A genuine graciousness permeates Killingly's football program

New Britain — When it was over, the kids of Killingly dutifully shook hands with the kids of Weston, the deserving Class M state champion. They stood near midfield and applauded as Weston accepted the trophy. There was no cursing, equipment tossing, bickering or finger pointing. Just the unhappy reality that the other team was better.

This was Saturday in the fog and mist of Willow Brook Park, the second time in three years the kids of Killingly made the state championship game. Maybe their graciousness in losing came from once having known the euphoria of winning. Maybe it's just a nice bunch of kids. Maybe it's the culture of the program. More likely a combination of the three.

Chad Neal, the coach, had just delivered his final state of the union to his team when he addressed reporters on the field. He saw Tim Cook, the man who freezes his ascot off frequently holding the camera and shooting video for GameDay. In the wake of a stinging loss, this is what Neal said:

"What you guys do is wonderful," he said to Cook, alluding to GameDay. "The thing the kids have, the videos, the memories, they'll have them for their lives. So, thank you."

The previous scene is conveyed to illustrate genuine graciousness that permeates the program. How ironic, indeed, that the kids of Killingly actually represent the same politicos and other dullards in town who confront adversity with name-calling and the other amateur hour charades that robbed the football team of a nickname and a mascot for Saturday's game.

Think about it: The kids and coaches accepted losing with resolve and refinement; grace and gratitude. The Board of Education gathering/clown show from earlier in the week that rescinded the work of the previous board and Killingly kids who presented ample evidence to retire the Redmen nickname, produced adults calling each other "communists" and "racists" right there in public.

Maybe Neal and his players should run the next board meeting.

"You've got to remain humble," Neal said after Saturday's 27-6 loss to Weston. "Appreciate what other teams do. When we work hard, we appreciate winning, but we also appreciate the effort the other team gives you. These kids give me everything. We may not always pass the eye test. But they leave everything on the field. I couldn't be prouder to be their coach."

Neal said the Redmen/Red Hawks ridiculousness wasn't a talking point among his players during preparation for Weston. It certainly was in the bleachers. Let's leave it here: Many townsfolk do not appreciate the current characterizations of Killingly, as if unwitting song lyrics of Stealers Wheel:

"Clowns to the left of me; jokers to the right; here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

And if the elected officials who have turned the town into a punchline want to remain elected, they better check their attitudes at the door forthwith. Or better yet: Convene a meeting with the football team and take notes on etiquette.

Killingly football has become a statewide model for many reasons, not just Neal's "RPO" (run people over) approach. They do it the right way. And that their kids and coaches got their names sullied because of the dolts on the school board is the blackest mark of all. Imagine: Build the program from nothing, reach a state level for all the right reasons and then watch politics as usual blow holes in your reputation.

And so, what are Killingly residents prepared to do about this?

Note to Killingly residents: Your football players and coaches have given your town an impeccable reputation throughout Connecticut. Some of your elected officials have turned your town into a joke.

Maybe it's time for the kids to lead you, Killingly. Their track record is considerably more trustworthy. Even in defeat Saturday, Killingly never looked better.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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