Nary has a month passed in my first scholastic beat experience with the Record-Journal and I’m trying to soak up as much of the ambiance in my new towns as I can. Discounting my associations in Southington because of my previous familiarity with the coaches and administrators in the Knights’ lair, I am finding that Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire have unique charms all their own.
First and foremost, my belief that the youngsters working so hard to excel at their respective high school sports are the best of the best has been strengthened.
I think immediately of junior defender Maggie O’Reilly of the Cheshire field hockey team, whose thoughtful answers to insightful questions about her sport, her team and the match against Farmington evoked images of the morning sun coming over the horizon.
The same can be said for Maloney’s Arielle Virgulto. Whether she’s basking in the spotlight of a softball team that challenges for a state title or zealously working in the relative anonymity of an oft overmatched field hockey team, her teeming passion for life and sports sparkle with every word. The notion of interaction with those young ladies enables this old man to keep feeling young.
On Tuesday, I got my first dose of the Wallingford rivalry between Lyman Hall and Sheehan.
Rivalries are nothing new to me.
As a Hamden High grad, my most notable rivalry going way back was Hamden-West Haven hockey. Heck, they had to move the game from the school rinks and put it in New Haven Coliseum, then ask patrons for whom they were rooting before sending them to the east side or the west side of the building.
The Thanksgiving Apple Valley football feud between Southington and Cheshire has become rather peppery since its 1996 inception, due in large part to two great programs colliding with playoff implications aplenty. Baseball games between Berlin and Plainville remain fixed in the lore of those towns, particularly the 1984 clash for the state title that filled Beehive Stadium in New Britain.
The annual wrestling match between Eastern and Central always brings out Bristol’s most sports-generated intensity.
So what about Lyman Hall and Sheehan?
I can only evaluate it from a soccer perspective thus far and my first impression is that a refreshing spirit of camaraderie and cooperation exist between the east and west siders.
Lyman Hall coach Arnie Jandreau, now in his 18th year, was eloquent in praising the effort put forth by Sheehan after the Trojans’ 1-0 win. And we’re talking about a guy who was unceremoniously handed a yellow card Monday in the Cheshire game when an official got somewhat overzealous.
“I have a good relationship with the Sheehan kids,” he said. “Everyone plays hard out on the field. They’re good kids and I hate to see them lose. That whole team from [Coach Lou Rodriguez] on down … good kids, good coach.”
In a separate conversation and with no prompt from me, Rodriguez praised Jandreau and the Trojans profusely.
“Arnie’s doing a magnificent job. I’m also proud of the town league because they’ve developed phenomenal soccer players on both sides. Both Arnie and I are the beneficiaries,” he said.
The byproduct of the work turned in by the coaches and athletic directors Amy Labas of Lyman Hall and V.J. Sarullo of Sheehan is great kids who spread the town’s athletic heritage. I’m sure any one of a number of the players could have exuded their charm and youthful innocence, but I chose to speak to Lyman Hall senior goalkeeper Justin Donath.
Donath showed the perseverance to leave the debacle of the Cheshire game behind him to turn in a game-changing performance. He also provided me a foundation of what Lyman Hall-Sheehan is all about. Above and beyond rivalry, there lies great respect.
“We definitely made up for [Cheshire], especially against Sheehan, our hometown rivals,” he said. “It felt really good to have a shutout against a team that was undefeated.”
That leaves the Platt-Maloney rivalry, and I’m sad to say it’s one I know next to nothing about. I hope to have a chance to witness it in football, where I’d guess it’s pretty strong, and perhaps in wrestling, since each school has produced some great ones. The fun comes in the research.