The UCONN Parade

It hasn’t always been this way. College basketball hasn’t always been an obsession in Connecticut. When I arrived in 1984 UCONN was an also ran, even in regional action.

That all changed as the university hired Jim Calhoun for the men, and then later Geno Auriemma to coach the women. And, UCONN made a commitment to big time athletics.

I’m not sure, as a taxpayer and father of a soon to be college aged student, whether that would be my first priority… but I haven’t been asked. As it turns out UCONN is now a national powerhouse (even football has started to come around with a 9-2 season this past year) and I’m glad to be a fan.

In March, at the NCAA tournaments, UCONN won both the men’s and women’s national championships. This is an unheard of feat. It took a lot of luck and even more skill.

With that in mind, the City of Hartford decided to throw a parade to celebrate the victory. My TV station then made a commitment to provide live coverage (as did the CBS and NBC stations). It is something we’ve done before when one team or the other won.

My memories of parade coverage are mostly made up of awful weather and equipment failures. Somehow, by chance, unseasonably awful days are always picked. Bob Picozzi reminded me yesterday how one parade was held in some late season snow. I just remember number fingers and toes and trying to hide in the state capitol as long as was humanly possible before darting out to my position on the street.

Equipment problems are another story. A television program is mounted using hundreds of separate pieces of equipment. They could be as small as microphone connectors or as large as an entire satellite truck. In the field, many of these disparate pieces become choke points. If it breaks, nothing passes farther downstream.

In our last parade attempt everything that could fail, did. That was followed by unforeseen failures that had to do with ‘how’ we were doing things, as opposed to ‘what’ we used to do them.

For example, “live” TV never really is anymore. The delay can be a few frames (there are 29.97 frames per second in TV) up to a few seconds. This is not a censorship plot, but the outcome of using digital equipment. As signals pass through and are manipulated digitally, there is a small lag while the math is being done.

In the studio, that’s not a problem – we have it figured out. In the field, that means getting audio to reporters’ earpieces from multiple locations is a nightmare. Is there a delay? How much? And, can you send the reporter every bit of audio EXCEPT his very own voice (which would be delayed and confuse him, much as the echo at a baseball stadium can confuse the people singing the National Anthem).

As you can see, I didn’t drive to Hartford with fond anticipation.

Then, add to that my insecurity over the weather forecast. All week it had called for warm temperatures on Sunday. By Friday it had also become likely that there would be enough instability to produce a scattered shower or two across the state (and, as it turns out, there was a Severe Thunderstorm watch for Litchfield County – just northwest of Hartford). Most places would stay dry, but with Hartford’s parade track record, I couldn’t rule out a shower.

Everything worked out perfectly.

I got to the Legislative Office Building parking garage at 10:50 AM and immediately found a ground floor space, near the exit. I walked then labyrinth of ramps and corridors from the LOB to the Capitol. I walked outside, in the sunshine, and found our main satellite truck. There was no panic. There were no angry words. With hours to go, all the wiring and testing had been done, and it all worked. I had a bottle of water and ate the meat and cheese from a sandwich (it’s the diet).

Our coverage started at 1:30 PM. Just before 1:00, I headed out to our position, behind the Capitol building, near where the floats, bands and teams would start their journey and separated from their happy fans by orange plastic fencing (which would later come down to allow the crowds the opportunity to fill the area in from of the podium built for the ceremony).

Our 1:00 PM run through, where everyone got to see if they could communicate with everyone else, also worked well. I was working with Joe Sferrazza, a photographer who had started at Channel 8 a few months after me. Michelle Clarke from our assignment desk and Brian Albon, usually a director, were field producers.

We began our coverage. Eric Dobratz, producing the show, let me know he wanted me to use our mobility to find people to speak to. No problem. There was a truck a few hundred feet away, not yet moving, with Senators Lieberman and Dodd. I pointed to Joe and walked to the truck. There was a loading gate on the back, so I jumped up and then stood on the rear of the truck.

The senators moved to the back, and in a few seconds we were on the air, live. And then, the truck started to move! I had a wireless microphone and wireless earpiece, so it wasn’t a huge problem. Senator Dodd, sensing my lack of athleticism, threw his arm around my shoulder to help brace me… and the interview continued.

I am told that on TV, the interview looked great. It was live and spontaneous and obvious to all that I was perched on a moving truck. It was also obvious that that was more than I had bargained for. That made the shot even better.

It was at that moment where I set the tone for Joe, Michelle and Brian as to what we’d be doing. They bought in 100%. We would not be boring nor pedestrian.

From there we interviewed Miss Connecticut while I stood on the running board of her car… while in motion, riding the rear of the car carrying Meghan Pattyson and Bob Picozzi from CPTV, and on top a huge flatbed truck talking to a steel drum player – while he and his steel band played… and the truck rolled.

After the parade had passed and the fans streamed up the lawn, I concentrated on speaking with people. By this time, I was spent. All my energy was gone. The effects of a few hours of sleep were catching up with me.

The team, coaches and a few pols spoke from a stage attached to the Capitol’s steps. Thankfully, they were brief.

This parade’s coverage turned out totally different than the last time. It was as if we were two different stations. I like this outcome better. And, I was very glad to eat a little and get into bed.


Last night, in a pretty awful game, I watched the UCONN men’s basketball team disassemble Georgia Tech. Now they’re national champions.

Tonight the UCONN women held on to beat Tennessee. This was much more of a game – really a dream game pitting two teams which are perennial rivals. National champion number 2.

Geno Auriemma, UCONN’s coach and Pat Summit, coach at Tennessee, couldn’t be more different. She scares me. He seems warm and fuzzy – though I am sure I don’t want to be on Geno’s bad side.

Last season I went and watched a UCONN women’s game at Gampel Pavilion on the Storrs campus. As soon as I saw Geno, only one thing went through my mind – wow, what a suit. He was wearing the best looking, best fitting suit I had ever seen. Call me crazy, but it was that obvious that this was quality goods.

Nationwide, women’s basketball is far behind men’s in terms of popularity. Not here in Connecticut. As good as the men are, I wonder if the women aren’t more popular?

To me, the women’s game is something I can more relate to (though my relating to any athlete or athletic accomplishment is laughable at best). They are more finesse and less power. The game is lower scoring but just as intense as the men’s.

Both teams will be decimated as players graduate, or drafted as underclassmen into the NBA. It will be interesting to see how the two coaches and two programs rebuild. Or, will we ever dominate these two sports again?