By BRIAN JENNINGS
When I first heard about Drew Booth’s serious head injury, I was saddened. When I saw game footage of the hit Booth took from Conard’s Brendan Battiston against the boards, I was unsettled. Then when I heard that the CIAC didn’t take any action on the situation, I was irate.
The Hall-Southington ice hockey player was sent to the hospital following a hit that drew a penalty. Booth ended up in the intensive care unit and underwent surgery. The penalty altered the lives of two student-athletes. A three-sport athlete in football, ice hockey, and lacrosse—Booth—might never compete again. The future of his athletic career and any college scholarships are uncertain. Yet the CIAC didn’t take any action on the situation?
Different rumors swirled around about the reasons why the CIAC remained silent. One said there wasn’t enough evidence from the game film to determine that it was a “cheap shot.” Another said that the referees officiating the game didn’t report the hit as a violation.
According to the score sheet from that game, the hit was recorded as a 5-minute major penalty and came nine seconds after Booth assisted teammate Andrew Mitchell with a game-tying goal. A possible suspension of Battiston? Maybe. But at least do something if you’re the CIAC.
What made the situation worse was the fact that Conard drew Hall-Southington for a rematch in the first round of the Division II Tournament.
If you’re a member on the boys ice hockey board of the CIAC, seeds have to be thrown out the window in this case. This situation goes beyond seeding. It’s about the safety of the student-athletes. Instead, the schools had to have increased police presence and heightened security.
The decision of whether or not to cancel the first-round game was left in the hands of parents, coaches, players, and West Hartford town officials. It wouldn’t have been fair to the other members of both teams to cancel the game just because of happenstance of the seeds. For some student-athletes, it was their final high school ice hockey game. The decision to cancel the game should not have been left in the hands of parents, coaches, players, and the town.
Whether it was a cheap shot or not, I was proud of Battiston (Conard’s player) and the West Hartford officials.
Rescheduling the game during the school day kept passionate fans out of the equation, and ultimately Battiston did the right thing.
After the postseason rematch, I talked with Conard coach Chris Tornaquindici. He said that Battiston took himself out of first-round game and said that Battiston thought he would give the Chieftains a better chance to win without him, in the light of the situation with Booth.
Battiston also wrote letters to the towns of West Hartford and Southington. When a student-athlete makes a mature, adult decision like that, I applaud him for his actions.
The CIAC should care about the student-athletes, but this was one instance where they simply did not.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.