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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    ECC: Everybody Can Compete (and that’s a good thing)

    Some snotty, sarcastic person wrote this 10 years ago:

    “There's just no way of knowing for sure, what with Freddie Mercury's passing and all. But when Mercury and Queen sang ‘We Are The Champions,’ the guess here is that ‘champions’ was meant in the singular form — one champion — and not plural.

    “You want champions, as in plural? Come hither, east of the river to the Eastern Connecticut Conference. Because in the ever-warped quest to make sure everybody gets a trophy, feels good about themselves and generates acceptable levels of self-esteem, the ECC is cheapening the meaning of the word ‘champion.’”

    Full disclosure: They were the (snotty, sarcastic) words of your humble narrator, who unwittingly perfected that unfortunate exacta of being both loud and wrong at the same time.

    As late politician and abolitionist Horace Mann once said: “Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself 10 years ago.”

    Ten years ago, I thought the ECC’s decision to break into more divisions cheapened the meaning of a championship. I was wrong. I suspect I was wrong because I applied the standards of professional sports — too many teams make the playoffs — to high schools, where winning is preferred, but not at the expense of new experiences, having fun and learning about other people in a team setting.

    I’ve thought about this in recent weeks, especially Tuesday night, watching two girls’ basketball divisions play at Mohegan Sun Arena in the ECC tournament. Nobody would deny that New London is the league’s best team. Yet the Whalers weren’t the only school leaving Neon Uncasville with some hardware. They were joined by Division II champion Windham.

    Ten years ago, that would have bothered me. Now? More kids got the Mohegan experience, accomplishing the unforgettable in a professional venue. Creating more opportunities is never a bad thing.

    It applies to the regular season, too. Two of the best boys’ basketball games I watched all season were for the Division II (Waterford) and III (Griswold) championships. Waterford came from nine points down with four minutes left to beat Windham. I’d never seen Juan Morel, Waterford’s 6-10 center, so happy. It’s not so easy being 6-10 all the time, not with expectations forever increasing. Morel’s grin and the rest of the happy locker room during an otherwise inconsistent season was an oasis for the Lancers.

    Last week, Griswold clinched the Division III title with a win at Stonington. The Wolverines were down 17 in the second quarter. They won with textbook offense in the fourth quarter — ball movement straight from the manual — and more proof that Rob Mileski is an outstanding basketball coach. The howls from the locker room, as loud as Waterford’s, were a triumph for all of the ECC.

    Again: St. Bernard, the Division I winner, is clearly the league’s best team. The Saints have shown as much with a near 30-game ECC win streak. And yes, they have to share some of the regular-season spotlight with Waterford, Griswold and (Division IV champ) Wheeler.

    But this is where the ECC offers the quintessential competitive model, grouping programs by size and strength into the appropriate divisions, the byproduct of which allows them to celebrate something, even if modest in the overall sphere.

    Example: Griswold’s divisional partners in the ECC are like-sized and of mostly similar program strength: Bacon Academy, Stonington, Killingly and Montville. Yet the Wolverines must compete in the state’s Division III with Fitch and Wilby, among others. You know when Griswold and Fitch should compete for the same basketball trophy? Never. That’s when. Ah, but if only the CIAC cared to be as discerning as the ECC.

    I’m sure there are folks out there who perpetuate the “everybody gets a trophy” narrative. But high school sports ought to be about giving the kids the best chance to compete. That doesn’t guarantee victory. But it does give the fairest baseline of opportunity.

    And here, we all thought “ECC” stood for Eastern Connecticut Conference. It also represents the concept of Everybody Can Compete. Maybe a few more banners hang in a few more gyms now. But the ECC allows more kids to have better, fairer experiences. It’s only the entire point.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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