ECC boys' basketball championship games to be held at Mohegan Sun Arena
Mohegan — A landmark agreement between the Eastern Connecticut Conference and Mohegan Sun will provide high school basketball players in the region a unique opportunity late next month.
The league and casino signed a contract Wednesday afternoon agreeing to move the ECC boys’ basketball Division I and II championship games to Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
“We are always excited to host sporting events,” Mohegan Sun Vice President of Sports & Entertainment Tom Cantone said. “This is a great way to get the local community together in a fun, competitive spirit and a popular venue.”
Last season’s ECC championship game filled the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse at Waterford High School (1,800 fans), leaving an estimated 1,000 more fans outside and unable to see the game. Tournament director (and Ledyard High School vice principal/athletic director) Jim Buonocore met with Cantone last month to discuss the possibility of the larger venue, talks that produced a fruitful outcome.
“This is a chance to take advantage of a world class facility and give the kids a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Buonocore said. “It’s a testament to the quality of programs we have in the league and how the marketability of them has never been better. We had to leave people outside last year. We can’t thank Tom and Mohegan Sun enough for this opportunity.”
In addition to the four championship teams, student-athletes from all 19 schools will be represented. All-stars, scholar-athletes and sportsmanship winners will be introduced on the arena floor at halftime of the games.
Advance ticket sales will begin in February.
Mohegan Sun has extensive experience playing host to high school events, highlighted by the state championship basketball games every March. Waterford drew 4,000 fans to its state Division III championship victory last year.
Buonocore said the league is grateful to Mohegan Sun for what he called a “nominal” fee to play the games in a professional atmosphere.
The games will be played at 6 (Division II) and 8 (Division I) and will be streamed live by theday.com.
The quarterfinals will be Feb. 21 at the home of the higher-seeded teams. The ECC semifinals will be at noon, 2, 4:40 and 6:30 on Feb. 23 before the finals on the 26th. Buonocore said that if the long-range forecast calls for snow on the 26th, the championship games would be moved to Monday, Feb. 25.
Buonocore said the league would be interested in maintaining this agreement in the coming years as well, perhaps to include the ECC girls’ basketball championship games.
“We'd love to play the girls’ games there,” he said. “But Mohegan Sun couldn’t guarantee us two nights and the state tournament start dates for the girls’ and boys’ tournaments are staggered. By the time we play the boys’ final, the girls’ state tournament will be underway. It’s more of a logistical thing. But it’s something we want to look at in the future.”