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Millsaps comes with baggage, but deserves clean slate at NLHS

Full disclosure: I'd have hired her, too. There's something about four state championships and a 149-34 record that falls under that indisputable category of "no brainer."

But while we welcome Tammy Millsaps to our corner of the world with all due and legitimate hosannas, we also pause to reflect on her past coaching girls' basketball at Capital Prep, perhaps giving pause to new athletic director Phil Orbe's first hire at New London High.

Three years ago, the Hartford Courant reported Capital Prep repeatedly circumvented the state's blind lottery admissions process, resulting in a number of quality athletes suddenly playing there. Not long after the report, the Connecticut Auditors of Public Accounts reported that Capital Prep "permitted 116 students over a two-year span to enroll without winning seats through the normal lottery process." In that time, Capital Prep won five state championships, including four in girls' basketball. Some kids came to play girls' basketball as far away as Meriden.

Now I get the idea that running a successful program is the blessing/curse thing. If you win enough and get kids into college enough, families will find you on their own, even from several towns away. That's often construed as recruiting. It's really running a good program. So I'm not accusing Capital Prep of being overrun by Tarkanians.

Still, Capital Prep's allowance for 116 kids who helped to win several state titles — in a school with a modest 500 or so total kids — is more than coincidence.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference didn't punish Capital Prep, despite how the CIAC's recruiting policy lists "offer or acceptance of the bypassing of the established policies and procedures for admittance/enrollment to a school," as a recruiting violation under its undue influence section (Article X, Section B.2.g. of the CIAC Handbook).

The blind lottery process is the quintessential example of an established policy of procedure.

"The board's biggest concern was the effect on the kids," CIAC executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff (she has since left CIAC) said at the time. "Doing something like that is not really precedent for the CIAC. We'd be going back multiple years, and was a lottery process violation egregious enough for the CIAC?"

It's "egregious" enough for me. Plus, given the inherent competitive advantages schools of choice already have, I'd argue the CIAC's very mission is to ensure equity and address such issues decisively. But that's a rant for another day.

I regurgitate all this not to be Negative Norbert, but because it is part of Millsaps' story. Moreover, she's coming to a school that has a magnet arm attracted. Students who attend the Science and Technology Magnet High School play sports for New London High. Several graduates have been notable athletes, led by Kris Dunn and members of the two-time champion girls' basketball program.

This is not to suggest New London has done anything nefarious. Craig Parker does not cheat. Holly Misto did not cheat. Ever. Period. But New London's magnet arm is an illustration that Millsaps' new school has the same leverage as her old one.

New London goes under the microscope now in the court of public opinion every time a promising girls' basketball player from another town goes to Science and Tech. It doesn't say much for our penchant to cheaply trot out conspiracy theories. But that's the world now, sadly.

That said: She gets a clean slate here because she deserves one. We all do. Millsaps has the same characteristics as the two previous women, Misto and Kerrianne Dugan, who hung state championship banners at Conway Gym: strong, tough, successful. New London had the only all-female coaching staff in the 2019 state finals at Mohegan Sun. It's only the best example of empowerment.

Orbe's first at bat at New London features a mighty rip at the first fastball he saw. He knows his first hire is a winner with a resume that would wallpaper Jefferson Ave. He also knows there are rules and boundaries which are often crossed in high school sports that cannot happen here. Great hire, nonetheless.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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