Peter Cugno is a senior student athlete at Berlin High School. Cugno, like so many others from the Class of 2020, is unable to give a proper farewell to high school athletics because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The native-Berliner will be attending Sacred Heart University where he will major in Sports Management and Business starting next fall, but for now he’s processing through the difficult reality of saying goodbye to his two athletic passions, swimming and baseball.
Here is Peter in his own words, in an essay he wrote for his Sports Literature class on April 10.
“As we all have started converting over to “distanced learning”, I have personally had some struggles focusing on my classes and staying on top of assignments. This class especially. Not because I dread the work. Or because I can’t find the time. But because of that word in the class title. That word “sports” jabs at my side every time I say in my head. I’m in a rough place with sports right now. The outlet I use to deal with stress, anxiety and built up aggression, is now the source that feeds those very things within me. If you’ve played a sport you know it can be a good way to get things off your mind when you’re in a tough place. But here I am, trapped on a couch, behind a computer, with no way to escape from the chaos which is this world right now. This is the case for everyone though. My situation is no different than any other teenage athlete at the moment. So I’m sure that any one of them could tell you their story about the sport that they’re missing, just as I am about to do.
Passion. It’s a simple word, with a meaning that I struggle to fully understand to this day. The dictionary describes it as, “a strong and barely controllable emotion”. And through my experiences, that’s exactly what it is. But let’s break down this emotion. To me, it means that every time you step on that field, you don’t want to step off of it until you’ve accomplished something. It means that you spend those Friday nights in the gym putting in that extra work instead of going to that party with the rest of your grade. It means you settle for nothing but the best from yourself. It means daydreaming of your success on that field as a child. It means setting goals and persevering through every damn thing that stands in your way until you succeed. It means on a daily basis giving absolutely everything you have to the thing that you feel this emotion for. This emotion is what I feel for my sports. Baseball and Swimming. I was always told by coaches that I had a unique passion to perform athletically. I never knew what that meant until my senior year. Because see, as a kid, I developed this, what seemed innocent, feeling of passion for baseball and swimming. Playing hard and working hard when no one was watching. It was easy for me to get away from everyone and just concentrate 100% on succeeding. This approach has done pretty well for me until now. It got me to States every year that I swam. It got me All-Conference twice. It led me to play baseball around the country. I worked hard to meet my goals and that made me proud of what I accomplished. For each sport I had one major goal. It was the point in each sport where I could call it quits on my grind and just look back on everything I had done. My goal for swimming was always to go a 1:06.99 or faster in the breaststroke for swimming. My goal for baseball was to be a Berlin Redcoat Varsity Baseball player. Now, I bring up that “innocent” emotion called passion. Because as I felt this passion, it pushed me to work harder and harder to meet my ultimate goals. But working too hard inevitably worked against me. I hurt my knee while swimming as a freshman and that same injury caused me to miss time in three straight swimming seasons, including my entire junior season. It also resulted in me missing time from baseball that influenced my varsity spot as a junior. I pushed past the obstacles in an attempt to achieve my goals with a great senior year. The final stand. The Grand Finale. Except it isn’t for the 2020 seniors.
I grinded all winter, in and out of the pool so that I could get back to States and claim this season as my comeback season. I dieted, hit the gym after weeknight practices, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning on weekends and throughout all of Winter Breaks. I made these sacrifices to reach for my goals. I missed no time due to injury and did qualify for States again. But I never got to perform at States. I was unexpectedly stripped of that opportunity last minute. Just like that swimming was over. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the sport that I was oh-so passionate about. I didn’t even know my last race was going to be my last race. My time for that race was 1:07.4. I only needed to drop .5 seconds at the States meet to accomplish my ultimate goal, but I never got to swim that race. I never will. I’ll never get to know if all of my years of work was worth it.
