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DEVENS – The ninth annual Nashoba Publishing Sports Night was held at Devens Common last Thursday night. It was a success, but there was an element missing.

Event founder Ken Blanchette was absent.

The longtime sports editor for Nashoba Publishing’s six weekly newspapers is noted for the enthusiasm – some might call it dogged determination – with which he coordinates and promotes and plans Sports Night each year, down to the last detail.

Blanchette’s commitment comes from his unwavering respect for high-school sports and the kids who play them.
He taps athletic directors and coaches for nominees and makes some picks of his own, but as Blanchette states every year, Sports Night honorees don’t have to be all-stars.

Observing them at the many games he covers, talking with athletic directors, coaches and teachers, Blanchette singles out admirable qualities: humility, grit, grace under fire, the special spark that makes these student athletes stand out, on and off the playing field.

His top criterion is simple. Nobody makes the cut without it. “First, I have to like you.”

Blanchette had to sit this one out, having suffered a series of strokes two weeks before the event. But thanks to Derek Blanchette, Ken’s son, who assumed his dad’s role and many others at the newspaper, Sports Night went ahead as planned.
Except for a couple of plaques that didn’t arrive on time, the program went perfectly. Accolades and awards were presented with alacrity and accepted with aplomb.

Workers Credit Union, which serves 69,000 members, co-sponsored Sports Night again this year with Nashoba Publishing.
WCU Senior Vice President Dave Rogers shared some of his own youthful sports memories as he congratulated the honorees. Citing local roots, Rogers said he graduated from Groton High School 51 years ago. Recalling those who inspired him then, he reminded them of the important roles their coaches, school administrators and especially their families had played in their success.

“Enjoy it with them,” he said.

Rogers urged the young athletes to follow in their mentors’ footsteps, to “give back,” perhaps by coaching a Little League team someday.
100% effort

Groton-Dunstable Athletic Trainer Steve Kleeman presented the 100% Effort Award to Rachel Silveria.
Quoting famed inventor Thomas Edison, Kleeman said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Rachel would not be daunted by that image, he said. Rather, she works hard at play and practice, always with a smile.
Rachel captained Girls’ Lacrosse and Varsity Soccer teams this year, playing both games with determined spirit, and the same goes for her performance in the classroom. Based on her high-school career, “We expect something special from you,” Kleeman said.
Leadership

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School Athletic Director Ben Benoit presented the leadership award to Sami Dokus. It was not given lightly, he said. One of Parker’s strengths is instilling leadership, so he had several choices, but Dokus was the most deserving.

A three-star athlete – in track and field, soccer and basketball – Dokus was the best player he had coached in 16 years, he said. A team player who inspires others, she had a strong season this year and was a “clear leader,” he said.

North Middlesex Regional High School Boys Track Coach Ed Panacoat presented the leadership award to Mike Skelly, whose sports included track and field and indoor track starting in his freshman year. He went on to play baseball and became a league all-star.

A “solid runner,” he anchored the track team, which achieved a school record this year. It’s phenomenal to have a natural leader I could count on,” said Panacoat, who also teaches math and has Skelly as a student.

Bromfield Soccer Coach B.J. Pescia said she’d coached leadership award-winner Katja Lierhaus for four years. “She made varsity as a freshman,” Pescia said.

Tall and strong, she was shy at first but a hard worker who did homework on the team bus. Lierhaus was also on the rowing team that won a state championship. “Crew is a tough sport,” Pescia noted.

Lierhaus excels in sports and academics and will attend Harvard University next year.

Ayer-Shirley Regional High School girls basketball coach Peter Page gave the leadership award to Jillian Spann. She is “integral” to the sports program,” he said.

Besides the basketball and track teams, she’s on the Human Rights Squad and takes AP courses, Page said. “She tries to do better every day and leads by example.
Student-athlete

Parker’s Ben Benoit gave Keith Rossi the Student-Athlete award. It was an “easy choice,” he said. Rossi is the best distance runner in the school’s history.

