It took little time for
to believe in his Weston High (Conn.) boys basketball team
when he became head coach last season.
The Trojans showed their belief in Hvizdo this winter, when they fought to get his job back. He had been banished after a short film he appeared in 10 years ago was brought to the attention of Weston administrators.
Weston will play for the CIAC Class M championship on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena
. Hvizdo will be coaching them. And they've reached the final despite being one of the lowest seeds in the division.
"The energy and the belief that me and my boys and my coaching staff have, and the support of the community has really helped us rise above," Hvizdo said. "(There's been) an amazing amount of energy. Not just physical energy, just energy. We feel it and we're using it and we're playing together. We're playing as a family."
The No. 23 Trojans (14-11) will play No. 5 Valley Regional (Deep River, Conn.) for the title. Follow the game live on Qwixcore
"It was a big-time emotional lift," senior captain Charlie DiPasquale
said of Hvizdo's return. "I really got fired up by it. There's been a lot of emotional ups-and-downs. Having to deal with the adversity, this was the biggest test, and we pulled together.
"There's no reason why we can't pull through this next game and win it all."
Weston had a trying season even before Hvizdo's exile. It was affected early by injuries to three starters, and lost five of its first seven games.
In February, an unidentified person emailed Weston principal Lisa Wolak a link to the movie "Forbidden Fruit". It was a nine-minute film released in 2003, starring a then-actor Hvizdo. It was described as risqué, but didn't feature nudity.
The film rankled Weston administrators.
"It was full of vulgarity, explicit sexual behavior, and raunchy language," Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer said during February's Board of Education meeting. "(It) would not allow him to be a role model."
The Trojans were stunned and wanted Hvizdo back. DiPasquale met with athletic director Mark Berkowitz and Wolak, the latter who he said he's become close friends with through his work as student government president.
"They listened to what I had to say, but said, ‘look, Charlie, there's no way he's going to come back,' " DiPasquale recalled. "‘We understand that he's a great guy, but the decision has been made.
"‘There's not a chance that he's coming back. 100-percent, no."
The story went national and was covered by the likes of CBS Channel 2 in New York
and "Good Morning America". Players, parents and students rallied to support Hvizdo, with around 100 people showing up at February's Board of Ed meeting on his behalf.
Weston administrators relented in early March. Hvizdo returned to the team a day before their first-round state tournament game.
"I really am so grateful for the community of Weston because these people backed me and they fought for me," Hvizdo said. "I owe where we are today to them.
"Before this all happened, I believed we were the type of team that could be in the state championship. It was never a question."
Hvizdo's return was a happy ending to Weston's saga. The Trojans' story then got wilder once the playoffs began.
Weston was seeded 23rd out of 32 teams in Class M. Its first-round game was at No. 10 University High of Hartford.
The Trojans were about to be eliminated when Ethan Lee-Tyson
nailed a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left, giving his team a 54-53 win.
The Trojans went on the road again in the quarterfinals and stunned No. 2 Kaynor Tech of Waterbury, 62-54.
Tuesday, Weston beat No. 6 Enfield, 53-47, to make the tournament final.
"We were always a good team with a good plan, but once the playoffs hit, we got so intense," DiPasquale said. "Our coach came back for our first game, and it provided a spark."
DiPasquale, a wing, is the team's lone senior and has been its best offensive player. Juniors Asher
and Ethan Lee-Tyson (guards), Grant Limone
(power forward), and Pascal Arvoy
(center) round out the starting five.
"I've been on a mission," DiPasquale said. "It's hard to explain. It's just been so intense. We just want it so bad, and we all believe in it so much, that it's going to happen."
Hvizdo said, "They're all great kids. They all work so hard. I'm a true believer that if you put your mind to something, anything can happen. And that's what I've been saying to them every day since I've been back because enough people believed in me when it looked like there was a slim chance of me coming back to this program.
"The rest is history. We're just going on that."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at email@example.com or follow him @MetalNED