Almost two years ago Boston.com tapped me to write this blog as a way to boost coverage of Boston Public School sports because I started a similar blog on my own in 2009.
Sponsored by the Suffolk Construction Company to raise awareness for the Boston Scholar Athletes program, the site has enjoyed the Globe and Boston.com’s considerable resources to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of BPS sports in decades.
Unfortunately this — my final dispatch — is to report that this blog will be discontinued on Saturday. Boston.com remains committed to covering city athletes and will dedicate one college co-op per semester to covering the city league. Their stories will appear on the High School Sports blog while the stories from this blog will be archived.
I’d like to thank the Boston Scholar Athletes program for funding the site and the Globe and Boston.com editors for giving me the opportunity to show what I can do. Nobody supported the site more than Boston.com producer Zuri Berry and Globe high school sports editor Bob Holmes. I also want to thank the site’s former and current co-op students -- Hannah Becker, Mary Pavlu, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Ryan Butler -- for their hard work. The same goes for the site’s photographers: Stan Litchman, Pasha Dzemianok and Billy Owens.
Thanks to the over-extended coaches for sending their preview capsule info before each season and talking to me after every game no matter how bad the loss.
Thanks to the players for putting yourselves out there and going for your dreams no matter how silly your classmates might have tried to make you feel.
This has been the most rewarding and purposeful project of my journalism career. It was a privilege to cover the city’s athletes and teams on such a large platform.
My goal for the site was always to shine a light on the stories that had gone untold for so many years. I wasn’t so much worried about covering the Malik James’ and Brighton High’s of the world. While it was a thrill to follow the Bengals’ wild ride to a state championship last spring, their story was always going to be told by multiple media outlets — including the Globe and Boston.com.
The stories I strived to tell were the winless Boston English softball team that successfully stopped the athletics department from canceling its season because they forfeited too many games the previous year. Or the Fenway girls’ basketball player who demonstrated true grace and grit by helping her team win its second straight state championship just after her stepfather dropped dead in front of her. And the Brighton football player who left his mother in Jamaica to live with his father in the United States, only for his father to be incarcerated five days later.
The games I cared about covering were hardly attended. It was my hope that the single mother working two or three jobs could finally follow their son or daughter’s progress on the playing field.
Sometimes it was difficult to know the impact of the site. Then I would receive an email from a coach, player, parent or teacher thanking me for my coverage. Or hear from a college coach glad to finally have a tool to help recruit in the city. I was blown away when I was explaining the site to an O’Bryant High alum only to learn he was a regular reader.
The praise was as humbling as it was motivating. But I always said we were just giving the city teams the same coverage everyone else in the state has enjoyed for years.
The site also covered the dozens of nonprofit organizations such as Tenacity, America SCORES Boston and Dream Big! dedicated to improving the lives of BPS students through the power of sport.
Still, the best part of the job was teaching sports journalism to BPS students through a collaboration with a program called Teens in Print. I believe sports can be a carrot to help underprivileged kids get hooked on reading and writing and there was nothing more rewarding than seeing a student's face after their byline was published on Boston.com.
The first newspaper I ever worked for was my high school newspaper. Unfortunately most BPS schools don’t have newspapers or news websites so teaching sportswriting to BPS students is an effort I hope to continue in one form or another.
I also look forward to following the Globe’s continued coverage of the Boston City League and I hope you will too.
After just three years as a club sport, the Dorchester High wrestling team will be a varsity squad this winter.
The club was started by Tech Boston Academy eighth grade history and government teacher Jose Valenzuela, who last year founded Boston Youth Wrestling. The nonprofit raised about $30,000 in one year to promote youth development through wrestling at both the middle school and high school levels in Boston Public Schools.
For the first time, Madison Park and West Roxbury High Schools will have club-wrestling programs this year. Boston Youth Wrestling also supports the Josiah Quincy Upper School’s varsity wrestling program as well as six BPS middle school programs.
The team will not be affiliated with a league this year but Valenzuela hopes this season plants the seed for a true Boston City League for wrestling.
Valenzuela said a four-team city league could hypothetically start as soon as Madison Park and West Roxbury received varsity status.
“That’s been talked about but nothing has been put onto paper yet,” he said. “We’d be excited about the possibility of doing that. With Madison Park and West Roxbury in the wings I think it would be feasible. If you look at the schools with football programs that would be a great way to get kids excited to participate in both sports. Get those schools involved.