When he came to Parker six years ago, he was long-haired and eager, Benoit recalled. Now, he has set the cross country course record he’d been eyeing since seventh grade, made league champion for three seasons and helped the team qualify for state finals.

“He runs as hard as he can every step of the way,” Benoit said of Rossi, who will major in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech next year.

Ayer-Shirley Guidance Counselor Amy Allaire gave the Student-Athlete award to Ally Fillebrown.

“I’ve known Ally since middle school,” Allaire said. As an athlete, she played basketball, softball and volleyball in season and displayed an impressive work ethic in academics as well. Respectful of teammates, she is “truly a great role model” on the court and in class.

With honors and AP courses to her credit, Ally will attend Assumption College next year. She has served on the student counsel, was inducted into the National Honor Society and is this year’s class salutatorian. Dedicated to her studies and always curious, “she truly wants to learn,” Allaire continued. “She has left a lasting impact on our school.”

Bromfield Field Hockey Coach Julie Horton presented the Student-Athlete award to Erin Molinaro. “She had a huge impact” on the sport,” she said.
In the classroom and on the field, Molinaro has been a “force to be reckoned with,” showing “unsurpassed leadership” and that she is “willing to do the hard work.”

Groton-Dunstable Regional High School Athletic Director Mike McCaffrey gave the award to Meredith Shea.

Shea is “amazing in every way,” said McCaffrey, who is in his first year at the school. He cited academic as well as athletic achievements: straight A’s, second in her class, perfect SAT Math score, Soccer, spring track for four years, soccer team captain this year.
She plays first sax in the school band, volunteers at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton and has participated in several Women in Science seminars, McCaffrey said. She will major in bio-medical engineering at Western Reserve University in Ohio next year.
North Middlesex Girl’s basketball coach Pat Murphy presented the award to Emily Church.

Concluding three years on the team, Church is captain this year and led the team to its first tournament win in five years. “She cares more for the team than individual achievements,” Murphy said.

Besides athletics that also include soccer and spring track, Church has a high GPA, is in the Honor Society and plays in the wind ensemble.

She’ll attend UMass Amherst next year.
Athletic director

Benoit was back at the podium again to present the Athletic Director’s Award for the Parker School to Rocky Ethier. And he couldn’t say enough about the young man.

“He totally changed the landscape of Parker athletics this year,” Benoit said of Ethier.

A three-season star on cross-country and track and field teams, Ethier played football growing up and displayed that same toughness in the sports he participated in at Parker, when he finally found his niche.

Ethier was on the Ayer-Shirley Broncos community football team that won a national championship four years ago, but he was “on the sidelines” at Parker. Until he went out for track and had a “huge impact” right away. “He was good at everything.”

“Big, strong, a hard worker and natural leader” with a “polarizing personality,” he went out for basketball and was named captain the first year. He set records in cross country track and now holds nine, which Benoit called “a record for records. All this guy does is win!”

Ethier will attend Fitchburg State University next year and plans to run with the track team. “I predict he’ll be a star,” Benoit said.

Bromfield Athletic Director Pam Alexander gave the award to Brittany Lee. “There are many ways athletes can perform and be measured,” she said. But a true measure is how you behave in various situations, deal with disappointments and hardships, things that can’t be measured by a score.

Not that Lee hasn’t scored in the traditional way. Alexander cited statistics in soccer, basketball and softball. “She was a crucial factor” in two important league soccer games, she said. Leading the softball team with her batting average and runs, Lee has been a league all-star for two years. “She’s hard to beat,” Alexander said.

Praising Lee’s “standout attitude” and positive outlook, Alexander said she is compassionate and caring and her teammates look to her for support and guidance. Enthusiastic and dedicated to her sport, she takes joy in the process, Alexander said

Outstanding on the field and off, “winning is the icing on the cake,” she concluded.

Mike McCaffrey gave the Athletic Director Award to Groton-Dunstable’s Mike Kerwin.

The future West Point cadet is “truly a man for all seasons,” McCaffrey said, noting that Kerwin played varsity ice hockey for two years, soccer for three, lacrosse for four. “He decided to challenge himself and go for all the sports he loves.”

