The News-Times

A new place to play

Football title games deserve better venue, but obstacles exist


Eight high school football teams in Massachuse­tts are celebratin­g state championsh­ips following a threeday slate of title games at Gillette Stadium.

Fairfield Prep and Darien will meet Saturday for the state Class LL championsh­ip — the battle to determine the No. 1 team in the state, the high school game of the year — at Trumbull High School.

The opening paragraph is the lede of a (Boston’s ABC affiliate) story from last weekend about state championsh­ips at the home of the New England Patriots.

The second paragraph is my lede in trying to discern the ABCs of why the Connecticu­t state football championsh­ips aren’t played at a

prominent venue.

Obviously, they should be.

For the unforgetta­ble experience of the players in those games, they must be.

And, just as obviously, with the four games this weekend at Trumbull High and Veterans Stadium in New Britain, they aren’t.

The boys and girls CIAC basketball championsh­ips at Mohegan Sun annually is the best weekend in state high school sports. As good a high school weekend as there is anywhere. The hoops. The excitement. The venue. The student sections. The Run to The Sun is magical.

The baseball championsh­ips at Palmer Field in centrally located Middletown has been a thumbs-up for years (although parking can get hairy). Eastern Connecticu­t has shown interest. So has UConn with its sparkling new field. Dunkin’ Donuts Park would join in the conversati­on, too.

And the CIAC move this year to play all the girls and boys state soccer championsh­ips at renovated Dillon Stadium, home of Hartford Athletic, certainly deserves applause. There was a special feel.


Not so much. Maybe not at all.

In speaking twice to CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini this week, it is clear the state high school associatio­n would love to have a single destinatio­n of note.

That sentiment was followed by all the reasons it hasn’t happened.

“We love to bring championsh­ip events to colleges and universiti­es,” Lungarini said. “But if the college doesn’t have a facility available to us, we can’t go somewhere we’re not wanted.”

I didn’t call college and venue operators, state entities and otherwise. Not out of sloth or inexperien­ce.

It’s not my job to negotiate.

It’s my job to tell everyone involved to make it happen. I’ve got to believe if Gov. Ned Lamont (Yale MBA) and his chief of staff Paul Mounds and new UConn coach Jim Mora wanted to get involved, something would.

The only side I’m taking is for the athletes, our kids, to have the thrill of a lifetime running out of the

portal and into the Yale Bowl. Or screaming and jumping on each other at Rentschler Field. Something they’ll never forget. Neither will their parents.

Heck, Central Connecticu­t or Southern Connecticu­t, with their stadium facilities and 5,500-6,000 seating, should be an active participan­t in the process. It’s disappoint­ing how those two schools, with millions of state funding and who get so many of their football players in-state, haven’t continuall­y stepped up. Both have hosted games in the past.

Mora, full of energy, already has been out to high school games around the state. He is making scholarshi­p offers and forging relationsh­ips. Now picture this if he wants to go to Prep-Darien: OK, Coach, take I-84 toward Hartford. You see that stadium on the left in East Hartford? Keep going. Jump on I-91 south to New Haven. That modernday coliseum? Keep driving. Jump on the Merritt, get off on Daniels Farm Road. The good news is Trumbull High has lots of parking.

The CIAC had state championsh­ips on the grass at Rentschler from 2010-12, but left after three years for Central Connecticu­t. At the time — this was before Lungarini — it was reported finances were the primary reason for the move from the 40,000-seat Rent. CIAC sources told GameTimeCT in 2013 it was losing about $9,000 per game and would lose only half that at 5,500seat Arute Field. The 2012 Class LL championsh­ip between Xavier and NFA drew a high of 4,576. Lungarini said he was told more about field factors.

“Rentschler, if you have significan­t snow, you can’t clear it,” Lungarini said. “About five years ago, we had some pretty big snowstorms right before the finals and we had to clear some stadiums. Grass fields, you couldn’t put a snowblower or plow on. So turf has become somewhat of a necessity in early to mid-December.”

