April 7, 2011
Qui Transtulit Sustinet
Those are the words on that banner-thingy at the bottom of the State Seal of Connecticut. Our Latin state motto roughly translates to, "He who transplanted continues to sustain." Most believe the motto to be an adaptation from Psalms in the Bible. If it were a more modern saying, and not featured prominently on our flag since 1897, I'd doubt that citation. The grape vines featured in the seal and on the flag, coupled with the motto are supposed to invoke an image of divine inspiration for our little state.
The "Qui" probably refers to the big guy - God - the head honcho. Perhaps, it might allegorically allude to one of the first English settlers who set out from the Boston area in 1633 to establish trading posts and plant grapes along the Connecticut River. I can't imagine any cabernets or chardonnays getting their starts in the soil around Hartford, so I'm skeptical of this metaphor too. Yet, I suppose I'm willing to concede, Qui probably equals God in the motto. However, one must admit, if a Latin scholar were to pen the words today, at the risk of offending the good Lord, there might be even greater confusion amongst Connecticut residents with regard to whom he was referring.
After all, a person who has had more influence on our state over the last quarter century than any other arrived in 1986, on May 15th, to be precise. Another person of European descent - not English, but Irish ventured from Boston to the land of steady habits. He had scouted the area closer to the Sound with a high school coaching gig back in 1968-69, and must have liked it enough to set up permanent shop a bit more inland in Connecticut almost 25 years ago now.
He inherited, not fertile river silt on which to plant grapes, but rather a program rich in a regional tradition of excellence and recent disappointment. The UConn men's basketball team was a Yankee Conference power in the middle of the last century, and it was one of a handful of New England teams to occasionally make a splash with a win or two in the NCAA tournament. Yet, by 1986, the Huskies regularly resided near the cellar of the Big East, and a win over a Syracuse, St. John's, Georgetown, or Villanova was akin to scaling Everest.
In the 80's, Connecticut high school stars with names like Pinone, Pressley, and Jensen made a habit of going to Villanova. Bridgeport's Charles Smith and John Bagley went to Pitt and Boston College respectively. Some of the Big East's best players were from Connecticut, but they wore colors other than national flag blue and white. Avoiding the 8-9 game in the conference tournament was considered an accomplishment.
He who transplanted us said winning at UConn was "doable", when almost everyone else thought he was crazy. Many still think he's crazy, but he did it. Jim Calhoun transplanted all of us.
He transplanted his success at Northeastern to the northeastern part of the Constitution State. Jeff King and Phil Gamble sat atop the backboard in the Garden. Chris Smith and Scott Burrell said yes. Tate hit a shot. Donyell, Ray, Rip, Caron, Ben and many more made conference titles the norm. Coach K. got KO'd by Khalid and his mates in St. Pete. Emeka and the guys stung the Yellow Jackets at the Alamo. And now, Kemba and his cast are back in Storrs with more hardware.
Along the way, he chewed a lot of gum tenaciously, answered one of every three reporter's questions with the introduction of an obvious truth using the phrase, "Quite frankly," and resisted the temptation to finish the expression the way Rhett Butler would have. He pummeled cancer into submission three times, reached the pinnacle of his profession, and became a Hall of Famer.
He, more than anyone is responsible for every graduate of the University of Connecticut since 1990 meeting someone for the first time anywhere in the country and being able to say, "I went to UConn," and have the other person nod and smile without thinking about a territory in Canada.
The transplantation got fertilization, nurturing, and care from presidents, politicians, trustees, faculty, and athletic directors, and it all resulted in a cow college/suitcase campus being rebuilt and transforming itself from a regional university to a national one. Applications, SAT scores, and qualifications of incoming freshmen have skyrocketed at the state's flagship university as the vines have grown stronger and stronger.
Like any successful human being on the planet, he's made enemies. He's taken slings and arrows like the toughest kid on the block takes spitballs in the back of the head. He gets scary better with every punch taken. For God's sake, before coaching basketball, this guy was a factory worker, grave digger, granite cutter, and headstone engraver. Why don't you go and tell him to quit while he's ahead? Go ahead, pick a fight. You're gonna lose.
This is supposed to be a UConn baseball blog, and it is. As he's transplanted us, he's always had time to be incredibly charming to UConn baseball recruits and their families. He's never turned down a request from a program that attempts to emulate his every day. Aside from a predilection for the Red Sox that can be explained away by his being born within a T-ride of Fenway, I have a tough time finding a flaw.
Qui is probably God. Yet, another big guy has also transplanted us. And, this year, when he's taken more hits than ever before, when we've had the longest winter in our history, when our state budget deficit looms large, and when almost nobody expected the Huskies to win, he has sustained us beautifully. I know I'm not alone in hoping he continues to sustain us for a very long time. Congratulations, Coach, and thank you for a job well done.