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It's finally time to play basketball for Bacon girls; Shea makes retirement official with 788 wins

Colchester — The only real facial features discernible for the players and coaches at Bacon Academy's Dave Shea Gymnasium on Tuesday afternoon, visible above masks, which are mandatory due to the COVID-19 crisis, were their eyes.

And their eyes glimmered with excitement, appreciation, happiness — all those things — at being back together in a gym for the first high school girls' basketball practice of the delayed 2021 season.

"It was so undecided," senior captain Caitlin Shea said. "I didn't know if we were ever going to get back on the court. I missed these girls."

"Oh, my gosh," fellow senior captain Victoria Violette said. "It was the worst time waiting for this. Last year was such a good year, but the best part of last year was starting our senior year. It's a big year."

After a lengthy delay — the original high school winter sports season in Connecticut was set to begin Nov. 21 — the state began allowing teams to practice as of Tuesday. A 10-game regular season for Eastern Connecticut Conference teams will start on Friday, Feb. 12.

Bacon Academy, the runner-up in the 2020 ECC Division I tournament held at Mohegan Sun Arena, was one of the teams in the league which took full advantage of the start date, while other schools pushed back their commencement of practice time due to ongoing virtual learning.

The first order of business belonged to longtime head coach Dave Shea, after whom the school's gym is named. Shea, who missed last season after having heart surgery to insert a pacemaker (his son John took over as coach), announced he was relinquishing the head coaching role on a permanent basis.

Shea, in his mid-80s, finished his career with a combined record of 788-308 overall, 459 wins in 25 seasons as girls' coach at Bacon and 329 wins in 23 seasons as boys' coach. He won three state championships and coached in six title games.

"I had the pacemaker put in last winter. The years are catching up to me," Shea said briefly at Tuesday's practice. "Sometimes you have to make a smart decision instead of an emotional one."

Shea then returned to practice, where he is serving as one of John Shea's assistant coaches this season, overseeing a five-man shooting drill, which John said has always been one of his dad's favorites. Dave Shea began coaching at Bacon in 1962.

"He just means everything to the program," John Shea said of his father and mentor. "He's been doing it for so long, so well. The kids like him. He doesn't take himself super serious, but they know he knows his stuff."

John knows, too, that Dave knows his basketball.

"Usually if it's a 50-50 decision, I'm going to go with him," John said. "If it doesn't work out, I can always blame him."

Bacon graduated just one senior from last year's team which finished 20-5 with an ECC Division II title. Caitlin Shea and Violette are joined in this year's senior class by Kaitlyn Moody.

John Shea said there is a lot for the team to overcome, having not played, being out of shape and having to wear masks. He gives them until Sunday's practice, he said, to "put away these excuses."

"They're definitely rusty right now. You can see it," John Shea said.

"I'm dreading Sunday now," Violette said with a laugh of Shea's Sunday deadline for normalcy.

She added: "We don't have enough time together to be complaining about masks."

Bacon opens the season on Feb. 12 at home against St. Bernard.

Violette, who will attend Central Connecticut State next year to play for the Division I women's soccer team, is more used to wearing a mask, she said, because she wears one when she does drills in small groups for the Oakwood Soccer Club.

Bacon wore masks in a fall league basketball game they played, which Caitlin Shea, John's daughter and Dave's granddaughter, characterized as "not good."

"We broke out," Caitlin Shea said. "We had acne after from all the sweat."

Still, Violette said the day she found out Tuesday would be the first day of practice was an exciting one. Before that, she was looking forward mainly to the start date of "All American" season 3 on TV.

"It's not going to be the same without our fan section," Violette said of the empty gymnasiums the teams will play in this season. "... (But) this is the year. This is the year you wait for."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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