The Wellesley High gymnastics team, which has vaulted to success during the last few years, took a painful fall this week. The Raiders disbanded for lack of enough participants.
''We really didn't see this coming," said coach Shelly Clark.
At the start of winter-season practices the week of Nov. 28, Wellesley had six gymnasts, with one unsure whether she truly wanted to compete. Clark said eight gymnasts would be the minimum a team could have. The Raiders graduated three gymnasts from the 2004-2005 team and didn't replace them.
Clark said there were two primary factors that led to the decrease in participation -- the return of Wellesley's club cheerleading team and the impact of local gymnastics clubs. Because high school gymnasts are required to attend every practice, they often found themselves attending two gymnastics workouts per day -- first at the high school, then the club.
That heavy schedule led a couple of gymnasts to choose the club over the high school.
''We couldn't tell until about the third practice," Clark said. ''I think there might have been a few who were feeling some pressure from their club coaches. That's sort of how it began. When we had our first gymnastics meeting at the end of October, we had as many as 14 girls. But that was before cheerleading [came back]. That combination, of the clubs and cheerleading, hurt us."
The team's demise comes after it finished finished 8-2 last season, and four members had top-six finishes at the Bay State Conference meet.
''After winning only one meet our first year, we made a tremendous amount of progress over four years. The girls had a tremendous effort in turning the program around," said Clark.
Clark, who led a fund-raising effort that helped purchase new gymnastics equipment in recent years, said athletic director Andy Levin has been supportive throughout the process.
''He made every effort to find a way to save the program. You hate to see a program get lost. There is no way to assure there will be enough [gymnasts] next year. It's a sad day."
Ex-Bruin returns home, helps coach
Former Boston Bruin Jeff Lazaro has come home again, serving as an assistant boys' hockey coach at his alma mater, Waltham High.
''It's a reentry into the game for me, and something I love doing," he said. ''Hopefully I can teach some of the kids some of the things I've learned over the years, and give something positive back to the program."
A sign hanging in Veterans Memorial Rink in Waltham reminds visitors that Lazaro played for Waltham High. His first year on the team was the same year John Maguire -- now in his 21st season -- was named head coach.
''We were talking about that on the bus the other day, reflecting on old times," said Lazaro, who is 37. ''John was in his mid-to-late 20s at the time, and here we are on the school bus again, heading to a game. All those memories came back of cold rinks."
After graduating from Waltham High, Lazaro attended the University of New Hampshire, played Olympic hockey, and later played for the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.
Lazaro, who works in insurance sales, had settled in New Orleans with his wife, Sarah. Hurricane Katrina caused considerable damage to their home, forcing them to temporarily return to Waltham.
When he returned to town, he inquired about helping Maguire. Just so happens Maguire was looking for an assistant to replace the late Bob Cusick.
''Having Jeff around has really helped me with the difficulty of doing this without Bob," Maguire said.
Players have embraced Lazaro.
''At first we weren't sure if he would be around just once in a while or every day," said goalie Jeff Saran. ''He's been there every day, and he's been eager and excited to coach. He's been down to earth."
Saran acknowledged that many of the players were unaware of Lazaro's NHL experience. Lazaro said this will be a one-year assignment and he will return to New Orleans shortly after the season. He's enjoying the experience.
''Getting back with Coach Maguire and Waltham High is one of those things that makes you smile every day," he said.
Holliston players take practice trip
Continuing a tradition that started in the mid-1990s, the Holliston High boys' varsity basketball team took a preseason trip to Pittsfield last weekend. The team practiced against three other high school teams from that area.
''It's a time where you build camaraderie," explained Rick Naughton, the team's head coach since 1999.
''Sometimes it's hard for kids when they come up from the JVs and are up with the varsity, and with this, we have three scrimmages, and it's a chance for players to bond. It's been a positive experience for us."
Naughton grew up in the Pittsfield area and his mother cooks for the team during the trip. He also secures discounted hotel rates through old connections. Naughton moved to Holliston in 1983.
BB&N posts two winning seasons
Student-athletes living in Boston's western suburbs played important roles for the Buckingham Browne & Nichols football team this fall. BB&N, located in Cambridge, finished 5-3 to post the first back-to-back winning football seasons in school history.
Newton's Kyle Sandrock (center/defensive tackle), Weston's Andrew Knez (tight end, defensive end) and Watertown's Nico Papas (fullback, defensive tackle) were named first-team all-stars for the Independent School League.
''Knez and Papas were our best blockers and key to our averaging more than 180 yards per game on the ground," said head coach John Papas, who is Nico's father.
Weston's Rob McMullen (tight end) and Wellesley's Brad Robinson (strong safety) and Oliver Snider (kicker) were named honorable mention all-stars. McMullen led the team with 18 receptions and three touchdowns, while Robinson provided a steady presence in the defensive backfield. Snider also excelled on special teams.
''Our football program continued to build into one of the elite teams in the ISL," Papas said.
''These boys all played great for us throughout the season."
Negus set to join Wake Forest team
Milford's Phil Negus, one of the top high school and Legion baseball pitchers in Boston's western suburbs in recent years, has signed a letter of intent to attend Wake Forest University. Negus attends Phillips Exeter Academy.
''Phil has been on our recruiting radar for a long time, and we are excited to get a pitcher with such grit and toughness," said Wake Forest head coach Rick Rembielak.
Rembielak said he also likes Negus's intensity in late-game situations.
The Hopedale boys soccer team earned the Division 3 sportsmanship award from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) this season.
Needham's Chris Pavasaris, the punter for the University of Connecticut football team, was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week this past Monday. Pavasaris pinned four punts inside the 10-yard line in UConn.'s 30-20 loss to Louisville on Dec. 3.
Newton's Kevin Chan, throwing the shotput for the Bentley College track and field team, had a top-12 finish at the New Balance Winter Carnival at Northeastern University on Dec. 3. Chan's throw was 45 feet, ½ inch.
Bentley College has named Michele DeGregorio its head softball coach. She spent the last 12 seasons as head coach at Merrimack College. ''With Michele's success and background, we are very fortunate that someone of her ability will be able to come in and take over our program," said athletic director Bob DeFelice.
Natick High football coach Tom Lamb said one aspect that made the team's Super Bowl championship special was the return of former players as visitors during the year, including Doug Flutie, Darren Flutie, Paul Ghilani and Joel Lamb. ''On Thanksgiving Day, Darren and Joel are out shoveling the lines [so we can see the yard markers]," Lamb said. ''That's what it's all about."
Natick High's varsity, junior varsity, and freshman football teams all posted undefeated seasons.
Mike Reiss can be reached at 508-820-4234 or email@example.com.