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More eyes focused on H.S. sports

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published March 25. 2014 4:00AM

High school sports are going old school on us - happily, merrily - before our eyes. Old school. You know. The days old-timers beckon, days when they recall the bleachers full and townies standing five deep. Days that may or may not have really existed, but make for good stories. It has become the old-timers' lament, how things just aren't what they used to be.

Perhaps they should pay closer attention.

Because the high school sports revolution in Connecticut rolls on, the latest stop through Mohegan Sun, where the weekend produced record attendance for the state high school basketball championships.

Yes. More than 20,000 fans poured into Neon Uncasville to watch, adding to the growing list of venues that are fuller than they've been in years for the games our kids play. Student sections overflow. Media coverage abounds. This is a historic time.

The crowds at Mohegan Sun offered a way to quantify what many of us have seen in recent months. Gyms have been packed. Internet hits pertaining to high schools have increased. Access to information is greater. Visual mediums have never been more interested in the product.

Why is this revolution happening?

A few ideas:

• Joe Zone and John Holt at Channel 3. They figured out that viewers can watch highlights of the Yankees and UConn anywhere. High schools? Not so much. Hence, they created a 15-minute highlight show on Friday night, "Friday Night Football" and "Friday Night Frenzy," with cameras at a dozen games or more showing highlights and interviews.

I've been out on football Fridays at various gin mills and pizza joints that all but stop at 11:15 to watch Zone and Holt for 15 minutes, hoping for a snippet of the local game. There is genius in simplicity. Other stations in the state have similar programming now. But Zone and Holt are the pioneers.

• CPTV Sports. The sports arm of Connecticut Public Television tirelessly produces and televises hundreds of games now per year, including all the state championship games. Network boss Bob Yalen said Monday that ratings are three times greater than what they had been, consistent with viewers becoming more aware of the channel and its function.

It wasn't long ago the idea of watching a high school game on television was somewhere between a rarity and a novelty. Now it's regularity. Reading about the game the next day in the paper is one thing. But watching it is a different realm.

• Matt Fischer. He is the director of technology services at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body for high school athletics. He brought the CIAC into this century, revolutionizing access to information. The website has everything. Schedules, start times, archives, rosters. This is why some of us call Fischer by his other name: God.

• Peter Huoppi. Peter is The Day's Director of Multimedia. He is the reason we are webcasting nearly a dozen games now, with plans for more. It began with video highlights a few years ago, which attracted a somewhat startling number of web hits. It has graduated into the ability to sit home at your computer - or even your TV if you have the gadgetry - and watch the local game.

We are very likely the only newspaper in the country webcasting high school games. That will change, especially when other outlets learn we generated more than 90,000 live or on demand views this year.

• Dave Ruden. You probably don't know Dave. But he left the newspaper business and began his own blog, The Ruden Report, devoted to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference. It has become the league's de facto home office.

• Sean Patrick Bowley. He runs "Game Time CT," the New Haven Register's innovative web site devoted strictly to high school sports. It's incredibly well done.

There are others. But the larger point: The media in Connecticut, either by choice or necessity, has decided to focus more on local sports. The result: more interest, bigger crowds. The residual effect: great for the kids, which is the entire point.

It was a fun winter. The ECC basketball championships were packed. So were state tournament games. So were regular-season games, especially at Ledyard and Waterford. Student sections (especially Lancer Nation at Waterford) were hilarious. And it's only going to get better. Turns out they're not just buying local in Connecticut now. They're watching it, too.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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