UNCASVILLE - As members of the New Britain boys basketball team collected their belonging and slowly filed out of the locker room at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday night, a large group of family, classmates and fans waited just outside the double doors, erupting in applause as the Hurricanes emerged from the hallway.
Supporters flocked from the Hardware City to the Sun to cheer the program to what could have been its first state title since 1950, and while New Britain came up just short against Waterford for the Division II state championship, the crowd presence was noticeable.
“The support was there,” head coach Kurt Reis said after the Hurricanes’ 63-56 loss to the No. 1 Lancers. “The city definitely came out and supported the program. We just came up a little short.”
Among those in attendance sporting maroon and gold, Reis and the rest of the program hope the younger audience that came to watch saw the direction of the team in just its second season under Reis, which resulted in the program’s first state championship appearance in 17 years.
“It’s a big step,” Reis said. “Obviously we didn’t win, but just getting here was a success in its own right. It’s a good thing to happen to the program, because it hadn’t been here in a long time.”
For the Hurricanes to build off their most successful season in nearly two decades, they will have to see more groups arrive at New Britain High like the senior class that led the program to Mohegan Sun this year. New Britain’s top three scorers on Sunday were seniors, as were four of its five starters, all of which remember a time when they were young kids watching the Hurricanes make state tournament runs with names like 1,000-point scorer Craven Johnson, which sparked their interest to put on the New Britain uniform.
Now playing the part of role models, the seniors hope their success will drive a similar interest for those who watched them fight for a state championship trophy this weekend.
“It’s crazy to think that we were those kids who used to watch Craven and them and look up to those guys,” senior Shamah Charles said. “Now that we were in this position and kids might be looking up to us, it’s crazy that it’s actually possible. That’s what we want those kids to do. We want them to stay in New Britain and go to New Britain High and play sports.”
With so many alternate options awaiting high school athletes nowadays, from catholic schools to prep schools, it can often be a challenge for local public schools to retain elite talent. Sometimes the best way to do so is to capture their imagination at an early age, and show that their hometown is capable of winning at the state level. While the Hurricanes didn’t get the result they wanted on Sunday, they hope it planted a seed for sustained success, despite their massive losses in the form of the senior class.
“The ideal situation is for kids in New Britain to stay in New Britain,” Reis said. “That’s the only way this can continue. The goal is to win a state championship and put New Britain back on the map, but in order to keep the buzz here, we need all the kids to want to be a part of New Britain High School.”
Reis has to feel good about how this season will work towards achieving that goal, as do the seniors that will be leaving the program with a far different outlook than when they arrived. For a group that was once the younger generation Reis now hopes to inspire, nobody would have a better idea of the impact their run can have on local kids than themselves, and they believe the future is bright.
“It will make a lot of kids want to stay, now that we made it this far and played for a championship,” Charles said. “There were a lot of younger kids that came to watch us, and now that they saw us, maybe they’ll want to stay in New Britain as long as they can.”