When Avon defeated Torrington 44-40 on Dec. 21, the game was memorable because the girls varsity basketball team wasn’t expected to win.
But it was also memorable because the game itself – a week after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School – was about remembering.
Like many worldwide who heard about the tragedy, senior co-captains Colleen Norton and Alana Pulling wanted to help. So they decided to play in memory of the victims.
“We wanted a good way to honor them, remember them,” Norton said, “and one of our good friends is from Newtown and she was texting me that day asking for the information on it, so it felt very real for us. We really just wanted to do something.”
Normally, Avon High School’s colors are blue and white, but 23 players on the varsity and junior varsity teams wore Sandy Hook green in school and for their games last Friday. Norton bought green hair ribbons and shirts for players to decorate the night before, assigning each person a victim’s name. They wrote “Sandy Hook” and “12-14-12” on the front of each shirt and “Playing 4 (their designated person’s name)” on the backs.
Norton and Pulling played for victims Emilie Parker and Charlotte Bacon, respectively, both 6.
“People were interested in who they were playing for and everyone just kind of like wanted to know because it made it more personal, I think, that everyone had one person and you really focus on that person,” Norton said. “For me, I was interested in finding out about the little girl I had and everything like that.”
That same day, the school community, Connecticut residents and others across the country took a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. in memory of the victims of the shooting that took place around that time the previous week.
Student Reaction to Shooting
On Dec. 14, Avon High was nearing the end of a pre-scheduled half day for the district when Norton learned of the shooting massacre in the Newtown elementary school. While her friend – who transferred from Avon to Newtown High School for her senior year – was in lockdown for three-and-a-half hours without Internet access, Norton continuously searched Google on her smartphone for updates to text her.
“I was freaking out,” Norton said. “I was scared for her. I knew she was really nervous. I felt horrible for that whole town and everyone that was affected by it. I can’t even imagine being there. She’s told me stories about what the town’s been like since then, just how media is everywhere.”
In the following week, Newtown was filled with people, including emergency personnel, American Red Cross workers, media, celebrities like CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil, and others wanting prayer and seeking ways to help. Many gifts were sent to the town and placed at makeshift memorials.
“I feel like it’s hard for a lot of people to take in, especially the kids at the school,” Pulling said.
“Everyone is trying to reach out and do what they can,” Norton added.
Norton shared the photo of the Avon basketball players in their Sandy Hook T-shirts with her Newtown friend, who she said plans on sharing it on Facebook and with her Newtown friends.
“She loved it. She said it’s exactly what people love,” Norton said. “She said they just love when people do stuff like that and support them.... They like people being remembered. They don’t like stuff. They want the memory of everyone to live on.”
The team may also send the photo to Newtown school leaders, Norton said.
“We didn’t tell them. We just organized it ourselves. We weren’t really doing it for attention for it,” Norton said.
Coaches/Teachers React to Shooting
When the varsity game against Newtown was getting tough Dec. 21, assistant varsity coach Tim Filon’s words kept the girls motivated.
“We were playing really well in the first half and the second half, we hit a little rough patch,” Pulling said. “Filon goes, ‘Girls just remember who you’re playing for on the back of your shirts because they’re not going to be able to play.’ And that’s when I think we all really just honed in on what we needed to do and we went out and won for the people on the back of our shirts and we played for them.”
Filon said it was “great to watch them walk on the court with the shirts” and that the Dec. 21 games were about “more than a basketball game; it’s about life in general.”
“It was something I think everyone should have done and a lot of teams have done,” Filon said. “It was our part of doing what we could for those families down there.... It shows that our kids are involved in that. They’re compassionate, they have a heart, and they feel, we all feel for those families. What we do is probably just little, but it was something our kids are proud of and anything we can do, if there’s anything more we can do, we will.”
Filon, junior varsity girls basketball coach and a physical education and health teacher at the high school, is also a father. The tragedy hit home for him.
“Being a parent, you went home and hugged your child a little bit harder that night,” he said.
Administrators addressed the incident with staff during professional development training Dec. 14.
Filon described going to work the following Monday as “eery,” but said that the student body and his players have handled it well. Counseling was available for both students and staff. Police made visits to Avon schools during the day. Administrators and staff took turns manning each main door, requiring people entering to sign in there and in the main office, Filon said.
High school teachers were allowed to address the shooting in their classes if it was brought up, Filon said. In response to the tragedy, Jamaal Lee, a social studies teacher at the high school and coach of the freshmen girls basketball team, said he talked to his students about the importance of “civic virtue” and giving back to your community.
Lee credited the varsity basketball captains for doing just that. Filon pointed out that the coaches didn’t know at first whether players were related to any of the victims and that it would have changed things.
“Alana and Colleen, they are faced with a situation and they handled it like mature adults,” Filon said. “They kept the team solid. They united them with the shirt idea and that’s just who they are.”
Norton said the team is considering raising money later this season for the Sandy Hook school.