Ken Lipshez

Southington’s effort on the football field silences the humbug

I have to admit I was losing interest.

With all the postponements that forced the Class LL football final to encroach on the winter sports season, I was anxious to close the book.

The snow fell … twice, and turned to ice.

The venue changed from nearby Central Connecticut State University to distant West Haven High. Postponements fell almost as furiously as flurries.

Meanwhile, Southington wrestling coach Derek Dion, and I’m sure his colleague at Fairfield Prep, were shouldering the burdens. More than half of Dion’s team had yet to strap on a singlet and square up in the center of the circle. Would his countless hours of preparation go for naught? Curse the notion of playing football in mid-December.

Well, I feel a lot different today.

Ken Strong Stadium at West Haven High School, its green turf framed by massive piles of snow and ice, served as the canvas for a hard-working artist named Chris Everone, West Haven’s athletic facilities manager and one of the best friends the CIAC ever had.

Everone and his staff worked so diligently to paint their masterpiece that every Southington parent, coach and player should add them to their Christmas card list. The green of the turf and the white snow gave the scene that holiday feeling. All that was missing was red, which the Fairfield Prep faithful supplied before leaving in droves midway through the fourth quarter.

I am so glad the CIAC persevered because sportswriters at small daily newspapers only get to cover state championship teams on rare occasions. And look at me, fortunate enough to cover the splendid undefeated Cheshire High girls volleyball team last month and now the Southington football team.

The scene on the surface of Ken Strong Stadium was reminiscent of the final scene in the Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” when Ebenezer Scrooge, petrified by the error of his ways, spreads unbridled joy on Christmas Day. A representative portion of a Southington community that has long supported its young heroes from their early days in the youth leagues through all the blood, sweat and tears that the game elicits was on that field after the game.

A heartwarming scene it was for them, and quite a reward for an old sportswriter who drinks from the Fountain of Youth every time he gets to be part of such revelry.

My Christmas spirit is rarely in question. I may be Jewish, but I’ve never trapped myself into believing anything other than Christmas is an American celebration and nobody can take that away from me. But to see the broad smiles flashed by those whom I’ve come to know – Jimmy Nardi, Zach Maxwell, Steve Barmore, Tyler Hyde, to name a few – ratcheted my spirit up so many levels that I feel like I’m standing next to Castle Craig, overlooking that brilliant display at Hubbard Park and the four communities I serve.

Cellphone cameras and video recorders, mostly wielded by smiling moms, captured the scene.

The Fairfield Prep kids watched intently while Southington rejoiced, knowing that a 28-14 halftime lead absolutely should have propelled them into celebratory ecstasy. The cellphones were still flashing away long after the Jesuits’ buses departed.

It brought to mind Southington’s 1998 title run, the great New Britain teams of the Jack Cochran era, the Hurricanes’ girls hoop teams under now-CCSU coach Beryl Piper and some of Farmington’s soccer conquests. The feeling never gets old, even though I do.

So I had my reasons for whistling, “Joy to the World” on my long ride home, and I can thank Southington’s amazing football team for putting me in better spirit.

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