Days after hearing that there would be no States, they closed all the schools. No one knows when or if we’ll go back to school this year. So I take that information and try to process that it means there won’t be any spring sports this year. For the senior baseball, softball, lacrosse, golf and tennis players, that is a really hard pill to swallow. I don’t get the closure I need and deserve from the sport of baseball after all that I’ve given to it. Everyday since I first picked up a baseball, I’ve thought about the game. No matter what time of year it is, I’m thinking about baseball. All the time and work I have put into that sport has allowed me to travel places, meet people and experience amazing things. I’ve developed a close relationship, not just with teammates and coaches, but with the game of baseball. It’s the first thing I bonded over with my dad. It was what taught me how to be a good man. It’s what led me to my childhood best friends. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to say goodbye to baseball. But I didn’t think this is how it would happen. You see, when injuries struck during my sophomore year, the coaches thought it would be best to get my playing time in on JV during my Junior year in order to make up for the missed time. This led to me playing on JV for my first three years of high school. With this spring season cancelled, it means I never got to play varsity baseball. This is where my passion backfired on me.
So much of my life was dedicated to meeting these goals I set for myself, and I never got the opportunity to achieve them. It breaks my heart to think about. The baseball field has always been my home and now I’m lost that I can’t be on it. I can’t solve this problem by taking 100 ground balls or throwing 80 pitches. There is nowhere for me to escape to.
Now, it’s 4:15 in the morning, I’m sitting in the bleachers at Sage Park, looking over the field that I never got to play on, reflecting on the sports in my life. As much as the universe is forcing me it’s time to say goodbye to baseball, it doesn’t seem right, or real for that matter. I guess it’s because it’s hard to imagine myself without the sport that molded me into the person I am today. I feel lost without getting my chance to say a proper goodbye to my home on that baseball field.”
Wethersfield senior Connor Pace is the 1st selection in the 2020 Rare Reminder draft.
Photo: Jo-Ann Campbell
The National Football League draft starts tonight! Here’s what the first round of the draft would look like if we entered The Land of Make Believe, in which NFL teams selected from the pool of talented gridironers who starred at the five local schools.
Welcome to the 6th Annual Bizarro Draft…
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Pace (WR-Wethersfield): Experts slotted a QB here but the Bengals select a cornerstone receiver instead, making Pace the first WR drafted #1 overall since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. Polished with every tool, including pristine route running, an impressive catch radius, and exceptional hands. Just as valuable in the locker room.
2. Washington Redskins: Brady Foster (LB-Middletown): Ron Rivera wants to build a team with high-character guys and Foster has the potential to be the second coming of Luke Kuechly. Student of the game with a relentless motor and will be centerpiece of Rivera’s defense in the nation’s capital.
3. Detroit Lions: Owen Brunk (LB-Cromwell/Portland): Brunk is exactly the type of player that can reenergize a franchise in crisis. Skyrocketing young prospect that is just reaching his full potential. Forceful tackler, who doesn’t whiff, and is opportunistic in coverage.
4. New York Giants: Alex Boutin (DL-Rocky Hill): The Giants defense was dismal a season ago and Boutin is a disruptive penetrator that fills a major need. Exactly the type of meat-and-potatoes prospect that GM Dave Gettleman craves. Commands a double team on every play and creates constant havoc in backfield.
5. Miami Dolphins: Keenan Esau (S-Newington): Miami passes on QB to select dominant and dependable defensive field general. A leader by example with excellent range and tremendous closing speed. Solid as the day is long.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Jake Whitaker (OL-Wethersfield): Everything you want in a football player. Ultimate professional with powerful punch and a knack for burying opponents. Book him in the Pro Bowl for the next 10+ years.
7. Carolina Panthers: Nick Pestrichello (QB-Newington): First-year head coach Matt Rhule gets a captain to run his up-tempo offensive. Duel threat talent is perfect for the system, possessing lightning quick release with deep ball touch, while being a magician in the pocket with elite speed.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Julian Mulero (LB-Newington): What. A. Steal. It’s almost criminal that Mulero fell to this spot. Arizona is getting an inspirational leader with immense talent. Sheds blocks with ease and an absolute wrecking ball against the run. Instinctive and impactful.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jake Bowen (LB-Middletown): Heady, run-stuffing middleman for a Jacksonville defense in transition. Energetic, fiery three-down backer that is intelligent on and off the field. Sure-tackler thanks to wrestling background.
10. Cleveland Browns: Cam Latronica (DE-Cromwell/Portland): Freakish athlete with high ceiling. Great burst and pop at the point on attack. Injuries hampered last season but built mental toughness and further ignited desire.
