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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    It’s time for new athletic facilities at Bacon Academy

    Colchester — The only difference between death and taxes, Will Rogers once said, is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.

    Among other interpretations of an otherwise classic line is this: As taxpayers, we’re all going to pay. The question is: What are we going to pay for?

    This ought to be the question that all of Colchester gets to answer. It is for the citizens to decide what they’ll pay for, which for purposes of today’s discourse is a $7 million project that improves the decaying outdoor athletic facilities at Bacon Academy, including synthetic turf, lights and upgrades to other fields.

    A simple turn into the parking lot at Bacon is an exercise in how the front doesn’t match the back. The front: Dapper looking school grounds. The back: the worst athletic fields in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and condemned tennis courts that killed the entire tennis program. The outdoor facilities have been untouched since the school was built in 1993 and are all but obsolete, evidenced by last November when the football/soccer field was unplayable after a football game played in the mud rendered it useless for the rest of the season.

    “It makes me uncomfortable to know our programs deserve better facilities,” athletic director Kevin Burke said. “This is an opportunity for us to do something.”

    Indeed. After the aforementioned football game, the baseball field became the practice home for everyone. One day, there was a junior varsity girls’ soccer game in left field, football practicing in right field near the fence. Boys’ soccer was in right field, away from the fence. Girls’ soccer was on the infield, careful to avoid tripping on the pitchers’ mound.

    Meanwhile, most other ECC campuses have turf — or at least access to a turf field or at least lights. Bacon parents must take time off work to watch the kids play because no lights allow for afternoon only events. The eventual state champion girls’ soccer team’s Senior Day was moved to Lyman Memorial this past season. Burke has moved four football games and eight boys’ soccer games in recent years.

    “As a parent,” GameDay voice (and Colchester resident) Casey O’Neill said, “I love the education my son is getting in Colchester. But athletics don’t match up with everything else.”

    Moreover, all spring sports are delayed to start two weeks each year by poor field conditions. Burke said at least 5-10 practice days are lost in fall and spring seasons, while lacrosse and football have rented space at $250 per hour at a facility in Montville for early-season practices.

    “I will say quite proudly — and I’ve shared this data — that our academic progress is outpacing places like Farmington and Glastonbury,” Colchester superintendent Dan Sullivan said. “I just want to make sure we’re giving our kids the whole experience. Our performing arts and athletic facilities do not mirror the overall quality of the other programs.”

    Sullivan and Burke did a study of Bacon’s District Reference Groups (DRG), a classification system in which districts with public school students of similar socioeconomic status are grouped to make legitimate comparisons. Twenty-one of the 26 districts in Bacon’s DRG have turf fields and 23 have lights.

    An impressive number of Bacon students have already addressed the Board of Education and Board of Finance on this matter. First Selectman Bernie Dennler is in support. I’m told an issue here is that Dennler’s predecessor, Andreas Bisbikos, was the ‘62 Mets of fiscal responsibility, all but setting the town’s finances ablaze, creating more questions for taxpayers.

    It’s clearer than a bottle of gin that Bacon’s facilities are a joke. This project isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. The people of Colchester don’t deserve more than what other towns have. Neither do they deserve less. They have less. Significantly so.

    This is why the decision to move forward with this project should be determined by the voters, not the elected officials (remember who elected them). Give the citizens a chance to be heard.

    Meantime, slog your way across the football field … and then muddy your car as you drive to virtually any other school in the ECC to discover how little Bacon Academy really has. Remember: We’re all going to pay. But what will we pay for? In Colchester, the answer should be clear.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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