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We need to learn from Friday night's ugly scene and never repeat it

New London — I’ve made it a career to view New London through a cheerier prism, not a city in despair, but our little hamlet of diversity, water views and inimitable spirit. And then I saw the other side Friday night, the first time in 27 years that I felt unsafe at New London High School.

An alarming number of stereotypes many of us work hard to dispel about the city got perpetuated in the worst way at Friday night’s high school football game, not merely during a fight evolving from the postgame handshake line, but from some disorderly parents and their sons who have inherited such behavior from them.

It cannot be tolerated.

It saddens me beyond words.

Some thoughts:

• I do not know what perpetuated the fight. But I do know this: The game got contentious late in the fourth quarter. The handshake line was a bad idea. The players from Hillhouse and New London did not need to be in proximity of each other once it ended. Football is a game of controlled anger. It does not require much to lose such control.

New London coaches and administrators did the very best they could to keep the peace. There were an appreciable number of New London kids who did their best to keep the peace, too, pulling teammates from various scuffles. This was hardly a team-wide scourge.

• New London coach Johnny Burns did the right thing by sending his team straight to the locker room once tempers finally simmered. The chaos, however, resulted in New London players walking from the playing field to the locker room — a decent walk up a hill and across a field — unsupervised. No coaches or security personnel with them. It is a cautionary tale for the future.

The hill is not well lit. Too many members of the public have access to the kids. Adults, equally upset by the fight, incited the kids, worsening a bad situation. With no security as a buffer. The security plan must change.

• It is not the job of the officials to get in the middle of postgame fights. Their job ends at the final horn. It is the job of the players, coaches, school security and police to maintain order.

To that end: I saw two policemen all night. None on the field during the fight. Two officers escorted the officials from the locker room to their cars after the game.

I spoke to New London police chief Peter Reichard on Saturday as to why there were only two police officers assigned to a game that could draw in excess of 1,000 people. Reichard, a good guy who runs his department well, cited staffing issues. He had a limited number of officers available to patrol the whole city. I believe him.

So let me just say this to the city’s leadership: New London’s priorities need an overhaul.

Nobody cares about Fort Trumbull, City Pier, State Pier, who wins the bid for the Crystal Ave. property or what businesses are or aren’t coming to Bank St. Our primary concern is safety. A fully staffed police department allows officers to patrol Bank and State Streets, creating both the perception and the realism that the city is a safer place.

And if the woefully understaffed police department doesn’t become the top priority of our leadership — now — then our leadership knows nothing of its city and its citizens. Nothing. Zero.

• Why did the game officials need a police escort to their cars? Two New London players threatened them physically as all were en route to the locker room.

Game officials said a New London player threw a punch in the direction of an official. The punch did not land.

The perpetrator(s) should never wear the green and gold again. They need to be disciplined, whether through the school or law enforcement. It is unacceptable. Discipline is not a bad thing. Kids need it. And we as adults need to teach them what is in and out of bounds, in spite of what may not be reinforced — or barely mentioned — at home.

New London school officials said one of the game officials used some grossly inappropriate language in the direction of the kids either during or after the game. If that’s true, it needs to be addressed. However, it is never an excuse to take a swing at somebody. Never.

• The scene outside New London’s locker room well after the game ended was sickening. Parents and siblings of players were openly disrespectful — borderline threatening — to assistant coaches and others merely trying to keep the peace. Fights, more than one, could have started at any time. New London High is lucky that A.J. Tillman, Jon Mikula and Corriche Gaskin were in the right place at the right time Friday night. They prevented even more ugliness.

• A parent of a New London football player sent me this Saturday:

“Most parents last night were being just as disrespectful and out-of-control as the situation was,” the parent wrote. “My only concern was my child’s safety and well-being. It’s sad that some parents would rather join in the fight than to try to help keep kids safe.”

I’ve seen many postgame fights. Plenty in the burbs, too. But what I saw Friday night was the most accurate — and sad — illustration of what we’re becoming.

A country filled with angry people who cannot channel their anger properly.

I’m not just talking about New London. Anger is more prevalent than ever. Have you listened to a talk show lately? Read the comments on during the days of anonymity? Anger, anger, everywhere.

I saw kids Friday night unable to properly channel their considerable anger. Why? Because the people most responsible for their well-being couldn’t control themselves, either. I’m wondering if it’s time for anger management to become part of the core curriculum in all our schools now — again, burbs included. I’m just not sure the lessons would be reinforced in enough homes. But it’s a start.

• The most frequently asked question of me since Friday is this: Who started it?

My answer: Why is that relevant?

It happened.

Kids got hurt.

It was dangerous and unsafe.

It reinforced we don’t have enough police.

That we have adults in our city who are out of control.

This is no time for blame assessment. This is a time to reflect. All of us. All of us who love the city. And start thinking about how much more we’re willing to tolerate before we assume some responsibility. Before we demand our leadership to take public safety seriously. Before we start acting like better parents and better citizens.

My heart broke the other night.

We’re better than this, folks.

Let’s start acting like it.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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