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ECC, Mohegan Sun partnership has become envy of entire state

Mohegan — It wasn't merely a good night. Or a good show. It's become the norm. We should be proud. The Eastern Connecticut Conference has become a beacon for other leagues in Connecticut to emulate. Never has this league been more efficient and of better service to the kids and their memories.

The ECC — the only league in the state that gets to play its conference basketball tournaments in the same venue as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and LeBron once played — hit all the right notes again Tuesday night. The partnership between the league and Mohegan Sun is the best thing that's ever happened to high school sports in our corner of the world.

"Part of our culture's DNA is all about building relationships like we are doing with ECC and Jim Buonocore's leadership to bring it here," said Tom Cantone, the casino's Senior Vice President of Sports & Entertainment. "It's our way of giving something back to the community, especially when it involves helping the kids play in such a world class venue. Talk about a memory for life."

Indeed. In two years now, kids of both genders from Putnam to Waterford played in the same arena that crowns high school state champions and has entertained millions of other people with every famous band, musician and artist you can name.

Cantone was quick to mention Buonocore, the assistant principal and athletic director at Ledyard. There would be no Mohegan Sun partnership without him. Period. He has cultivated all the relationships and tended to many of the details. Maybe that's why in times of peril, the two operative words in the ECC have become "call Jimmy."

And yet the ECC's emergence goes beyond basketball. Examples: The conference wrestling tournament is run beautifully at Fitch, thanks to athletic director Marc Romano and tournament director Dave Nowakowski, who should run for Czar of Connecticut. There is nobody more efficient. And he does his thing with his trademark bucket hat and easy demeanor. Others thrust with the same tournament pressures and responsibilities as Nowakowski would become snarling, micromanaging assassins. Nowa? "No worries, dude. We got this."

Killingly played host to the Class S wrestling championships. Nowakowski teamed with athletic director Kevin Marcoux to conquer the thousand little details without incident. Soccer went great at East Lyme and athletic director Steve Hargis. The girls' (NFA) and boys' (Waterford) basketball semifinals, a pair of 10-hour days, went seamlessly thanks to Roy Wentworth and Chris Landry. It goes on.

It has never, ever been this easy and enjoyable around here.

Full disclosure: I've used the ECC as a punching bag in the past. You call 'em as you see 'em. It is worth noting, however, that a league with schools as small as Wheeler and Tourtellotte and as large as NFA will have constant issues. Funny, though, how concerns are barely a ripple now since commissioner Gary Makowicki began to oversee the scheduling matrix. There has never been this much harmony among 19 schools of various sizes and strengths.

And we all benefit. The kids have memories of a lifetime. We here at The Day and GameDay can do our jobs better and easier, hopefully giving kids, coaches and parents new ways to appreciate their accomplishments. My favorite Biblical quote applies here from Romans 8:28: "All things work together for good."

I used to sense an inferiority complex here among everyone involved in high school sports. Our geographic isolation from other more populated parts of Connecticut led to the erroneous idea that nothing we did here was good enough.

Look what we have now: A league that gets to play at Mohegan Sun regularly and a media outlet that livestreams all the games. Not only can the kids tell their grandchildren they played at Mohegan, but they can go to for proof.

Sorry to go all positive on you today. (We hope to return to our regularly scheduled curmudgeon-ness soon.) But it's too good of a story to tell.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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