Jeff Jacobs: From championships to showcases in CT, it’s the wrong time for unequal playing fields

Photo of Jeff Jacobs

There is a CIAC New England Shootout Showcase for Connecticut high school boys basketball this weekend. There is no girls basketball showcase.

You probably see where I’m headed with this one.

The CIAC has a terrific venue at Mohegan Sun for its state basketball championships, both boys and girls. Recently renovated Palmer Field isn’t the biggest or most modern facility in the state, but for me it’s that picture-perfect blend of baseball intimate and geographically centered. Soccer, for the girls and boys, at rebuilt Dillon Stadium last fall was boffo. And the new two-day lacrosse championships for girls and boys at Sacred Heart furnished a college-polished facility and the opportunity to get one day in the spotlight away from the slew of title games on Saturday.

DeLuca Field no longer matches those venues in softball.

You may see where I’m going with this one, too.

When Sedona Prince of Oregon released the video at the 2021 NCAA Final Four showing the difference between the women’s (six sets of dumbbells) and the men’s (a large hall full of apparatus) weight rooms, my first reaction was, wow, I had no idea. My second reaction was I used to have a better setup in my basement than the women.

By the time the discrepancies involving food variety and quality, swag, interview transcripts, website and photos, on-court branding, COVID testing, etc., became evident, it was a national story. The NCAA had a huge public relations problem.

Is the picture, on a state level, getting a little clearer?

Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney couldn’t have been less combative Tuesday in stating his case for a girls summer showcase in Connecticut.

“I don’t think anyone is necessarily to blame,” said Coloney, the 2021 GameTimeCT state coach of the year. “I do feel strongly about giving all kids the same opportunities.”

Coloney was in the process of sending a proposal to change this to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association on Tuesday. He has been actively working with approximately 25 girls coaches from around the state, who undersigned the proposal, and was forming a committee to find the next appropriate move.

He is not looking to wait until next summer.

He’s looking for it to happen this summer.

There are about 50 boys teams involved this weekend at New Haven’s Floyd Little Athletic Center and Notre Dame-West Haven in the first CIAC-sponsored event.

“Perhaps more importantly,” Coloney said, “is the teams participating can be coached by their high school staff for a certain number of hours in the week leading up to it. I think the practice is the most valuable time.”

After the endless argument over not being able to coach high school kids in the summer, suddenly coaches are able to work with them for a total of six hours leading into the weekend.

When he heard about the showcase, the first thing Coloney did was ask his athletic director if there was one for the girls. There wasn’t. That led Coloney to do a little more digging.

“This wasn’t CIAC initiated,” Coloney said. “It seems like it was all from the NFHS proposal that the CIAC kind of said OK, we’ll support this. Other states are doing it and it’s for the recruiting period allowed by the NCAA. So I understand where it is coming from.”

The NCAA made changes in recruiting to allow coaches to see high school teams at approved events in 2019. The NEPSAC held one for prep teams in 2019 and 2021 in Connecticut. There are 30 showcase events, approved by the NFHS and NCAA, listed nationally this June.

“I’m not necessarily angry about anything,” Coloney said. “I just think if 50 boys programs are allowed to practice with their staffs and have that connectivity in the summer when no other high school sports are functioning — it is something we definitely value and would love to be able to do.”

Absolutely. Allowing the coaches some time to work with their kids in the summer is good thing.

“It is challenging when I get a call from one of my players and they say, ‘Are you coaching practice this week? The boys are,” Coloney said. “We’re not going to win a state championship because we practiced six hours in the summer. What we can do is build relationships, start to build chemistry, get people connected and excited.

“After what has gone on the last few years with COVID it would be a wonderful opportunity.”

Can’t you hear it? Oh, players don’t need to be coached in the summer. Quit crying girls. There are once-a-week games around the state for a lot of school programs with volunteer coaches. The NCAA recruiting periods are different and we’re not sure we can shuffle the dates. Blah, blah, blah.

“If we want to set up some kind of tournament or even scrimmages, I’m sure we could put our heads together and do that,” Coloney said. “We’re just looking to get consideration from the coaches association or the CIAC or both to look at a summer week where we could pull it off.

“It’s so easy to say we can’t do that because of this. I’m trying to get away from that. I’m trying to advocate for the kids around the state who work so hard and I have so much respect for. Ones who go on to college to play sports. I want to be respectful of the process, but also care about our kids and equal opportunity.”

Coloney was diplomatic. If this doesn’t happen, let’s put it this way. Maria Conlon, Tammy Millsaps, even Geno Auriemma, are a phone call away. They may be less diplomatic.

There was a time when playing at DeLuca Field in Stratford was something special. The Brakettes certainly were when they started playing there in 1988. The chance to gather and play where softball greats played had a real attraction. History and tradition grew.

I wasn’t there over the weekend for the four CIAC title games, but there was barking on social media and by word of mouth that DeLuca isn’t special anymore. Questions if it was still up to snuff.

DeLuca played host to some semifinals. The scoreboard wasn’t working. With seeding-ties being broken by lot — something else the CIAC softball committee will have to look hard at this fall — the most important game of the postseason between Southington and Ludlowe was played with a little manual scoreboard placed in the press box window.

“Give them credit,” said Henry Rondon, the CIAC liaison for softball. “They worked very hard the whole day Friday to get it working for us (for the championships).”

When Tim Burrows tweeted about the merits of Mohegan Sun, Palmer Field and, conversely, “CT softball finals at a field with dugouts with no roof and a 3-foot popup fence … Be Better,” it was difficult to ignore. He is the dad of Waterford’s Maddie Burrows, the best all-around player in the state. His wife Becky and he operate a softball-baseball training facility that draws players from around the state.

“The facility has been very good to us,” Rondon said. “Obviously, it’s where the Brakettes play. From my standpoint, we want our young ladies to play in the best facilities.

“DeLuca did a really good job for us again this year. We’re happy with how it went down.”

Rondon said location, parking, grandstands and fan experience, lights and most importantly player experience — what’s the field going to look like — are all taken into consideration.

No roof to protect players from the rain and too much sun?

“I would like to see what the facility can do about it,” Rondon said. “But it’s really up to them.”

The temporary mesh fence?

“They have different games, high school, Brakettes, slow-pitch softball,” Rondon said. “Again, that would really be up to the people at DeLuca.”

Rondon said the agreement between the CIAC and the town of Stratford, which operates DeLuca, is year-to-year.

“The committee,” he said, “will take a deep breath, look at what happened and review all aspects in the fall.”

In the meantime, the committee members might want to take a look at the some of the spiffy college fields in the state and Stratford may want to address the DeLuca concerns.

Being accused of not doing enough for a large group of girls athletes is not a good spot to be in these days.

Just taking my lead from Rob Coloney and being diplomatic.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123