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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Of Trey, Tanner and tears on the football field

    In the pantheon of great fibs, “the check’s in the mail” and “I only had one beer, officer” have to make anyone’s top 10. But did you know there’s a journalistic version?

    “No rooting in the press box.”

    Ha. Good one. Of course we root. Not necessarily for who wins and loses. Sometimes we root for the byline, for what makes the best story to tell. Sometimes we root for people. And, yes, sometimes for teams.

    Translation: We’re human. Anybody in this business who claims to be unceasingly objective ought to be serenaded with a rousing “liar, liar pants on fire.”

    This is why I was a blubbering idiot at times during high school football this past weekend. Some pretty awesome things happened. If you’d care to share in the joy, keep reading.

    Thursday night at Fitch: A kid I remember being born – literally the day he was born – and watched grow up returned a fumble 78 yards for a touchdown.

    Friday night at Montville: A man who loves his alma mater coached it to its first win in 1,077 days.

    These are the stories of Fitch junior Calvin (“Trey”) McCoy III and Montville coach Tanner Grove. The former stepped on his home field for basically the first time. The latter stepped on his home field for the first time all over again.

    It began Thursday at Dorr Field, where Fitch was home to New London. Perfect weather night and Dorr Field’s grass was greener than Fenway’s, leaving athletic director Marc Romano as a candidate for Agronomist of the Week.

    So the game started and I’m kibbitzing with Bethany Grady, Fitch’s awesomely awesome trainer.

    “Beth,” I said, pointing to McCoy. “We’re getting old. I remember the day that kid was born.”

    “The problem is that we’re getting older than they’re getting younger,” she said.

    Amen to that, sista.

    Anyway, there was a fumble what couldn’t have been a minute later. Suddenly, there is No. 3 sprinting down the field. I wasn’t entirely familiar with numbers yet. It took a hot second to realize it.

    “Holy (spit)!” I said to nobody in particular. “That’s Trey!”

    Background: I’ve been friends with Trey’s family for years. His grandfather, Calvin, was a longtime coach and football official here. His dad, Calvin Jr., played at Fitch (with the Oscar Gamble Fro) and later became a trainer of mine at his business, Advantage Personal Training in Niantic and Mystic. It should be noted that Gianni Drab forced the fumble. Drab is the son of McCoy’s business partner, Greg Drab. You can’t make this stuff up.

    So there goes Trey into the end zone. I found myself oddly emotional. When you do this long enough, you start thinking of kids you cover as your own. I suspect if my own son ever did that, they’d need for coronary care unit for me.

    I caught his dad’s eye. Calvin Jr. calls plays for the Fitch offense atop the press box. We fist pumped each other. Journalistically unprofessional? Totally. And I’d do it again.

    “I’m thinking, ‘If I look back, I'm probably going to get caught,’” Trey said in the locker room after the game. “So I just started running, running. I remember looking back I saw nobody was there.”

    It was an eventful night for him. McCoy got yelled at by Fitch coach Mike Ellis for not making a block. He responded with a quarterback sack, after which he was so excited he bounced up, bounced off a teammate and fell down again.

    These are the days and times this job beats all. You start covering the kids and grandkids of the people who helped make communities and programs what they are. And to see them succeed? It gets you thinking about a larger, guiding hand. So many souls pass through this world. And as our paths cross, miraculous things can and do happen.

    “There's been a talk around that I'm only playing because my dad's a coach, my uncle (John) played here and my grandpa was in the area and did a lot of things,” Trey said. “I'm just I'm just glad to prove everybody wrong.”

    And then it was Friday in The Ville. The Fighting Tanner Groves hadn’t won since Oct. 4, 2019. Seventeen straight losses over 1,077 days. This stings. Montville is a proud program. Grove coached them to the state finals twice back in the days of Tyler Girard-Floyd and his current assistant coach, Skyler McNair.

    Really fun game. Bacon Academy is drastically better. Montville had to keep scoring under some dire circumstances to win the game. Quarterback Tyler Ladia, a converted lineman, finished with 336 passing yards and six touchdowns. Five went to Isaiah Balancier, whose 275 receiving yards is good enough for 14th in state history for most receiving yards in one game. Montville won, 38-28.

    Celebration on. Longtime assistant Jim Cook, who deserves every accolade he can get for holding the program together during last year’s anxiety, said to me, “geez, it’s like they’ve never won before.” And we sort of turned to each other, laughed and at the same time said, “they actually haven’t.”

    I watched Grove in the closing seconds. He let loose the 50,000-watt smile of a man whose life has undergone significant upheaval in recent years. A man who didn’t know whether he’d lost his program or perhaps his job. A man who was finally proven innocent. A man who lived the message he told his players postgame: Keep showing up and doing things right and the rewards will come.

    His postgame state of the union got cut short. The players simply jumped around the mobbed their coach. I had to turn away. Hallmark Moment. On the football field again. Second straight night.

    My interview with Grove was done a few minutes later. He couldn’t wait to walk from midfield to the fence, where his wife and two daughters were waiting for him. I heard one of his daughters yell, “Here come daddy!”

    There isn’t enough money in the world to replicate the utter joy of that scene.

    The Montville kids celebrated outside the locker room with their family and friends. I wanted to stay myself, but newspaper deadline called.

    And it was very happy typing.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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