We saw this 'hip little city' at its best over the weekend
Many of us managed a wry grin a few years back now when Claire Gaudiani called New London "a hip little city."
Ha. Good one. Hip little city. The residents hate the taxes, the suburbanites won't come here without Kevlar vests and the few, the proud, who actually like it get dismissed as sappy idealists.
Except that Claire would be happy to know that it turns out ... she's right.
At least this past weekend.
We were a hip little city, our little hamlet here by the Thames, home to a number of fun things.
Come on along for the happy recap.
• It began Friday night at Ocean Beach, where nearly 1,000 people attended "Brewfest," a twice-yearly event by the water to sample the euphoric nectar for the ever noble cause of helping kids.
Brewfest, which features a number of craft and local beers, is the brainchild of the New London Rotary Club. Proceeds benefit Camp Rotary, a summer program for more than 150 middle school students that marries educational opportunities with culture, history and fun for seven weeks.
The night requires a number of volunteers from Bennie Dover and the school system and the requisite give-a-damn from Rotarians, who continue to inspire kids in the city with only the most important message ever: You matter.
• As many made merry at the beach, there was a high school football game across town, drawing around 1,500 spectators. The Whalers were supposed to get throttled by No. 9 Killingly, the defending state champ and owner of a 15-game win streak.
Ah, but there's a reason alum and now athletic director Kasi Fletcher would call it "Whaler magic" by night's end.
New London pulled the upset with an exclamation point. Quarterback Owen George threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Pratts with 23 seconds left to complete New London 25, Killingly 24. The kids and coaches were hysterical with joy, perfect strangers were hugging each other in and around Cannamela Field and the cheerleaders began the familiar "Whaaaaaa-lers, Whaaaaa-lers" chant that is equal parts haunting and daunting to opponents.
What a scene.
"We kept fighting!" New London coach Johnny Burns told his team after the game. "Did you learn a valuable lesson from fighting all the way through?"
His kids responded with a "YES COACH!" whose decibels could have peeled paint.
"Sometimes when you show up," preacher Burns kept saying, "you discover there's a fight waiting on you. And when you get bumped in the head a few times, you got blood in your eyes and sweat on your face, you just keep swinging!"
Ah, the metaphorical richness of the games our kids play.
• Then came Saturday, Parents' Weekend at Coast Guard, where 4,450 showed up to watch the "Little Army-Navy Game" between Coast Guard and Norwich.
Similar ending. Coast Guard scored with nine seconds left, to the delirium of the patrons, who celebrated the 38-35 win. Joy, tears, high fives, hugs and an all-around infomercial for the Academy all on the turfed lawn of the football field.
This just in: All the parents who visited this weekend had to eat and sleep somewhere. I happened to eavesdrop on a conversation in the restroom between two parents who had been out the night before.
Seems they partook of the triumphant triangle, otherwise known as visiting The Social, Daddy Jacks and Hot Rod's, all within a triangular walk of each other downtown. Our visitors gushed over Bank Street's setting by the water, all the different people and cultures and how the city seems to be, in one man's words, "underrated."
It reminded me of Arsenio Hall's old skit, "things that make you go hmmmm."
As in: Hmmm. See what happens when people view New London without preconceived ideas?
• And then Sunday marked the third "We Love New London" parade. Day photo journalist Sarah Gordon took some priceless pictures of, well, us. All of us. Eclectic New London singing and dancing together.
The weekend had it all. And the best part: It's all fact. No opinions necessary. It's what happened. Sort of like the advice my mentor in this business, the late, great Randy Smith of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, once told me: "Michael ... when in doubt, just write what you see."
Now you know what I saw.
People together in the 06320 experiencing fun, drama, joy, fellowship, beer, good causes, late touchdowns, drums, patriotism, volunteerism, inspirational speeches, Whaler magic, good food and the feeling of wanting to do it all over again.
And somewhere, Claire Gaudiani smiles.
Hip little weekend in the hip little city.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro