story & photos
by Vito J. Leo
It was a perfect day for a parade, a perfect way to end a perfect season.
“It couldn’t have been more perfect this afternoon. The weather was absolutely gorgeous,” said Shana Segal, Glastonbury, one of the estimated 25,000 people who attended a parade and rally at the Capitol on Sunday to honor the 2009 National Champions, the undefeated UConn Women’s Basketball team.
Shana was at Bushnell Park with her children and her parents, three generations of Husky fans all basking in the glow of an unforgettable string of 39 victories.
“We’re all huge UConn fans,” said Shana who said she watched every game this season with her dad, Marshall Yudin, Mystic, who was at the parade with his wife, Diane.
The modest parade through downtown Hartford featured Governor M. Jodi Rell, Dr. Michael Hogan, president, UConn, and several other dignitaries riding in open cars followed by UConn musicians and cheerleaders, local marching and drill units and, of course, the National Champs themselves, riding astride the top of an open double-decker sightseeing bus.
The team ended the season at 39-0, the third unbeaten campaign and the sixth national championship under head coach Geno Auriemma.
After the parade, during a 25-minute rally on the steps of the state capitol, emcee Bob Joyce, the voice of the Huskies on WTIC Radio, praised the Hall of Fame coach for the continued success of the team.
“He recruits talented and headstrong players and he gets the best out of them,” Bob said, adding that most of the women “are better people” for their effort because of the coach’s concern for not only the players’ physical welfare but their mental and emotional well-being as well.
Geno received a loud reception when he walked to the podium but it didn’t move the audiometer quite as much as the roar from the crowd when departing senior Renee Montgomery took her turn at the mic.
“No offense to Minnesota but this is why I don’t want to leave CT,” said Renee who was recently drafted by the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WBNA).
Renee should be returning to Eastern CT on a regular basis when her new team travels here to take on the local WBNA franchise at the Mohegan Sun.
There was a touching moment as the women were about to get back on the team bus after the festivities, working their way through the crowds of fans, when a little girl approached Renee for an autograph and the captain eagerly obliged.
Moments later, after Renee boarded the bus, the nine-year-old burst into tears of joy for having the chance to meet her favorite player.
Perhaps that’s what Gov. Rell was referring to when she told the team during Sunday’s rally that “you have represented CT in the best possible way.”
Gov. Rell thanked this talented troupe for providing a bit of brightness and cheer during a New England winter made even more dreary than usual thanks to a faltering economy.
“During this past winter, when the weather wasn’t the greatest, when we all had a lot of things weighing on our minds, we were looking for a little diversion and, thanks to you, we got it,” Gov. Rell said.
And, as soon as she praised the team, she then turned around and gave the fans their due as well.
“I just told Geno, ‘This is the greatest fan base any team could ask for,’” she said.
According to a University spokesman, the parade was primarily planned by representatives from the Governor’s office, the Hartford Business Improvement District and the MetroHartford Alliance. The event was funded through donations from the State of CT, the city of Hartford, several civic organizations and local businesses.
“This was a great idea. It was an excellent day, well organized, lots of friendly people and Mother Nature cooperated too,” said Dorene Willey, Willington, an administrative assistant with the UConn Plant Sciences Department. “Where it all began,” Dorene quipped, referring to the original purpose for which the university was created.
Dorene’s husband, Victor, summed up what was no doubt the thoughts of many UConn fans, “Hope to be back here again next year.”