Misto earned her inclusion as part of the city of green and gold
New London — In the pantheon of all the other certainties and realities about New Londoners, this one bats leadoff:
Suspicious of all outsiders.
Assimilation into the 06320 from beyond the borders does not happen without strict scrutiny. It’s like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.
It’s a New London thing. It might be THE New London thing.
And that, really, was Holly Misto’s greatest trick here. She earned trust and built quality relationships, despite her walkway to Whalerville via Westerly.
Holly Misto found salvation in green and gold.
The green and gold found salvation in her, too.
“She’s a Whaler,” assistant coach (and true, blue Whaler) Missy Parker said of Misto during this past season, illustrating that in brevity sometimes there is poetry. There is no greater compliment in this city than to be pronounced a Whaler … by a Whaler.
Misto recently announced her retirement as the girls’ basketball coach at the high school. The numbers alone speak declaratively: a record of 123-12 with the 2017 Class LL state title and No. 1 ranking, two other state championship appearances, three straight Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament titles and four straight seasons with 25 wins or more.
She didn’t merely sustain what Kerrianne Dugan built, but added a few new floors, too.
But then, those are just numbers. Other coaches — from in and out of New London — have won a lot here, too, but left with a healthy number of detractors. That’s New London. We lead the world in “yeah … but.”
And yet Misto leaves here with universal (or at least city-versal) respect. Maybe because she never tried too hard to fit in. She just let her character do the talking. Ironic that “Misto” means "mixed" in Italian. There is nothing mixed about her messages.
It helped, too, that she won a lot. Hard to argue with someone who is 123-12. But it’s the way she got there: tough, demanding, fair, human. Her all-female coaching staff never partook in sound bites about empowerment. Their actions did the talking. All the players who came through the program learned what Helen Reddy meant by “I am woman, hear me roar,” just by watching their coaches.
New London is not an easy place to comprehend. There are traditions, characters and behaviors that often defy sanity. Somehow, though, Misto learned the city by learning who the kids really are.
I’ll miss her. She taught me a valuable lesson — and probably doesn’t even know it — about how establishing trust between two people is a process. It is not guaranteed.
Example: upon learning Misto was an optometrist, I introduced myself to her after a game one night with a joke.
“What did the lens say to the policeman after getting pulled over?” I said. “I've been framed, officer.”
She looked me as if to say, “You’re trying way too hard, dude.”
I loved that about her. No time to tolerate fools. None. And then you’d watch her interact with her players and coaches and realize the byplay was genuine. Misto is rather entertaining during games, frequently wheeling around with streams of consciousness — sometimes aimed at her coaches, sometimes to no one in particular.
Soon enough, we’d be part of the same postgame gang at Mr. G’s laughing the nights away.
Misto is a great storyteller. Underrated sense of humor. Photographic recall of every blown call from the officials. Rarely satisfied with defense, short of a shutout. And with the inner strength to conquer a health issue that’s given her a new respect for life.
And so Holly Misto leaves the 06320 now knowing they’ll always leave the light on for her, outsider or not. Girls’ basketball has become a thing at New London High, thus giving her successor quite the responsibility. Not merely to win, but to provide the kids with similar education and empowerment through actions, not just words.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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