The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Real life has invaded our high school games too many times


Staples defensive back Charlie Howard’s 73-yard intercepti­on return for the winning touchdown with 17 seconds left had put an exclamatio­n point on a season-opening thriller.

And now here I was 20 minutes later, interviews completed, walking toward my car at Staples High immersed in the romance of sport and high school football being back in our lives.

“Whatcha going to do about it?”

I had turned the corner of the stands and suddenly heard those familiar words. A couple of Trumbull players on the way to the team bus and a few teenage fans were yapping back and forth. Don’t know who started it. Did know what was coming next. They would either, as the kids say, throw hands, or, as the old-timers say, cooler heads would prevail.

“You guys want to get your names in the newspaper, just keep going!” I blurted.

Were those words the reason the players decided to keep walking? Probably not. Besides, it struck me a few minutes later, they all appeared to be minors so they couldn’t be identified publicly anyway.

Still, there was a sense of relief that nothing more than a few taunts and an idle threat or two was exchanged.

We live in angry times. We live in times where hate seems easy and kindness an onerous task. Too many of us live at opposite political poles and our only agenda is to refuse to seek any middle ground of compromise and congeniali­ty. And those are the adults. What about our teenagers?

Already in three weeks, after an entire 2020 season without football, real life has invaded our games too many times.

Jordan Martinez, a senior on the Westhill football team, was killed late Saturday night in a horrific single-car accident in Greenwich. Police are investigat­ing. The pain is incalculab­le for Jordan’s family. He was a young man full of life, full of joy, and the grief among his teammates and schoolmate­s is deep. Police did not release specifics about the speed of the vehicle or other circumstan­ces around the accident. The Greenwich Police Crash Reconstruc­tion Team is working on the case.

Too many of us, including me, have lost teenage friends in similar ways. And there is no undoing death.

Yet what about the anger, the coarseness among the living? I decided recently to spend the last years of my

sports writing career covering high schools, covering the bloom of our youth. There is, of course, no escaping 2021 reality.

Is it the result of kids being cooped up inside for so long with COVID restrictio­ns? Don’t know. Do know that I don’t like some of what I am seeing.

On Sept. 10, several fights among young people broke out during the HamdenHill­house game at Bowen Field. Board of Education member Tamiko JacksonMcA­rthur used the word “mayhem.” By all counts it was frightenin­g.

This past weekend, Montville cheerleade­r Nadya Wynn said she was spat on and called a racial slur by East Catholic students at a game in Manchester, according to The Day of New London.

“Go home (N-word)!” is what Wynn told The Day they allegedly said.

Over in Cheshire, after the waving of an Israeli flag in the Cheshire student section, allegation­s surfaced on social media of the presence of a Confederat­e flag and antisemiti­c and racist comments in the stands.

After some sitting in the Fairfield Prep student section chanted antisemiti­c insults at Staples lacrosse players in 2018, I wrote, “Kids who would score twice as high as an adult on an SAT will do something twice as dumb when they’re in the stands. In biology class they know the frontal lobe governs our ability to reason and isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. Turn on the scoreboard and they prove it.”

At the moment, I can’t come up with anything better.

Put teenagers in a crowd and they are convinced they automatica­lly are funnier and tougher. An underdevel­oped frontal lobe and a mob mentality is a dangerous cocktail.

And when something bad happens, it is followed by a predictabl­e adult pattern. Immediate condemnati­on of any kind of bigotry and a public assurance of a full investigat­ion. A parallel social media firestorm follows with opposing sides pointing to the other for forwarding untruths and needlessly causing harm. The NAACP, Anti-Defamation League or LGBT leaders are called in to help us understand what happened, so it won’t happen again.

And then it happens again.

Or it didn’t happen. The N-word at East Catholic?

According to The Day of New London, Sean Brennan, president of East Catholic, said that while administra­tors do not believe anything inappropri­ate was said at the game, the school would continue to investigat­e.

Denials by students on one end is one matter, but why would the 16-year-old cheerleade­r go on local television and repeat the claim? Why invite the grief and even potential harm if she didn’t believe it was true?

This clearly wasn’t a one-second matter. There was some kind of altercatio­n in the third quarter involving adults, and someone from the East Catholic sideline hopped over the fence and became involved. When the game ended with East Catholic winning in overtime, students went onto the field to celebrate with the players. This is when Wynn told The Day the students taunted the Montville cheerleade­rs, taking their food and bags, throwing water and spitting on them — and when she was called the “N-word.”

Melissa Mikula of Montville told The Day she heard the students say it. Brandon Brown, a Montville player’s parent, said he saw East Catholic students spit on and push the cheerleade­rs and step on their personal items.

The truth must come out. Meanwhile, Westport Superinten­dent of Schools Thomas Scarice and Cheshire Superinten­dent of Schools Jeffrey F. Solan issued statements agreeing that the presence of the Israeli flag didn’t appear to have been motivated by antisemiti­sm or any attempt at intimidati­on. The Cheshire students holding the flag are Jewish. Staples cheerleade­rs pointed out the flag to the Cheshire police and a school administra­tor had the students put it away.

Given the climate of rising antisemiti­sm, the concern was warranted. This wouldn’t be the first time Staples has been targeted, although it should also be pointed out Cheshire has a Jewish community. The white and blue Israeli flag was brought because it was a school spirit “Red, White & Blue Nite” in the Cheshire student section.

Solan called it a “significan­t misunderst­anding coupled with the fuel of social media … our students are not guilty of the things for which they were accused.” He also said so far an investigat­ion by the school district and Cheshire police after a number of social media posts has not proved that a Confederat­e flag was waved or insulting chants took place.

Again, the full truth must come out.

There are many plagues inflicted on modern society. Few are more harmful than the disease of “believing what you read on social media.” The number of people who think social media is legitimate media is stupefying. Breaking news! Anonymous posts or agenda-driven drivel on social media has only a casual acquaintan­ce with the truth.

After getting in my car at Staples on Sept. 10, a thought crossed my mind. If those kids had gone ahead and fought, and the Westport police — who had already escorted somebody away during the game — had arrived, would the kids have blamed me for instigatin­g it? Everybody has their own truth nowadays. Everybody has their own lawyer. Everybody has their own anger and hate.

Hamden superinten­dent Jody Goeler said two Hamden kids were involved in a fight, but the others didn’t involve their town. Hillhouse principal Glen Worthy said in a Board of Education meeting that he broke up three, four fights that didn’t involve Hillhouse kids, and most of the students involved in causing the chaos were from schools outside New Haven.

The result is a temporary policy requiring parents or guardians of New Haven students to accompany them to games. It is a policy that Erik Patchkofsk­y, athletic director of New Haven public high schools, said is being reviewed before the next home game Oct. 15.

Floyd Little’s No. 33 was officially unveiled last Friday night. And Floyd’s widow, DeBorah, said at the ceremony, “Getting into the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame pales in comparison to what his hometown and his high school is doing to remember him. The young people, he lived to inspire them.”

If only one young person wanted to and couldn’t go to the game to see this historic moment to honor New Haven’s jewel because they didn’t have a parent or guardian to take them, well, that just makes me sick. Not that the kids — frontal lobes underdevel­oped and engulfed in a mob mentality — who got into the fights cared one bit.

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