The ECC and Neon Uncasville are a perfect match
Mohegan – The best stories for those of us who do words for a living happen when no words are required at all.
And that was Tuesday night.
Two basketball games were played at Mohegan Sun Arena and nary a word was necessary to tell the story.
The wide-eyed looks of hope and wonder — from everyone involved — bore a certain eloquence that silently but overtly illustrated the greatest night in the history of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
The ECC played the big room and left requiring an encore.
Write this one down: The ECC has found a new home for its boys’ basketball tournament championship. If logistics allow in future years, for the girls, too. But Tuesday night’s crowd in excess of 3,000 was the perfect backdrop for the most important byproduct of all: the inimitable thrill-of-a-lifetime looks on the faces of all the kids.
This is what happens on the night you arrive. Totally arrive. And maybe the ECC has been there all along, just as potent and productive as its statewide counterparts. Maybe it was just our inferiority complex, perhaps borne of geographical isolation or self-imposed small-mindedness. Whatever. Doesn’t matter anymore. The ECC spoke loudly and clearly Tuesday night with some big-picture thinking, community support and the backing of a multi-million dollar entity that opened its doors to America’s Most Beloved Arena.
Come along for the experience …
• Minutes before tipoff of the Stonington-St. Bernard game, here comes Tom Cantone, the man who allowed this to happen. Cantone is Mohegan Sun’s Vice President of Sports & Entertainment who not only made the arena available to the league, but Mohegan’s media production crew that introduced instant replay and other technological treats for the GameDay crew.
“The looks on the kids’ faces … priceless,” Cantone said, later adding he saw scores and scores of folks patronizing many establishments on property.
This is called win-win-win-win. Adults get a night out, kids get the memory of a lifetime, the league gets unprecedented exposure and Mohegan gets 3,046 people into the place on a Tuesday night — 3,046 more than with a dark arena.
• Best quote of the night came from Liam Spellman, the kid at Waterford who ought to become an ambulance driver one day. Nobody else in the league provides more quick pick-me-ups than Spellman, who is forever in the right place at the right time, sleeves rolled up, ready to go.
“We just played in front of 3,000 people!” he said, not really needing to add anything else. The beaming smile said it all.
• Gary Makowicki, the ECC’s commissioner, was seen pushing a rack of warmup basketballs around the bowels of the arena much of the night.
“Nervous energy,” the commish said.
Funny how he wore the same grin as everyone else, though.
The commish knew a smash hit when he saw one.
• White-ish suit, red tie and red shoes for NFA coach Chris Guisti.
Just retire the ECC’s sartorial trophy in his name now.
• The sound engineer Tuesday at Mohegan: none other than the great Lefty Rothstein.
Good to see an old friend who authored the greatest moment in the history of Dodd Stadium one night many years ago.
The home plate umpire got hit with a foul tip, you know, below the equator.
The Left-hander immediately played “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis that had us rolling on the floor in laughter.
• Interesting reactions to winning: The St. Bernard kids piled on each other at midcourt in complete euphoria, while the Waterford kids shook hands like the Red Sox would after winning some nothing game in mid-May. Maybe that’s the byproduct of having won 37 of your last 38 games. Note to the Waterford kids, though: Enjoy this. It won’t last forever.
• Best student section of the night: NFA. (Sorry, Lancer Nation. Y’all been a little subdued lately.)
• Congrats to Eastern Board official Tony Gigliotti, who earned a spot on the floor for the first game.
Gigliotti will retire from officiating after this season.
He will be missed.
• This courtesy of Waterford assistant coach Mike Stroneski:
Waterford junior Stanley Maynard became the only player in ECC history Tuesday night to play on both the Div. I (Waterford, 2019) and Div. II (St. Bernard, 2018) league championship teams.
• Finally: The entire ECC owes Ledyard assistant principal/athletic director Jim Buonocore a round of applause for Tuesday night.
Buonocore brought the idea of playing the ECC championships in Neon Uncasville to Cantone in December. The night ran flawlessly because of his preparation and passion. The league is lucky to have him.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro