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Lacking Its ‘A’ Game, Middletown’s Season Ends In Class L Playoffs

After 10-0 Regular Season, Blue Dragons Lose 24-9 to 4-Time Defending Champion New Canaan in First Round

By Marc Silvestrini, Mirror Correspondent

MIDDLETOWN — Standing near midfield at Rosek-Skubel Stadium in the wake of his team’s 24-9 loss to four-time defending CIAC Class L champion New Canaan, Middletown High coach Sal Morello succinctly summed up his team’s difficult and disappointing evening.

“That was a very good team out there tonight,” he said. “They’re big, they’re talented, they’re well-coached. They’ve got a ton of weapons. We needed to bring our A game to come out on top tonight. We needed to play a lot better.”

The top-seeded Blue Dragons scored the first and last points of Tuesday’s first-round playoff game, but gave up 24 straight points over the first three quarters to create a deficit they were never able to overcome.

Though only outgained by 61 total yards — 266 to 205 — the Dragons continually hurt themselves with turnovers and penalties, most of which seemed to occur at the worst possible time. In all, Middletown lost three fumbles and was flagged for 11 penalties that cost them 80 yards of real estate.

“You can’t make the mistakes that we made tonight against a team like this,” Morello said.

Middletown finished its season at 10-1 after compiling a 10-0 record during the regular season — the first unbeaten regular season for a Middletown team since 1985.

The Dragons started off on the right foot, taking the opening kickoff and driving 81 yards in eight plays to the Rams’ 20 from where Mike Aresco kicked a 37-yard field goal to stake Middletown to an early 3-0 lead.

Quarterback Stone Belzo helped set up the score by going 3-for-3 on the drive, including a key 31-yard completion to Nico Cavaliere.

But New Canaan’s response was exactly what you’d expect from a program that has won every Class L title since 2013 as the Rams launched an 11-play, 69-yard drive off the ensuing kickoff.

The three-minute drive was aided by two critical penalties called against the Dragons –pass interference, which wiped out a third-down incompletion and gave the Rams a first down at the Dragon 18; and a borderline personal foul for a late hit that set up the Rams with a first-and-goal at the Middletown 8. It ended on the very next play when Drew Pyne, New Canaan’s nifty sophomore quarterback, rolled to his right, turned the corner and raced into the end zone to give the Rams the lead.

Grant Morse’s extra point made it 7-3 with just over four minutes left in the opening quarter.

One of the game’s key sequences, according to both Morello and New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, took place in the opening minute of the second quarter, just after Middletown’s Nygell Smikle sacked Pyne in the shadow of his own end zone on the final play of the first quarter, leaving New Canaan with a fourth-and-17 from its own 3.

Marinelli sent out Morse, presumably to punt, but Morse took the snap and threw an accurate pass to Luke Morton, who was perched close to the first-down marker. But Middletown’s Amirh Brackett-White flashed across the field and hit Morton hard enough to jar the ball loose, resulting in an incomplete pass that set up the Dragons with a first-and-goal at the 3.

On the very next play, Belzo attempted to slip into the end zone but was met in the hole by New Canaan’s Jack Conley — all 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds of him — and fumbled, with the ball bouncing directly into the hands of the Rams’ Charlie Hane.

“That was a big play,” Marinelli said. “Who knows how things would have played out had they scored there?”

New Canaan stretched its lead to 14-3 with four and half minutes to play in the half when Pyne engineered a five-play, 85–yard touchdown drive. With the ball at the Rams’ 34, Pyne completed three straight passes to Quintin O’Connell covering 19, 27 and the final 22 yards to paydirt.

Morse concluded New Canaan’s next possession with a 29-yard field goal at the gun to make it 17-3 at the half.

The Rams extended their lead to 24-3 by taking the second-half kickoff and marching 70 yards in seven plays. Pyne capped the drive with his second eight-yard touchdown run of the day off an option play.

Middletown, showing the grit that enabled this team to enter the game undefeated, came back with a four-minute, 88-yard drive of its own late in the third quarter. The drive, which featured a marvelous 33-yard, toe-dance-on-the- sideline grab of a Belzo pass by Camryn Wynn, was capped by a 10-yard strike from Belzo to DeAaron Lawrence.

 “Give them a lot of credit. They were a good team, and they gave us one tough fight tonight,” Marinelli said. “I can see how they got to 10-0.”

Morello also was quick to give his team credit.

“Our kids fought and fought,” he said. “I told them I was very proud of them and very proud to be their coach. That was a very good team we played tonight, and we just came up short.”

He added that a10-0 regular season is a much better measure of his team than the playoff loss Tuesday night.

“We can’t let what happened tonight define our season,” he said. “We should always remember this as a great season, a special season.”

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Blue Dragons Take Wind Out Of Windsor

Middletown dominates in 24-7 win, caps first undefeated regular season since 1985; New Canaan awaits in playoffs

 

By Marc Silvestrini, Mirror Correspondent

WINDSOR — Windsor’s defense registered the first big blow of Wednesday night’s clash of unbeaten powerhouses, but Middletown’s defense scored the knockout, yielding no offensive points, five first downs and 91 yards of total offense in a convincing 24-7 win at windy Jack O’Brien Stadium.

The win, Middletown’s first over Windsor since 2013 and coach Sal Morello’s second in seven encounters with the Warriors, concluded a perfect 10-0 regular season for the Blue Dragons and virtually assures them of the top seed in the Class L state playoffs. They will have a home quarterfinal game on Tuesday against a to-be-determined opponent.

The victory also provided Middletown’s football program with its first undefeated regular season since 1985 — a follow-up to the 1984 legacy team’s unbeaten, state championship season in the first year of the merger of the city’s two (Middletown and Woodrow Wilson) public high schools.

Middletown secured the No. 1 seed in Class L and will play host to four-time defending state champion New Canaan in the quarterfinals. Kickoff is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.

The Blue Dragons spotted the Warriors (9-1) a quick 7-0 lead when Joe Russell picked off an errant pass by Blue Dragons quarterback Stone Belzo and raced 18 yards to the end zone on the game’s third play. But from there, Belzo and the Middletown offense reeled off 24 unanswered points while the MHS defense pitched a shutout, allowing the Warriors offense to cross midfield but once the entire game.

“Their defense is good, real good,” Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said. “Actually, they’re pretty good on both sides of the ball, and on special teams. They’re a really well-balanced football team.”

Morello also praised his defense, calling the unit “the big reason why we won the game.” He also had high praise for his offensive line, which enabled the Dragons to control the football for huge chunks of game time, a trend underscored by Middletown’s 67-38 edge in offensive plays.

Morello also was effusive in his praise of Belzo. His senior quarterback overcame what could have been a catastrophic early-game mistake to engineer his team’s 10th straight win.

“The kid is just a gamer,” he said of Belzo. “He’s mentally tough. He doesn’t quit or get down on himself. He’s just a great leader.”

Belzo atoned for the interception by finishing an eight-play, 41-yard drive midway through the second quarter with an 11-yard run burst to the right of center behind the blocking of center Cam Barrett, guard Osbourne Richards and tackle Max Cyr. Mike Aresco’s extra point knotted the game at 7.

Belzo scored again with 24 seconds left in the half on a 2-yard dive to put the Dragons up for good at 14-7. The touchdown was set up by a key third-down completion from Belzo to DeAaron Lawrence that brought the Dragons to the 2 with 29 seconds to go in the half.

An interception of Windsor quarterback Julian Jackson by Ahmir Brackett-White set up a 28-yard Aresco field goal — his career 23rd, adding to his state record — midway through the third quarter that upped the Dragon lead to 17-7. But Windsor — which was held to 24 yards of total offense and one first down in the first half — wasn’t quite ready to call it an evening.

Down by 10 with just over six minutes to play in the third quarter, the Warriors launched their best drive of the game following Aresco’s field goal, marching 59 yards in 11 plays to the Dragons’ 6-yard-line, where they faced a critical fourth-and-2.

But Warriors tailback Tomasz Johnson was stopped for no gain by Camryn Wynn and Richards on the ensuing play and Belzo responded by capping what amounted to a 94-yard drive with a 9-yard strike to a diving Lawrence in the end zone to push the MHS lead to 24-7 with just over six minutes left in the game.

The long touchdown drive took more than nine minutes off the clock. It was greatly aided by a towering, 49-yard Aresco punt that was fumbled deep in Warriors territory and recovered by DaJuan Sowatey Lomotey at the Windsor 6-yard-line, enabling the Blue Dragons to maintain possession.

Belzo finished the game completing 11 of 16 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for an additional 47 yards and two scores.

Not a bad ending to a game that didn’t start off all that well.

“Coach Morello is always saying that you have to remain strong, you have to keep fighting and keep playing hard when things go wrong, and that’s what I tried to do (after the interception),” Belzo said. “You can’t let it bother you and take you out of your game. You can’t just fall into a hole.”

Xzavier Reyes rushed for 99 tough yards on 29 carries for Middletown, while Nico Cavaliere caught five of Belzo’s throws for 48 yards and had an interception.

Aresco, on a chilly, blustery night, no less, also was 3-for-3 with his extra-point tries and punted twice for a 48-yard average.

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Kicking Up A Storm

Unassumingly, Michael Aresco made his way into the record books and leaves a remarkable impression on the MHS football program.

By Paul Augeri. Photos by Mirror correspondent Edison Byrd.

Michael Aresco says what he’s accomplished in his four years as Middletown High’s varsity kicker is no big deal. His coach, his teammates and his family know better.

His success is undeniable — two Connecticut high school records, a share of a third, and four school records. That’s awfully good for an athlete who decided at the last minute as a freshman to fill coach Sal Morello’s need for a kicker. So long, soccer career.

Aresco is aware of others’ appreciation of his ability, and while his contributions to the undefeated Blue Dragons are widely known, he’d meet that with a shrug.

“I’ve always been a shy kid, so that’s been one of my biggest challenges to get past, getting past those nerves of going out there and doing my job,” Aresco said during a recent interview. “That was probably the toughest part for me, getting comfortable when I first started to kick for the team.”

Aresco and the Blue Dragons are 9-0 and beginning the last phase of preparation for next Wednesday’s annual showdown against Windsor (9-0). This was no off-week for them after beating Platt last Friday. For four-year players like Aresco, they’ve never beat Windsor. Morello is 1-6 against the Warriors since he became Middletown’s coach.

“Down time? There is no down time,” Morello says. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of film to watch.”

The week did allow for some reflection on Aresco’s success. His 43-yard kick in the second half against Platt set the state record for most field goals in a career – and it would have been good from as least another five yards or more.

Celebration? Not a hint of self-acknowledgment. No look-at-what-I-did moment, not even a fist pump. Aresco picked up the tee and that was it — for him. His teammates moved in of course, for hugs, pats on the helmet and some handshakes.

Next thing you knew, Aresco was focused on preparing for the kickoff.

“Coach tells me all the time he can see that I’ve grown up in the past four years,” Aresco says. “I’m totally different from freshman year to senior year. It’s kind of cool to hear that.”

maresco

Morello considers Aresco “a weapon” that not many teams have – a player whose field-goal range easily lies in the 40s, can reach 50 or more, and regularly turns out unreturnable kickoffs.

Skimming through the Connecticut high school football record book shines a light on Aresco’s exploits.

 

  • Most Field Goals, Career
    Michael Aresco, 22, 2014-17
    Austin Stefano, Wethersfield, 21, 2014-16
    Also: Michael Morello, Middletown, 11, 1987-90
  • Most Field Goals, Single Game
    Roberto Inesta, St. Mary-Greenwich, 4, 1970
    Michael Aresco, 4, 2016
  • Longest Field Goal
    Rico Brogna, Watertown, 54, 1987
    Tyler Timion, Fermi, 54, 1987
    Matt Paola, Pomperaug, 54, 2011
    Rico Brogna, Watertown, 52, 1987
    Charles Gallagher, Hartford Public, 52, 2006
    Michael Aresco, 52, 2016
  • Most Points Kicking, Single Game
    Michael Aresco, 16 (4-for-4 FGs, 4-for-4 PATS), 2016

 

Brogna gave Middletown football fans a glimpse at his talent in 1986. A prolific three-sport athlete who went on to play Major League Baseball for nine seasons, Brogna, a quarterback who had a fantastic left arm and left leg, kicked a 48-yard field goal at Miller-Fillback Field. Middletown won that game.

Through opportunity and accuracy, Aresco has doubled Brogna’s career field-goal output, 22-11. Aresco has missed only four attempts in four years. He’s heard the name “Brogna” in conversation. Maybe one day Brogna will know the name “Aresco.”

Michael’s favorite moments? He has two — the 52-yarder last season at Farmington, part of a four field-goal game that also produced the single-game record for most points by a kicker; and his very first field goal attempt, a 31-yarder to cap the first drive of the first game of his first season.

Other thoughts as he and the Blue Dragons get ready for Windsor and, later, the 2017 playoffs:

On taking the field for that very first field goal attempt: “I feel like I wasn’t even thinking. I just went out there. I remember not even acknowledging that I was going out there, because I was so nervous inside.”

On dealing with nerves as a freshman kicker: “Just from playing on that team, I think we were ranked third in the state at the time, I feel like that was the most nerve-wracking part, (not) messing up on that team. But eventually as the season went along, getting my confidence up, I kind of lost the nerves a little bit.”

On his working relationship with his holders: “The first three years I had Trevor Getek, then Stone Belzo this year. The holder position, with Trevor and Stone, they have been phenomenal. How fast they put the ball down, the laces just right.”

On the synchronicity of blocking, snap, hold and kick: “It has to be perfect every time. If the snap’s off, the timing is all messed up.”

On practicing over time: “After my junior season I’ve really practiced every single day in the spring and summer to get ready for those college camps, to get ready for my senior season. That’s really when I started to practice religiously.”

On when he realized he could be a college kicker: “Probably after my junior year, that’s when I really felt I could actually go to college and kick.”

On his biggest on-field challenge: “Probably working from the hashes. You’re not always in the center of the field. I’ve had to work at kicking from the hashes and angling where I’m supposed to put the tee, and getting used to that.”

On what he’s thinking about before an attempt: “I try not to think of anything, just take a deep breath and have a clear mind. And then just kick it. Baseball, soccer, the sports does no matter. Don’t think of anything. Just do it.”

On contributing beyond kicking and punting: “There’s definitely been some times when I’ve had to make some athletic plays. The snap has gone over me sometimes, had to run back and then get the punt off. I’ve made a tackle only a couple of times, really. I remember junior year, I didn’t even have to make the tackle, something in me just decided to run that way and do it.”

On his booming kickoffs into the end zone: “(Teams) realize they have to go 80 yards if they’re going to score on us.”

On his accomplishments: “I think football in general, looking back on it when you get older, all the moments you have will stick with you and your teammates.”

On what it would mean to the team to beat Windsor: “I haven’t beaten Windsor all four years. Beating them would be huge. But we wouldn’t stop there.”

Featured

Something For Everyone

Renovation project ties Pat Kidney, Woodrow Wilson fields together to form recreational hot spot for city

By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief

Officially, the ongoing work on the expanse of athletic fields between Farm Hill Road and Hunting Hill Avenue is being called a renovation. Maybe a “reimagining” is a more apt description for it.

However you put it, the Pat Kidney/Woodrow Wilson complex is shaping up as a modern recreational magnet that has been long sought for Middletown.

With construction now in its fifth month, the rash of dry summer weather has allowed for a steady transformation of every corner of the property. The change is made possible by voters’ approval in 2015 of a $33.5 million bond calling for the renovation of parks throughout the city over a period of 8 to 10 years.

On Thursday, Mountain View Landscapes and Lawncare of Chicopee, Mass., rolled out sod at Ed Collins Field on Hunting Hill. The multi-use field will be used primarily by Wilson Middle School teams and youth football. The former Miller-Fillback site hosted decades’ worth of Woodrow Wilson High School and Middletown High School football games.

“Progress has been pretty good,” said Chris Holden, who has overseen the work as deputy director of the city’s Public Works division. “This is going to be a great park.

“Over the winter (Mountain View) may be able to do some of the other work. As long as it’s a fairly seasonable winter, they can work on things. We wanted to do the sodding before the end of the year to give it a chance to tie in to the ground over the winter.”

soddedfield

The city earmarked $10 million to the project, but Gene Nocera, who chairs the city’s 21st Century Parks Committee, said total expenditures will finish at about $7.7 million. Mountain View’s efficient and urgent approach to the work, which Nocera called “first rate,” has made this possible.

“Mountain View – I can’t say enough about them. They work on Saturdays. Time is money and they don’t want to sit around,” Nocera said. “The change orders have been minimal, which has been huge. We’ll be well under the amount allocated for the project.”

The project was designed by Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire (rendering above). It will keep the Pat Kidney Field name out of respect to its past, Nocera said, but the fields and courts themselves will carry the names of a diverse array of accomplished figures in the community after approval by the Common Council last month.

The latest on where construction stands:

• Baseball and softball — tentative completion in May. Each field will occupy its previous space, although the baseball field will be shifted slightly to the east to accommodate space for the exercise trail and a children’s play area. Fourteen towers with focus lighting surround the entire space (the old light stands for softball eventually will be removed). Focus lighting keeps the brightness of the light trained on the field. “Neighbors won’t have to see spillage outside the fields,” Nocera said. “It’s state of the art.”

There will be batting cages erected on the baseball side of the field. A gravel base has been prepared for what will be a fairly large, off-street parking area parallel to Farm Hill Road. According to the design, the baseball field’s outfield fence is removable to allow for the option of an overlay field to be utilized out of season.

The baseball field will be named for the late Jerome “Buzzy” Levin, a respected businessman who helped found Middletown’s Little League chapter, sponsored a team in the Greater Hartford Twilight League for years and was behind the creation of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in the 1990s. The softball field will be named for Lucille Gecewicz, a three-sport star at Central Connecticut State in the 1970s and the first woman inducted in the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame.

Since construction began in June, tons and tons of topsoil have been moved to ready a vast irrigation system. After Mountainview peeled off the initial layers of soil, the ground was down to hard clay and silt, Holden said. Drainage systems were dropped in and new soil filled around them, and a water-quality swale has been dug along the third-base side of the softball diamond to help with run-off. On Farm Hill Road at Norfolk Street, the drainage system was tied into the city’s water/sewer system, he said.

• Multi-use stadium – complete. Four light towers were assembled and installed late this summer, as were a full set of bleachers and a press box. Both mirror the previous layout at Miller-Fillback Field. A concessions stand and bathroom facility, plus a patio, will be built in the same area where the previous one stood. Underground power has been installed. The field will continue to carry Ed Collins’ name. He coached football at Woodrow Wilson High and was part of the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame’s second class in 1995.

• Basketball courts – tentative completion in May. Three asphalt courts will be prepared in the spring at the corner of Farm Hill Road and Russell Street. No lights. The courts will be named for both Detroit Hunter and Cleveland “Cleve” Lowman. Hunter was a longtime city worker and Middletown’s recreation director, and championed the inclusion of minority children in city sports and recreation programs. Lowman started a community recreation center in the North End in the 1970s.

• Track and field – tentative completion in December. The track will be a rubberized surface. An area behind the bleachers will be developed for field events. The track will be named for Deb Petruzzello, who retired after 40 years of coaching the sport in town. She was selected as National Coach of the Year in 2016 and is still working as athletic director at Woodrow Wilson Junior High.

• Exercise trail – tentative completion in May. A loop for walking and jogging will encircle the entire property, with entry points at Russell Street, Farm Hill Road and Hunting Hill, and will be accessible according to guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The asphalt surface will be laid in the spring.

• Tennis courts – tentative completion in July. There will be six (without lights) in the area of the old football practice field off of Newtown Street. The base layer for the courts will be prepared before the end of this year and concrete will be poured in the spring. A small parking area will adorn the area. The courts will be named for Hal Kaplan, a tennis enthusiast who was a longtime teacher and principal. His name also adorns the road leading to Lawrence School.

• Planting: The city is studying species of trees for the complex, Holden said. Dozens will be planted in areas including the south end of the multi-use field, the east side of the tennis courts, into the hillside that separates the Pat Kidney complex from the Woodrow Wilson Apartments, and along Russell Street. Trees will go into the ground in the spring.

• Children’s mini play area – tentative completion in July. It will be donated through assistance from the Kiwanis Club.

Copies of the project’s design will be posted at the site soon.

 

Featured

An Appreciation Of Tom Petty

By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief

At the shop in Cromwell where I get what’s left of my hair cut, Tom Petty’s passing was an immediate topic of conversation.

Kelly’s two kids live and work in the Denver area. In early December, concert dates for Tom and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour were released. Her daughter, Abby, badly wanted to see the band perform in Colorado. If you have gone the general-public route for buying tickets online for a popular act, then you know the odds of getting good seats, or any seats at all, can be 50-50 at best.

Abby was incredibly disappointed, moreso when her dad dropped this line on her: He bought two seats for the show in May at the Xfinity Center in Hartford.

Then, on Christmas Day, while she was together with her parents celebrating the holiday, Abby’s dad urged her to check her inbox. She opened the email to find two tickets for one of the Heartbreakers’ two May dates at Red Rocks.

One for her, one for her brother.  Tears of rockin’ gratitude followed.

This is just a small story connecting a few people within the universe that Tom Petty created. He was a singular talent, a master songwriter, the coolest of performers and, for me, a Rushmore-esque American musical force.

The news of his death was crushing. I first saw him perform in 1991 in Kansas City on the Full Moon Fever tour. There were a few more shows in the decades to come – each awesome and easy to recall – with the final one coming in July at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens.

As I’ve come to expect at a Petty show, there were bolts of energy shooting from the stage and back to the stage from the crowd. Tom’s catalog is timeless. The songs always feel fresh. His live performances are true to the recordings, so to me, they are equally fantastic (I’m not ready to use past tense). Usually, in the days and sometimes weeks after seeing one of his concerts, I would fixate on particular songs, listening with a sharper ear as if I was hearing each for the first time.

I remember Petty limping up the stairs and onto the stage that night. He looked uncomfortable. Peter Wolf opened for Petty and the Heartbreakers on the latter half of the tour, and recently wrote in Rolling Stone that Petty’s hip was ailing and that he was in considerable pain. But once he pulled the guitar over his shoulder, spoke to fans and let the music fly, it seemed like pure pleasure for Tom – and certainly for us fans.

That Petty died less than a week after the tour’s completion really bothers me, especially knowing that he intended to pull back on working for the foreseeable future, partly because he was a doting grandfather who wanted to have time with his grandchild. He was only 66.

He spoke to the Los Angeles Times after the tour ended and just five days before his death and said, “On the back side of your 60s, most people aren’t working. This keeps us young. I think it keeps me young.

“When I see people I knew from earlier in life and I run into them now, they’re very different than me,” he added. “And they look different. I think this has kept us all thinking young and feeling young.”

Petty’s death came less than 24 hours after the mass killings in Las Vegas, and trying to digest this and then Petty’s loss was suffocating for me. Add to this the anger and unhappiness permeating the times and you’re almost left groping for a tunnel that leads to light. Music fosters happiness and spreads it among all walks of people. Music is a connector, an anti-divider.

The wonderful woman who cuts my hair attended the Patriots-Panthers game last Sunday. The friend who provided the transportation has season tickets, and I was told a Tom Petty playlist is the regular choice of music for the drive back to Connecticut. This was Sunday. Tom Petty died on Monday.

The strains of the verse “with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights” that Tom powered through with thousands of voices in a supporting role is just one of my  favorite moments from his shows.

In another song, he sings about the great wide open and the skies of blue. Those are pretty good places to be and ones we can go back to whenever we choose.

One list of 10 favorite Tom Petty songs:

  • Crawling Back To You
  • Time To Move On
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Yer So Bad
  • Learning To Fly
  • Listen To Her Heart
  • The Waiting
  • So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
Featured

Sports Fans, Rejoice: Sliders Ready to Spread Its Wings In City

A Sliders Grill and Bar official hopes its Middletown location will open its doors by the end of October.

slidersphoto

By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief

When not looking back on their favorites teams’ most recent accomplishments or failings, sports fans like to look ahead.

Imagine, then, that it’s the afternoon of the first Sunday in November. Chores are done and you have time on your hands. Sadly, though, you’re stuck in one of three silos: Anti-Patriots; an ashamed Jets fan; or a disgusted Giants fan who accepted back in Week 5 that their season was finished.

Those are the local offerings on network television, and if you don’t have satellite TV plus an NFL games package, what to do? Sliders Grill and Bar on Route 17 might feed your football craving.

Sliders’ Middletown location, just before the turnoff into Wesleyan Hills – the same building that was home to Cypress Restaurant for 80 years — is expected to open in the coming weeks.

“In a perfect world, the end of October is our target for opening,” Todd DiBattista, the company’s vice president of operations, told the Mirror. “We’re moving quickly, we have a good staff, and the city of Middletown has been fantastic.”

Sliders is an independently owned company with establishments in Wallingford, Southington, Plainville, Berlin and West Hartford . Founded in the early 1990s by Fred Marcantonio, Sliders will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

As Middletown has become a destination for out-of-towners and foodies alike in recent years, Sliders will fill a niche that has been up for grabs – a sports fan’s hangout. Wings and bar-and-grill-type food can be found elsewhere in town, sure. And while Cromwell is home to Chicago Sam’s Sports Bar and Grille and its vast number of mammoth wide-screen TVs, even a scaled-down version of a similar restaurant hasn’t existed in Middletown until now.

This wasn’t lost on DiBattista.

“Fresh wings, live sports and family fun — it’s what we’re known for, and we never lost the sports aspect of it,” DiBattista said. “We’ve changed the décor of Sliders to keep up with the times, but we still have that sports atmosphere.”

“Sports on the wall,” as he put it. Translated: “Not one of our locations has less than 30 TVs. We thrive on the sports aspect of our business.” And with that, the potential to watch most any game in play at any given time.

Sliders has “always been attracted” to Middletown, said DiBattista, who considers the city “a restaurant mecca.” The timing was right to put Sliders’ stamp here when the Carta brothers put the Cypress property up for sale last year, he said.

Renovations of the aged building continue. Plumbing and electrical work have been completed, sheet-rocking is nearly complete, and painting, flooring and installation of the restaurant and bar equipment soon will be underway. There will be seating for 200.

The property abuts a pond. Behind the building, a patio will be constructed to accommodate additional seating for 40, DiBattista said. This will be Sliders’ first outdoor area, he said. There will be televisions and the same menu available to customers who are seated inside.

“There’s just a nice mix of things that come with the location,” DiBattista said. “With Durham and Middlefield just a 9-iron away, it’s a great location, and the patio is such a bonus.” The overall floor plan is between 5,000 and 5,500 square feet.

One advantage of being independently owned and operated, DiBattista said, is “we can change anything we want at any time.

“We like to adjust to our clientele and we’re flexible,” he said. “To have that neighborhood, family-oriented feel, we can break the rules per se, to make our customers super-ecstatic and happy and make sure they enjoy the experience.”

It Was Mike Aresco’s Night

Middletown High senior kicks way into state record book for career field goals

A really good kicker can elevate a high school football team from good to great, and that’s what Mike Aresco does for the Middletown Blue Dragons.

Aresco, a senior, hit a 43-yarder with ease late in the third quarter of Friday night’s 51-20 win over Platt. It was his 22nd career field goal, which set the Connecticut high school record. All along, fans of the program knew this night would come and underscores their belief that he’s the best kicker Middletown’s ever had and that his right leg is just getting warmed up for the next level.

Only Windsor stands between Middletown and a 10-0 regular season. The Blue Dragons and Warriors square off the night before Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, in Windsor.

Quick thoughts:

Can Middletown finally beat Windsor? Yes.

Windsor is undefeated as well. The Warriors have to beat Norwich Free Academy next weekend to create a 9-0 vs. 9-0 matchup.

Some believe at this point in time that the annual game determines whether Middletown has a good or a great season. The Blue Dragons haven’t beaten Windsor in Sal Morello’s time as coach.

But this could be the year you consider a fantastic kicking game and a very good defense supports the deep offense provided by Stone Belzo, Xzavier Reyes, DeAaron Lawrence, Tyreece Lumpkin and others.

Can Middletown win a state championship in Class L? Maybe.

It’s been a tough go in the playoffs for Middletown over the years. The Blue Dragons haven’t won a playoff game since 2013. The division in 2017 includes Windsor and undefeated teams Masuk and Fitch. One-loss teams New Canaan, Hand and Maloney are lurking.

This much is guaranteed: It will be fun watching how it all turns out.

 

The Book On Hillary’s Visit To City

Wesleyan R. J. Julia Sees Clinton’s Signing As First Of Many Big Events To Come For New Store

By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief

The glow from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s imminent visit to Wesleyan R. J. Julia Bookstore to sign copies of her new book will likely last long after she leaves the city.

With a Secret Service detail in tow, Clinton will spend a few hours on Saturday inside the Middletown shop to sign “What Happened”, her much-discussed new book about the 2016 election. A couple of hundred tickets for the signing sold out in a matter of hours in August.

If Clinton were turning out at R. J. Julia’s flagship store in Madison, her appearance would be another big get for the brand. But her commitment to a Middletown/Wesleyan visit is a signature moment for the five-months-old store.

In time, it has the potential to be a future point of reference for the authors, politicians, journalists and others that Wesleyan R. J. Julia asks to follow Clinton.

“We are obviously excited and thrilled about having Hillary Clinton in to sign. We love getting all types of writers, from the debut author up through celebrities,” Lori Fazio, chief operating officer for R. J. Julia Booksellers, told the Mirror.

“This is the first real big event that we are bringing to R. J. Julia in Middletown. We get to introduce the sort of caliber of store we are. We get to introduce Wesleyan to the publishing world and we get to introduce Middletown” to ticket holders either visiting the store for the first time or unfamiliar with Main Street’s nostalgic appeal.

The planning for Clinton’s visit has been a production not just for the store itself.

“For an event like this, it definitely takes a village,” said Fazio, borrowing the first half of the title of Clinton’s book published in 1996 while she was First Lady. “We have been quite fortunate that her team is really wonderful to work with, her publishing team is really wonderful to work with, and that Wesleyan, Middletown and the Middletown Police Department have been wonderful to work with.”

“This is the first real big event that we are bringing to R. J. Julia in Middletown. We get to introduce the sort of caliber of store we are.” — Lori Fazio, COO for R. J. Julia Booksellers 

Fazio was quick to add that nearby businesses of the store at 413 Main “have made it easy to work with them” in preparation for Clinton’s visit and the security detail supporting her.

“The Secret Service has a certain standard that needs to be followed,” she said. “We appreciate everybody’s patience and understanding and the commitment to making this all happen. We know it’s not easy on everybody.”

whathappenedcover

The line for ticket holders, who are assigned a number, will form in front of the store long before the start of the 11 a.m. signing. The area will be heavily secured. Streets will remain open as will the rest of Main Street’s businesses, Fazio said.

Patrons who turn out just to shop in the store will be required to stand on line with others, Fazio said. “We’ll almost essentially be closed to non-ticket holders,” she said.

One of ticket holders is Maureen O’Doherty of Portland, who said she’s been practicing for weeks about what she will say to Clinton during their encounter. She expects it to be a “five-second window” of time with the former First Lady/Secretary of State/Democratic presidential nominee.

“I’ve settled on a variation of, ‘Madame Secretary, I’m also a graduate of an all women’s college [St. Joseph, now University of St. Joseph in West Hartford].  Thank you for your decades of devotion to the rights of women and girls.’ Then I burst into tears and blubber all over my signed copies of her autobiography and the children’s edition of It Takes a Village I’m getting for the neighbors.

“I’ve watched this woman fight my fight for 25 years when I felt I didn’t have the voice — like many women I know.  For her to come back after November 2016 is astonishing to me. I do know she’s not finished yet — and the girls of this world will be better for her good works.”

O’Doherty threw in a shout-out to the store. “Terrific coup for R. J. Julia.  It is a beautiful space and the staff is terrific.”

Expect Clinton to walk gingerly through the store’s doors on Saturday. She broke her toe running down a flight of stairs this month and recently has been photographed on the talk circuit in a walking boot. The revelation caused maybe a minute or two of angst for Fazio and bookstore staff.

“Her team told us right away, ‘She broke her toe this morning but we are proceeding to Middletown as we planned,’ ” Fazio said.