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Woog’s World: “FCSC: Four Letters Speak Volumes About Inclusion”

by Dan Woog

March 17, 2011

Two decades ago, three Bridgeport high schools joined the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC). Schools in two cities — Norwalk and Stamford — were long-time members of what is arguably the premier high school sports league in the state.

But that did not stop coaches, athletes and fans — not many, but some — from expressing concerns. Would there be “incidents” when suburban teams traveled to Bridgeport? Would they be safe? And what would happen when “those fans” came to schools like Staples, Darien and New Canaan?

Those fears proved unwarranted. The three Bridgeport high schools have done fine on the fields and courts. Though their facilities are not what suburban kids are familiar with, those schools host rival teams and spectators with no problem whatsoever. When Bridgeporters travel to support their own teams, they do it with the same enthusiasm as fans around the league — and often with a lot more class.

Seeing the conditions of Bridgeport schools has opened some FCIAC athletes’ eyes. Others are, like many teenagers, oblivious.

But more can always be done. For six years, the Fairfield County Sports Commission has worked to use athletics to break down barriers between cities and towns.

If you haven’t heard of the FCSC, you’re not alone. Many long-time sports aficionados have not. It’s a low-key group, but it’s accomplished great things already. In its quiet manner, it’s poised to do more.

The mission is simple: educate the public, especially youth, about physical fitness and nutrition as a means to healthy lifestyles. Educate the public about Fairfield County’s rich history of athletic talent and involvement. Create, develop and provide programs for young people.

It’s a county-wide organization in a county that is more a collection of separate, autonomous towns and cities. And it’s working in an area — sports — that is not often the first thing that leaps to mind when one thinks of Fairfield County.

A list of the FCSC’s Hall of Famers includes only a few nationally known names: Pro baseball’s Bobby Valentine and Mo Vaughn; NBA star Calvin Murphy; NFL quarterback Steve Young; Olympic ice skater Dorothy Hamill; women’s soccer star Kristine Lilly; Olympic decathlon gold medalists Bruce Jenner and Bill Toomey; golfer Julius Boros; Little League national champion and NHL player Chris Drury.

Westport’s lone entrant in the Hall — housed at the University of Connecticut-Stamford — is amateur golf star Dick Siderowf.

Westport has been better represented at the FCSC’s annual dinner. The annual fundraiser at the Greenwich Hyatt draws 650 people. Each of 15 coastal communities honors a “Sports Person of the Year.”

Westport’s recipients have included Staples football coach Marce Petroccio; the state champion Staples boys volleyball team; PAL head Carmen Roda; Columbia University basketball and baseball ace John Baumann; Staples golfer Erika Kretschmann, who created a study program for youngsters; and 82-year-old Little League umpire Bob Davis.

It’s an eclectic bunch, and that speaks to the FCSC’s desire to spotlight programs and youth sports. There are 110,000 school-age youngsters in the 15 communities the FCSC serves, and giving time, effort and money to them is a primary function of the organization.

The FCSC played a key role in creating the Park City SportsFest. The free event brings together youth organizations and helps introduce inner-city youngsters to sports and activities to which they might otherwise not be exposed.

This summer, a special county-wide program will draw children from a variety of summer camps for a special day.

FCSC leaders — including executive director Tom Chiappetta and Westport board member Chris Tait — see these initiatives as a perfect way to bring suburban and inner-city youngsters together. They’d like to see teams at schools like Staples take the initiative to bring their talents and sports to children in underserved neighborhoods. Bridgeport’s Cardinal Shehan Center, Norwalk’s Carver Center and the Stamford Youth Foundation are examples of organizations that reach thousands of children but always need funding and volunteers.

“We’re not trying to replicate all the good things people in Westport already do,” Chiappetta says. Staples students contribute time and energy to Grassroots Tennis, for example, which introduces that sport to youngsters. The Westport Soccer Association, PAL and other groups conduct equipment and clothing drives.

But, Tait says, “We can always do more. Most people around here don’t think of `Fairfield County’ as being something they’re really part of. If we can get young kids, athletes, teams and organizations to work together, everyone benefits.”

And maybe one day an FCIAC athlete — one from a school in inner-city Bridgeport, let’s say — will enjoy such a phenomenal professional sports career, he or she will be a slam-dunk for induction into the Fairfield County Sports Commission Hall of Fame.

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