After UConn’s early practice on Tuesday, Geno Auriemma reflected on his feelings, and those of his players, in the wake of last week’s tragic shootings in Newtown.
On Monday, the university announced a scholarship fund in honor of the victim’s memories. Auriemma and his wife kicked it off with an $80,000 donation, essentially the current in-state cost of a four-year education at UConn.
“There really isn’t much you can do that is anything more than symbolic. At this point, we’re just left with those [symbolic gestures] which is why I wanted to start the scholarship fund,” Auriemma said. “It’s a tangible thing that people can fall back on, actually use long- and short-term to show some respect to those that died.
“There were many ideas bandied about because everyone felt like we had to do something. Let’s have a practice there, let’s play a game to raise money. There were many good intentions. But we wanted to do something that will keep those 26 people in everyone’s minds forever. Symbolic gestures are important, but they come and go.
“So we decided to do something to be able to educate the dependents and the siblings and as we move forward to raise enough money to sponsor a scholarship in the name of each of those who died that can go on as long as the money lasts. I’m hoping that those who want to do something beyond the symbolic will to see what we are doing.
“Hopefully, we will raise enough money down the road. Maybe something different will happen when a shooting like this takes place. Maybe the shooter won’t end up being as famous as those killed and left behind.
“Maybe kids who dream about going to college but can’t will feel tremendously honored to earn a scholarship named after one of the little Sandy Hook victims.”
Auriemma said his players were deeply impacted by the news. And he admitted he didn’t react well to it on Friday, taking his frustration out on his team.
“Saturday and Sunday there was an incredible awareness of what had happened at practice,” he said. “These are kids who remember what it was like to be in first grade, remember taking the school bus. That something like this could take place deeply affected them, for sure. They all ask me what they can do to help and we told them that at some point, when it is appropriate, we will get them involved.
“They are still young. They haven’t witnessed many things such as this in their lives. We tried to explain the players that it was OK to feel the way they did. I was 10 when President Kennedy was assassinated. And it just has gone on and one [the things you see in life] all the way today. But this cuts the deepest for me.
“I was sitting in my office when the reports started to trickle in. as the numbers kept growing, so did the numbness we all felt to think it was that bad. The players were already practicing, they weren’t as aware as the staff was. You feel so helpless, so powerless. You put yourself into the shoes of the parents, the brothers and sisters. You can’t fathom it.
“No one is equipped to deal with that on any level. Maybe it would have been better had we not even practiced. We got through it, but I wasn’t exactly proud of the way I handled it, to be honest with you.”