Photos by Steev Riccardo
WEBSTER – Greetings sports fans! There is something truly special about high school sports that puts them on another level than say, watching professional sports or even college sports. High school sports may be competitive, but it’s mostly about kids having fun.
The way I see it, I have been very lucky to be in the position to cover and report on high school sports the last few years and now that I sit here writing the final “View From The Sidelines” column, it makes me sad that this outstanding two-and-a-half year run is over.
When I returned to this area in August 2011, I had no idea that I would enjoy covering the three local high schools as much as I have. To give you a little history, I graduated from Bartlett High School many years ago. Even though I dabbled a little in sports, I was not very athletic but still very involved, whether it was keeping score or being a student assistant under the great Don Cushing. I would do whatever I could do to be close to the games.
When I was sixteen, I started reporting and writing stories for The Patriot newspaper, where I could write and cover whatever I wanted and sometimes I even got paid a few bucks for it. It made me feel like a local celebrity and the other kids liked it. There was also a period when The Webster Times (yes, the enemy) published several of my stories when I was home for school breaks during college.
Soon, however, my focus shifted to entertainment and even though I was the school editor at Quinsigamond Community College, suddenly it was all about music. When I went Framingham State I continued to write, but spent most of my time at the college radio station. This resulted in a move to Los Angeles, where I began a long career in the music business. Never could I have imagined returning to Webster, never mind writing for The Patriot, but as fate would have it, that is exactly what happened.
The paper hired me to cover news stories and meetings but soon I was back on the sidelines and that was the impetus for this column.
My intention always was to give all three schools (Bartlett, Shepherd Hill, and Oxford) as much equal attention as I could. Being a Bartlett grad, of course I had green in my blood, but I never let that keep me from being impartial.
In fact there was one day when Adam Darling (2013) and some of his Shepherd Hill baseball teammates jokingly gave me some flack because I wrote about Oxford’s baseball team too much and not enough about the Rams. That gave me good laugh, having green blood and all.
Honestly, I wanted to see all the local teams do well and with the support of the schools and the coaches we had a lot of success doing that. Even when The Patriot folded in May 2013, I didn’t feel like I was being treated any differently: good schools and coaches know that the student athletes come first and they deserved the attention.
During my time writing this column, I was honored and privileged to see many great teams and performances at all three schools.
When Oxford High School’s Emily Dawidczyk, whom we fondly nicknamed “The Sweet Assassin,” won state titles in both indoor and outdoor track and the Central Mass scoring title in girls' soccer, I felt like I had won those titles just as her teammates and school must have felt. These great performances and the scoring title were a great honor and it was amazing to be part of it.
Then there was that amazing night at Quaboag Regional High School when Bartlett’s Nick Kobel (2012) scored his 1000th point and went into the stands and gave his parents the game ball. Yes, even the sports writer had a tear in his eye that night.
How could I ever forget the Shepherd Hill Rams 2012-13 football team making it all the way to the Super Bowl at Gillette stadium in Foxborough? What an honor it was to be there to cover the game and to hear coach Chris Lindstrom's impassioned speech afterwards and see the emotion on the players' faces.
There was the great run by the Oxford boys' baseball team in 2012, which was also incredible. Coach Justin Richards and his team made it all the way to the state semi-finals before losing gracefully. The Pirates had what seemed like one bad inning all season and it just so happened to be in that semi-final game that they lost 3-0. That was a great team to cover.
Of course, there were some tough moments as well, like watching Bartlett lose three consecutive Thanksgiving Day football games to Southbridge and interviewing Indians' Coach Dane Laboissonniere after each and everyone of them knowing that they could have won each of those games, say for one break here or there.
Above it all, it was always important to remember that these were high school kids playing sports for fun and that they would all graduate and move on with their lives. That really hit home for me one afternoon in Worcester as I watched the Oxford Pirates girls' softball team lose to Grafton in the playoffs.
It’s hard to explain but I really enjoyed covering that specific team. A lot of it had to do with their coach Jamie Hetherman and their pitcher Nicole “The Franchise” Mangaudis. They clearly were having fun on that team but at the same time were very competitive and serious. They pretty much epitomized high school sports for me. I wanted to see that team win that playoff game and they didn’t and when that game ended, it hit me hard that it was over for “The Franchise.” She had pitched her last night school game after starting and pitching in every inning of every game for four years. It was time for her, just like every other high school senior athlete, to start the next phase of her life.
I want to thank all these high school athletes and the coaches and the schools. It was an amazing pleasure for me to be here writing and reporting, an experience I will never ever forget.