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Give me NFA, New London over a prep school, thanks

Full disclosure: I have this incurably utopian outlook on high school sports: You grow up in your town, play in your community, play for your school and with your friends.

As a parent, I also hold this truth sacrosanct: where a family decides to educate its child is nobody else's business.

Norwich Free Academy and New London High sit at the intersection of the two previous articles of faith. Both lost prominent basketball players to prep schools this year, as chronicled last week here in The Day.

No ill will intended toward the three young people in question. Peace and blessings, as the late, great Elder L. David Cornish of New London liked to tell his people. However, lest other young people decide to eschew their town and their school for Panacea Prep in the future, I'd like to share why I'm in a complete snit over this.

On leaving NFA: Um ... what? NFA, in the opinion here of your humble narrator, is the finest overall educational opportunity in eastern Connecticut (and perhaps beyond). It is a mini college campus with real-life multicultural experiences. I can't think of a better place to prepare for college and real life simultaneously.

Then there's basketball. The girls' program is one of the state's Rockefellers, a seven-time state champion competing in the state's highest class. Former coach Bill Scarlata, in addition to winning seven titles, sent players to UConn, Stanford, Rutgers, Cornell, Hartford and Kentucky, among scores of other places.

The new head coach, Courtney Gomez, played at Hartford for Jennifer Rizzotti and is an NFA grad. One player in question left this program to finish her high school career at Putnam Science Academy. Nothing against Putnam Science Academy. But it's not a pimple on NFA's fanny for an aspiring girls' basketball player.

The boys' program, which once sent current St. Bernard coach Mark Jones to Dayton — and many others to play basketball in college as well — was 23-0 last year. In Division I. Games are streamed left and right now, leaving more moments for exposure than ever. There are always offseason AAU opportunities. Then there's the single greatest universal truth about high school sports ever uttered: If you're good enough, they'll find you.

In my incurably utopian world, you play at your school with your friends. You graduate. And if you don't like the colleges interested, then you do a postgraduate year at a prep school. We happen to have the finest example in the country up the road at St. Thomas More, where Jere Quinn could fill Mohegan Sun Arena with the kids he's sent — fully prepared — to college programs.

Another young person left the New London girls' basketball program. No denying New London schools are stigmatized. It's an easy and convenient narrative, helped along by New London's penchant for furiously spinning its wheels, but with no traction. Still, the STEM high school offers unique educational opportunities within this corner of the world — and with a multicultural bent, offers some very real-life opportunities.

Moreover, New London hired coach Tammy Millsaps in the offseason. All she did at Capital Prep was send kids to Syracuse, Maryland and Florida State, among other places. All these kids are honestly better off somewhere else?

Sorry. But I grew up in a great sports town (Middletown). I watched every Middletown High, Woodrow Wilson High, Xavier, Wesleyan and American Legion baseball game I could. It was part of the culture. Local sports — and the privilege of wearing your town and school colors — are part of who I am. And part of who we used to be as a country.

Put it this way: "Friday Night Lights" and "Hoosiers" aren't works of fiction. They were inspired by and are extensions of the slices of Americana we experience every autumn Friday night at the local football game and winter night in the local gym.

I can't stand to see kids leave. I can't stand travel teams at lower levels. It reeks of selfishness and elitism, implying that the grass is greener somewhere else, not to mention how us cattle in the old home town just don't have the proper bandwidth to educate and coach your kid.

My snit about this isn't going to end soon. Leaving to go play somewhere else does more to fracture communities than sustain them. And if COVID teaches us nothing else, we should have learned by now how much we need each other.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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