Weaver, ranked No. 25 in Class S, has transformed itself from an upstart to a participant in the championship game against No. 3 Granby on Saturday (9:30 a.m.) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.
Luster Leads Valley Regional Into Class M Boys Basketball Title Game
"Our team is carrying on the great basketball tradition that won seven state titles before them, the community-based sense of pride that permeates from Main Street, to Granby Street, to Albany Avenue," Weaver coach Charles Silvan said Thursday. "When Weaver plays, it unites the entire North End community."
Weaver last won a state championship in 2007, beating Maloney-Meriden for the Class L title. Throughout its history, it is 7-5 in state championship games.
Since winning the 2007 title, Weaver twice failed to qualify for the postseason, was beaten once in the first round of the Class L tournament, once in the second round of the Class L tournament and once in a Class M quarterfinal.
But in recent weeks, the Weaver community has had much to celebrate in terms of boys basketball. The team finished the regular season 8-12, just qualifying for the state tournament by winning the minimum 40 percent of its games, but it has won four consecutive games to reach the final.
Many fans, wearing "Bleed Green" T-shirts, representing the school color, filled the bleachers behind the Weaver bench Wednesday night at Maloney-Meriden as the Beavers defeated Old Lyme 69-59 in a semifinal.
"When I played at Weaver, it was one of the most talented athletic schools in the state," said Ashon "Big Chewy" Avent, who played in the 1990s and whose son is a starting forward this year. "But in recent years, there have been a lot of negative connotations about the school and the neighborhood. Sometimes people don't give it a fair shake. There's a lot that's good at Weaver."
Andre Fair, a Weaver teammate of Avent Sr., also has a son on the team. Ke'Andre Fair is the highest-scoring freshman in Connecticut (21.3 ppg). Andre Fair said that his son had been contacted by many prep schools to play basketball before this season, but he decided to attend Weaver.
"It's about keeping tradition and helping bring Weaver back," Ashon Avent Jr. said. "And our success and our fans, it all just motivates us that we're all bonded together, while Weaver's being torn apart."
The Weaver that was built in the 1970s is a deteriorating shell today. And soon it could be a memory.
A $100 million proposal to renovate Weaver by fall 2017 is awaiting state legislative approval. The Journalism & Media Academy is scheduled to be moved to Tower Avenue in Hartford next academic year. Its other academy, Culinary Arts, might be moved, too.
Faculty director Wakime Hauser said that the current combined enrollment for both Weaver academies is about 500, with about 220 boys. When Weaver was built, it was designed for more than 2,000 students.
Hauser, Weaver's assistant varsity and junior varsity coach, said that the Weaver girls and boys basketball teams should be able to play in the Doc Hurley Field House on campus next season. "But during the proposed renovation, we could be without [the facility] for one season," he said.
Ke'Andre Fair and his teammates are aware of all the talk about the demise of Weaver. They don't dwell on it. They're determined to bring life back to the boys program. The girls program has been highly successful recently. The girls lost in the Class M semifinals Monday but went to the state finals in 2011 and 2012, winning a title last year. The boys want to do the same.
"We're in the process of building [boys] basketball back up, where it used to be," he said. "We feel it, bringing the life back."
The most popular symbol of the revival is the "Bleed Green" T-shirts. It was Hauser's idea in the fall to promote basketball and other sports at Weaver.
Shirts were given to the 14 members of the basketball team. Soon parents and fans ordered their own. The number of T-shirts has grown to more than 100.
"Now everyone wants a T-shirt," Ke'Andre Fair said. "It's really happening."
On Wednesday, Ke'Andre's father, along with Ashon Avent Sr. and Reggie Hatchett, a teammate in the 1990s, proudly wore their "Bleed Green" T-shirts for the Old Lyme game.
"In recent years some Weaver alumni turned their backs and weren't coming to games or supporting the team because it wasn't doing well and what was happening to the school," said Hatchett, a longtime successful AAU youth coach in Hartford. "But people are coming back. In my day it was a badge of honor that you played for Weaver. It's that today, too."
Winning a basketball game certainly can't renovate Weaver or generate money for improvements. Still, it's a positive start.
"If we win Saturday, it shows we're part of the reconstruction, to start to rebuild everything about Weaver," Silvan said. "There's confusion and uncertainty of its future. What we've done has kind of healed a lot of that. To get the alumni back, that pride back, means so much."
Alumni and former players will wear their "Bleed Green" T-Shirts at Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday.
"I'll wear a blue jacket, khaki pants, a green shirt and a green tie," Silvan said. "And as I've done for every game this year, I'll have on my 'Bleed Green' T-shirt underneath my shirt. It's just right in every regard."