Sports ... football in particular ... became a rallying point for Fitch

It has become a familiar act of political expediency: Threaten to cut high school sports, or make them play-to-play, thus getting masses off their ascots and into full moral outrage.

Cheap? Yep.

Effective? Yep.

But is there a way to prevent such future acts of treachery?

Well there's this: Remember their names at election or contract renewal time. Then just say no.

Oh, if the Universe could have only pressed the cosmic pause button last Friday night, just long enough to make an infomercial about the power, influence and necessity of sports on a high school campus. This was at the Fitch-East Lyme football game.

What a day for the sons of Fitch. Virtually every emotion fathomable — mortality, fright, doubt, hope, wonder, appreciation, jubilation, inspiration — all tethered to a football game and a bunch of kids who will never forget the shapes and forms of Nov. 10, 2017.

They learned all over again the best and most enduring lesson sports purport to teach: to foster a deeper sense of obligation to things greater than our own self-interest.

This is how it happened: Earlier in the day, the Shack Restaurant provided free breakfast for the kids in advance of Friday's game that would decide a division title within the conference. Yet what followed was perhaps the first time kids came face to face with their own mortality, after a serious car accident involving some players.

Sobering photos of the mangled car belied the happy outcome: Everyone survived.

They were at the game Friday.

But the looks on their faces — some faces that sported cuts, bruises and black eyes — told the story words could not. Sometimes it takes death, or a facsimile thereof, to cultivate a new respect for life.

And the game provided a rallying point for everyone. It was a place to gather. To be together. For a cause.

It had already been quite the season. Fitch was (and still is) undefeated. Its players have grown and matured exponentially, learning some lessons of life along the way sports teach: How to work with teammates of varying talents and commitment levels. How self-sacrifice (sometimes you have to block for the other guy; sometimes he blocks for you) contributes to success. Protecting one another. Encouraging one another. Resilience. Quick decision making under duress.

And so imagine the emotions of Friday night, even without the bout with death. Big game, season on the line, a chance for the playoffs and the division title. Suddenly, though, an entirely new element happened from nowhere. This new appreciation for life. For your friends and coaches. For everything this season has brought, wrought and taught.

I saw some of the kids in tears at various moments throughout the game. Some because they couldn't be out there playing. Some because they knew they just got a second chance at life. Some because they felt blessed to be part of this and were smart enough to realize it.

This is the part of sports nobody appreciates.

It's what they've taught forever. Except that sports, like other endeavors, are subject to excess. And that's what gets reported, as if the Rick Pitinos of the word are the rule, not the exception. It's really not that way. Most kids and coaches get it. They may need a gentle reminder occasionally, right there with overzealous parents and fans.

Generally speaking, however, sports are healthy and necessary, despite how the anti-sports crowd points to the perils of athletic gluttony as a means to deride the other lessons.

It is worth noting, too, that last spring, some folks in Groton were all for getting rid of high school sports, or at least making them pay-to-play. Imagine if they succeeded? Imagine how many of the kids on the football team would have been denied this life-changing experience that circumstances have conspired to create?

Here's hoping school and elected officials in and out of Groton absorb this. Sports are part of the high school experience because they enhance it, teaching lessons in often intangible and immeasurable ways, sure. But they're a teaching tool like no other.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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