“But that’s a conversation for the future.”
Dorchester will have 12 regular season meets this season. The school also hosted its first home football and volleyball games this year. The volleyball team as well both girls’ and boys’ soccer also qualified for the state tournament this fall.
“It is a cool year as far as athletics and we’ve seen that change over a few years,” Valenzuela said. “We’re kind of seeing how athletics in general is changing the culture in the school.”
The team has 26 wrestlers and will host three home meets this year. Valenzuela believes that the Jan. 14 match at 5 p.m. against BC High will be the first home match in school history at the varsity level.
“It is really exciting,” he said. “It’s cool. The team we are hosting is another Dorchester team. Maybe it will become an annual tradition.”
This year Valenzuela has stepped down as Dorchester’s head coach so he can concentrate on running Boston Youth Wrestling, which he says has grown so fast and so quickly he has had to turn down middle schools that want to participate this year.
He will serve as an assistant coach for Dorchester along with Brian Coakley, while Frank Mahoney will take over head-coaching duties. Just like tennis splits the city in half between Latin Academy and O’Bryant’s co-op teams, Dorchester will draw wrestlers from the schools in the southern part of the city while Josiah Quincy draw from the north.
“Any wrestler will tell you that it draws form a different crowd of kids,” Valenzuela said of the sport. “It’s usually kids who don’t have the opportunity to play other sports or are rough around the edges so other sports are not appropriate. Wrestling rewards you for being physical.”
A Jamaica Plain native, Valenzuela, 28, wrestled for Boston Latin before wrestling for Williams College.
“Wrestling made me stronger to get through that experience,” he said of attending Williams.
He said Boston Latin was the only wrestling program in BPS when he graduated in 2003. Josiah Quincy started its program about a year later and Valenzuela started his club with middle school students in 2009. He expanded to high school as his kids grew with the program.
He said before this year the athletics department was reluctant to start varsity wrestling programs because in the past schools started programs only to fold after a half season or one season.
Valenzuela’s solution was to start Boston Youth Wrestling as an umbrella organization to support school-based wrestling programs so the school district wouldn’t be on the hook to fund the teams entirely.
The nonprofit helps programs procure mats, headgear, shoes, uniforms and other equipment.
In September Boston Youth Wrestling received its federal tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service and it raised $12,500 at its first Back-to-School Fundraising Dinner at Filippo’s Ristorante in the North End.
Valenzuela also took two of his wrestlers to speak in front of the Boston School Committee in September to make the case for a varsity program.
He said New Mission junior Elivs Alvarado and O’Bryant junior Ayomide Olumuyiwa spoke so eloquently that it wasn’t long before Interim Superintendent John McDonough was calling Valenzuela on his cell phone to see how he could help get the varsity program off the ground.
“They are the ones who spoke more clearly and passionately than I ever could have,” Valenzuela said of the students. “They are the ones who got people to pay attention when nobody was. If the kids didn’t respond the way they have we’re not going anywhere.
“More than anything that gets me excited. I want the best for these kids.”
This weekend is also a big one for Boston Youth Wrestling. On Friday night the program is taking about 40 students to see the No. 1 ranked college wrestling program in the country, Penn State, take on Boston University.
And from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday the program is hosting a clinic with the Boston Scholar Athletes program at Madison Park High that will draw about 75 wrestlers from across the city.
“I don’t think there have been too many events in city wrestling history this big,” Valenzuela said. “That has had this many city wrestlers in the city at the same time.”
Valenzuela was just as excited to see Penn State, the two-time defending national champions, wrestle.
“To see it in person is cool,” he said. “Our kids see wrestling at the high school level or middle school level so sometimes its difficult to grasp the full excitement of the sport. When you see it live you get the sense in person. It’s one of the most exciting sports to watch.
"It’s just made that way.”
It’s no surprise that Boston English’s 14-12 Thanksgiving victory over Boston Latin was a big deal at the school. But for anyone who had any smidgen of doubt, all they needed to do was witness the turnout Wednesday afternoon for the celebratory parade at English High.
“It just feels great,” said junior Keylin McCray, a member of the team. “Last time we beat Latin was probably before I was even born. So it’s definitely an honor to be out here today. A good end to our season.”
In fact, English’s win over Latin was its first since 1997 and only its third Thanksgiving win since 1967.