Humble and modest, “he demands a lot of himself,” McCaffrey continued. And Kerwin’s academic achievements are “outstanding,” too, he said.

Fortuna Fasulo received the Ayer-Shirley Athletic Director award, presented by Girl’s Track and Field Coach Mike Seguin.
Quiet, fun, with an independent spirit, Fasulo is “mature beyond her years,” Seguin said. With the girl’s track team just starting back up, she has made a difference, with “true passion” and talent. “You could always count on her,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine the team without her.”

At the high jump and hurdles, Fasulo got better every year. She was league champion her junior year and high point scorer on a winning team this year. Fiercely independent, not afraid to be different, she is committed to the sport and true to herself. “Her contributions will last for years,” Seguin said.

North-Middlesex Boy’s Soccer Coach Pen Burnham presented the Athletic Director award to Stephen Valacer.

He started out small, a skinny kid who shot up four inches in a single year. He developed his skills, played great and he played “unbelievable basketball this year.”

“He’d take on anybody, big or small,” Burnham went on. “He has the heart of a lion.”

Valacer plays soccer, too. “Was he the best? No, but he gave 120-percent all the time.”

A hard worker at academics as well as athletics, he’s among the “next generation of leaders,” Burnham said of Valacer. “He’s a coach’s dream and a great kid,” he said. “I could take a whole team of Stevens.”
Lifetime achievement

Groton-Dunstable’s Charlie Valacer, called “Mr. V” by students, was presented with this award by Robert Mingolelli. Citing his 22 years coaching the school’s varsity girl’s soccer, girl’s junior varsity basketball and boys’ basketball teams, Mingolelli cited highlights, “proud moments” and awards Valacer has received. He has also found time to coach town youth teams and has been a referee for 30 years.
Married with three kids, sports were “teachable moments” at the Valacer family dinner table, he said. He has always been concerned about his students. “He connects – instills qualities they will carry through life,” Mingolelli said.

Mike Dawson presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to North Middlesex Head Football Coach Sandy Ruggles, citing his 15 years on the job. Dawson said Ruggles was his coach and “instilled traits I still carry.”

“Taking pride in what you do,” for example. And no task is too small to be part of a team. He called Ruggles a “tremendous motivator” who taught his players to respect the game. The take-away was, “You have to pull together to be successful.”
Sports editor

Bromfield Coach Tom Hill presented this award to Jack Landry and Sam Shepherd. Landry earned varsity letters in two sports, ice hockey and soccer. “He was an all-star,” he said. Also a leader, respected by others and a volunteer at Youth Soccer Camp. “He’s a tremendous young man from a great, supportive family,” Hill said of Landry.

Sam Shepherd played basketball and lacrosse and was captain of both teams this year. “He worked hard over the summer and became the league’s top rebounder and shot-blocker,” Hill said, noting a rare talent for making shots from the floor. Besides his prowess, Hill also praised Shepherd’s attitude, which is “always positive,” and his leadership role toward younger players.

“He never shows displeasure, always smiling, you can’t get him mad. It’s impossible not to like him,” Hill said.

Ayer-Shirley Girl’s soccer and boys basketball coach Justin Carlson presented the Sports Editor Award to Hayley Wilcox. “I can understand why Ken chose her,” he said.

Wilcox played junior varsity basketball, varsity soccer and softball and captained that team. She played 12 seasons and worked hard, earning respect from coaches and players. She was selected as an all-star.

“She’s a true team player” and a leader, Carlson said of Wilcox, with the self-confidence to stand up for what she believes is just.

North-Middlesex Boys’ Basketball Coach Erik Dellasanta presented the award to David Lorden.

“You are in this room (tonight) due to coaches, teachers and family as well as yourself,” Dellesanta began. “As for Ken, as much as he loves sports, he loves you kids more,” he continued. “Take it with you.”

Lorden exemplifies student-athlete qualities Blanchette looks for, Dellesanta said. That is, the kids “who can do the little things and make it count.”

