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Women's game is alive and well in these parts

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published July 27. 2013 4:00AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Maya Moore, center, an All-Star guard for the Minnesota Lynx and former UConn great, pals around with children from New London summer recreation programs during a dedication ceremony officially opening the newly refinished basketball court at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. The WNBA and cooperate partner Bona paid for and installed the court at no cost to the city.

There is a reason the longest running women's professional sports league in the history of the world brings its celebration to our corner of the world this weekend:

We care the most about women's basketball.

UConn has long since established itself as the game's Broadway. And while the Connecticut Sun don't lead the WNBA in attendance, the faithful lower bowl of fans show up at Mohegan Sun Arena - even during this summer of discontent - creating what most opposing players and coaches acknowledge as the best home atmosphere in the league.

Still, there are those among you who haven't quite caught the fever (or even know the Fever is a franchise). It inspires the occasional "nobody cares about the WNBA" reader comment from the occasional clod who, in some cases, actually flashes lucid bouts with proper spelling and grammar.

Note to you people: If you can honestly say you don't care about the WNBA anymore after reading what follows, stay in your underground troll cavern and await further instruction.

The WNBA's tentacles reach beyond Neon Uncasville this weekend, all the way to New London, where an act of benevolence for a city that is often stepped on took the form, fittingly, of something that is stepped on: a new gym floor.

It was unveiled Friday at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. The WNBA and corporate partner Bona, an industry leader in floor care, paid for and installed it at no cost to city taxpayers.

Now the kids have a new place to play.

Tim MacDuff, the chief operations officer for New London Public Schools, estimated that a new floor would have cost the city somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000.

"That's one of the great things about having the All-Star Game here. You get to do something you don't normally get to do," Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko said Friday during a ceremony at school. "The WNBA and Bona worked with us to find a location in our marketplace."

That's when Sienko dispatched sales manager Annmarie Gengo, a Waterford native, and media relations manager Bill Tavares in search of someone or something in need of help. This just in: New London needs help.

"New London has been part of my life my whole life," Gengo said. "We went in thinking, 'How can we keep it here?' We visited the Martin Center and saw (city park and recreation director) Tommie Major there. He said, 'I've got a court to show you.'"

Lest any politician grandstand for the credit on this project: Now you know. This was Tommie Major's idea.

"One of my family friends, Pat Romano (who works for the Board of Education in human resources) said the court really needed work," Gengo said.

This is how much work:

"It was broken," said Hunter MacDuff, 10. "It was dusty. There wasn't any grip. The paint was coming off. But there's sure grip now."

Indeed. There are WNBA and Connecticut Sun logos, not to mention a giant Tiger at midcourt, representing the school's mascot.

"There probably hadn't been any attention paid to it for 15-plus years," Tim MacDuff said. "It's symptomatic of a school system where you have to make tough choices. We've tried to get to it using the city staff or my staff or a combination, but broken pipes and other things override those projects.

"When someone first called me about this, I thought it was a prank. I truly did," MacDuff said. "People here know me as pretty focused. I'm thinking, 'OK, which one of these guys is having an off humor day?'"

And then Tim MacDuff and hundreds of others got to walk on the new floor Friday morning. A clinic with a few WNBA all-stars - Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen among them - followed.

Whether you endorse women's basketball has become irrelevant in Connecticut. The revolution proceeds. Women's basketball has only changed everything here. It's changed how we watch sports. How we view women. How we spend money. What we look forward to. How we went from comparative sporting hermits to traveling the country.

It has engendered relationships of both genders. It has created lifelong friendships. It has changed our culture. It has changed lives.

And what began with Geno and UConn forges on in the summer with the Sun and the WNBA, who made our corner of the world a better place Friday morning.

Bravo.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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