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Of mosquitoes, bowling and singing at Fenway: a look back at H.S. season

Bizarre would be one way to describe this high school sports season. Quite bizarre would be another. What began with a bunch of mosquitoes sending us inside by dusk has morphed into ... this.

In case, though, we've seen the last of the season until the fall, here's a chronological look back at some notable moments for yours truly since September:

Sept. 3: The Ledyard Chamber Choir (the best around) sang the national anthem at Fenway before Sox-Twins. Turned out that a family member of choir director Melanie Cometa works for the Red Sox and gave the Colonels their night on the Fenway lawn. Said choir member Evelyn Morrison: "Sometimes, for some people, it's a once in a lifetime experience to be able to do something like we did. And Ledyard music helped that come true. Even if you're not the biggest fan, it's still an insane place and cool to go there."

Sept. 12: Ally Gleason, who helped her dad win four state soccer titles coaching the Old Lyme girls, coached her first game leading the Old Lyme boys at North Branford. Gleason is a rarity in state high school sports as a woman coaching boys. "I just think of myself as a coach, there's no difference between being a man or a woman," she said. "This is about stepping on the field with a team. Working them the same way I'd work with the girls. I don't see a difference. But I think a lot of other people do."

Sept. 21: NFA quarterback Austin Richards set a school record with 482 passing yards as NFA beat Glastonbury. He finished 48 yards short of the ECC record of 530 yards by Bacon's Sean Kelly on Nov. 1, 2014.

Sept. 24: The Waterford football coaches practice weekly "decorum" drills with their players, including the proper way to celebrate a touchdown. Coach John Strecker asked his players to practice scoring a touchdown and gently handing the ball to the official. Then they sprint off the field and celebrate on their own sideline — away from the other team and the officials — in all the creative ways they want.

There was the double bicep pose, mic drop, posing for a picture (remembering they needed one guy to take the picture), fishing, the rowboat, tug of war and the personal favorite: bowling. Junior Rasheem Steele pretended to roll a bowling ball at his teammates. Then they all fell down like pins. Brilliant.

Oct. 2: We celebrated the life of Bill Mignault, who died at 90. Mignault is among the most decorated coaches in state history, leading Ledyard football to four state titles and happy to remind everyone "it never rains in Ledyard."

Oct. 15: Trinity and Conn College played a women's soccer game amid the pastoral setting of Harkness Green. All was well until it became evident the game might not end on time. We all needed to be inside by 6 p.m. because of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis issues that altered the sports schedule as never before. Then came the coronavirus.

Nov. 2: My first look at the Thames River Crusaders, who were 6-1 at the time. A sunny, cool November afternoon on the unadorned field at Norwich Tech. Felt like a time warp. But a good day.

Nov. 8: NFA 27, Killingly 21. Game of the year. The Wildcats, using their third quarterback of the season, trailed by eight points with two minutes left. They tied the game and got possession again to essentially run one play before overtime. Max Pierre Louis caught a pass over the middle and executed a textbook hook-and-ladder with Andrew Cote, who scored with no time left. Celebration on.

Nov. 15: Fitch football coach Mike Ellis needed a police escort to walk off his own home field, even after the Falcons won the game. Seems a few fans, whose liquor cabinets were better stocked than their bookshelves, created enough of a commotion during the game to warrant a call to the police. Ellis, always affable, chuckled and said to the officer, "geez, they're mad at me now even when we win."

Nov. 16: Bill George coached his final game at Coast Guard, a loss to the Merchant Marine Academy. George left as the career wins leader at the Academy. Great legacy for a good man.

Nov. 26: NFA and New London played their annual Thanksgiving Day game in the afternoon the day before. Threats of gang violence put the game in peril. Security personnel and police from both cities kept the peace and NFA qualified for the playoffs with a victory.

Nov. 27: Waterford 35, East Lyme 34. One of the most entertaining Thanksgiving games in years. Sam Menders' extra point in overtime sent the Lancers, down eight points late in regulation, to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Dec. 4: Waterford defeated Granby/Canton to win its first playoff game in school history, 10-6. Historic night. "This is a like a dream come true," Waterford coach John Strecker said. "When I first got into coaching, it was to get to this level with these kids. See that buy-in they have now? It's just everything."

Dec. 14: Killingly, which defeated Waterford to make the finals, lost to Weston in the championship game. Killingly was the first team ever to make the finals without a mascot, the effect of a town-wide debate on Redmen vs. Red Hawks.

Dec. 21: The Harshbergers became a culinary delight. Football players Jackson and Jeremiah Harshberger of Waterford got actual burgers made in honor of their last name. Jack Chaplin, who runs Daddy Jacks in New London, brought the brothers to the kitchen and made them two "Harshbergers" big enough to have their own four-wheel drive.

Dec. 28: Montville boys' basketball won the Grasso Tech Tournament, a prelude to its greatest season in years under new coach Tim Strong. The Indians won the ECC Div. IV title in February, even without leading scorer Zach Southard, who injured a finger on his non-shooting hand. After the Grasso Tech game, Zach asked his mom (Kate) and dad (Jason) if he could amputate the finger and finish the season. (True story). Mom and dad declined the request.

Jan. 29: GameDay's greatest night? We pulled off No. 1 East Catholic at No. 2 Windsor in the boys' basketball game of the year. Peter Huoppi, Casey O'Neill, Keith O'Brien and yours truly were shoehorned into the balcony of Windsor's steamy, cozy gym. We proved GameDay can travel.

Feb. 25: The ECC girls' basketball championship game got to play The Big Room for the first time. NFA defeated Bacon before nearly 2,500 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena, illustrating that both genders have found a new home for the conference tournament finals.

Feb. 27: Waterford defeated East Lyme in the ECC basketball quarterfinals, 59-50, before more than 1,000 fans at the X. It capped a nine-month run of the rivalry at its best. Last May, Waterford defeated East Lyme by one goal in overtime of the ECC boys' lacrosse finals. One day later, East Lyme defeated Waterford in the ECC baseball finals by one run. In November, Waterford won the Thanksgiving Day game by one point. In February, East Lyme defeated Waterford in basketball by two points. Waterford returned the favor a week later by two. Waterford's nine-point win in the ECC game notwithstanding, the schools had played six games in four different sports over a nine-month period decided by a combined 16 points/goals/runs. Amazing stuff.

March 1: Coast Guard, in danger of not even making the conference basketball tournament a week earlier, stunned WPI and won the NEWMAC title. The Bears won at Emerson and then beat Springfield and WPI in a span of five days. Happy days for coaches Kevin Jaskiewicz, Bob Bono and the rest of us who like to see the good guys win. They made the NCAA Tournament and played in Brockport, N.Y.

March 3: NFA stayed undefeated in boys' basketball, winning the ECC title before more than 3,000 fans at Mohegan Sun over Ledyard. The Wildcats and coach Chris Guisti would enter the elite, Div. I state tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Sacred Heart. Nobody knew what was coming next.

March 5: Old Lyme won the Shoreline Conference title over Morgan, led by Aedan Using. Long time coming for the Wildcats, who would very likely had won the Div. V state tournament. The last live sporting event I covered.

And we all know the rest.

See you all back on the fields soon. (Hopefully).

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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