Over homecoming weekend, UConn football made history—and teachers from every corner of the state were at Rentschler Field to see it.
With a final score of 13-3, the Huskies clinched a major win against rival Boston College—the first ever in the team’s history—and CEA got the celebration started early.
“We welcomed more than 100 educators along with their spouses, children, parents, and friends to our annual CEA Teacher Tailgate,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “Every year we see so many new faces and familiar ones. It’s absolutely wonderful.”
“It’s always great to come together as a community and get engaged in something fun outside of school,” CEA Treasurer Stephanie Wanzer agreed.
Food, fun, fellowship
The tailgate, organized by CEA Communications staff and sponsored by California Casualty, included an all-you-can-eat hot breakfast for CEA members and guests, along with music, a fan photo booth, and games of cornhole, football toss, can jam, and ladder golf. Teachers were also treated to dozens of prizes that included CEA Member Benefits and UConn Neag School of Education swag, as well as raffle prizes donated by UConn, The Bushnell, and other CEA Member Benefits partners.
Raffle winner and fifth-year high school math teacher Emily Bengtson was one of a contingent of Manchester educators who turned out for the tailgate.
“We have a strong, supportive union, and we love coming here together,” Bengtson said.
Fellow Manchester High School teacher Arthur Koba, a UConn marching band alumnus in his third year as an educator, was a first-timer at the CEA tailgate, as was the town’s Waddell School kindergarten team—teacher besties Jodi Clare, Sabrina Torres, and Giulietta O’Coin.
“I’d heard good things about the tailgate,” said Koba, “and I have to say, it’s a lot of fun, the food and company are great, and it’s an excellent reminder of the benefits of belonging to a union. Our union is critical, because you need someone to negotiate for literally everything. Go to a state where there’s no teachers’ union, and you’ll see what a mess it is for our colleagues there.”
East Hartford Education Association President Paul Apostalon agreed. “I like to participate in CEA events, be involved, and talk to other educators. Your union is an investment in your profession. Think about what CEA does legislatively—like our huge victories this year on dual instruction and indoor air quality. Member benefits and events like the annual tailgate are an added bonus.”
CREC teacher Beth Zaffina was glad for the chance to mingle with fellow teachers—something she’d missed over the pandemic.
“I’ve run in the marathon to benefit the Connecticut Education Foundation, and I’m so happy to be back doing things in person with my colleagues from around the state,” she said.
In addition to those who teach at CREC, Manchester, and East Hartford public schools, teachers came from Ashford, Bloomfield, Brookfield, Coventry, Danbury, East Haven, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Granby, Hamden, Hebron, New Hartford, New Milford, Newington, North Haven, Pomperaug, Rocky Hill, Stamford, Torrington, Trumbull, and Waterbury.
“We were so excited to hear about this awesome event and to be here with everyone on a great day like this,” said Danbury teacher Teresa Morais. “When I saw the email, I thought, this sounds like a lot of fun! Plus, CEA was able to offer discounted tickets, so we got excellent seats for a reasonable price. We are stronger together, and we’re grateful to CEA for everything they do for us in our day-to-day—supporting us, getting us the best contracts we can get, and working hard to improve our salary schedule and working conditions. In Danbury, we just had our contract ratified, and our CEA UniServ Rep has been phenomenal.”
“We’re huge UConn fans, so we try to make it to as many home games as we can,” said Ashford teacher Shawn Dimmock, who attended with her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Delaney. “We, too, have been taking advantage of CEA’s discounted UConn tickets, and once we found there was a teacher tailgate, we were all in.” She added, “Last year was a very difficult school year for our district, and CEA helped us through it every step of the way.”
Region 15 Rochambeau Middle School teacher Geri-Ann Ristow hadn’t been to a UConn sporting event since before COVID and welcomed the chance to meet up with family and celebrate with colleagues.
“It’s wonderful to be able to come together as teachers, thanks to CEA, and feel recognized for all of our hard work through COVID,” Ristow said.
“Our children—all of them—are UConn students or graduates, and there’s such a great spirit of community here,” North Haven teacher Larissa Opramolla noted, adding, “You have to realize where teachers came from. Those who have been in the profession a long time started when wages and benefits were not very good. Through the union, we have fair wages and good benefits, and we appreciate all that our union has done for us. We like opportunities to gather together and support each other.”
While a number of tailgaters were UConn parents, graduates, or both, several were BC alums and parents showing their Eagles pride. In addition to active teachers, tailgaters also included retired and aspiring educators.
CEA-Retired teacher Heidi Wilson, former membership chair for the Torrington Education Association, enjoys staying connected and urges her colleagues to do the same.
“We give CEA-Retired membership as a gift to every one of our retiring teachers in Torrington so that they stay involved and connected,” Wilson said. “There is such great value to belonging to a union. It provides financial protection, a good pension, healthcare benefits, and a collective voice so that active and retired teachers are heard and respected. It’s important, too, that CEA Member Legal Services has teachers’ backs. They do such an amazing job. It’s hard to imagine, but you could lose your entire livelihood based on something a student or parent says—so to have that protection is critical.”