The parade was held during English’s last period of the day. The student body filled the bleachers as the band, cheerleaders, and players walked proudly along the track to the applause of their classmates.
“Overall, it’s just a nice afternoon,” said senior Mohammad Salekin. “It’s like a thank you to all the football players, but also to some of the different groups and clubs here at English.
"The band is playing. Some other seniors are selling pizza and drinks to raise money for our class. Everyone gets to show their school spirit. Plus, it’s a great day for it, too.”
After the victory lap, English teacher and bandleader Eytan Wurman brought the Eagles and coach Brian Vaughan onto the field to acknowledge all the hard work they put in this fall.
“Give it up for your champion Eagles!” Wurman boomed over the microphone. “I want to especially acknowledge Coach Vaughan for receiving the New England Patriots High School Coach of the Week award, and quarterback Emmanuel Almonte for getting MVP of the Thanksgiving game.”
Wurman acknowledged each player over the microphone.
Following the celebration, students and faculty participated in a flag football game on the field.
“Today brings in a lot of excitement for the school,” said Vaughan. “The Thanksgiving win also brought a lot of good press. It’s huge for English.”
When asked his feelings on receiving the Coach of the Week award, Vaughan was thankful yet adamant that it reflected the hard work his team put in day in and day out.
“That award's just proof of all the work the kids put in this year,” he said. “It’s definitely a team award.”
Sport in Society at Northeastern University will continue its free seminar series for nonprofit management for sport-based youth development organizations at noon on Dec. 12 at the Curry Student Center, Room 440.
The topic of the day will be Understanding Human Resources Management and Employment Law in Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. The seminar will be led by Rick Arrowood, J.D., a graduate professor in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Nonprofit Management and Master of Science in Leadership.
The seminar is designed specifically for the sport-based youth development community.
During this one-hour interactive lecture and discussion, participants will have the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and get answers in real time through a small classroom setting.
Topics will include:
• Legal environment of human resources management
• Recruiting, managing, and retaining volunteers
• Onboarding of new employees and volunteers
• Performance management
• Compensation and benefits
The last seminar, which focused on “How Nonprofits Organize and Operate,” was a huge success. Participants remarked that Dr. Arrowood provided ample practical information about the legal requirements to become a 501(c)3 and how to maintain (or how to endanger) tax exempt status, presented in an engaging, dynamic manner.
You can view an archive of the session here: http://www.northeastern.edu/sportinsociety/sport-based-youth-development/professional-development/
Food will be served. There is no fee for the event, but registration is required. For more details or to register, click https://humanresourcesmanagement.eventbrite.com.
After announcing his retirement from coaching the Boston English boys' basketball team last spring, Barry Robinson has decided to return for his 21st season on the sideline.
“I love it man, I can’t give it up,” he said Monday morning. “The kids wanted me back. They’ve been asking and I kept telling them ‘No’ and they kept asking, so I’m back.”
Robinson won three city championships, including back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000. The 2000 team featured three Division 1 players (Raheim Lamb, Rasheed Quadri, and Raymond Noiles) and won the Eastern Mass. title.
Last spring, Robinson said he was leaving the post to focus on his other role as the school’s athletic coordinator. He was going to hand over the program to his assistant, Joe Chatman.
On Monday, however, Robinson said he got ahead of himself by saying he was going to hand the job to Chatman “without going through the proper channels.”
Chatman was not chosen for the job, and after the hiring process failed to find a suitable replacement, Robinson said he decided in September to come back.
“When he told me he was coming back, I told him ‘Great’ because I never wanted him to leave,” second-year headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy said. “We interviewed a few people and just, the gut feeling, was that there’s no passion.
"He said he wanted to do it again so I was happy with that.”
On Monday, Robinson said another reason he decided to leave the team last year was that his 12-year-old daughter is ramping up her swim career and he didn’t want to miss her meets. But Robinson said his daughter gave him her blessing to keep coaching.
Last year’s English team lost in the state tournament to Milton and this year’s team, which had its first tryout Monday, will likely have six or seven seniors.
“We have quite a few seniors, so we should be all right and in the thick of it in our conference,” Robinson said. “I’m excited about that.”
Junior point guard Stanley Davis will also be back this season.
“That’s a blessing in itself,” Robinson said. “He’s been starting at point guard since his freshman year. He’s going to be in there this year and next year, too. So from that aspect we’ll be fine.”