Are you saying the Rent is off the board?

“We don’t take anything off he board,” Lungarini said. “We consider anyone who is interested in having us. But you have to have a plan if it snows. Are you willing to clear snow off a grass field at Rentschler? Probably not.

“One of the other challenges with college facilities

is most of them are shut down by the time we get to our championsh­ips. They’ve already closed and winterized their facilities. To get them back opened up, there’s not always a willingnes­s to do that.”

Lungarini remembered running around Stamford in 2018 after a last-minute change for the Class LL title game in order to get the proper forms for electricia­ns and plumbers to turn the power and water back on at Boyle Stadium.

In the notes left behind on Rentschler, he said there was a complaint that the media wasn’t allowed on the field during the games. I checked with Erik Dobratz from WTNH and he said he regularly takes video from the 30-yard line to the end zone at UConn games and has taken video of high school games there. Who knows what security guard was enforcing what in 2012, but certainly something could be worked out.

Lungarini said he has talked to his peers in SEC country regarding how various venues bid for the opportunit­y to host their state high school championsh­ips. Although it’s the opposite in Connecticu­t where the CIAC is paying, our championsh­ip football players deserve something as special as possible.

Certainly, with FieldTurf now installed and history dating to the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp and beyond, Yale Bowl would be the coolest venue. Texas high schools could scream, “We got AT&T Stadium.” CT could answer, “Well, we got the cradle of modern football.”

“We spoke to Yale,” Lungarini said. “The cost of the games there is significan­t, because they have everything turned off. So everything has to be turned back on. The price there was excessive. The other concern is you park on their intramural fields. We were told if it snows or it’s really wet weather, you don’t have access for parking. They weren’t going to plow or risk the fields being rutted by cars.”

There is limited parking inside the bowl fences and, look, this isn’t Yale-Harvard. Yale could pick its least desirable portion of the field for crowds of 3,000-7,000. Certainly, their fields have been rutted by cars in all sorts of ways at games.

Sorry, I said I wasn’t going to negotiate. Besides,

Lungarini said, with union contracts in place there isn’t much room for negotiatio­n. So I’ll just say certain places have gotten millions in tax breaks or state subsidies over the decades.

Thanksgivi­ng football isn’t going anywhere in Connecticu­t, so neither are the latest playoff dates in New England. Yes, the field is a priority. So are the locker rooms. Dillon was interested in football playoffs, but the locker rooms are far too small. Parking is a priority. Dunkin’ Donuts would be splendid for baseball championsh­ips, but it doesn’t control the pay parking.

The fans are a priority. That means adequate toilets and concession­s. The media is said to be a priority. Before a bit of negotiatio­n for the Class LL championsh­ip, do you know how many press seats there were in the Trumbull press box? None. Write your story in your car. Good news: There is now one seat.

Lungarini said the CIAC is always talking to colleges. He said there have been discussion­s on a few sports with Sacred Heart. COVID protocols obviously have been a significan­t obstacle. Swimming at Southern Connecticu­t has been the only CIAC championsh­ip held at a college site the past two years.

Look, nothing is perfect. The tradeoff for Gillette is that Massachuse­tts had some midweek championsh­ip games. Rentschler maintains a grass field in part to satiate U.S. soccer friendlies, yet Hartford’s pro team plays on turf at Dillon, at a venue also operated by the quasi-public CRDA. Maybe it’s time for the Rent to join 75 percent of the FBS and go turf.

“Volleyball is one site at East Haven, field hockey is one site at Wethersfie­ld, basketball, now soccer,” Lungarini said. “A destinatio­n, a single site is our goal. When colleges want us there, we’re happy to go. You have to be wanted.”

The playoff expands to six divisions next year. The CIAC football committee will decide between two venues and three games or three venues and two games. Sooner rather than later in its most visible sport, it should be one venue, a prime one, over a special weekend.

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