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A loss in the present but a win for the future in East Lyme

East Lyme — There they were, all the little kids, dotting the packed bleachers Wednesday night, watching the present (the state semifinal lacrosse game) and the future (seeing themselves playing on the same field wearing the same maroon and white playing under the same  circumstances).

Sometimes, this is how programs begin. The night the whole town is watching for the first time and makes room in its conscience for this new thing. Or there was Wednesday when the strong program got stronger, the whole town watching again, this time for what was among the most significant athletic events in East Lyme's sports history. A game that determined who would play for a state championship.

No, the Vikings didn't win. They really weren't good enough to beat Weston, the deserving 14-8 winner. But they did win something on their turfed lawn. It was a good show. A reminder of lacrosse's burgeoning significance in a town with plenty of other banners in other sports.

Maybe, too, it reminded us, quite happily, that after more than a year of isolation, we saw the student section en masse and in full throat again. We saw community members unafraid to share the same airspace again. East Lyme reminded us all over again that sports are at their best with a rattle and hum in the atmosphere.

"The guys have supported the girls and the girls have supported the guys," East Lyme coach Gary Wight said. "Coming off a COVID year, just having the crowd here is an amazing thing. It brought so much energy and joy to the game for the guys.

"Obviously, the outcome isn't what we wanted. But having their friends and classmates here — the whole community and not just the people at the high school — it give me chills to think about how the town has rallied behind the boys' and girls' teams."

It has been a historic two nights on East Lyme's turfed lawn. As the great Ron Burgundy might say: Consecutive state semifinals in girls' and boys' lacrosse are kind of a big deal. They are two of the biggest sporting events in the history of East Lyme's campus.

They belong on the list with some other notables from Viking lore and legend, including the 1978 Thanksgiving Day game that settled the ECC between Waterford and East Lyme; the 2003 football semifinal when Lou Allen ran all over Weaver; perhaps the 2019 basketball game against Waterford that sold out in about seven minutes; and perhaps a handful of others unintentionally omitted.

The Day's Dave Davis on the 1978 Thanksgiving Day game:

"We had a crowd of between 7,000 and 8,000," said Davis, East Lyme's kicker. "Whichever team won got the ECC title and a berth in the Class M title game against St. Bernard. Back when only eight teams played in the postseason, it was amazing that either Waterford or East Lyme would be playing another local team for the title.

"I walked from my house to the field that morning with a teammate and there were already 100 folks there four hours before the game started. To that point, East Lyme had never seen anything like it. It was also Dick Cipriani's last game as Waterford coach. The start of Waterford-East Lyme sports rivalry. Wasn't much of one before that game."

Note Davis' words when you hear Matt Valakos, an effortlessly cool East Lyme senior, on his experiences from Wednesday night:

"I remember when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I used to come to these lacrosse games," Valakos said. "Every time they had a home game, the crowd was electrifying. I remember that feeling. I want to be that kid on this field in front of this crowd."

He was Wednesday night.

"In basketball, we didn't have any fans this season," Valakos said. "Here in lacrosse, the whole left side of the bleachers was filled. I didn't see one empty spot. You can't ask for anything more. A great feeling."

Quite the night in the 06333. A loss in the present but perhaps a win for the future. And a reminder of what's to come when stadiums and gyms are full again.

"It's so exciting," Wight said, alluding to the number of little kids watching Wednesday. "Who knows in a few years?"

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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