn't merely shared the path, but whose passions for it light the way.

This is Tucchio.

This is Dugan.

This is Cooper. (Or Cooooooooooooop, as the kids call her).

Tucchio is a torch carrier for her sport, a member of the next generation of great field hockey coaches in Connecticut. No other sport has produced a bigger legend of female legends. Tooch is a tough cookie. Maybe even the next Cookie (Enfield coach Cookie Brumage is one of the state's all-timers).

Never forget the day Stonington won an ECC title at East Lyme. Rain caused the game to be postponed several times. Tucchio was a mess. Late in the game, after Sarah Hallinan scored the go-ahead goal in the final minute, Tucchio was unsure if she had a timeout remaining. And so she charged the scorers' table, as if trying to catch an out-and-up from Eli Manning. She went from the dead run to dead serious, asking the poor scorer the timeout question. The kid's eyes bugged out like she was involved in a holdup.

And yet after that game, every Stonington kid said they won it for Tucchio, some noting that they hoped they could care about something that much at some point in their lives.

Dugan, meanwhile, just authored the greatest single-season coaching job in the history of the region, delivering a state championship banner to a girls' program in New London. Her players would have thrown themselves in front of a moving bus if she asked. Her best attribute, though, may be what Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas likes to call the "wife eye," that icy stare that worth a thousand nights on the couch. Dugan applies it differently, sometimes to her players and most times to the officials. Adds to her toughness.

Then there's Cooooooop. Great moment after Saturday's championship game. Pitcher Caroline Taber mentioned that "Coop" calmed her during some tense moments in the game. She called her "Coop." Hardly a sign of disrespect. Just the opposite. Cooper used to be one of her players not that long ago. You get the idea that every time Coooop said something this season, her players thought it should be memorized.

Some of you might not care about the gender of Tucchio, Dugan and Cooper. A good coach is a good coach. Except if you spend enough time around kids you understand: They play harder for coaches they believe are real. Tucchio, Dugan and Cooper, on age and gender alone, resonate with high school girls. Add how much they are and you get stars in the making.

Not that anyone cares, but my scorecard of best female high school coaches in this region reads, in no particular order, Judy Deeb (East Lyme softball), Paulla Solar (Stonington basketball), Ellen Mahoney (Ledyard softball) and Liz Sutman (Waterford softball). They've been the best at teaching the lessons derived from the poem "Invictus" Sutman reads to her players:

"It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll; I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

Now the Fab Four have three more about to join the sisterhood.

What a year. A triumph for the granddaughters of Title IX.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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