I’ve covered a lot of different beats in more than 30 years of journalism, but some of the most fun and most rewarding days I’ve had as a newspaper reporter, photographer and editor have come covering high school sports.
I spent most of the 1990s as a sports reporter and photographer, and the best part of the experience was the relationships I had with the players, parents, and coaches. I loved watching young people take the experiences they learned on the playing field and apply them to their adult lives, and then seeing their names pop up on the Reformer’s People page on Saturdays as they went off to college, got married, had kids, and got involved in the community.
In coming here to The Commons, I returned to sports writing and photography after a long absence. In a sense, I was going back to where I came from — rekindling old relationships and making new ones.
But there are times when instead of writing about accomplishments on the playing field, you are writing about young people who have died too soon.
I remember the long line for the wake of Nick Giamartino, who died of systemic sepsis in March 2001, and thinking back to the long summer days with his brother Vince and their parents, Frank and Mary, during the 1993 and 1994 championship runs of the Brattleboro Little League All-Stars, and repeating the mourning process five years later when Frank was killed in a car crash in June 2006.
I remember the pain of the community when Kyle Gilbert made his last trip home after being killed in action in Iraq in August 2003, and the tragic suicide of Amber Bernier Sontag in March 2004.
The deaths of Luke Lashway (November 2003), Stella Livanis (May 2005), and Kevin Squires and Kelsey Wells (September 2006) in car crashes were equally painful.
The words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier — “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” — are the common thread here. The lost potential of these young women and men makes their deaths all the more painful.
The picture accompanying this column was taken just before the start of the first home game of the season for the Brattleboro Colonels girls’ basketball team. I was right beside the girls as they waited to go out, and I thought the varied faces on these young women in this photo would come in handy later in the season.
I filed this photo away, and didn’t know if I’d ever use it.
But the day after hearing about the death of Leah Short last week, I got a call from her soccer coach, Edwin de Bruijn. He asked, on behalf of Leah’s family, if I had any pictures of her.
I was able to find several shots I took of Leah from what turned out to be her last soccer game, an overtime playoff loss to South Burlington on Oct. 28.
Leah had talent as a soccer player. She made the varsity in her freshman year and scored 6 goals. Last season, she had 3 goals and 7 assists. De Bruijn, who had been her coach since 2003, when Leah played for the Brattleboro Storm U-14 team, said that she had the talent to become one of the top players in the Marble Valley League and possibly play soccer in college.
And there is the picture, where you can see Leah in the back row. She’s the second girl from the left, with the black headband. You can see the concentration in her face, reflecting what her parents said was a desire to be the best at what ever she did.
One month after I took that picture, she was gone. And now, all we are left with are those sad words — it might have been.
• Bellows Falls won its first game of the season on Jan. 20, as the Terriers got by Woodstock, 51-43. Freshman Emily Dufault was high scorer with 14 points. Enny Mustapha scored 13, Sarah Dumont added 7 and Corina Stack had 6. They could not sustain the momentum the following night, losing to Fair Haven, 59-16. Dufault had 10 points for the 1-9 Terriers.
• The Leland & Gray Rebels are on a roll right now. On Jan. 15, they beat Mount St. Joseph, 54-37. Ashley Goddard, a 5-11 sophomore, dominated the inside with 10 points and 20 rebounds. Ally Marcucci ended up with 18 points and 5 assists and Alex Morrow chipped in with 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
• The Twin Valley Wildcats opened their week with a 41-32 loss at Arlington on Jan. 17. Kylie-Blu Crawford had 12 points and 3 steals, while Sam Bernard scored 9 points, and had a pair of steals and 10 rebounds. Abbi Molner also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Two days later, the Wildcats snapped a three-game losing streak with a 54-42 win over Mount St. Joseph in Rutland. Bernard and Kylie-Blu Crawford helped lead Twin Valley to a season-high point total by scoring 17 points each. Bernard added 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. Bryer-lyn Crawford scored 5 points to go along with her 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals, while Molner had 5 points and 7 rebounds for the 5-6 Wildcats.
• Defense was the key to the Brattleboro Colonels’ 43-34 win over Windsor on Jan. 20. The Colonels held the Jacks scoreless in the final eight minutes as Tommy Heydinger scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Colonels improved to 8-1 on the season. Travis Beeman-Nesbitt and Travis Elliott-Knaggs added 10 and 9 points, respectively, and Nate Forrett had 10 rebounds.
• The Leland & Gray Rebels ended a two-game home losing streak on Jan. 17 with a 72-19 demolition of Black River. Everybody had a chance to get into the box score as 11 different Rebels scored in the game. Senior Matt Bizon led the way with 14, and fellow senior Noah Chapin added 10. Now 5-3, the Rebels will get plenty of time to prepare for their next game on Jan. 28 at West Rutland.
