The smallness of Wheeler's population begets greatness of opportunity

North Stonington — In a few days, the citizens of North Stonington will decide the everlasting identity of their town, specifically what's more important to them: their kids or their wallets.

They will decide whether they want their children to be educated in No Sto, where the kids practice fierce loyalty to their schools, sport #weareWheeler T-shirts and enjoy the educational benefits of small class sizes with the deep investment of administration, faculty and staff.

They will decide whether the price of a medium Dunkin' Donuts coffee is worth keeping their kids home, or schlepping them elsewhere to be widgets in another outpost.

So we're clear: Per a well-researched editorial last week in The Day, "various predictions of the annual burden (for fixing the schools) on the owner of a house valued at $175,000 hover around $500 in additional taxes."

That's $9.62 cents a week.

Two friends in real estate say the median home value in North Stonington is $240,000. That means an extra $685.13 per year or $13.18 per week.

Thirteen dollars a week is the rough equivalent of a daily medium coffee from Dunkin' Donuts.

Cream and sugar with that, aggrieved taxpayers?

And so for all of you who quibble with the math, dismiss this as "fake news" or just can't be bothered to care enough about your children, I'm sharing an e-mail I received last week from Conor Gleason, one of Wheeler's best athletes in the last decade.

This is the kind of kid Wheeler produces:

"You may not remember, but we met in the fall of 2009. I was preparing for my senior season of basketball and baseball," Gleason wrote. "I had to bite my tongue as I wanted to question why Wheeler athletes always got snubbed from your recognition. I played with some great athletes at WHS. I never felt we received the credit we deserved from The Day. For that I want to personally say thank you.

"You motivated me. The underdog from the smallest public school in the state. I had the opportunity to transfer and sell out to another school. I would've done well at 90 percent of schools in the ECC in both baseball and basketball. But I stayed because I was proud of my home town and wanted to represent it.

"I am not writing to you because I am still bitter of the past. I'm no longer an athlete, I have since pursued a professional career in Boston, a dream I had as a kid. I am very successful in the working world. I wouldn't be where I am without the motivation from people saying I wouldn't make it anywhere if you stay at Wheeler.

"It goes beyond sports. It's about the education, it's about family, it's about a small community where you truly know every face in the town. There is something special about 'No Sto' that one couldn't understand unless you are a part of it.

"It's people like (boys' basketball coach) Neal Cobleigh, who gives his heart and soul to a program that struggles more than it succeeds. People like Wayne Coats, who for years went above and beyond to tend to the grounds at the school. To every teacher that exhausts all efforts to make sure that they push every student to excel. To people like my mother, father and brother who showed me how to be the best person I could be. And to every member of the community that shows the support and pride of what it means to be a Lion.

"I thank you for writing (last week's column) on the town. I felt you captured the essence from all angles of what it means to be a part of that school system and a part of that community. I hope others can see the light and opportunity provided from Wheeler High School. It's an experience I am forever grateful for."

No school system can do better than producing a young man like that.

There are many, many more of them at Wheeler. The children of No Sto get a unique educational experience because of the one thing for which Wheeler gets mocked: size.

Turns out the smallness of the school population begets greatness of opportunity.

And to think that a referendum later this week could change all that forever.

Keep the next Conor Gleason home, folks. Where he — and they — all belong.

All for a cup of coffee.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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