They say you cannot buy championships in sports.
Hard work and dedication are supposed to trump all, but in Fairfield County high school athletics, this is simply not true.
The best football, lacrosse and hockey players don’t necessarily live just in wealthy towns, and it’s not that those athletes simply work harder.
The reason Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield and Greenwich are so good at these sports is because they have the money to play them.
Yes, they have good youth programs and well-established, top-shelf high school coaches, but the difference maker is money.
Paying for equipment is pricey enough, but if you consider that kids in these towns are working with private coaches as young as 4 years old — yes, 4 — and spending years in top-notch facilities, it is no wonder the gap has become so big.
It has even affected soccer, once a game of the working class and children of immigrants. Soccer is now dominated by kids who can afford to play on elite teams year-round.
Baseball, too, is increasingly being played best around here by the towns with the most resources.
I do not bemoan the people in these towns. If you have the resources and your child is serious, why shouldn’t you give him or her every advantage possible?
There are really only two places a kid from an economically disadvantaged background can stand on equal footing, and there is no amount of money in the world that can change that.
Track and basketball.
In track, if you are fast, you are fast or if you can run distance, you can run distance.
The fastest man in the world is from Jamaica and the best distance runners are from Kenya and Ethiopia, not exactly countries known for their wealth.
It is basketball that stays true among the team sports.
If you have a ball and can find a hoop, you can work on basketball. All by yourself.
Can suburban players hire coaches and pay to go to camps? Sure. Does it make them better players? A little.
Are they just as well off just playing pick-up games or working on their handle in the driveway? Probably.
Do the kids spending hours playing at the playground still have an advantage? You bet.
That is because the best way to get better at basketball is to play against other talented players.
And unlike other sports, you only need one other person to play, though 3-on-3 is better and 5-on-5 is the best.
Five-on-5 gives you the transition game but 3-on-3 does everything else. You learn to pick and screen off the ball, play defense on and off the ball, rebound, dribble and shoot.
And it is free.
Basketball has always been a game that caters to everyone, in spite of class, for that reason. It should be noted that the last five FCIAC championships were won by Bridgeport schools. Eight of the last nine FCIAC championships have been won by city schools, seven by Bridgeport and one by Stamford.
Kids from Greenwich and kids from Bridgeport can meet in a gym and be on equal ground for 32 minutes.
Tell me one other place that is true?
It doesn’t matter what your parents do for a living or what kind of house you live in. If you can ball, you can ball, and as Rasheed Wallace used to say, “Ball don’t lie.”
In Fairfield County high school sports, basketball is the great equalizer.