Sports Night highlights personal achievements and teamwork

Nashoba Publishing/John Love
Marilyn Rollins receives a Special Contributor Award from Nashoba Publishing Sports Editor Ken Blanchette.

AREA — Sports Night is the brainchild of Nashoba Publishing sports editor Ken Blanchette. But it’s not just his baby. Like a precocious offspring, the annual event — now in its fifth year — has a life of its own.

Hosted by Nashoba Publishing and sponsored by Greco Graphics in Groton, Sports Night honors teams and athletes from the five schools under the sports writers’ umbrella: Ayer High School, The Bromfield School in Harvard, Groton-Dunstable and North Middlesex regional high schools and the F.W. Parker Essential Charter School.

The athlete honorees and those who support them — coaches, team managers, families, friends and school administrators — are the focus and purpose of Sports Night.

The evening was opened by Nashoba managing editor Kate Walsh.

“By virtue of our chosen professions,” Walsh began, “we journalists are watchers, observers of the behaviors and events that comprise the fabric of life. “We see and we tell your stories.

“I’m not sure how often you notice, but those of you involved in high school sports have a proverbial fly on the wall,” said Walsh, “a watcher who not only sees your wins and your losses, but observes your struggles, and quietly shares them with you.

“He sees when you give your all,” she said, “and he sees when you don’t. Sometimes he quietly says, ‘I know you can do better.’

“He sees not only the winning baskets and the ball well hit,” she said, “but also the silent completion of labors others might not want to do, or the displays of leadership that spur fellow teammates on to greater heights.

“He notices the dedicated presence of unshakable supporters,” Walsh said, “special contributors whose big hearts and generous spirits are as important to winning the game as crossing the finish line first.

“There’s little he doesn’t see — but there’s a lot he won’t tell,” she said. “He’ll report that a game was lost, but the name of the batter who struck out or the fielder who dropped the ball will never leave his pen.

“I can tell you that this observer has been working on tonight for all of the past year. I can tell you that in recent weeks, he has grown teary while writing some of the stories of success amid adversity he has to tell. I can tell you that there’s no one else like him.

“Please join me in inviting to the podium, our favorite sports editor — Ken Blanchette.”

“This year marked the most awards and greatest number of teams ever on the event roster,” Blanchette began, “and some have games tonight.”

But almost all award recipients were there to take their bows and collect perks that included custom plaques and, courtesy of Greco Graphics, complimentary T-shirts.

“These are superb representatives of their schools and they will be missed when they’re gone,” Blanchette said of the athletes.

And their coaches and parents deserve credit, too, he said.

“You have provided me with so many thrills,” said Blanchette, “both individually and collectively, that this night is a small token of the respect I have for you and it’s my way of saying thanks.”

The awards

Special Contributor Awards honor folks who’ve made a difference, on and off the field.

Parents like Marilyn Rollins. “Marilyn has been a passionate fan of Ayer teams and she is noted for pessimism in the face of facts,” said Blanchette. “No lead was ever safe and no team ever produced enough runs for her. Her passion will be missed.”

Ron King was awarded for his contributions to North Middlesex softball and his ability to get his message across to the players. “Ron has forgotten more softball than I’ll ever know,” said North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy. “He would do anything for the kids.”

Groton-Dunstable team managers Drew Berlin and Matt Carter were honored for their similarities and their differences. Carter, also a member of the cross country and track teams, is “fire” because of his intensity, while Berlin is “ice” because of his cool and calm demeanor.

Four seniors received “Unsung Hero” awards. Ayer’s Kenny Rollins, Liz Lee, of Bromfield, Ricky Akins, of Groton-Dunstable, and Kim Jaksina, of North Middlesex.

Rollins has enjoyed an outstanding baseball career and was a starting guard on the basketball team, but his emergence as the quarterback of the football team without previous experience showcased his maturation. “He learned on the fly,” said Blanchette.

“Lee would be the number one runner at most schools,” he said. “She’s had a brilliant career and she is quiet and unassuming until it is time to compete. Then she is all business and puts the team first.”

Akins played soccer and basketball and was an “undersized” forward who took the ball to the basket with gusto. “Ricky always played his best when it meant the most and he has been a great role model for younger players.”

Jaksina, who played lacrosse, field hockey and was a goaltender on the hockey team, is talented, fair-minded, with an array of talents hard to replace. “She’s a coach’s delight and is a great example of what a high school athlete should be,” Blanchette said.

