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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Emotional tribute to Newtown victims

Just when I thought my heartstrings couldn't be tugged at even more during a pre-game ceremony honoring the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, officials at the University of Hartford stepped up the plate in a major way.

Not only was there a period of silent reflection in honor of the 26 people gunned down in the school shooting eight days ago but a bell chimed 26 times in tribute to those who lost their lives including 20 children. That alone would make for an emotional scene. But when you add in a large group of kids and adults from the Newtown Youth Basketball Association stood side by side with players from both UConn and Hartford during the ceremony and it was an event I won't soon forget.

At halftime former Hartford baseball captain Chris Petersen, who organized the travel party of about 150 from Newtown, was gracious enough to speak to myself and Lori Riley of the Hartford Courant.

Petersen, who has lived in Newtown for six years, has three children who are students of Sandy Hook ES. Thankfully all of his kids got out safely but he was able to provide an insiders' take on the flood of emotions following the tragic events.

“Last year I brought my third grade team (to a Hartford game) and (he said) ‘how about we go Saturday just so we get out of town,’” Petersen said at halftime of UConn’s 102-45 victory. “He said bring as many as you want but I said 'it is sold out.' He said don’t worry we will find (room).”

Not only did Hartford officials find room, they incorporated the kids into the poignant pre-game ceremony.

“They were thrilled,” Petersen said of the 80-90 kids who were in attendance. “They were waiting for it all day. I wasn't sure. Kids are more resilient than adults. We comprehend things and we overthink things but the kids, they want to get back. They are enjoying it. They get it. They get what is going on but they sort of have a way with their psyches they move on.”

Even somebody like Petersen, who has been to a couple of wakes in the last week and picked up his three children from the scene of unspeakable carnage, admitted that the ceremony before the game touched his soul.

“My son had a 10:30 basketball game in Newtown and they did the moment of silence; I teach in Ridgefield and they do a moment of silence and I was OK,” Petersen said. “It doesn't get easier. I think the first few days you are in shock but I think when you see all the people caring that is really what gets you with everybody reaching out. It really has been incredible. The phone hasn't stopped ringing and everybody has been saying what can we do? I had three kids who were at Sandy Hook Elementary School and they made it ... My heart goes out to (the victims) just like everybody else to the parents who lost loved ones.”

Petersen said he has tried to talk to his kids about the events on Dec. 14 but so far they haven’t been up to share just how deeply they have been impacted.

“They heard things, they didn't see anything,” Petersen said. “The teachers did an unbelievable job, the police did an unbelievable job (telling them) to close their eyes when they run out. Kids are funny. We have been to a couple of wakes and we have gotten through it but they internalize things. I am sure as time goes on more and more is going to come out so we will keep an eye on that stuff.

“It is tough for the older kids, they were in sixth grade and seventh and they were in lockdown, they had all their kindles out and they knew what was going on. It's been an emotional time for everyone.

“We bring it up. I brought it up early. We had a basketball game and everybody handles loss differently just like in sports some kids cry, some kids forget about it, some kids move on and death is the same is. As for my own kids, I keep asking them 'are you OK? Are you OK?’ Once in a while you will hear things. We heard sirens on TV and (his daughter Kate) said 'I get so sad when I hear sirens.’ My step son said 'I get happy because when I hear sirens, I feel safe. You let them talk and let things come out.”

Children from the school have been receiving so many gifts from strangers that there has been a request to stop sending stuffed animals to them. Petersen believes the best thing that came out of the trip to his alma mater was that the kids from Newtown have been able to give back to others.

It was obviously how much they touched those in attendance when UConn junior All-American guard Bria Hartley showed up at the post-game press conference clutching a pair of teddy bears she received from the Newtown contingent.

“It is non-stop,” Petersen said of the outpouring of support. “It is overwhelming. The key is that the kids have been getting so much; they wanted to give back to the players so they gave them the t-shirts and teddy bears. Everybody has been getting so much so they want to feel good by giving back. I think a lot of Newtown people are going to start giving back to a lot of communities.”

Petersen said the Newtown Youth Academy has been a site where kids have been entertained by those looking to reach out to the stricken community.

Former UConn star Tina Charles came down Saturday to speak to kids and the Houston Dynamos of Major League Soccer are expected to come up for a clinic in early January.

“We have a great community,” Petersen said. “The Newtown Youth Academy has really been the focus of our community. People are coming in. It is really nice to get kids distracted to what is going on.”

Auriemma did not mince words after the game when discussing how at risk children are in this country as he was clearly irked by comments made at the National Rifle Association press conference saying that arming teachers would be the best way to move forward from this tragedy.

"In other countries you don't have to worry about going into schools and shooting them, you don't have to worry about people going shopping in the mall and somebody come in and shooting them nor do little kids in Germany, little kids in France, little kids in most civilized countries in the world don't worry about that kind of stuff," Auriemma said. "In England they don't have to worry about that so why in this country do we have to be afraid for our kids? Why do we have to be afraid for our grandson, I can't figure it out and nobody will ever convince me that it is OK. Now that is solution  we are going to put armed guards in every school and everybody is entitled to protect their house. So if you get married and you protect your house and the bank makes you have homeowner's insurance, they also make you buy five guns because you have to protect your investment. We have to protect ourselves because the police can't, you know why the police can't protect us? Because there are more people with guns than there are policemen. What other country to you think it exist?. I grew up here, I have a great life but if there aren't some major changes with the way we live, I would tell my daughter and my grandson you need to move to another country you have a better chance of growing up safe."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice video in memoriam

2:26 AM 

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