Robinson said he will continue to coach the team as long as they want him to stick around.
“It’s a great time for English High School,” he said. “We’re turning the corner to do a lot of positive things. A lot of positive things are going on. Attendance has gone up tremendously. [Academic] scores are up. We have more kids participating in athletics. The [required] GPA [for athletes] has gone back up to a 2.0.
“So we’re getting this place where it’s supposed to be.”
Dejour Releford typically wakes up around 5 a.m. in his Fields Corner home to get ready for his school day at Boston English High. But his usual 45-minute MBTA commute wasn’t at all dreary on the overcast Monday morning following the Thanksgiving holiday beak.
“I was happy. I was actually happy about Monday. I usually hate Mondays, but today was a good Monday,” the senior wide receiver said while walking to his first-period forensic science class at 7:30 a.m., four days after snagging the game-winning touchdown as time expired for a 14-12 win over Boston Latin on Thanksgiving morning at Harvard Stadium.
The victory was English’s first triumph in the nation’s longest continuous high school football rivalry since 1997. And it was just the third win against the Wolfpack since 1967.
The win symbolized more than just gridiron glory for a school that was tagged by state officials as underperforming three years ago and lost more than $900,000 in federal funds last school year because it continued to underperform. (The state told the school it had to bring in an outside partner for this school year to avoid state receivership.)
Still, attendance was up 89 percent last year, according to second-year headmaster Ligia Noriega-Murphy. The school’s first female headmaster also said attendance is up 94 percent this year and federal funding has been reestablished, although she declined to say at what level.
MCAS results released in September showed the school improved to 60 percent proficient in English Language Arts from 39 percent in 2012. African-American students improved from 31 percent in English Language Arts proficiency in 2012 to 81 percent.
English High almost had to forfeit last year’s Latin game because of academic eligibility issues and injuries. This year, it had 29 players on the field after losing only six for poor academics, and it fielded a marching band at the English-Latin game for the first time in decades.
“This is a revival of English,” said Noriega-Murphy, who is planning a parade around the school Wednesday afternoon, to be followed by a students-vs.-staff flag football game. “It’s a new day. And the academics and the arts and the sports, it just goes all together. It’s a holistic approach.
“It was not a championship that we won, it was a game that we won, but it was the meaning of it.”
On Monday, every groggy student shuffling through the metal detectors at the front door of the nation’s first public high school was greeted by math and science program director Jerleen John’s bubbly disposition.
“Good morning, happy football win day!” she repeated to nearly every bleary-eyed student.
“It feels good that they are acknowledging it,” wide receiver Ruben Pena-Sanchez said. “It was a big win and it’s good to acknowledge that our team was part of history.”
With 14 seconds to play in the 127th edition of the English-Latin game, Releford took a lateral pass from junior Emmanuel Almonte and tossed a 38-yard reception to senior Jerome Penn that put English on the 7-yard-line with 3 seconds to go. Then, with no time left on the clock, Almonte scrambled to his left for what seemed like a lifetime before finding Releford open just inside the goal line.
Almonte, who also stopped a Latin 2-point conversion try on defense, said there wasn't even time to call a play before the game-winning TD.
“In the heat of the moment, we’re running down, we’re getting the ball set, and I’m looking over to the coach for what to do,” the game’s MVP said. “It just happened honestly. I hiked the ball, two seconds left. It was like, get it off and do what you have to do. Like elementary school.
“The defensive end forced me to roll out. [Releford] was on the outside to the left and I had protection set up to the right. I was rolling out. [The defensive end] was chasing me and I saw the sideline and I was like ‘I have to get it off eventually’ and right before the sideline, the corner that was on [Releford] backed up a little bit and I just threw it at his chest and he caught it.”
The 16-year-old junior, who last played football two years ago for a Pop Warner team because he transferred from a charter school that didn’t have a football team, was speaking from the school’s front office, where the game ball and trophy from the US Marines Great American Rivalry Series sat on the receptionist's desk. Presumably, they will join the trophy and game ball from the 1997 Thanksgiving victory in the trophy case across the hall.
“It’s kind of crazy because if you look at the trophies, all of them are from before I was born,” Almonte said. “So to see that and have our ball and trophy be in there, it’s probably not going to hit me until I’m an adult and come back and visit. I’ll see it there.”
