There are times in life when you'd give anything to be able to be in two places at the same time, and this past weekend was one of those times for me.
I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Tampa to watch my daughter's club soccer team compete in the Super-Y National Championships, but at the same time my heart was in Foxboro, rooting for the Tewksbury High football team to pull off yet another monumental upset in the Division 2 Super Bowl.
That upset never happened, and even though Saturday evening's final score was not what folks around here had hoped for, I'm still hoping that the players and coaches on the TMHS football team will recognize what they accomplished this fall, and walk around with their heads held high for the rest of, well, forever.
In my humble opinion, what coach Brian Aylward and that group of kids accomplished over the last three months amounts to one of the greatest seasons I've ever witnessed in almost 30 years of covering high school sports for various publications. For a team that nobody thought would go anywhere to win the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title, knock off Reading in the playoffs and represent this town in the Super Bowl was nothing short of amazing.
In an odd way, I'm glad I missed the Super Bowl game, because my memories of this season will be more about the huge wins over Central, Andover, Lowell, Dracut and Reading, and not so much about the final score of the Super Bowl game.
I would have liked to have been down on the field at Gillette Stadium with those kids on Saturday, though, just to watch them taking in the spectacle of playing for a championship on the same field Tom Brady and the Patriots play on. I wanted to see the look on the faces of kids like senior quarterback Kevin Saunders when they first walked out on that field. Saunders, from my perspective anyway, was one of those kids who truly appreciated where he and his team had come from, and what it took to get there. I would have loved to have seen the huge grin that must have been plastered across his face.
I would have liked to have given the fist to linebacker/offensive guard Derek Tarpey and running back Chris Bettano down on that turf, and congratulated them on the incredible, historical seasons the two of them had. Tarpey and Bettano will go down in TMHS football history as two of the best ever at their positions, and I hope someone had a chance to remind them of that before they walked off that field on Saturday.
I would have liked to slap the shoulder pads of Danny Altavesta, Ryan Eatherton, Frank McLaughlin, Brad Gahagan, Evan Conway, Mike Davidian, Chris London and a few others. I would have encouraged them all to make a mental memory of what it was like to be out on that field, and save that forever on their internal hard drives. I know that "overachiever" may not be the coolest word in the vocabulary of a 17-year-old high school kid, but I'm long past worrying about being cool, so I would have used that word a lot.
"Tewksbury Tough" and "Redmen Pride" might have resonated better with these guys, so I probably would have sprinkled those phrases all over the field at Gillette on Saturday, had I been there.
When I got home Monday night one of the first things I looked for was the announcement of the Merrimack Valley Conference post-season honors, and it was great to see so many Tewksbury names on that list. For openers, Brian Aylward was named MVC Division 2 coach of The Year, in what I'm sure had to be a unanimous vote.
Let me say this about Brian Aylward. I've waxed poetic on these pages in the past about how participating in high school athletics gives kids a great advantage. They learn life lessons that in many cases will carry them further than even those lessons they learn in the classroom. But, as became all too apparent to my family this fall, it takes a great teacher to teach those life lessons on the playing field. Without a great teacher, the good stuff often gets missed.
If you ask me, Brian Aylward is as great a teacher of life lessons on the playing field as I've ever seen. Hard work, discipline, staying focused, being resilient. These are the core values in this guy's character, and he's spent the past 15 years tirelessly passing those values on to our kids, in football, wrestling and in the classroom. "B.A" as the kids call him, should be recognized as an invaluable asset to the Tewksbury public school community. I'd be proud to have my kids play for him any day.
I was also happy to see Chris Bettano get the MVC Small School Running Back of The Year Award, in what had to be another unanimous vote. Over 1500 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns?? That's about as good as it gets in recent TMHS football history.
Derek Tarpey also got a well-earned nod as Small School Offensive Lineman of The Year, but whoever made the pick for defensive player of the year didn't watch the same set of games I did, or Tarpey's name would have been there, too.
Fittingly, Kevin Saunders made all-conference as a defensive back, Ryan Eatherton made all-conference as an offensive lineman, and Evan Conway made it at defensive line.
Tewksbury players on the MVC All-Star squad were wide receiver Frank McLaughlin, linemen Frank McInnis and Brendan O'Keefe; defensive lineman Chris London and defensive back Brad Gahagan. Mike Davidian, ChristianTaylor and Eddie Motavu all got honorable mention.
I've looked over the all-conference list three or four times and I can't find Dan Altavesta's name there. I'm assuming that's a typographical error. "Danny Alt" did more things for the Redmen, both offensively and defensively, than you could ever count. I was remiss in not mentioning Altavesta's contributions more in my coverage this year. The kid quietly filled every role Aylward asked of him, and did it all at an extremely high level.
The other thing the league ought to do is name an all-conference coaching team. B.A. didn't do it all by himself. A few guys like Tom Ryan, Paul Norton, Tom Bradley, Rob Aylward, Mark Bradley, Steve Kasprzak and Billy Meuse had something to do with the team's success this fall. How about Lenny Hunnell for all-conference manager, too?
HERE AND THERE
While I'm doling out the superlatives I should probably mention the fact that, overall, this fall season was one of the most successful at TMHS in a long time. Jim Ray's girls volleyball team took its first-ever MVC Division 2 crown led by the superb play of Allie Luppi and Alina Rosmarinofski, and Pat Ryser's field hockey team made the state tournament for the 14th straight year led by senior captains Sherri Liggiero and Sarah Hogan as well as leading scorer Natalie Bourne.
Peter Molloy's boys cross country team had one of its best seasons ever led by junior Brian Amaral, and senior Christina Dick emerged as a force on the girls cross country team. The girls soccer team, led by junior captain Nicole Chaet and sophomore leading scorer Aly Spencer, made the state tournament for the second straight year.
Coming on the heels of last winter's Division 2 State Championship in ice hockey, there's been a lot to cheer about in Tewksbury High athletics lately. Derek Doherty, I think you started something here.