MIDDLETOWN — Eric Holley was a first-time high school head coach last winter with an eye trained on more than basketball.

From the moment he spoke to the crowd before Middletown’s first home game of the 2021-22 varsity season, it was clear that he planned to nurture a two-way relationship between his program and the community. Holley is doing his part, with an emphasis on team ball, sportsmanship and academics.

Meanwhile, he expects his players to volunteer their time with kids at Beman Middle School, a crash course on learning to be a role model while potentially setting expectations for future high school basketball players.

“I thought about what I wanted to do for the program going forward. One of my visions was to implement change and do some things differently,” Holley said.

He also was thinking about the community part of the basketball equation when he said, “to my knowledge, there’s never been a Christmastime tournament at MHS.”

That was the genesis for the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Holiday Classic, which will make its debut next month.

Once Holley got the green light for use of LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium on Dec. 28 and 29 and secured the hall of fame as sponsor, he finalized Shoreline Conference teams Portland and Valley Regional and Central Connecticut Conference member New Britain as participants.

The first night of the holiday classic pits Portland against Valley in the opener and Middletown against New Britain in the nightcap tentatively scheduled for 4 and 5:45 p.m. The losing teams will play in the first game on Dec. 29 and the winners will meet for the championship (same tentative times).

“This is a reward for the kids,” Holley said. “I want them to experience some things I didn’t get to experience. The whole goal is to bring the community together.”

At the conclusion of the final, the all-tournament team as well as the event’s most valuable player will be announced. The Middletown sports hall is covering the costs of the trophies and MVP award. Holley also hopes to find donors to help fund a scholarship for an outgoing Middletown basketball senior who is college bound.

“Last year, the schedule was already set,” Holley said, “but I knew for year two this was something I really wanted to do. I also want to play all of the surrounding teams in the area. That also brings the community out.”

It’s why he reached out to Portland’s David Bradbury Jr., who’s entering his second season as the Highlanders’ coach. The two came to know each other through their teams’ involvement in the New Britain Summer League.

Bradbury played for Valley Regional coach Kevin Woods and encouraged Woods, whose Warriors spent the last several years playing in Xavier’s Art Kohs Christmas Tournament, to go a different route. And Holley knows New Britain coach Kurt Reis well through the summer league.

“I’ve known Kurt for a very long time,” said Holley, who guided the Blue Dragons to a 14-6 regular season a year ago and quarterfinal appearance in the CIAC Division II tournament. “I played against him in men’s leagues and he’s a good friend. David is a younger coach, newer like me, and he wanted to get right on board. We all got together and decided to do it.”


After one of the best summers of Middletown American Legion baseball in quite some time, Post 75 kept the momentum going into the fall portion of its schedule.

The 75ers shared the fall season championship with Glastonbury. They were tied 7-7 in the top of the sixth last weekend when play was halted by rain. Rather than resume the game this weekend, they agreed to go out as co-champs.

Between summer and fall, Middletown won 34 games and lost eight, with the one tie.

Some standout production by 75ers players in September and October:

*AJ Quinn of Middletown High hit .487 (19 for 39) with six doubles. “AJ had a great fall, as expected,” coach Dan Botti said. “He started hitting for a bit more power.”

*Catcher Ethan Covello of Coginchaug was 13 for 33 (.394) with six doubles and a team-high 15 RBIs.

*Corey Turcotte of MHS thrived on the mound. In 20 1/3 innings, he allowed nine hits and three earned runs and finished with a 1.03 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.

*Crafty right-hander Luke Weisenberg struck out 34 in 21 innings while allowing just two earned runs. “He topped 84 miles per hour in our final game,” Botti said.

*And Preston Mennone, a first baseman and Coginchaug junior, batted .382 (13 hits in 34 at-bats).

Expect to hear their names often during next spring’s high school season.


**Middletown boys soccer, led by senior striker Marshall Butler, wrapped up its regular season with an 11-3-2 record after playing Lewis Mills to a 2-2 draw on Monday. The Blue Dragons are 31-4-6 in regular-season play over the last three autumns. After a 2-0 loss to Class LL powerhouse Hall, they finished 4-0-1. Middletown will be no worse than a top-seven seed for the Class L tournament. Xavier (12-2-2) has the most wins of any Class L team.

**Hold on, college football. Before we get No. 1 (Georgia) versus No. 2 (Tennessee) on Saturday, we get No. 1 (Southington) versus No. 2 (Maloney) at Meriden’s Falcon Field on Friday night.

I saw Southington beat Windsor a few weeks ago. To me, the Blue Knights did not look like the best team in the state. I think Maloney, a first-time state champion last December, is primed for this spotlight. Prediction: Maloney 30, Southington 24.

**It’s hard to believe that Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena, the MVP of the AL Championship Series, spent a past summer playing in Connecticut. Pena is an alum of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England. The native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, played for the now-defunct Torrington Titans in 2015 at the tender age of 17. He was the only high school player on the Titans.

“He was a quiet kid who went about his business in a very mature way,” Kyle Decker, who managed the Titans, told the Republican-American. “It didn’t take me long to notice how advanced he was defensively, and he basically started the rest of the summer at shortstop.”

**Finally, as we’ve watched the Phillies measure up in every way this postseason en route to the World Series, what must Joe Girardi, who was fired in June amid a 22-29 start, be thinking?

Paul Augeri is a freelance writer from Middletown.

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