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Dave Sousa has honored Waterford, now we honor him in retirement

Waterford — A school year of athletics didn’t merely end Thursday at Waterford High, but the career, too, of maybe the most Waterford Guy of them all.

No more games now for Dave Sousa. No more bus schedules, reschedules or league schedules. Just golf and grandchildren for the man who will retire as the athletic director and conscience of Waterford sports.

Sousa went to Waterford High. Coached its first football team to the state playoffs. Sent his children to 20 Rope Ferry Rd. And then returned in 2007 as its athletic director, his dream job, overseeing a department that brought nothing but mad props and bon mots to the community.

In Sousa’s 12 years, Waterford, a school of about 900 kids, won 11 state championships in seven different sports: softball (3), boys’ basketball (2), gymnastics (2), baseball, wrestling, girls’ soccer and girls’ volleyball. Forget all the division and league titles. Imagine this modest-sized school actually becoming the target of envy in and out of the region for its absurd success.

Maybe that was Sousa’s greatest trick. He made Waterford hated — in that good-natured sports hate kind of way — because the Lancers win all the games and get all the attention. Sports hate isn’t such a bad thing, either. Remember: The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. Hard to find anyone now who pays attention to sports in this corner of the world indifferent about Waterford.

Not that Sousa and the person typing this haven’t been peeved at each other here and there. The person typing this often has bouts with irritability and snottiness. Sousa was an occasional target.

But, you know, we move on. It’s just sports. Plus, there’s the idea of what we do … and then who we are. There is no denying, none whatsoever, that Sousa’s loyalty and passion for the 06385 is unparalleled. Loyalty and passion count. Now and forever.

Sousa got a chance to coach his son, Zack, the quarterback of Waterford’s first playoff team since the state playoffs began in 1976. Zack, a former intern in the Day sports department, remains one of our favorites. A sense of humor that belied his age. Zack belongs on anybody’s list of top 10 overall athletes in Waterford lore and legend, lettering in three sports.

Sousa’s most challenging time came perhaps in the fall of 2011 during school reconstruction. He was left to find different venues for the soccer teams (Spera Field), volleyball team (old gym at the high school), swim team (UConn Avery Point), football team (every game was played on the road, with one home game at the Coast Guard Academy) and cheerleaders (Clark Lane). They even threw him out of his office.

And now Waterford owns the ECC’s best sports complex: turf field with ample seating and the 1,800-seat fieldhouse, home to the ECC boys’ basketball tournament, the league’s best moneymaker.

How fitting, indeed, that the 2018 season was so memorable. The boys’ basketball team, with a once-in-a-lifetime-player, Mikey Buscetto, filled the fieldhouse several times, won the ECC title on the home floor and state title at Mohegan Sun.

And then on what would be the last day of athletic competition in Sousa’s tenure, when the boys’ lacrosse team lost in the state semifinals, baseball player Michael Burrows went in the 11th round of the draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not a bad exit.

Sousa’s not much into the credit-taking thing either. He caught tears watching the basketball team celebrate the state title at Mohegan Sun Arena, awash in more blue that day than the July sky.

“We know every town isn't like this," Sousa said. "I know other towns view themselves as athletic towns. But we are very fortunate to have what we do. They get started early. People really care.”

We’ve lived it all with Dave and his wife, Deb. Many celebratory parties after big wins. Commiserations after tough losses. And an unforgettable bout with sorrow and humanity.

Dave and Deb lost their daughter, Colby, who died in 2005 at 21. Colby’s memory endures with the words “live, laugh, love.”

Maybe that’s not such a bad way for Dave Sousa to approach retirement. Live, laugh and love every day, an honor not only to his little girl, but a way to live the best years of his life in the best way possible.

One day, Zack was poking fun at his sister’s cheerleading prowess, cracking the immortal line, “she smiles really excellently.”

And so do we at how Dave Sousa honored the town he loves so much.

Happy retirement, Dave.

Don’t be a stranger.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

 

 

 

 

 

 

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