Successful night at Sun will benefit all future ECC games our kids play

News item: After all the bills were paid, the Eastern Connecticut Conference said it made $31,240 from its boys' basketball tournament at Mohegan Sun.

That's roughly $18,000 more than it generated in 2018 when the games were played at Waterford High.

Tremendous would be one way to describe this.

Really tremendous would be another.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, the idea that the ECC would offer anything sexy enough to be live-streamed inside a professional arena would have caused overload inside all the Chicken Littles.

Ah, but the rest, as they say, is current events.

Congratulations to everyone involved, especially boys' basketball tournament director Jim Buonocore, who approached Mohegan Sun with the idea. Buonocore, the assistant principal/athletic director at Ledyard High, knew success was hardly guaranteed. Except that it turns out Tom Cruise was right in "Risky Business" after all.

"Sometimes," Cruise said famously during the movie, "you just gotta say "'what the (heck).'"

And so now the league, whose stature across the state rose exponentially at the mere thought of playing in Neon Uncasville, has some extra scarole, as they say in Italian, to spend. The Mohegan Sun idea, Buonocore said, will be to the benefit of the games all our kids play.

"The boys' basketball tournament is the only consistent league tournament that generates income," Buonocore said. "For this school year, we projected as a league to lose $10,000 on all tournaments. The only other tournament projected to make money besides boys' basketball was cheerleading."

The ECC, which offers 24 tournaments for either boys or girls that lose money, relies on boys' basketball much the way college athletic programs rely on football: It pays for everything else.

"It helps balance the budget and pay the bills for all of the other tournaments. All tournaments have officials, rental fees (Buonocore said the indoor track rental is $2,500), site directors and police," Buonocore said.

The money will also pay for the annual League Leadership Conference (which hosts 10 student-athletes from all 19 league schools, the annual League Class Act Summit, league awards (certificates for all-stars, honorable mention, sportsmanship, scholar-athletes), tournament awards and insurance.

"Mohegan Sun as a difference maker for us," Buonocore said. "It really impacts the kids positively. It keeps our league stable and provided opportunities and recognition other conferences don't have. This has put us ahead (for a year or two) in terms of being able to stay stable within our budget and continue to provide opportunities.

"We approached the Sun because we turned away spectators (in 2018) at Waterford. This year we would have turned away more than 1,000 people. Now that we are holding a second tournament (Div. I and II), having a large facility that can accommodate more than 3,000 is critical for us."

League and casino officials will talk soon about dates for next season. Lest we forget that while the ECC enjoyed a record night, the casino also drew 3,000 more people to its venue than it would have on a night the arena would have been dark. Many of them partook of all the amenities Mohegan Sun offers, making this one of the great win-wins we've had around here in a long time.

Mohegan Sun has always been a good neighbor. This is an example of just how good. It helped provide more than $18,000 the ECC wouldn't have generated otherwise on a night kids from four different schools will never forget.

The Day's resident genius, Peter Huoppi, the man who makes GameDay work, captured all the sights and sounds of both games with a pair of extended highlight videos. Maybe the best line of all came from Stonington coach John Luzzi, who turned to one of his players and said, "This is awesome, isn't it?"

Yes, it was.

Never has the ECC given us a better story.

Here's hoping we can go back next year, too.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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