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A salute to Mo and NL's fighting spirit

New London — This is being typed from my front porch. If I look left through the trees, I can see the water. If I look right, I can see kids on the sidewalks and streets playing. Lots of folks walking by stop to chat. If I look around the porch, I can see my dead flowers in their pots because my watering skills are equal parts pathetic and sporadic.

But this is my house. I love it. It's been my digs for a year or so now, the product of moving back to New London. Where I belong.

There is a point here. It's this: New London, for all its warts, has a particular tug, even if you weren't born here. My people. Our people. And it is for this reason that we salute Maureen Thompson today, the organizer of the All-Whaler class reunion, whose latest rendition was postponed this summer because of COVID-19.

This was to be Maureen's last go-round before younger blood takes over the event that has drawn thousands to Ocean Beach spanning decades of graduating classes.

Primer on Mo: I got to know her through sports. Her sons Tommy, Marc and Brent all played football at New London High. Tommy is the former principal of the school. As Board of Education member and reunion Board of Directors member Elaine Maynard-Adams says, "Mo graduated from New London High ... but she never really graduated, if you know what I mean."

Maynard-Adams said it was former high school principal Lou Allen  who had the original All-Whaler idea. Allen was smart enough to enlist Maureen's help. Game over. It's like throwing a screen pass and watching the running back go 80 yards.

"You can't grow up with Vendettos (Maureen's maiden name is Vendetto) and not get sucked into whatever their cause of the moment is," Maynard-Adams said. "Donna(Vendetto), Mo and handful of volunteers organized the first one in 1996. It was hugely popular, probably a thousand people at the beach that night, graduates from 1956 to two years before. We were going to do it every other year, but there's  a lot of work that goes in, so we opted for five-year cycles. This was supposed to be a year."

Maureen lives in Florida now. She ran the good race. Maynard-Adams is hopeful a new group channels their inner Mo and keeps it thriving.

Maureen's legacy goes beyond the Xs and Os of coordinating the event. She kept the fighting spirit of the city running like a current among graduates of all ages. It's a good idea for any town. But in New London? It's necessary. No black and white here. Just green and gold.

"Most of us know what it's like to go to a school that the rest of the county looked down on," said Maynard-Adams, class of 1977. "We were the thugs from New London. We could win a football game, but never a math competition. That's how we grew up. For most of us, we didn't really care what you thought about us. We grew up thinking we'll kick your (rear end) every which way but Sunday."

I've experienced what Maynard-Adams just said a thousand times through simple observation on fields and courts. Here's the residual effect: New Londoners, through the gradual growth of thick skin, develop this unspoken bond. The All-Whaler reunion was a celebration thereof.

"You can't have truly experienced New London High School without having experienced some kind of bias," Maynard-Adams said. "I can look back at it and today I recognize it for what it was. There's a huge degree of racism implicit in all of that. I didn't see as much then as I see it now."

More Maynard-Adams: "As a student at New London High, I never felt 'less than.' But lots of other kids did feel 'less than.' In 1964, I started kindergarten at Edgerton School. My sister started the year before. My parents were looking at St. Mary's, but there was no kindergarten program there. It turned out things were fine and we were happy, so we stayed. But I can't tell you know many times my mother had to defend her decision to put her children in New London public schools. That's the nature of growing up in New London."

Some of us like it here. Prefer it. And thanks to Mo Thompson, there's been an outlet to show exactly how much. Here's hoping the All-Whale thing endures.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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