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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Watching the kids play: the concept of a cheap night out

    It is a scene often repeated not only in this corner of the world, but most others, too.

    Old timer No. 1: “What a shame.”

    Old timer No. 2: “What do you mean?”

    Old timer No. 1: “Nobody goes to local games anymore. Remember when we played? They must have been five deep at the fence.”

    Old time No. 2: “Five deep at the fence? At least. And nobody had cars. They had to walk. Uphill. Both ways. Killing forest animals on the way. Some of our crowds could have filled Yale Bowl.”

    Embellishment, of course, is often tethered to such fables. The crowds get bigger as memories become mere echoes. But the rhetorical usefulness is valuable. People have more to do now to occupy their time. Going to watch the kids play doesn’t move the needle, thus explaining why crowds are reduced to friends and relatives.

    Except that a funny thing has happened on the way to more inertia. Attendance figures have been impressive around here over the first two weeks of the high school football season, more so than in the recent past. To wit:

    Fitch at Thames River drew more than 2,000 to the new turf field at Grasso Tech, which abuts the parking lot at Fitch. The Falcons were able to dress in their field house and walk down the hill, perhaps creating a new rivalry with the neighbors. The Fitch players were still talking about the jolt they felt from playing before the large crowd even into Friday’s game at New London.

    Griswold athletic director Steve Cravinho said the home opener on the Wolverines’ new turf field “looked like a Thanksgiving crowd” last week, estimating about 2,000 fans.

    Sheehan at Ledyard drew more than 1,500 last week, per assistant principal/athletic director Jim Buonocore. New London athletic director Phil Orbe said 1,500 showed up to Cannamela Field for Fitch/New London on Friday, in spite of the ability to sit home and watch live on GameDay. Waterford’s Chris Landry said the Lancers, who probably have the most consistent attendance numbers across all sports, had a 1,000 Friday night for their game with Montville.

    Now for the best part: Nobody really saw this coming. What is it about this season that has regenerated interest? I’m not sure there’s one answer. It’s layered. And speculative.

    But here’s one conjecture: It’s a cheap night out. This just in: Cheap nights out are more valuable than ever.

    No, really. I’ve never experienced less financial wiggle room in my life. I’m grateful for the ability to pay my bills. But there’s less left over than ever. I suspect others are feeling the same twinge. A more cynical fellow might ask his elected officials to stop shouting damnation at one another and bring down the cost of gas and food. But then, there goes that cynical fellow getting all ideological again.

    The local high school game, meanwhile, still qualifies as a night out. It’s a feeling of community. It’s social. And it’s cheap, with a $5 admission fee for adults and $3 for kids in most places. That’s considerably less than a movie or dinner. (My personal favorite now are the places that charge patrons at the bar for ice.)

    We’re sensing the increased interest at GameDay as well. This past week, Day Director of Multimedia Peter Huoppi produced video features of Fitch senior football player Gianni Drab and New London’s Macho Burres. The number of views across all of GameDay’s platforms for each video are approaching five digits apiece.

    There’s probably a lesson here for us all. The concept of “local” isn’t dead yet. It’s a lot cheaper to go see the kids play than the Patriots. You don’t pay to park, admission is a single digit (not three) and you’re home in a few minutes. And for us here at America’s Most Underrated Media Outlet? We need to pound local stories — sports and otherwise — because that’s the news people can’t get anywhere else.

    So keep going to watch the kids. They love it. Keep viewing, clicking and reading. We love it, too.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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