Rollins has found much to celebrate about our community of New London

New London — This is not an easy time to be a New Londoner. Sordid developments within the schools have turned the city otherwise so full of characters and spirit into a punchline — even nationally — evidenced by Cedric The Entertainer’s one-liners about the 06320 during his recent show at Mohegan Sun.

He said something to the effect of punching in “New London” to his GPS and having the GPS reply, “you sure you want to go there?”

And so we are a city in need of something — anything — positive, if even to remind us that whatever becomes of this investigation, there are many, many, well-meaning, decent people still walking among us.

Enter Matt Rollins.

The “gentle giant,” as his old basketball coach at New London High, Craig Parker, calls him. Rollins and his wife Abby were unable to mobilize the traditional Father’s Day weekend basketball tournament in honor of their fallen son for this weekend. Instead, they might have discovered something better: a community day for the whole city from 10-7 Saturday at Toby May Field.

“We didn’t want to drop the day,” Rollins, a safety officer at the high school, was saying earlier this week. “We always feel like it brings people together. Nothing but positive feedback. We want it to be all-inclusive event. Everybody come out. There’s something to watch or fun to do.”

And so in lieu of nothing but basketball, there’s basketball mixed with other fun stuff: a DJ, food trucks, face painting, bounce house, obstacle course, 3-point contest, knockout contest, foul shooting and dunk contest (if anyone can).

This began as a basketball tournament, aiming to find inspiration through tragedy. The Darin Robinson Jr. Father’s Day Basketball Tournament was a tribute to the Rollins’ late son, who died at the age of 26 in October, 2014, along with two other family members in a traffic fatality.

“We want to raise awareness toward distracted driving,” Abby Rollins said of the event. All proceeds raised from the day go to youth scholarships in her son’s name.

A primer: In October, 2014, Robinson, his girlfriend Bonita Leary, their 3-year-old son and stepdaughter were traveling from Groton to their home in Meriden. They were stopped in traffic in Waterford because of an accident. A tractor trailer never hit the brakes behind them. They were the first car hit. Only Leary survived.

Robinson Jr., an organ donor, has already saved many lives, even in death.

The family couldn’t find enough teams for a tournament this year, but has still managed to coordinate a day that’s never been more needed within the city.

“A good day. A good community day,” Rollins said. “Right now, there’s a lot going on. This is a chance to take your mind off that. School will be out. Kids can come out and have fun.”

So can the adults. Perhaps not enough people understand the power of this stuff. But a few Fridays ago, school officials and parents coordinated a game night at Bennie Dover that drew quite the crowd. There was basketball in the gym and other activities/food in the cafeteria. Many kids and families were there. If nothing else, the night illustrated the power of togetherness.

This is a day to forgo salacious rumors and wondering about what’s coming next. This is a day to be with each other and remember why we like it here in the first place. Not a day to be polarizing. But a day to enjoy a nice park, more food than we can shove into ourselves and the spirit of community that has always made the 06320 unique.

“New London needs these things,” Rollins said. “There’s a such a stigma that New London doesn’t have anything for the kids. It’s not the case. We’ve just got to get the right people on it.”

Matt and Abby Rollins are on it. And that’s a good start. See y’all Saturday.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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