A new set of awards, the 100 Percent Effort Awards, were presented for the first time and went to Leda Tornaritis, of Groton-Dunstable, Emileigh Cenedella, of North Middlesex, and Bromfield’s Bo Dunn.

On the soccer field, Tornaritis scored “quality goals most other players could only dream about,” said Blanchette. “On the basketball court, she showed a dogged determination defensively and her sacrifices offensively created team balance. She’s a great kid.”

Cenedella made an impression with her spiking ability on the volleyball court. “Emileigh lacked the size of a normal spiker, and did it from further back, but make no mistake about it, she hit the ball unlike any girl I have covered before or since,” said Blanchette. “She has also really improved on the softball field. In a world where we tend to try to equalize things, her dedication, competitiveness and commitment have been a breath of fresh air.”

“Bo Dunn has been a devastating middle distance runner at the league, District and State levels and has been an intrical part of the great Lady Trojans’ track teams,” said Blanchette. “But where she really showed what she was made of was when she stepped out of her comfort zone and became a force in cross country.”

Shannon Van Riper, of Groton-Dunstable, received the Perseverance Award. “Shannon has dealt with a lot of speed bumps, but persevered,” said Blanchette. “Misfortune causes some people to pack it in, but she never quit and finished with a great soccer season.”

Captains Awards went to Ben Brown and Brian Morgan, both from Bromfield.

Blanchette hailed these two team captains as “best of the best,” and questioned whether they’re better as captains or kids. He settled on a tie.

Brown has a great work ethic, competitive fire and drive, he said. He played basketball, soccer and lacrosse and was vital to all those teams. Personable and polite, “I’ve never seen him on a down day,” he said.

Morgan, who played basketball and soccer, is quiet, leads by example and has earned his teammates’ respect.

Athletic Director Awards

One of the features of Sports Night has been the athletic directors from the five schools picking an award winner of their own. They shared their insight about the athletes they chose.

Ayer High School A.D. Justin Lamoreaux chose to honor Abe Sifakis. “Abe’s been a tremendous role model and has been a key member of a strong track team,” said Lamoreaux. Sifakis, tenth in his graduating class academically, is headed to the United States Coast Guard Academy next year, where he will major in management.

Bromfield A.D. Pam Alexander honored Alex Calderwood. “What does it mean to excel on and off the playing field? To be the best you can be?” she asked. Calderwood, a runner since freshman year, is “all of the above and then some,” Alexander said. Captain of the cross country team, indoor and outdoor track, he’s dedicated to his teammates and displays a “desire to excel,” she said. And “it’s only the beginning” of a streak she predicted will continue in his college career.

North Middlesex A.D. Tim McCormick honored David Hausherr, who he said was an easy pick. “As a runner, he’s a feared competitor who is loved by his teammates,” said McCormick. “This was his best year yet.” Hausherr accepted a scholarship to LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

Groton-Dunstable A.D. Dan Twomey honored Ali McLeod. “In a roomful of the area’s best, MacLeod is one of those athletes who goes above and beyond,” said Twomey. “She has tremendous natural ability and has participated in three sports for four years: soccer, basketball and track. She’s an old school kind of player, who starts early and stays late. She’s committed to community service and other team members.”

Parker School A.D. Ben Benoit chose soccer and track and field star Sean Holman. Absent “flashy” statistics, Holman could control the sweeper position on the soccer field and was the youngest captain he’s ever named, Benoit said. “He leads by example. He’s versatile and excelled in a number of track and field events,” Benoit said. Holman will attend U. Mass, Dartmouth. Benoit predicted he’ll “impact” that track and field program, too.

Sports Editor Awards

Ken Blanchette said he’s not impressed with all-stars, per se, but he admires the many-tiered attributes and accomplishments of high school athletes, coaches and supportive parents.

“Just how do you win a Sports Editor’s Award?” asked Blanchette. “First, I must like you, that’s number one,” he said. He sketched a verbal caricature of himself perched on his well known lawn chair, royally accepting snacks from players, Dr. Pepper and Ding Dongs at the top of his list. But being coachable and team-oriented trumps cakes and soda every time,” he said. “Just go out and do your best, respect your opponents.” Those are winning criteria in his book.

“Cliff Schultz is a poster child for everything I believe in,” he said. “The Ayer High School basketball player is “coach-able, team-oriented and accepted his leadership role. He may not jump out at first, but … he can be counted on to do the right thing,” he said.

