Webster School's Wizards Shut Out From City's Parade For Huskies
April 16, 2009
There was no mistaking Michael Zaleski's exasperation when I called him the other day.
It's not easy putting on a parade, as he quickly discovered after becoming the point person for honoring the UConn women's NCAA championship.
With just days before Sunday's big event, it was crunch time for the Hartford Business Improvement District's executive director. The e-mails seeking sponsorship had been sent. But there were still plenty of details to work out, including how to pay for the whole thing. And the calls just wouldn't stop coming in.
Speaking of that, I was calling after hearing from a frustrated Hartford teacher who was hoping to find a spot in the parade for a band of her own championship basketball players. The Webster Wizards, the coed team from Noah Webster School, worked hard all year, Susan Frazer said. They'd just won a citywide tournament.
Wasn't there room in a parade for some kids?
Zaleski knew all about it. He'd had a 20-minute conversation with Frazer, he said. He appreciated her commitment, and her tenacity. He felt bad, he really did. But he told me what he told her. These are tough economic times and he's under strict orders to keep the parade short — and cheap.
Translation: You have to pay to play.
In other years, this hadn't been a problem — they'd had room for kids, beauty queens and other groups that asked. But there really is no money this year.
"It's purely a fiscal thing," he said.
And, he asked, when I suggested there had to be some way to find room for a dozen or so city kids, where do you draw the line? How do you decide who gets to march?
After not winning a single game the year before — unless of course you count the game where the other team didn't show up — the Wizards became the city champions. One of the co-captains, who'd been struggling in school, started to excel. They became a real team, coach Darren Schwartz said.
"It was amazing to watch," he said.
Zaleski told me he had to keep the parade as relevant as possible. But how more relevant can you get than including kids who have spent the season looking up to and learning from the Huskies?
When UConn won the title and the kids suggested they might march in the parade, Frazer said she really wasn't daunted by the idea. She figured she'd make a call and it'd be done.
Boy, was she wrong.
Not one to easily give up, Frazer wondered if they could maybe get creative and ask the city or one of the sponsoring companies to let the kids march with them. But when she asked about that, Zaleski told her he didn't yet have a working sponsorship list.
"Nothing seems to come easy in Hartford," Frazer sighed.
Things aren't looking good, but Frazer hasn't had the heart to tell the kids yet. Worse case scenario, she said, she'll have them suit up and cheer the Huskies along the parade route.
Maybe, she thought, she'll even turn the moment into a lesson about politics. Better they get that lesson early in life, right?
Zaleski thought having the kids watch the parade was a good one. It'd probably be even better than marching, he said — they'll be able to see the team that way.
Nice try, Mike.
Look, I'm not trying to make Zaleski the bad guy here. I get what he's up against. But it's pretty sad that these kids can't be rewarded for all their hard work by including them in a parade in their own city.
It's not sad, Zaleski corrected me. It's reality.
But that's just it, isn't it? The sad reality for kids in Hartford is that they always seem to end up on the sidelines, on the outside looking in.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at