• The Twin Valley Wildcats are struggling to find a groove. On Jan. 17, they lost to Poultney, 49-33, to fall to 1-7 on the season. Tony Bernard scored 13 points for the Wildcats, while Troy Birch had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
• Bellows Falls fell to Springfield, 59-50, last Friday. Jeremy Kilburn and Joe Aslin each scored 12 points for the 3-6 Terriers, while Kendrick Mills chipped in 11 points.
•The Brattleboro Colonels have been looking for a scorer all season, and it looks like Adam Griffin has emerged as the player to fill that role. He scored three goals in a 6-2 rout of Lyndon Institute at Withington Rink on Saturday.
Nik Rancourt has been doing his part to light up the goal lamp: he had a goal and three assists in this game. Romello Lindsay and Andy Harris also scored as the Colonels improved to 3-7. Colonels goalie Greg DiSilva made 26 saves.
Lindsey scored three goals and Griffin added two more in a 5-2 win at Milton on Jan. 15. Harris racked up three assists, while Jamie Martell recorded two more. The Colonels took advantage of 11 Milton penalties and scored three of their five goals on power plays. DiSilva had 23 saves in goal.
On Jan. 19 in Manchester, the Colonels lost 4-2 to the Burr & Burton Bulldogs. Rancourt gave Brattleboro an early lead with a goal from Harris. After a tying goal by the Bulldogs, Philip Perkins scored off another Harris assist for a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately for the Colonels, the Bulldogs took charge from there.
• The Brattleboro Colonels opened their week with a 3-1 loss at Burr & Burton on Jan. 17. Maddie Rollins got the Colonels’ only goal in the third period.
They bounced back two days later with a 3-2 home victory over the Montpelier Solons. Rollins assisted on Kali Roberts’ goal, then got one of her own to give the Colonels a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. Jesse Woodcock scored early in the third period, and it took some effort to keep the Solons from stealing a win in the final minutes.
The Colonels completed the week on Saturday with a 2-0 home loss to Stowe. This game was a classic case of running into a hot goalie, as Danielle Mayo stopped every Brattleboro shot she faced.
The 5-4 Colonels will hold a “Pink in the Rink” game for their Jan. 26 home contest against North Country. Players and coaches will be wearing pink and proceeds from the game with go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit dedicated to breast cancer education and research.
• The Brattleboro Colonels journeyed to East Montpelier on Jan. 15 for a 13-team ski meet hosted by U-32 High School.
The Colonel girls skied a demanding 6-kilometer course and finished third behind Champlain Valley and Mount Anthony. The finish was all the more remarkable because Brattleboro’s best skier, Halle Lange, was absent — she was in Lake Placid, N.Y., attempting to secure a place on the New England team at the Junior Olympics in Minnesota in March.
Emma Straus led the Colonels with a ninth-place finish. Maddi Shaw and Leah Silverman finished 18th and 20th, respectively, while Linnea Jahn was 22nd, Helen Manning was 32nd, and Katie Grasso was 69th.
The Colonel boys were also shorthanded. They were missing several of their skiers due to musical auditions, but out of 67 starters, Jacob Ellis finished 20th and Noah Borochoff-Porte came in 54th.
Harris Hill tickets go on sale
Tickets for the 85th annual Harris Hill Ski Jump competition are now available online and at Galanes Vermont Store on Main Street in downtown Brattleboro.
At Galanes Vermont Store, tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for kids (ages 6-12). Online, tickets are available at BrattleboroTix.com, at the gate price of $15 for adults and $12 for kids. Kids age 5 and under are free.
On Feb. 10, tickets will also be available at Brattleboro Savings & Loan, Burrows Specialized Sports, People’s United Bank and the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, all on Main Street, and Avenue Grocery on Western Avenue..
The Harris Hill ski jump is located on Cedar Street. It is scheduled for Feb. 19 and 20, starts at 11 a.m. and runs until 3:30 p.m. Gates open at 10 a.m. Concessions, a bonfire, a beer tent and event souvenirs will all be on-site. Updated information is available at www.HarrisHillSkiJump.com.
Ski free at Grafton Ponds
• Mark Friday Feb. 4 and March 4 on your calendar. If you are a Vermont resident, you can cross-country ski for free at the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center.
Also, on Saturdays at 10 a.m. for the rest of the season, Grafton Ponds has teamed up with the West Hill Shop in Putney to host a Biathlon Fun Race series for all ages and abilities. The event will be run on the newly-constructed biathlon course. The cost is $5 per person, and every child competitor gets a prize. Visit www.graftonponds.com for more information.