- Associated Press - Monday, September 27, 2010

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC (AP) - Betty and Jonathan Hutchinson traveled 4,000 miles by plane and train to Eastern Europe for the women’s world basketball championships, eager to watch Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and anyone else with ties to the University of Connecticut.

The Hutchinsons certainly are dedicated to Huskies hoops. And to each other, too _ she’s 90, he’s 88, and they’re a long, long way from their New Hampshire home.

“Our son Jack really encouraged us to do this,” Jonathan said over breakfast Sunday. “We thought it would be a really great last hoorah.”

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who’s guiding the U.S. team, was astounded when he learned about the couple. He knows the UConn fan base is passionate, but still found it incredible they made the trip.

“It’s unbelievable. I was shocked when I heard they were here,” he said. “I think it makes what we’re doing at Connecticut seem that much more rewarding and important because you have people take it that seriously that they’d come halfway around the world.”

The 56-year-old Auriemma plans to meet with the Hutchinsons _ married 60 years _ before Monday’s game against Canada.

The pair left their home in Concord and flew to Prague before taking a 3 1/2-hour ride to Ostrava to watch the first two rounds. The two have already become instant celebrities. They’ve been given a tour of the town by the president of the local rotary club and were given VIP seats at the arena.

“I don’t know what they are making such a fuss about,” said Jonathan, who graduated UConn in 1943 and played soccer at the school. “My wife and I would have been happy just sitting anywhere. But I learned a long time ago if someone offers you assistance to take it.”

Auriemma has inspired the Hutchinsons, who plan to donate a dollar for every point the U.S. scores during the tournament to the All Baskets Count charity. It’s the same charity that the Huskies coach pledged $50 to for every 3-pointer his team makes during the worlds.

The money will go to the construction of a “House for All Generations,” where young men and women between 18 and 20 years of age will live together and take care of seniors requiring assistance.

“That’s awesome,” said Taurasi, who is Betty’s favorite player. “When you have people that are in a position to help others and actually do it there’s something special to be said about that.”

The Hutchinsons have been helping people for years. Betty was a nurse and teacher before retiring, while Jonathan also taught and coached track and field. The couple met after Betty’s sister lost her husband in World War II. Jonathan had been fraternity brothers with him and the two were married a short time later.

Even though he’s been retired from coaching for a while, Jonathan still has one special athlete he trains: his wife. When he turned 80, the pair ran in the annual Thanksgiving road race in Manchester, Conn. _ where Auriemma lives. She set the course record for her age group that year and has been running ever since.

She trains every day, running a few miles up and down hills near her home. She’ll compete again in the race this year with a new challenge.

“My goal is to put up a record for 90-plus that will stand for a long while,” she said.

Jonathan quickly pointed out: “Until you break it the next year.”