11. New York Jets: Nick Thompson (DL-Wethersfield): A beast with the right mentality. Plays with purpose and attacks ball on every play. Sparkplug that has tremendous base and power from wrestling. Will flourish under Gregg Williams.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Matt Sevigny (WR-Rocky Hill): Ideal fit in Jon Gruden’s offense. Light feet and sure hands with a propensity for creating windows and working back towards ball. A quarterback’s best friend.
13. San Francisco 49ers: Josiah Albert (DB-Middletown): Confident in coverage and attacks the ball in flight. Plays bigger than his size and comfortable in space. Phenomenal athlete with all the tools.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Berasi (OL-Wethersfield): Great fit for team that needs to improve protection, especially with an expensive statue in the pocket. Berasi is an intelligent grinder with quick feet and will drive defenders away from action. Added flexibility and smoothness from swimming background.
15. Denver Broncos: Jack Morin (OL-Cromwell/Portland): Mr. Reliable and a fit in any system. Coach on the field and will do his job with discipline and play each down with a purpose. Starter from day one.
16. Atlanta Falcon: Marcus Nieves (LB-Wethersfield): Thievery at this point in the draft. Nieves is a torpedo in pursuit, wraps and drives, and has an uncanny ability to work through blocks. Instant heartbeat of defensive unit in Hotlanta.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Alex Rios (DB- Middletown): Budding prospect with an arrow pointing upwards. Sticky in coverage and exceptional at tracking the ball in air. Loves contact and plays with an edge.
18. Miami Dolphins: John Amaning Jr (RB-Newington): Productive, plug-and-play three-down back who fights for every yard. Smooth, long-strider with breakaway north-south speed and soft hands in pass game.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: Teddy Williams (LB-Cromwell/Portland): Young stud that plays with swagger. Outstanding in blitz packages and packs a punch upon contact. Sky is the limit.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle Despres (WR-Middletown): Hands catcher that is shifty in the open field with an outstanding burst. Highly productive and attacks the ball on downfield throws. Consistent.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Gunnar Johnson (WR-Newington): Quarterback friendly and solid in all phases. Masterful over the middle but can stretch defense too. Adds much-needed reliability to Philly’s patchwork receiving unit.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Tymothy Sullivan (OG- Newington): Moves well and keeps pad level low, allowing him to bull over defenders. Excels at pulling and gets to the second level with ease.
23. New England Patriots: Chris Danas (QB-Middletown): All the intangibles. Decisive at the line, diagnoses defenses, and throws catchable ball. A worker bee and a perfect fit in New England.
24. New Orleans Saints: Omar Ahmed (DB/WR-Rocky Hill): Intriguing talent that can play both sides of the ball. Physical, lengthy defensive back with receiver mitts. Could be used as another slash in the Big Easy.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Pepe (WR-Cromwell/Portland): Fierce competitor that fights and wins most 50/50 balls. Sneaky good straightaway speed and has added value on special teams, even in the kick game.
26. Miami Dolphins: Matt Silver (QB-Wethersfield): Coaches delight with cannon for an arm and lively legs. Unquestioned toughness, once played game with two broken fingers. Will outwork anyone, on and off the field. Perfect mentee for Fitzmagic.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Kyle Edman (DB-Wethersfield): Outstanding technique, uses body to manipulate receiver in route and has a nose for the ball. Plays with an edge and will help bring boom back to Seattle’s once-great legion of defensive backs.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Ethan Philbrick (OL-Cromwell/Portland): Ravens take chance on fascinating talent with potential to be great. Fluid with size and strength to push people around. A road grader.
29. Tennessee Titans: Ethan Moreno (LB-Rocky Hill): Consistent, sure-tackler with pass rush abilities. Naturally wraps and drives through ball carriers. Solid and dependable from top to bottom.
30. Green Bay Packers: Johnny Orsini (RB/FB-Wethersfield): Hard-nosed, leg-churning, yard-eater that’s willing to do whatever it takes. John Kuhn/Kyle Juszczky at the next level.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Nico Capasso (LB-Rocky Hill): Outstanding lateral quickness, works sideline to sideline very well. Will bring the heat on blitzes and is opportunistic, always looking to create turnovers.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephen Szwez (C-Newington): Anchor who can play up and down the line with length to play tackle. Uses pads well and has added long snap value.
Baker’s Dozen Day-Two Prospects
Cole Brisson (QB-Cromwell/Portland): Potential franchise QB with a little more repetition. Smooth, lefty delivery with great touch and tremendous poise for his experience level.
Zach Demarco (S/LB- Newington) Underrated prospect who is solid on every down and has great vision. A hybrid with Thomas Davis-like versatility. Equally impactful against the run and pass.
Maxwell DiMatteo (OLB/DE-Rocky Hill): Sets edge well, holds his ground, and plays with patients. Stout against the run. A gamer.
Nate Estifanos (OL-Wethersfield): Emerging talent who uses build and hands well. Balance is always forward. Pulls with toughness and tenacity.
AJ Ferreira (K/P-Newington): Consistent, reliable team-first guy who works tirelessly at his craft. Back at full strength following serious injury and doesn’t shy away from clutch situations.
Shaun Gaskins (RB-Middletown): No-nonsense back that will break arm tackles and leave defenders in his wake. Dependable downhill runner with the mentality of a linebacker.
Kristian Glemaud (TE-Middletown): Matchup nightmare. Stretch and size to overwhelm DBs and quick first step to beat backers. Physical, tough to bring down.
Tyron Scharborough (HB/Returner-Middletown): Dangerous returner with Dante Hall-explosiveness. Polished route runner with low center of gravity and flourishes in open field.
Rockwell Spalding (LB-Rocky Hill): Lives up to his name as a rock-solid backer who plays well against run and pass. Excellent in pursuit with a quick first step and no wasted motion.
Justin Stergos (HB-Cromwell/Portland) Versatile four-sport athlete with hockey mentality/toughness. Downhill, bruising runner with soft hands. Possible fullback at next level.
Rory Stickley (WR-Wethersfield): Dynamic, clutch playmaker that can separate and catch in traffic. Still reaching full potential, which should frighten defensive backs.
Konnor Walsh (QB-Rocky Hill): Ball jumps off hand, in and out of the pocket. Pinpoint accuracy on the move and confidence/trigger to fit throws into tight windows.
Zak Zurzola (DB-Wethersfield): Well-coached and intelligent blanket coverage corner who doesn’t shy away from contact. Value as returner and receiver make him a steal on day two.
Marcus Nieves and Nick Thompson were two of seven Wethersfield wrestlers to make all-conference
Middletown - Donte Pope, Jonathan Nkonoki
Wethersfield - Connor Pace
Middletown - Shadae Bushay, Tyah Pettaway
Newington - Ashanti Frazier, Karissa Zocco
Wethersfield - Nicole Gwynn, Alice Kelly
Newington – Liliana Amaral, Tiana D’Aquila, Sofie Goudreault, Grace Mangiafico, Sophia Pittaluga
Rocky Hill – Sophia Buonanno, Aliana Fichera, Riley Newport, Alexandra Podgorska
Wethersfield – Lily Bucchi
Newington Coop - Chris Brandon, Andrew Fogarty, Sam Hedlund, Justin Stergos
WMRP - Aaron Cholewa, Jack Healy, Chase Millen, Trevor Piecewicz, Trevor Schad
Swimming & Diving
Middletown – Trevor Drescher, Michael Flynn, Seth Latronica, Matt Lombardo, Andrew Strickland, Nicole Tust
Newington - Michael Bohlke, Luke Fote, Andriy Grynyk, Nicholas Jirku, Salvatore Scata, Wyatt Smith, Bryce Turner
Rocky Hill – Brandon Scacca
Wethersfield - Tanner Bradbury, Tre Bucchi, Zachary Crevierk, Declan Hallinan, Jack Kulpa, Brian Puglielli
Middletown - Dylan Sassu, Kalil Shabazz, Jacob Toth
Newington – Eliano Cruz, Aiden Lozada, Max Usmanov, Jacob Zotti
Rocky Hill - Nick Faraci
Wethersfield - Bryce Arnold, Dan Cruz, Jake Laurie, Marcus Nieves, Jalen Rucker, Nick Thompson, Juelz Thompson
Four Rocky Hill cheerleaders were selected all-conference this winter
Rocky Hill seniors Jay and Brandon Scacca
Rocky Hill seniors Brandon and Jay Scacca share a lot in common.
The twin brothers not only share the same birthday but they also share a passion for swimming.
“Brandon and Jay were such fun boys to watch grow up and mature. They are so alike yet so different," said Rocky Hill swim coach Lisa Cooney, who first met the boys as elementary-aged kids.
Cooney has watched the two blossom into honor roll students and develop into top swimming talents at the high school, “They are both kind, compassionate young men. Both care about each other, their families, their friends. They are extremely hard working, in and out of the pool, [and] extremely responsible young men for their age.”
The two, along with their sister Ashley (a former RHHS swimmer and 2018 graduate) grew up in the pool before starting to swim competitively in the fourth grade.
Their mom, Joanne, would often say that the pool was a saving grace for a mother with three kids.
Swimming provided an identify, yet it was the time outside the pool that created lasting memories at Rocky Hill High.
Brandon values the relationships that he’s built with the teachers, “Some of them have been there for you through our toughest times when you’re at your most vulnerable state. Honestly they are your best friends in the end. I’m going to miss them so much because we’ve built such valuable relationships.”
Jay will miss the bonds created with classmates, “I’ve made a lot of friends the past couple of years and I can’t believe we’re going off to college next year and we might not be able to graduate with them, at a formal graduation.”
Like the rest of the class on 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has cast a shadow on what the senior’s final few months of high school will look like.
It already caused the cancellation of the winter sports tournaments just few days shy of the state’s swimming and diving Class Finals.
“I talked to the whole team because we have a group chat and we were all pretty bummed about it,” recalled Brandon, who would have been competing for a fourth straight season at states, excelling in both the 200 IM and 100 Breaststroke.
News of the cancellation was especially disheartening for Jay, who was in uncharted waters heading into the state meets, “It really sucks because I had never made it to states before. This was the only year I made it and I wasn’t able to participate, so it’s a bummer.”
Jay suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder a season ago, forcing him out of competition, “Last year when it first happened I wasn’t able to swim or move it but I still participated on the team. I was just kicking the whole time. So I was still training, just not my shoulder, and I had to go to physical therapy. It was pretty hard to get back on track.”
He returned to the pool this fall, qualifying for states in the 100 Butterfly, and said the experience gave him a new perspective, “Never give up, because no matter how hard it may seem in the end it will be worth it. Especially with my injury, I felt like giving up last year and at the beginning of this year because I wasn’t at my full strength. But you always just have to persevere and get through.”
According to Cooney, the twins differed in personalities. Brandon is more outspoken and Jay a little more reserved, however both proved to be good leaders.
Cooney praised Jay for being an excellent role model for the team during his journey back from the shoulder injury, “He still came to practices and meets to be a part of the team and help out. Then this year he worked so hard to get to states. He brought his 100 Butterfly time down by over 7 seconds, and he did qualify in that event as well as being a member of the 200 Medley Relay.”
Cooney added that Brandon is the quintessential team captain, “He didn't mind saying what needed to be said even if it was not popular. [He was the] team MVP last year and this year. This year he qualified for states in 200 IM, 100 Breaststroke, and was a member of the 200 Medley Relay and the 200 Free Relay.”
The brothers were also volunteers for the Sea Cubs, which was a program started by Cooney. The weekly program helped kids with special needs learn how to swim. Both said their four years with the Sea Cubs was very rewarding and they loved doing it, calling it “one of their favorite things to do.”
For the first time in nearly two decades, the brothers will head off in different directions for the first time this fall.
Brandon will be attending the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford where he’ll swim for the Division III Blue Jays while pursuing a career in nursing.
Jay will begin working towards an Engineering degree at the University of Hartford.
Next winter will mark the first time in six years that a Scacca won’t be swimming for Rocky Hill.
Brandon, who said he considers coach Cooney a second mother, had some advice for those that will help lead Rocky Hill swimming into the future.
“You have to put in the work in order to see results and I’ve seen a lot of kids that put in countless hours of work. If you’re trying your hardest, times don’t matter, it’s just about if you tried your hardest.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin