Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feature: Torello Embraces Double-Life as Conn. Native, PC Graduate

In the 20-20 hindsight view of his boyhood Connecticut community, Chris Torello is
as good as the Harvey Dent of sports fandom.

The Naugatuck Valley native graduated from Providence College last spring and is
now working as a graduate assistant in the Friars’ athletic program, focusing
on facilities and game-day management. But his immediate and extended family is
saturated with Connecticut Husky colors, particularly with his twin sister and
older cousin having studied in Storrs.

“So you can’t really badmouth UConn in a family setting. It’s almost like you’re a
traitor,” he said.

“And yet,” he added with a laugh, “they ask me for Providence gear all the time.”

“Will I root for the Huskies? Sure,” he continued. “I guess I’m always going to be a
Husky and a Friar, but I’m going to be more of a Friar from now on.”

Since beginning his undergraduate studies in the autumn of 2007, Torello has made a
relatively smooth, 180-degree transition in his allegiances over the Battle for
Southern New England. He has underscored that switch through his involvement in
launching the student booster club, Friar Faithful, and his position as the
“Sports Boss” columnist for the campus newspaper, for which he wrote in an
often partisan manner.

Now working towards a master’s degree in education and counseling at PC, Torello
continues his effort to percolate more passion among student rooters. At the
same time, while voluntarily working overtime in his campus job, he strives to
promote a balanced atmosphere of competition and camaraderie at all school
athletic venues.

“We want to give the ultimate game day experience to our fans, our hometown team
and to our visiting teams,” he said, effectively listing in-game and
out-of-game officials as another one of the visiting teams.

Rabid but rationale, spirited but sportsmanlike, Torello has set a precedent he wants
both the Providence and Connecticut fan bases to follow.

“For me, growing up in Connecticut, I’m very proud of what the University of
Connecticut has accomplished in what seems such a short time,” he said. “What
Jim Calhoun has done, I’m not going to say anything bad about him. I’m just
looking at the positives.

“I’m very proud to have grown up in Connecticut and to know that the University of
Connecticut has grown academically as well as athletically.”

But when one of his UConn counterparts did anything but offer a similar salute to
the Providence athletic program, Torello did not shy away from issuing a frank
counter-rebuke to the fan base of his native state’s signature school.

In November 2009, the men’s soccer team upset the No. 8-ranked Huskies in the Big
East semifinals at none other than UConn’s Morrone Stadium. Three days later,
student-columnist Kevin Vellturo published a commentary in the UConn Daily
Campus, chewing out the Providence players for what he deemed an excessive

Torello, then a PC junior, was especially irked by the allegation, holding that the
Friars were entitled to elation, being the fifth-seeded team in the Big East Blue
Division that had just unseated the top dog on enemy turf.

“I don’t know about you, but if my team was heavily underappreciated, if they were
the underdog, I would want my guys to be going nuts after winning,” Torello
said. “That kind of sparked me to write an article about how I think UConn fans
have become very spoiled. Not only do they expect greatness, but they won’t
show up unless they know they are going to get a win.

“There’s been some frustration on my end because I did grow up in Connecticut. The
marketing and branding is so easy to buy a Nike logo UConn shirt. It’s annoying
that a lot of students and a lot of fans just go to the game thinking ‘It’s
done, we’re going to win this thing, we don’t need to worry about it.’

“With Friar fans, there is so much passion to find a win that when we do win, we’re
overjoyed about it. And yet UConn has the nerve to say to our student-athletes
and to our fans, ‘Well, you’re just sore winners.’ I really don’t appreciate

As one testament to the recent hardship in PC athletics, particularly the flagship
men’s basketball program, Torello witnessed two coaching changes in his time as
an undergraduate. Keno Davis, the brain parent of Friar Faithful, arrived to
begin the 2008-09 season and was canned in favor of Ed Cooley weeks before
Torello’s commencement.

But as one of the fan club’s original torchbearers, the Husky-to-Friar convert is
not about to retract from his own role in stoking the flames of fanfare.

“We have something that not many Big East schools or many national contenders can
say,” Torello said. “You get to be involved in whatever you choose to be
involved with on campus.

“I think we have a chance to show pride not just for basketball, but also every
other sport that we have on campus. Because except for men’s basketball, you
can pretty much walk into any Providence College athletic event for free.

“Will it ever be to a level of what UConn is? No. But you know what? I think Friar
fans are better than UConn fans, and I’ll stick by that.”