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Fans Call City Warm, Albeit Cold

March 5, 2006
By MARYELLEN FILLO, Courant Staff Writer

Hartford did its best Saturday to extend a warm welcome to basketball fans attending the Big East women's tournament.

But Mother Nature kind of cooled it down for some. For as the city waited with open arms and amenities including guides, shuttles and reams of information on how to get out and have fun, unusually cold weather kept many visitors, especially newcomers from warmer parts of the country, inside.

"We haven't seen anything in Hartford yet," said Ruth Vissman, a Florida resident who arrived Friday to watch her granddaughter, Louisville guard Connie Neal, play in Saturday's opening game against West Virginia.

"We actually stayed inside the hotel last night because it was just too cold to go out," said Vissman, a former Louisville resident.

Michael Friedmann, senior meteorologist at Fox 61 News, said Friday night's low in Hartford was 22 degrees and the wind-chill factor was close to zero into early Saturday morning. At noon Saturday the temperature was 34 degrees in Hartford but the wind-chill was 10 degrees below that, he said.

Others said although the weather wasn't the best, the city seemed to be a gracious host.

"We were surprised at all the snow here," said Tom Heeney, who drove from his home in Washington, D.C., to watch his niece, Katie Olson, a guard for Louisville, play in the first round. "The traffic was pretty much the same as D.C.," said Heeney, who had no trouble maneuvering the city's streets. "But we did have a wonderful dinner at a place called Peppercorn's and are putting together a plan for what we'll be doing after the game today."

A crowd of thousands is expected in the city over the weekend for the basketball games, which continue through Tuesday. It will be the first Hartford visit for many fans of Big East newcomers Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati.

"I think everything's been grand although I do wish there was more shopping in the city," said Jan Theriault, a Milwaukee native and Marquette fan who flew from her home in Indiana to Bradley International Airport early Saturday morning. "The people at the airport helped me get a taxi down to Hartford and the people at the hotel were very welcoming," she said about the Holiday Inn Express. "I haven't really had a chance to walk around the city yet but so far, so good."

Her niece, Jennifer, drove in Saturday from New York.

"This is my first time to Hartford, too," she said. "But I didn't have any trouble getting in and parking wasn't a problem and really pretty reasonable," she said, referring to the flat $10 special rate city garages were offering to those attending the games. "But after the Marquette game I think we'll be going to a mall rather than staying in the city," she said. "It's not a vacation for me if there's not some shopping."

Others, however, said they did plan to take advantage of the city's red carpet welcome and visit local clubs, museums, and have some fun while they were in town.

"I want to find a place to dance," said Trish Olson, Katie's mother, as she and the others waited for the Louisville game to begin.

Others admitted shyly that they had to get a map to find Hartford in preparation for their trip.

"I really never heard of it and had to look it up to find out where I was going," said Chandra Jones, a Louisville sophomore who plays in the university band. "We got in really late so all I've seen is the skyline outside of my hotel window but the city looks beautiful."

Amid the brightly colored conference banners that lined Trumbull Street, the disc jockey and the face painters who served as part of the welcoming committee in the Civic Center, was the sheer excitement that goes with being a fan during the post-season.

"I'm just so excited that my team is here," said Becky Gallo, who traveled from Milwaukee to watch her team, Marquette, play Villanova. "A bunch of us took a red eye and got in early this morning and so far all we've seen is our hotel room. But we picked up a bunch of stuff from the welcome desk here," she said, waving a sheaf of information on restaurants, plays, exhibits and other activities in town. "I am sure we'll find something to do."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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