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What does Waterford have over East Lyme? Try everything

There were no celebrations Saturday, no parents and kids commemorating the occasion with song or dance. Just a bunch of happy, mask-wearing souls standing between the baseball field and newly turfed softball palace at Waterford High. A spring season two years in the making finally happened, a chance for two defending state champs who now play adjacent to each other to hunt more banners.

Hard to believe that merely 5.5 miles separate Waterford High from East Lyme. So much for a neighboring rivalry and geographic proximity leading to other correlations. Put it this way: If investment in sports and sports facilities were a horse race, Waterford would be Seattle Slew and East Lyme would be Zippy Chippy.

While the baseball Lancers readied for their season opener Friday, the baseball Vikings learned — again, one day before the season began — they would neither practice nor play again on their home baseball field this year. East Lyme's field, once the region's jewel and home to the American Legion state tournament, is kaput for 2021 because of an outfield deemed unplayable.

"Not one kid on the varsity team has ever played on the field, other than my son as a sophomore two years ago who got to be a pinch runner," team parent Jamie Chambers said. "No other senior has stepped foot onto the field and now they won't ever be able to play on it."

This is no surprise. East Lyme's baseball field has been awash in poor drainage and other issues for years. Many opposing outfielders have  returned to the dugout concerned that if they play deep enough, the slope of the outfield prohibits them from seeing the batter at home plate. The Vikings have been relegated to playing at Bridebrook Park frequently. Nice field. Not home.

Question for folks who inhabit The People's Republic of East Lyme: Think they'd ever let this charade happen in Waterford?

They'd do everything but picket outside Board of Education meetings have hunger strikes outside First Selectman Rob Brule's office. So why, again, is Waterford able to invest more in its kids, despite a median household income (per city-data.com of $83,699), a good chunk less than East Lyme's ($99,367)?

Shall we do a tale of the tape?

Baseball: Waterford's field is functional; East Lyme's isn't. Edge: Waterford.

Football/soccer/field hockey/lacrosse: Both have new turf fields. Waterford's has much more seating om the visitors' side. Edge: Waterford.

Gymnasium: The Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse has a nickname (The 'X'), is home to the conference tournament semifinals and seats 1,000 more fans. Edge: Waterford.

Softball: Waterford plays on campus on a newly turfed field with all the amenities. East Lyme plays off campus. It's like a Benz vs. a Toyota Camry. Edge: Waterford.

So can anybody in the 06333/06385 explain why the rivaling town is winning the facilities battle by a score of, like, 42-0?

"(East Lyme superintendent) Jeff Newton has been very helpful and is helping push it along to the Board of Education and Board of Finance," Chambers said, echoing the thoughts of others in town. "He has one of the toughest jobs in the world right now given all that's happened in the last year. But I know it won't be solved this year.

"So for those seniors, all they can do is look at their home field right as they drive by each day, and look at the lights that could have been turned on for night games and wonder what it would have been like. These kids (all kids) have been through a lot, and now here comes another disappointment."

Lest somebody in town sink to the simplistic argument that COVID and its tentacles arouse more pressing budgetary issues than a baseball field, let me just say this: Noooooo. Really? The problem is that the field has been an albatross for the last 10 years. Parents agree there have been occasional "Band-Aid fixes." This just in: Bandages don't work on hemorrhages.

Baseball coach Jack Biggs runs one of the league's best programs. The Vikings have won multiple conference tournaments in recent years. They've been in the state finals twice. One strike away from winning a state championship in 2016. But even if the kids hadn't won a game since the American League went to the DH, they'd still deserve a chance to play on campus, on their home field.

Bonnie Raitt once sang the line, "I can't make you love me if you don't." Same concept here. I can't make you care about this if you don't. But how can any self-respecting East Lymer not bristle at the idea that Waterford is kicking your ascot right now?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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