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A great day to be a Bear

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published November 13. 2012 4:00AM

Stonington

If you do this long enough, you know the go-to person for every occasion. Even field hockey. Yes, field hockey. The sport where "third party" is an infraction. And a good topic to avoid if you ever want to be invited to a fourth party.

Then there's Tooch. That's Jenna Tucchio to the uninitiated. She's the coach at Stonington High. She's the local frame of reference to the game.

And we make fun of football coaches for obsessing over their sport's minutiae? Tooch is a field hockey coach with a football cultivation. She doesn't like her sport. She looooooooves it. And works just as hard at the craft as all the football guys who start answering inquiries from their wives about what they want for dinner with, "I don't know. I'll have to watch the film."

Tooch was standing along the fence Friday night at the football game wearing the temporarily relieved look of a coach whose season had just survived Game 1 of the knockout round. How fitting, really, that she chose to watch a few plays of the football game. Not just because of her kindred spirit to the gridiron. Also because she's a case study in how expectations frame so much of how we watch sports.

There are mondo expectations for field hockey in the land of brown and white.

There aren't many for football.

Which is why perhaps nobody realizes the noteworthy accomplishments of both teams this weekend.

Field hockey just beat Granby in the state quarterfinals. Based on our discussions about field hockey in previous paragraphs, it has likely gone unnoticed that the Bears just beat the Yankees. Granby is the three-time defending state champion and has 13 state titles since 1973. Major victory.

Football defeated Plainfield and won the ECC Small Division. Bet observers of high school football in our corner of the world would be surprised to learn that victory gave the Bears an overall 33-18 record since 2007, complementing their three division titles.

And yet

Field hockey is expected to win the ECC every year and finally add to that lone state championship banner in the gym, honoring the 1987 team. The scorecard almost doesn't begin until November.

Tucchio runs her program on that tenuous piece of real estate east of the rock and west of the hard place. She's the overdog in the ECC because of the program's tradition and her own diligence. Problem is, nobody knows enough about the sport to realize she's the underdog in the state tournament, perpetually playing opponents in towns where the sport is entrenched even more than here.

Field hockey in Connecticut has always been a production of women named Cookie, Dot and Babby, among others. They're still waiting for "Tooch," whose team plays in the semifinals today against Immaculate of Danbury. Win or lose, though, the weekend's accomplishment should be noted. They just beat Granby.

Football, meanwhile, is one of the little guys in the conference, an afterthought most years. Who knew 33 wins have happened since 2007?

"Really?" coach A.J. Massengale said. "We have that many? I didn't know that. We have great kids. Great groups that are very coachable. Stonington is a great place, it really is. Everybody does their part. It's something we talk about. It doesn't matter who gets the credit."

Stonington is a small school and remains one of the dying educational outposts that doesn't have a mechanism to attract students from other towns.

"You get what you get," Massengale said. "We get good kids. The feeder programs are doing a great job. My kids (including Ben Massengale, Stonington's chief water boy) are playing there now."

Massengale has also managed to teach his players the art of acting like they've been there before in victory. That's because 33 wins since 2007 suggests they have. Still, not much of a celebration the other night after throttling Plainfield to win the title.

"Well," junior Harry Calmar said, "it got a little chippy. I don't think you need to rub anything in. We wanted to leave respectfully. There's no need to start anything after the game."

Imagine. Resisting the urge to celebrate here in the roaring 2000s.

Bless you, Harry Calmar. Someone who gets it. No doubt he's been taught well.

As have the field hockey players.

It's good to be a Bear these days.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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