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We can do things right, too

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published March 15. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich

In the old days, an outright belly laugh would have been in order. But now that I'm a more mature, grounded, analytical guy, all I did was smirk.

Picture it: Some guy from Stratford complaining about the long, long, looooooooooong drive to Norwich Free Academy the other night for the Class L boys' basketball semifinals.

Poor guy. Had to cross the river. Probably wondered if the "welcome to Rhode Island" sign was out for repair.

A more cynical fellow might have given the guy a history lesson, provided he had the bandwidth to process it. Let's leave it here: Most times, high school teams from this corner of the world are left to travel across times zones to play "neutral site" tournament games. So tough toenails for the good people of Stratford, whose Bunnell Bulldogs played Woodstock at NFA.

Shall we examine?

• There was the time Ledyard football played Brookfield in the Class M finals. In Waterbury. From Brookfield: 25.6 miles. From Ledyard: 76.9.

• Or the New London-Waterford baseball semifinal in Bristol, a crisp 61.5 miles away.

• Waterford baseball once played a state semifinal against Nonnewaug of Woodbury in Ansonia. That's 55.6 miles for the Lancers and 20 for the Nonnewaugs.

• And then the granddaddy of them all: Stonington boys' lacrosse in the semifinals against Weston. In Norwalk. That's 9.6 miles from Weston and 91.7 from Stonington. For the record, a 90-mile trip up Interstate 95 from Stonington leaves you in Newton, Mass.

So many other examples, so little space. But this is a triumphant week for us farmers. Not only did NFA give us a short ride Wednesday night, but the rest of the state comes to Mohegan Sun for the basketball finals this weekend.

And amid free parking, a first-rate venue and all the shops, restaurants, gin mills and gaming under one roof, inhabitants from the more urbane areas of Connecticut will gripe about the ride to Neon Uncasville.

Maybe we could bring violins with us for musical accompaniment.

Officials at Woodstock, not to mention the local fans who attended what turned into an entertaining overtime game, owe athletic director Gary Makowicki and the people of NFA a salute.

There is one reason the game was at NFA: Makowicki volunteered his gym. He gave up a night off, which athletic directors don't get often in the winter season. It's quite the inspiring example of league camaraderie.

Try to remember that the next time you hear NFA treated like the league's punching bag.

There isn't much incentive to volunteering your site to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school athletics. You get all of the heartburn (crowd control, ticket sales, etc.) and none of the proceeds. Makowicki, whose past work with the CIAC gives him a bigger, better perspective, helped provide Woodstock the memory of a lifetime Wednesday night: the biggest win in program history in a familiar gym that's not such a long ride.

This should be a lesson to other schools in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and in the region: Do for others as you would like done for yourself. Volunteer your time and your school to play host to neutral site games. Is it a headache? You bet your sweet ascot. But it'll promote some esprit de corps, always helpful in a league where cooperation isn't always the rule.

Plus, it'll keep sporting events in our corner of the world. Not only can we save on gas for a change, but we'd show the rest of the state even in those meccas where high school sports were created that we might know what we're doing here.

The kids at Woodstock were too delirious in the celebratory pile the other night to begin the "long ride home" chant. Or maybe even better, "short ride home" referring to themselves.

It was a good night to be from them, thar hills Wednesday.

This weekend, too.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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