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Girls from the ECC finally get to play The Big Room

Mohegan — This night began, perhaps unwittingly, many years ago. Mostly because Mitchell Etess, the backbone of all that's become of Mohegan Sun, personifies the Twitter hashtag feted at Kobe Bryant's celebration of life Monday in Los Angeles: #GirlDad.

This night, the night a bunch of girls from our corner of the world got to play The Big Room, began in the days Etess used to keep the scorebook at his daughters' basketball games at Old Lyme. First Piper, then Maxie. Old Lyme coach Don Bugbee used to joke that the objectivity of the scorer's table was the safest place for Etess, at least prohibiting this #GirlDad from bellowing at the refs from the bleachers.

Piper and Maxie grew up playing basketball. They, combined with the popularity of the UConn women, inspired their dad to conceptualize an arena at Mohegan Sun, later the home office for a WNBA franchise — and at times, the league in general.

And so perhaps there is no better time to celebrate Mohegan Sun's contribution to the entirety of the women's sports revolution now that Kobe's death has inspired #GirlDad to go viral. There is no other sporting venue in the country today — none — that does more for girls' and women's sports than Mohegan Sun Arena. #GirlDads everywhere have enjoyed the shapes and forms of Neon Uncasville for many years now.

This isn't some downtown building in a big city that has the WNBA and nothing else.

This isn't some building on a college campus that's home to Division I college basketball and nothing else.

There is no other building anywhere in which more female athletes of varying ages have played. None. Think about it: Sixteen summers' worth of  WNBA athletes have played here. So have the UConn women and all their opponents. Women's basketball players from the American Athletic Conference. Girls' high school players who have made state championship games. That would be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of different girls and women. Heck, maybe even a thousand by now after all these years.

Fittingly, back in the old days, Old Lyme was one of the first girls' teams to win a championship at Mohegan Sun. This was after the Etess girls graduated, but nonetheless a proud moment for Etess, the school and the town. They played Old Lyme's state title game at 9:30 on a Saturday morning back in March of 2009 and the whole town showed up anyway to watch Margo Douglas and the girls make school history.

The girls' basketball players of the Eastern Connecticut Conference joined the party Tuesday night. Their wide-eyed looks, as they walked from the tunnel to the floor, told the story better than any words could. And fittingly, too, the night was awash in its own #GirlDad moment.

Division II champion Killingly coach Gina Derosier is joined on the bench by her dad, Scott, the former boys' coach at the school. Dad might have been the happiest guy in Neon Uncasville Tuesday night.

"Everything about this as phenomenal," Scott Derosier said. "The chance to play here — and the chance to do this with her. We were walking through the gym and I turned to (Gina) and said, 'look what we get to do together.'"

Keyword: together. A moment delivered by Mohegan Sun.

Lest we forget that not many dads and daughters — or kids in general — get to do what the kids from Colchester, Norwich, Killingly and Putnam did Tuesday night. Who knew a kid from little ol' Putnam could ever get a chance to play on the same court as LeBron once did?

Maybe we take Mohegan for granted now and then, watching all the acts and personalities come through our corner of the world. This doesn't happen everywhere. But it happens here.

It began with Etess, who isn't as involved in all things Mohegan as much anymore. But his legacy was all over Tuesday night. The girls aren't done, either. The crowd was certainly good enough to return. Somewhere, all the #GirlDads should rejoice.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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