Metal detectors at the game our kids play: The end of our innocence is here

Until Wednesday, our corner of the world might have been identified as many cozy suburban hamlets surrounding the unsteady urban cores of New London and Norwich.

But even the most ardent member of the Stuff Like This Doesn't Happen Around Here Club ought to have been awakened by the news: Credible threats of gang violence, which has the attention of law enforcement in both cities, was the impetus to move the start time of the Norwich Free Academy/New London football game to 1 p.m. next Wednesday at NFA.

The end of our innocence is here. It probably arrived longer ago than most of us realize. Perhaps it took something this unnerving to vivify our senses. Because it's clear now that none of us, even the aforementioned dwellers from the burbs, are immune from the specter of violence anymore.

I spoke to police sources in both cities during the day Wednesday. Here is what I learned:

A New London police source called the dramatis personae "high school-aged kids involved in street gang-related activities" in both cities. The source said the threats are credible enough for New London school officials to have asked New London police officers ride the team bus to and from the game.

Norwich police sources say it's possible, perhaps likely, that metal detectors will be used as a means of security. The sources said that securing the football field at NFA, with its notable expanse, is a daunting undertaking and is better done in daylight. The Norwich police said more personnel would be available on Wednesday than on Thanksgiving morning.

I know and trust the police officers to whom I spoke. Their eyes and voices suggested this is very serious. It is also not the first time NFA, because of perceived threats of violence, has moved the start time of an athletic event. Last winter, a basketball game between NFA and Ledyard was moved to the afternoon, following what police feared would be the residual effect of a stabbing incident early in the morning on New Year's Day at Foxwoods.

And this is where we are: Metal detectors at the games our kids play. In our corner of the world.

Note that such a concept is nothing new in other parts of Connecticut. Example: All patrons attending athletic events at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven, a palatial gym/arena attached to Hillhouse High, must pass through metal detectors. It's pro forma. No matter who's playing.

Many of us have attended games there. Heck, Waterford played its state semifinal basketball game there last March. Bet many of you who passed through the metal detectors to watch a high school basketball game had the same thought: Thank God we don't have these problems back home.

Except we do.

I spent much time in thought during the day Wednesday. I wondered whether the NFA/New London game should even be played. Or perhaps played with no fans. And then I realized, after many conversations, that's no answer at all.

It's fear-based thinking that preys on our inner demons and anxieties. It's the tenet of the tenant currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave: Excite the apprehensions and fears of his followers. Pander to their prejudices. Rinse. Repeat.

And we just can't do it any longer. We get to have a say. It's here we should recall U2's song "Acrobat," with the classic line, "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

We need to accept what we've become: susceptible to the same violence here in eastern Connecticut we think we only see on television. And rather than cave to our fears, we must — must — turn that energy into vigilance. Not militance. Vigilance. As they say: If you see something, say something.

There will be a lot more of us there next Wednesday than the people scaring us. Think about that again: We outnumber them. We will be watching. All of us. So maybe we have the power here after all.

I know many of you want this game on Thanksgiving Day. You don't understand why it went to Wednesday in the first place. Sadly, that's become a peripheral issue, hardly relevant to the cold reality of violence's prevalence.

Maybe we all thought it would never come to this. Maybe we knew we were wrong. But that doesn't mean we have to be intimidated. I'll be there next week. Observant and vigilant. Come and join me.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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