In addition to playing “just about every sport,” he took part in a service-learning trip to New Orleans to help people he didn’t even know. “He’s well-rounded,” Dellesanta said.

He’s a hard worker and handles adversity well. “Win or lose, he would work it out,” Dellesanta said of Lorden. As a center, he was “an unbelievable force” and always put the team first.

Groton-Dunstable’s Mark Hennelly gave the Sports Editor Award to Anna Towle. With a work ethic “second to none,” Towle always put the team first, he said.

Her coaches say she’s an “excellent role model,” he continued. Committed, dedicated and unselfish, she performs well under pressure. Among her many accomplishments on the field, she was a champion javelin and discus thrower and relay racer, finishing with 99 points, second best on the team.

But Hennelly said he remembers her effort most. Towle will attend the University of Vermont next year. “I expect she will excel in the future” as she has in the past, he said.

Special Teams of the Year, a category that focuses not only on high achievers but turnaround teams that came back to beat the odds, are:

* Bromfield boys indoor track

* Bromfield girls basketball

* North Middlesex hockey

* North Middlesex girls basketball

Female Team of the Year: Groton-Dunstable field hockey

Male Team of the Year: Groton-Dunstable hockey

Male Team of the Year: Groton-Dunstable soccer

Male and Female Athletes of the Year:

Groton-Dunstable’s Kyle Romich received this award from G.D. Boys Basketball Coach Greg Gillette, who coached Romich for four years.

As a soccer player, Romich is “all about team” and about winning and has accrued some “impressive stats,” Gillette said.

A team captain and an all-star in several categories, he led his team to a state championship. He was also MVP and an all-star basketball player and led that team to Central Mass District finals.

He played with injuries and is “Navy Seal tough,” Gillette said, noting that Romich even played in a walking cast and the team still won. “I’m extremely proud to have (coached) a fine young man like him,” he concluded.

Bromfield Coach Tom Hill gave the award to Brian McCullough.

“Nobody had to do much talking to convince Ken (Blanchette) that he was the one,” Hill said of McCullough. Noting his four years on Varsity Soccer and Basketball teams, McCullough was “unselfish, courageous” and flexible about his position on the team. “He played anywhere I asked him to,” Hill said.

Unflappable, intense, McCullough went after opponents “like a pit bull on a poodle,” Hill said. “He’s tough.”

As captain last year and MVP for two years, McCullough was a Super Team All Star and one of the finest point guards and the best full back ever, Hill said.

North Middlesex Boys Basketball Coach Erik Dellasanta gave the M.A. of the year award to Kevin Marciano. “This award, I believe, is earned,” he said.

Listing a few “things he embodies as an athlete and a person,” the first is dedication. Strong, quick, but not the tallest on the team, Marciano “works to be the best he possibly can,” Dellasanta said.

He was outstanding during basketball season, too.

The second item on the list was confidence. Here Dellasanta told a story to make his point, a time when Marciano turned a negative into a positive. After a “dumb call” put him in a tough spot during a big game. “He got pinned and didn’t made a bucket but he made the play anyway,” Dellasanta said. “It was the right thing to do.”

To him, that’s one of Marciano’s greatest strengths, he can always be expected to what he’s supposed to do. It’s a gift left behind for the next generation of G.D. high school players, he said, like a recipe for winning: “Do it right, every day.”

Female athlete of the Year went to Groton-Dunstable’s Erika Eipp. G.D. Girl’s Basketball Coach Mark Hennelly presented the award.

When Erika transferred from New York, she had played Soccer at her former school but wanted to play Field Hockey here, Hennelly said, citing Coach Desmond. And when she showed up for team aerobics, he was grateful that he chose to play.

Athletic, intense and an intelligent player, she had an “outstanding” high school career, he said. She was named to two all-star teams and always matched up with the best on the opposing team.

Hennelly also praised Eipp’s attitude. “She didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her coaches, but she did as she was asked,” he said.

Although not a “winner” on the LaCrosse team, as she had been in the other two sports, the program “took off” with her on the team, he said, and as of the previous day they’d broken a school record for scoring in a single game. And they won.

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