The moment Waterford became Tuscaloosa
Waterford — This job's most rewarding perspective allows us to share in the moments of others without total immersion into them. We maintain just enough detachment to experience the shapes, forms and emotions without cause to breathe into brown paper bags.
And so it was as though the universe hit the cosmic pause button for a moment Wednesday night at Waterford High, a scene we might have thought reserved for only what we see on TV instead of wondrous reality.
Picture it: Fourth down for Granby/Canton, the opponent in this potential history-making event in Lancerville. "Waterford football," no longer an oxymoron for anybody, was one play from history. One stop. One incomplete pass from earning the first playoff win in the 60-plus year resume of the program.
And so there they were, both teams heading to the line of scrimmage, and something made me turn around. Maybe it was the noise. Or instinct. Or just dumb luck. But in this moment, I saw everyone in the bleachers standing and clamoring. This was the play. This was the moment. And for one moment, the 06385 looked, sounded and felt like Saturday in Tuscaloosa, not Wednesday on Rope Ferry Road.
I kept staring and realized something else: I knew just about everyone up there. Friends, acquaintances, moms, dads, kids and other John and Jane Q. Publics who make the mental Rolodex after so many years doing this.
Cool, I thought.
So, so cool seeing people you like and care about fired up about something they like and care about.
Kind of why most days I liken this job to lyrics from Jesus Jones: Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.
That the Granby/Canton pass fell errantly and Waterford's celebration began — all the way to snow angels in the end zone — wasn't the point. It was the cacophony of community in the bleachers, when something our kids are doing was important enough to capture absolutely everyone.
It made me think this:
This scene is what travel teams and prep schools just can't provide our kids and their families. Because there is nothing — nothing, nothing, nothing else — that compares to wearing the name of your high school on your chest and feeling the synergy and energy of the whole town.
Speaking of the cosmic pause button: We push it here. I'm not interested in a debate with all you travel team/prep school folks. Of course, such teams and endeavors have their place. Of course, kids and parents everywhere have plenty of positive experiences.
But I don't have to like them.
And neither does anyone else who believes in their neighborhood. Give me Lancer Nation at the X on a Friday night over the wilderness of, say, Northfield Mount Hermon any time. Lancer Nation is about community. Prep schools are about individuals. Again: We all get to make choices. But I choose the scene behind me Wednesday night.
This isn't just a Waterford thing, although the town seems to have the market cornered at the moment. I've watched all of New London rally behind the Whalers of both genders in many sports ... the utter cleverness of NFA's overflowing student section at football games this year ... Montville showing up en masse for Phil Orbe's championship baseball teams ... Stonington football in the days of Jimmy Buonocore was a happening ... the night East Lyme football won a state title and the whole town went to West Haven to watch ... Dorr Field at Fitch with folks lined up around the fences in the days of Mike Emery ...
That's why I do this.
It doesn't happen every year, every season. The moments are moments because they are rare. But as Jimmy Dugan said in A League of Their Own: "The hard is what makes it great."
You want hard? Try Waterford football, 3-17 the last two years. Friends and relatives in the bleachers. And then came Wednesday and a moment befitting Tuscaloosa.
Heck, they even toasted the Lancers at the Birdseye after Wednesday's game, indicating Lancer Nation goes into another zip code now. It's OK. Because it's a community thing. A town thing. A fellowship thing.
A thing, indeed, that is as unexplainable as it is real.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro