Hartford hosts UConn title parade
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma told the fans who turned out at Sunday's parade for his national champion Huskies not to expect another 39-0 season next year.
"The only reason I say that is because if we play every game and win 'em, I think we can go 40-0," he said to thunderous applause.
A crowd estimated by police at 25,000 lined downtown streets on a sunny afternoon to celebrate the programs' sixth national championship and third perfect season in 14 years.
Richard Machia, of Bristol, said he's attended every victory parade since UConn won its first championship in 1995.
"I wouldn't miss it," the 62-year-old said. "With the recession the way that is, this shows there is some good in the world."
The Huskies dominated women's basketball this season, going 39-0 and beating opponents by an average of better than 30 points. They capped the season on April 7 in St. Louis with a 76-54 victory over Big East rival Louisville, moving them closer to arch rival Tennessee's eight championships.
This was the first chance for many Connecticut fans to celebrate that win. Victor Rodriguez, of Hartford, took his 10-year-old granddaughter to the parade.
"This team put us on the map," he said. "Geno is God."
The players climbed on to the top of a double-decker bus and followed bands, politicians and even the state's Siberian husky club for the 50-minute parade, which ended with a rally at the Statehouse.
"Seeing all those faces, it was amazing," senior guard Renee Montgomery said. "It was an unbelievable feeling. I couldn't believe that all those people came out just to see us."
But the crowd was well short of the 300,000 people who in 2004 celebrated the duel championships won by the UConn men and women.
"Maybe we've just gotten used to it. People are a little spoiled maybe," said Joy Mouland, of Rocky Hill, who took her 16- and 10-year-old daughters to see the Huskies. "I think [this team] really portrays young women in a positive light. They are good students. They are good athletes. They are very positive role models today."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the women gave the state a happy diversion from all the bad economic news of the winter. There was almost no grumbling over the price tag for the event, estimated at about $50,000.
The Hartford Business Improvement District's executive director, Michael Zaleski, said organizers raised about $40,000 from private donors and received in-kind donations, including use of the bus.
Auriemma told the crowd that as good as the celebration made the state feel, he also enjoyed it for another reason.
"The one thing that we get a kick out of, all of us, is that whenever we have these parades," he said, "the doctor's offices in Tennessee are filled with people who get sick."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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