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Some games go on despite of tragedy

Updated 11:48 pm, Friday, December 14, 2012
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FAIRFIELD -- The games went on.

At least they did inside some high school gymnasiums across Connecticut only hours after the shocking tragedy Friday morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 28 people, including 20 schoolchildren, dead.

The state's high school athletic governing body, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, released a statement Friday afternoon, leaving the decision whether to postpone games scheduled for Friday night in the hands of the individual schools. More than half of the games originally slated for southwestern Connecticut, including all games involving SWC schools -- the home conference of Newtown High -- were pushed to a later date. Some schools also decided to postpone Saturday's games as well.

"It was a mutual decision out of respect for the situation, for the community of Newtown," Bunnell athletic director Dave Johnson said. "It was a simple decision. We can make up basketball games down the road. We wanted to make sure we did the right thing."

The Bunnell boys basketball team had been scheduled to play ND-Fairfield in the championship of the SWC Tip-Off Tournament Friday night. The consolation game was to be Newtown against Kaynor Tech. No makeup date has been announced for either game.

Elsewhere, such as at Fairfield University's Alumni Hall, the regularly scheduled game between Amity and Fairfield Prep went on.

The game, won by the Jesuits 55-44, was preceded by a lengthy moment of silence to acknowledge the victims of Friday's massacre.

The tragedy had an immediate impact on Fairfield Prep with two of its players -- Dillon Palumbo and Colton Smith -- residing in Newtown. Jesuits coach Leo Redgate said the players' parents arrived at the gym before the start of the freshman game to take them home. The eventual game itself did provide a temporary mental respite from the day's shocking events.

"I'm still in shock," said Redgate, who has three school-age children. "To me, I'm not sure what else I would do, sit home and feel miserable? I'm not sure that's healthy either."

Both Amity and Prep players said there was a lot of confusion in regard to the information trickling out of Newtown and if they would go ahead with the game.

"It was in the back of everybody's mind," Jesuits' senior Tim Butala said. "When you get out there on the court, you forget about it. It was a good way to try to move past it, but at the same time with the moment of silence to remember."

Amity's Zac Campbell said the shootings made players on his team take pause as they wondered if they'd still play Friday night.

"It could have been one of our little brothers, it could have been any of the elementary schools in our town," he said. "It affects all of us."

Spartans coach Jeff Nielsen made note of what happened in Newtown before tip-off, but also wanted to make sure his team was focused on playing basketball.

"You're thinking about the situation. You're not really thinking about the basketball game," he said. "Before the game, we talked about it. We said we're here to play, so focus on the game right now."

About half of the FCIAC went forward with its boys and girls basketball games Friday. The league issued a statement on its website to express sympathy for Newtown as well as allowing its member schools to decide on their own whether to play. Those that did tried to honor the victims as they could.

Westhill athletic director and girls basketball coach Mike King felt keeping a sense of normalcy was important.

"I didn't see there was a reason not to play tonight," King said. "I live in Newtown, my kids go to an elementary school in Newtown. It's a tragedy but things do need to go on. I think the best thing to do was go forward with life."

Added Darien girls basketball coach Katie Lauten: "I think even in light of everything that happened, it was good for the girls. I know both schools were OK with it, so yeah."

Part of what made it easy for some schools to postpone Friday night's games was logistics. The fact it was early in the new season with plenty of available dates to reschedule the games allowed some to err on the side of caution.

For instance, Kolbe Cathedral and Stratford's boys basketball game set for Sacred Heart's Pitt Center Saturday night was also postponed to a later date.

"After we learned what had happened, I'm pretty sure it was appropriate (to postpone the game)," Kolbe athletic director Henry Rondon said. "I'm sure we can get this game in at another date."

Correspondent Ryan Lacey contributed to this report.

mcardillo@ctpost.com; @CTPostCardillo