Though I bought my ticket expecting otherwise, the state championship game between Weaver and Darien was more about football than anything else.
I figured the match-up of the all-white team from wealthy Darien (per capita income $90,669 –– the state’s second-highest) and the all-black squad from Hartford (per capita income $17,274 –– the state’s lowest) was sure to provide me with a deeper insight into the sociology of Connecticut’s racial and economic disparities. It didn’t.
I must have caught the malady which afflicts all those talking heads on television -- that of thinking everything we see somehow has a deeper meaning. It doesn’t.
If anything, I learned that people are all more alike than different.
While the spectators were all white on the Darien side and almost all black on the Weaver side, the main thing about the people in the stands along the artificial surface at West Haven High School was they were very proud of their boys' being in the championship game.
Both hometowns have reason to be embarrassed that the crowd was much smaller than it should have been. The announced crowd was 1500, but I think it was closer to 400 or 500 supporters on each side. The Darien crowd looked to be a bit larger, but I think it was because there were fewer seats on that side of the field.
Connecticut might not be Texas -- where high school football is more aptly described as a religion –– but it is still kind of sad that so few Nutmeggers turned out for these kids representing their communities. Football requires a lot of discipline and timing just to play it, and it is an especially hard sport to play well. Other than students, I don't think there were many people there who weren't related to the players.
I’m a Hartford boy myself, so I was dismayed by the small turnout but gladdened that Weaver was able to go so far. In the eighties, budget problems sharply curtailed and almost forced the elimination of high school sports in the capital city. The football playoff system was established in 1976, and none of Hartford’s three high schools reached a final until 1994, when Hartford Public won its class championship. Weaver has now won a championship in three of the last four years.
Weaver still struggles with a cumulative four-year dropout rate of 37.8 percent, though 67 percent of those who graduate attend two or four-year colleges. Darien’s dropout rate is just over one-half of one percent, with nine-tenths of its graduates continuing their education.
The people in the stands were largely unacquainted with the places from where the opposition came. Gary King of South Windsor, who had two nephews playing for the Beavers, told me all he knew about Darien was what he saw on the Alex Kelly "preppie rapist" television movie.
The Darien folks I asked were hard pressed to say anything beyond a murky description of Hartford except that "it’s the place up there where they keep raising our taxes."
The teenage gridders did themselves proud. Though the game quickly became a rout with the Beavers ultimately trouncing the Blue Wave 69-26, there was no letup in effort from either side. This must have been especially difficult for Darien, who could find no way to stop Weaver’s namesake halfback, John Weaver, who spent the night riding over the Blue Wave defense like a Hawaiian surfer.
The game mostly played out in a series of instant replays. The Beaver quarterback would hand the ball off to John Weaver, all the players would converge, and then John Weaver would suddenly emerge from the pack with 11 Darien jerseys trying to catch him before he got in the end zone. John Weaver finished the day with 349 yards and eight touchdowns, scoring every third time he touched the ball.
The cheering from both sides took the form of the standard football urgings: "De-FENSE," "Stick ‘em," or "Let’s go Weaver/Darien." I heard not a word about the different ethnic makeup of the two teams.
Other than ethnicity, there were but subtle differences in the two groups of supporters. Among the younger rooters, probably more of the Weaver fans wore those outrageously baggy pants –– but not that many more. Among the older fans, the Darien fans were dressed a bit more casually, wearing, for example, sneakers instead of shoes. And the Weaver cheerleaders paid closer attention to the game than their blue-clad counterparts, running down the sidelines to see their guys cross the goal line. With Weaver scoring 69 points, this happened a lot.
But you could see these types of contrasts between almost any two of Connecticut’s 169 towns. The major difference between the teams was that one of them left the game as a winner and the other one did not. Just like any other football game.
December 6, 1999