CANTON, March 2 – The gym at Canton High was filled with fans again on Thursday night as the defending Class S champion girls basketball team returned to the court to take on No. 14 Windham High in the second round of the CIAC Class S tournament.
Two days earlier, a handful of Canton students chanted “Trump, Trump, Trump” in reference to newly-elected President Donald Trump during the North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC) boys basketball tournament in Canton’s game against Hartford Classical, a team made up of primarily African American and Latino players.
Classical won by a point, holding off a furious Canton rally in the final two minutes.
On Wednesday, the school held an assembly with students about the incident and sent a letter home to parents. On Thursday, school administrators said they would apologize to Classical and the story gathered widespread attention across the state.
Last night, the focus was back on the hardwood. The Canton girls team used a stellar defensive effort in the second half to continue their march through the Class S tournament. No. 3 Canton (20-4) allowed just six points in the second half – six – in a 70-40 victory over Windham Thursday night.
During the year, the Warriors have struggled to put opponents away and secure victories. That wasn’t the case last night. Canton outscored the Whippets, 19-3 in the third quarter and 13-3 in the fourth quarter.
Scoring 70 points was a season-high for Canton and the second-best scoring effort ever in a CIAC tournament game for the Warriors. Only a 71 point effort in a 1988 win over Parish Hill was better for Canton.
Senior Emily Briggs had a game-high 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, six blocks and four steals to lead the Warriors. Belle Magna had 15 points and played shutdown defense on Windham’s Desiree Rivera in the second half. Rivera had 15 points in the first half and just two in the final two quarters.
“What they were able to do on defense was awesome,” Canton coach Brian Medeiros said. “We got stops which led to our offense clicking.”
Canton was pleased to advance to the Class S quarterfinals where they will meet conference rival, No. 22 Windsor Locks on Tuesday in Canton at 7 p.m.
But there was a bit of sadness in the gym. Tuesday night’s incident has scarred the reputation of the town. It’s no secret that the country has very mixed feelings about President Trump.
Classical fans were not pleased. Lesile Torres-Rodriguez, the acting superintendent in Hartford, told the Associated Press that the chants were “unacceptable.”
Canton High principal Andrew DiPippo said that the chants crossed a line. In a letter to parents on Wednesday, he wrote, “While students’ right to free speech and forming educated opinions about politics and current events is a cornerstone of our educational system, the exact point where political opinion converges with disrespect, discrimination or hate speech must be separated,” he said. “We have a reputation as a welcoming community and these students crossed this line with their comments and have damaged our reputation.”
The chant occurred during the first half as Classical players attempted some free throws. As soon as it happened, Eric Verner, the assistant principal at the high school walked down in front of the students to restore order. Verner stood there near the student section for the remainder of the evening.
There was plenty of discussion about this on Thursday in the media and on social media. Much of it did not shine a positive light upon Canton.
“It was a snowball and it got worse and worse as the day went on,” Medeiros said. “You feel for the kids because that’s not what they are all about. A few bad apples have changed the perception of what a great community this is.”
The players met before the game to discuss the incident and it was a passionate discussion, Medeiros said.
“I really want it to be known that a majority of our school finds that (chant) unacceptable,” Canton senior Abbe Skinner said. “There are still a handful of defiant students but I don’t think they represent our school as a whole. But they are part of our community so we need to take responsibility, move forward and take action.”
Added Briggs, “Obviously, there was some tension in the school. A lot of us are sad about this. I am, too. But this is a good step in the healing process.”
Playing a game was a way to begin to move on and heal the wound, Medeiros said.
“It was time to put a band aid on it,” he said. “Play basketball again. Start having some fun again and put that stuff behind us. We have to continue being the good people that we are.”
Skinner, who had four points against Windham, had a message for the Classical fans and players, “I want them to know we’re very sorry. We feel absolutely terrible. I just know it was very wrong and it shouldn’t have happened.”
Canton Superintendent Kevin Case, Verner and DiPippo were in attendance for the game last night.
The Canton boys, ranked No. 2 in Class S, open their tournament on Tuesday, March 7, when they host No. 31 St. Bernard-Montville at a time to be determined.
NOTE: Canton has won six straight CIAC girls basketball games. That is a new school record. … The game was started an hour early so players and fans could attend and participate in a choral concert in the school auditorium.
Canton 70, Windham 40
Windham (40): Shania Slyman 4-4-15, Desiree Rivera 7-3-17, Tamia McBride 1-0-2, Neisha Rodriguez 0-1-1, Nicole Rivera 2-0-5, Ceci Hunter 0-0-0. Totals 14-8-40
Canton (70) Abbe Skinner 1-2-4, Morgan Walzak 0-0-0, Belle Magna 7-1-15, Abby Charron 5-3-13, Lauren Puglielli 0-0-0, Maggie First 0-0-0, Emily Briggs 11-4-26, Grace Treacy 1-0-2, Leah Eschenbrenner 3-0-7, Lauren Eschenbrenner 0-0-0, Ali DeSanto 0-0-0, Courtney Lefave 0-0-0. Sarah Bowman 1-1-3. Totals 29-11-70
Windham (15-9) 16 18 3 3 — 40
Canton (20-4) 19 19 19 13 — 70
Three-point goals: Leah Eschenbrenner (C), Slyman (W) 3, N. Rivera (W)