UConn coach Geno Auriemma has coached in more than 1,000 games during his career as an assistant coach at Virginia and the head coach at UConn. He has been a part of countless pregame ceremonies over the years. Very few, if any, packed the emotional punch as the one that took place at Chase Family Arena today prior to UConn’s game against Hartford.
Members of the Newtown Youth Girl’s Basketball Association shared the court with players from both teams as the 26 victims of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14 were honored. Some of young girls held green signs that read “We are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love,’’ while others held teddy bears during an emotional moment of silence that featured 26 single rings of a bell.
“This was one of the more emotional pregames that I’ve ever been involved in,’’ Auriemma said. “One of the little kids handed me a note for (assistant coach) Shea (Ralph), (assistant coach) Marisa (Moseley), (associate head coach Chris Dailey), and myself. She wrote about how she was a student at the school and she was there when it happened. She thanked us for everything and said how she was looking forward to being at the game (Saturday). It was our first contact with the kids that were actually a part of it. The moment of silence was deafening.’’
About 90 members of the Newtown Youth Girl’s Basketball Association were in attendance. Following the game, they gave the players teddy bears. UConn All-American guard Bria Hartley walked into the interview room holding two of them.
“Kids that young, for something to happen to them, and they had their whole lives ahead of them, it’s really tragic,’’ Hartley said. “And it’s hard to think about. A lot of these kids, we know they look up to us and they like watching us. So we want to put on the kind of performance that they’ll enjoy and maybe someday their dream of playing basketball at a place like Connecticut will come true.’’
Chris Petersen, a former baseball player at Hartford who lives a half-mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, coordinated the event with Hawks’ baseball coach Justin Blood.
Petersen had four of his five children on hand. Twins Jack and Kate Peterson and stepson Jake Mailloux all attend Sandy Hook Elementary. He also brought Ryan Mailloux with him.
“We’ve been getting so much stuff from everybody that we decided to give Newtown shirts to the players and teddy bears to the players,’’ Petersen said. “The girls wanted them to know that they were OK. For something that was organized two days ago it was pretty cool. It meant more to these kids. You could see their faces. They were just happy.’’
The event was especially emotional for Hartford coach and former UConn All-American Jennifer Rizzotti. She spent her childhood in New Fairfield and is a parent of two sons, ages 7 and 4. She began to cry when discussing the events of the day following the game.
“We wanted to honor to them,’’ Rizzotti said. “It’s hard not to think about that and to have to talk to my second grader about what happened. It’s something that I probably cry about every day since it happened. It doesn’t go away easily. I don’t know if our players can feel the same way that a parent does, but they do feel. They were kids once so they know how tough this is. It doesn’t mean you stop living your life, but you have to take that moment to reflect on what matters the most.’’