The moment of silence before Saturday's Hartford-UConn women's basketball game was punctuated by the somber ringing of a bell 26 times to commemorate the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.
It was Chris Petersen's second moment of silence of the day. His first came at his sixth-grade son's basketball game that morning in Newtown.
Petersen, a University of Hartford baseball player who played with Jeff Bagwell and graduated in 1989, has lived in Newtown for six years. Three of his five children — his twin daughter and son, and his stepson — are fourth-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It doesn't get easier," said Petersen, who teaches middle school history in Ridgefield. "I think the first few days you're in shock, but when you see all the people caring and loving, that's what really gets you. It really has been incredible. The phone hasn't stopped ringing since it happened. Everybody says, 'What can we do, what can we do?'"
One of those calls came from Hartford baseball coach Justin Blood. What could he do? How about bringing some of the girls from the Newtown Youth Basketball League, where Petersen coaches a team, to the UConn-Hartford game?
"He said, 'Bring as many as you want,'" Petersen said. 'I said, 'It's sold-out.' He goes, 'Don't worry.' It ended up pretty cool, because there are still services going on, so to get 150 people here was pretty cool."
There were about 85 kids; the rest were parents. Petersen's thought: Get them out of Newtown for a day, where day-to-day life has been overwhelming lately between the stream of funeral processions and the large media presence.
Some of the girls stood with the Hartford and UConn players while the bell was rung and the national anthem was played. They brought T-shirts and teddy bears and gave them to the players.
UConn's Bria Hartley, who scored 15 points in the 102-45 UConn victory, brought two teddy bears with her to the postgame press conference.
"The kids want to give," Petersen said. "They've been getting so much. So they gave [the players] the T-shirts and teddy bears. I've talked to people in the community, and they want to start giving back. You feel better when you give. We need to start feeling good. I think that's what you are going to see, a lot of Newtown people are going to start giving back."
Hartford senior guard Daphne Elliott was moved by the pregame ceremony. The players wore patches on their uniforms, and there was a new green ribbon decal on the Chase Arena floor.
"A couple of us wrote SH on our shoes," Elliott said. "I think it was important to recognize those little girls and boys who went through what they did in their town."
Three of Petersen's children were in the school when the shooting occurred.
"They heard things," he said. "They didn't see anything. The teachers did an unbelievable job. The police did an unbelievable job."
"It's tough for the older kids, too. [His other children] were in sixth grade and seventh and they were locked down, too, and they knew what was going on. It's been an emotional time for everyone, not just the kids in the school, but other kids as well."
He said he hasn't really talked to his kids that much about the shootings, other than to ask if they're OK. They nod, he said.
"I just let them talk, let things come out," he said. "I'm not trying to push them."
Meanwhile, the kids were enjoying the moment Saturday, despite the solemnity of the occasion and the reason they were there. There was a sellout crowd at the University of Hartford, and they were standing on the same court as Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris and Bria Hartley.
"Kids are more resilient than adults," Petersen said. "We comprehend things and we overthink things."
On Friday, the Harlem Globetrotters went to the Newtown Youth Academy, a sports center in town where some of the Sandy Hook kids, who didn't have school all week, have been spending their days recently. Former UConn star and WNBA MVP Tina Charles was there later Saturday. The Houston Dynamos MLS soccer team is flying in from Houston in January to do a clinic.
"It's really nice to get the kids distracted from what's going on," Petersen said.