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Pickens' Perspective: Sports community tries to cope with Newtown tragedy

Updated 3:37 pm, Tuesday, December 18, 2012
  • Fairfield Prep and South Windsor High School's hockey teams show solidarity during a moment of silence for Sandy Hook Elementary School victims on Saturday in South Windsor. Photo: Contributed Photo
    Fairfield Prep and South Windsor High School's hockey teams show solidarity during a moment of silence for Sandy Hook Elementary School victims on Saturday in South Windsor. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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How do we cope?

How to we make sense of it? How do we deal with it?

School shootings never make sense.

I feel an overwhelming sadness in the aftermath of what happened in Newtown Friday -- and for many reasons.

One is the proximity. Fairfield is just 25 miles from Newtown, and I live less than 15 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I regularly trek to Newtown High, usually to cover Notre Dame-Fairfield. Newtown High's facilities are beautiful. Security at games there is strict, and the people are friendly.

I periodically pass through Newtown. I did on Thanksgiving Eve on my way home from the ND-Immaculate football game in Danbury to go home. I probably even drove past Sandy Hook Elementary that night but had no idea.

Maybe it's because many who work in Fairfield have strong Newtown ties. Fairfield Warde High School athletic director Chris Manfredonia is a Newtown-resident whose daughter attends Sandy Hook Elementary and thankfully was one of the survivors.

Chris Smalkais, Fairfield Prep's varsity lacrosse coach lives in Monroe, and his son played lacrosse in adjacent Newtown growing up. Last Wednesday, Smalkais was his typical, lighthearted self, dropping one-liners on me about the stalled NHL season and his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. But when a somber Smalkais called me Monday, the shock of the shootings had not warn off.

"It's unfathomable to think this could happen," he said.

Perhaps this tragedy haunts me because Newtown is a lot like my hometown in New Jersey: an affluent suburb nestled in the woods, where the biggest news in any given week usually is a car accident.

In Fairfield, as in Newtown, most people have a lot and are fortunate to live where they do.

The Newtown shooting is the latest in an epidemic. The first that I remember well was the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo. I remember visiting Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 2006, just days after five students were slain by a gun. I vividly remember Virginia Tech's shooting about seven months later.

You can rattle the other sites off where guns have shaken communities -- Aurora, Colo., Portland, Ore., Tucson, Ariz. These are real places, with real people just like us.

Now Newtown is at the top of the list.

I'm not here to promote an anti-gun agenda -- there are other's with larger, more-appropriate pulpits to champion that cause. I'm basically trying -- nearly a week later -- to comprehend, grieve and move on.

Many high school games were postponed on Friday. ND-Fairfield's SWC Tip-off Tournament -- which includes the Newtown High boys basketball team -- was moved to Jan. 19.

On Friday, ND athletic director Rob Bleggi said via text message, "We don't think it is appropriate to play tonight."

Many FCIAC schools, including both Fairfield public high schools, followed suit.

But some games were played Friday. They were a diversion for those who needed to escape the horrific news in our own backyard.

"To me, I'm not sure what else I would do," Prep basketball coach Leo Redgate told our Mike Cardillo after the Jesuits beat Amity 55-44 at Alumni Hall Friday night. "Sit at home and feel miserable? I'm not sure that's healthy either."

I can't chastise teams that played Friday, although many my colleagues have. The CIAC, the state's governing body for high school sports, put out a statement Friday declaring that it would "not be requiring postponements of athletic contests scheduled for this evening" and "[the CIAC] encourage individual schools to cooperate with colleagues if postponements are desired."

Different people handle grief differently. If two teams think playing is the right decision, then play those teams must. If two other teams think postponement is appropriate, then I'm all for that.

It may sound like a cop-out, but I wouldn't want to make decisions like that in a time like this.

It's been a tough few months -- between a hurricane that rocked our town, and now an incomprehensible tragedy.

But it's time to mourn, grieve then respond stronger than ever.

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens

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