HARTFORD – It was a perfect day for a parade, and 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 of Glastonbury, one of the estimated 25,000 people who attended a parade and rally at the Capitol on Sunday to honor the undefeated UConn women’s basketball team.
Segal 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 Segal, who added that she watched every game this season with her dad, Marshall Yudin of Mystic.
The modest parade through downtown Hartford included dignitaries in open cars, UConn musicians and cheerleaders, local marching units – and of course, the team, riding astride the top of an open double-decker sightseeing bus.
The UConn women ended this season at 39-0; it is the Huskies’ third unbeaten season 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 Auriemma for the continued success of the team.
“He recruits talented and headstrong players and he gets the best out of them,” Joyce said, and added 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.
Renee Montgomery’s bright future
Auriemma received a loud welcome 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 mike.
“No offense to Minnesota, but this is why I don’t want to leave Connecticut,” said Montgomery, who was recently drafted by the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
Renee should be returning to eastern Connecticut on a regular basis when her new team travels here to take on the local WNBA 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 Montgomery had boarded the bus, the nine-year-old burst into tears of joy for having had the chance to meet her favorite player.
Perhaps that’s what Gov. Jodi Rell was referring to when she told the team, during Sunday’s rally, that “you have represented Connecticut 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 had all had a lot of things weighing on our minds, we were looking for a little diversion and, thanks to you, we got it,” the governor said.
And, as politicians are wont to do, as soon as she had praised the team, Gov. Rell turned around and gave the fans their due.
“I just told Geno, ‘This is the greatest fan base any team could ask for,’” Rell said.
Fans gave the event a thumbs-up. “This was a great idea. It was an excellent day, well-organized, lots of friendly people and Mother Nature cooperated too,” said Willington resident Dorene Willey, an administrative assistant with the UConn Plant Sciences Department.
Dorene’s husband, Victor, then summed up what was no doubt in the thoughts of many UConn fans: “Hope to be back here again next year.”
Some video clips from the parade:
Video © by Vito J. Leo
Posted April 19, 2009