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Wizards Earned Place In Parade, And Learned Teamwork

Helen Ubiņas

April 19, 2009

Turns out Noah Webster colors run deep.

After the school's elementary league championship basketball team was shut out of the UConn parade, people lined up to get the kids in.

Among them was Matt Ritter, a former Webster Wizard-turned-city-council member who proudly recalled his glory days as a member of the 1994 city championship team.

"I was a starter," he said.

Ritter understood the tough spot parade organizers were in. Budgets are tight. Hartford had told them not to assume they'd get city funding. And considering there are plenty of groups worthy of marching alongside the UConn championship women's team, it probably wasn't a good idea to play favorites.

But, Ritter and others who contacted me after my column about the Wizards ran thought this seemed like a really simple way to reward a group of city kids who'd worked hard toward their own victory. And while they were at it, Ritter suggested, why not the state championship Bulkeley High School basketball team as well?

When I went to Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School to meet the champs last week, the team was beaming. As soon as the co-ed team heard they'd be able to march, their teacher Sue Frazer had them call their parents.

Chuck Howard thought his son, 12-year-old Blair, who is a co-captain of the team and a huge Renee Montgomery fan, was kidding.

But he wasn't. Blair and his teammates were all parade-bound. The Courant and Channel 61 (yep, my bosses) sponsored the kids. The city is sponsoring Bulkeley.

As we talked, the Wizards proudly recalled their nail-biter championship game just a few weeks ago. They were up against the undefeated Northwest Boys and Girls Club, whom they had lost to earlier in the season.

"We were the underdogs," said Melvin Pagan, a fifth-grade shooting guard.

The score was tied for most of the game, and with just a minute and 37 seconds left, the Webster Wizards were down by three. Math teacher and coach Darren Schwartz rallied the team, and with some serious teamwork, the Webster Wizards won 45-41.

Coach always told them to win with class, they said, but even they had to admit they were pretty delirious when they realized what they had accomplished.

But then, the truth was that they had accomplished plenty even before that game. At the beginning of the season, coach Schwartz gave each player a weekly sheet for their teachers to comment on their grades and behavior. One bad check meant that the whole team did extra drills.

Soon the team was looking out for one another, encouraging each other to do well in class and on the court. No checks was the goal, but no excuses was their motto.

And this little team of "underdogs" took that lesson all the way to the championship title and a huge trophy they planned on carrying in the parade.

So, if you're out there today and you see the Webster Wizards, or the champs from Bulkeley, be sure to give them a big ol' wave.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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