Henley Siegrist was an important member of the soccer, basketball and track teams at Bromfield. “Henley has blossomed into a leader and her maturity has enhanced her considerable upside,” said Blanchette.

Chris Chenelle, of Groton-Dunstable, played hard, was a rugged competitor on the soccer team and has enjoyed an outstanding baseball career. “Chris showed guts and guile to escape a tough situation and allow the Crusaders to win possibly the best baseball game I have ever covered,” said Blanchette. “He has shown both physical and mental toughness.”

Corey Conner, of North Middlesex, was a team barometer whose dedication never wavered. “Cory is a positive role model who makes her coaches smile,” said Blanchette. “In basketball, cross country and track, she could be counted upon to do things right.”

Student Athlete Awards went to those who stood out in class and on the field. Blanchette called the schools for picks in this category.

The winners: Miranda Carlson, Ayer High; Casey Silver, Bromfield; Ryan Barrett, Groton-Dunstable; Kelly Donovan, North Middlesex; and Tom Christie, Parker School.

Carlson is a consistent player and student achiever. A member of the National Honor Society and role model for her peers, she ranks second in a senior class of 91, and will graduate with 24 college credits.

Silver has a varied resume, earning 13 varsity letters in several sports and ranking second in her class academically. She’s also a member of the student council and a Harvard EMT. Her guidance counselor said there are “not enough accolades to describe her.”

Barrett shows “nonstop” hustle as a player and is a top-level student leader with a solid work ethic. He was also noted for his commitment to Special Olympics. His science teacher said he helps fellow students and is “super competitive.” Teacher Carol Case said he works diligently and is a “true friend.”

Donovan plays baseball and soccer, is a member of the National Honor Society and in the top five percent of her class. She challenges herself with tough courses and is self-motivated, said her teachers, who used an array of superlative adjectives to describe her.

Christie was a three-sport star at Parker School, which he entered in seventh grade. A distance runner and avid sports historian whose reading list favors Shakespeare, marine biology and physics, he runs “like a man among boys,” said Parker athletic director Ben Benoit.

Male and Female Athlete of the Year awards went to Ayer High’s Charlie Jones; Groton-Dunstable’s Ali MacLeod; and Lindsey Burke and Josh Lyvers, both of Bromfield. “It was important to have two choices for each award because all four of these athletes are deserving,” said Blanchette.

Jones’ sports resume includes track, basketball and football. Quick, durable and ultra-competitive, with great moves and a strong desire that exceeded his size. “Charlie’s name will figure prominently in the history of Ayer sports,” said Blanchette.

MacLeod is a “bundle of energy” who often sang the National Anthem before a game to release some of her exuberance. Blanchette referred to her as a split atom. “Once Ali got that split atom going in the right direction, she was a force in soccer, basketball and track,” he said.

Burke is a versatile athlete who played soccer, basketball and chose baseball over softball. “Lindsey was all about respect,” said Blanchette. “She was willing to put it all on the line and proved the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“Josh Lyvers is the best clutch athlete I have ever covered,” said Blanchette. “He scored two overtime goals, which clinched State soccer championships, and his play on the basketball court in the post-season of his senior season reinforced how he rose to the occasion.”

The Teams: Of the seven teams honored at Sports Night, five received special awards and two were chosen teams of the year.

Earning special team awards were the Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team, the Groton-Dunstable girls basketball team, the Bromfield boys basketball team, the Bromfield girls soccer team, and the Bromfield girls alpine ski team.

“The Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team improved from two wins last season to 15 this season,” said Blanchette. “They did it with a young team and have a great future in front of them. The Groton-Dunstable girls basketball team is the hardest working team I have ever covered and made it to the Central Mass. Division 2 finals for the second consecutive year. The Bromfield boys basketball team put it all together late in the season and captured a Central Mass. Division 3 championship, handing West Boylston its only two losses of the season. The Bromfield girls soccer team used improved physical and mental toughness to win its first ever Central Mass. Division 3 championship. The Bromfield girls alpine ski team wrapped up a sensational unbeaten season by capturing a stage championship. The team was comprised of girls from Bromfield, Littleton and Parker School.

The final awards of the night were the Female and Male Teams of the Year, and were just as much for extended brilliance as for a great individual season.

The Bromfield girls indoor track team was recognized for its third consecutive State championship. With an exceptional array of talent, the Lady Trojans overwhelmed the competition at both the District and State levels.

The Bromfield boys soccer team captured its second State championship in three years, and finished a four-year span with a record of 76-7-7.