On Monday, Releford sported a T-shirt from the Great American Rivalry Series and a matching hat that he was hard-pressed to fit over the Afro shooting out of a bandana tied around his forehead.
“Dejour, I’m so proud of you,” senior Janea Williams said seconds after Releford pushed open the door to Room 331 for his first-period forensic science class.
“He’s the one who got the last catch for the win,” Williams told her classmates.
The science teacher, Jenelle Corey, said she watched the game-winning play unfold while standing next to Releford’s father.
“How did you know it was my dad?” Releford asked.
“I was standing next to him the whole time talking about you,” she said.
Releford, who sat out part of last season with academic issues but now has a 2.4 GPA, talked about the Latin game with classmates a few times during class but concentrated during the lesson, in which students had to use forensic evidence to figure out who stole a crown during a hypothetical home burglary.
Using a MacBook issued to each student for the duration of the period, Releford used a website that showed different tire tracks and shoe prints to help solve the mystery.
“I don’t know why somebody has a crown in their house,” Releford said.
When the bell rang at 8:20 a.m., Releford descended into the hallway, where he was immediately swarmed by students slapping his back and smiling from ear-to-ear.
Releford flashed a few of his own smiles but mostly remained humble, even when he turned the corner to another hallway and students broke out into applause.
He made his way to the stairwell and up to the fourth floor before entering Room 451 for his English class.
“Come in, come in, congrats," said the teacher. "That was the most exciting 10 minutes of my life. Were you just pumped?”
The teacher started to settle students to start class before Releford could answer.
“Dejour, that might not be a good place to sit. Shhh. We’re starting class.”
Despite a bitter wind at Madison Park High, the unofficial city championship between the Brighton Bengals and the O’Bryant Tigers raged on in front of a Thanksgiving morning crowd.
Brighton came out victorious, 12-0, over an O’Bryant squad that just couldn’t stimulate any offense.
It was the unofficial "championship" because Brighton and O’Bryant won their divisions this season, finishing 5-0 in league play. Both teams also finished 8-3 overall.
When Madison Park bowed out of its usual Thanksgiving matchup with O’Bryant because of injuries, Brighton jumped in.
It was a special teams play that got Brighton started early.
The first score of the game came seconds into the second quarter, when Brighton sophomore defensive back Hakeem McKoy blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone by junior Ricardo Edwards.
“I didn’t expect to come out with the ball,” Edwards said. “But Coach was telling us all game to keep the intensity going, so when that opportunity came, we converted.”
Edwards was awarded the game ball by coach Randolph Abraham for his hard work on offense. He rushed for more than 100 yards.
“We’ve got a bigger offensive line,” Abraham said. “So we were definitely able to work that for our advantage. Ricardo did a great job on the ground and making offense for us all morning.”
Brighton took a 6-0 lead into the half, and continued to dominate on defense in the third quarter, forcing a fumble and a three-and-out on O’Bryant’s first two possessions.
With four minutes remaining in the game, Brighton quarterback Jalen Apperwhite rushed 1 yard for a score to give the Bengals a 12-0 lead.
A late interception by Michael Dereus sealed the victory.
Despite the loss, O’Bryant coach Kevin Gadson was all smiles while commending his team for not giving in and on winning the BCL South.
“You guys fought for four quarters out there,” he said. “I’m proud of that. It’s really been a wonderful season, boys. You guy’s played really well all year. I’m proud of you all.”
When Brian Vaughan took over Boston English’s football program last spring, he didn’t exactly expect the sentiment on the “Beat Latin” T-shirts he printed up to become a prophecy. And he could’ve never imagined beating Boston Latin for only the second time since 1981 on a last-second touchdown pass.
But English’s 14-12 victory at Harvard Stadium in the 127th playing of the nation’s oldest continuous high school football rivalry will go down in history for just that scenario.
“Let’s be honest, that was just to motivate kids,” Vaughan said of the T-shirts.
His 7-4 English squad was the first to go into Thanksgiving with a winning record since 2004 and the first to be victorious against their historic rival since 1997.
“It’s huge, it’s a great step in the direction we want to bring the program,” said Vaughan, who coached Pope John in Everett the last four years after coaching and playing for Lynn English. “We’re not exactly where we want to be but we’re heading that way and this was huge for putting us in the direction we want to be.”
With 14 seconds to play, senior wide receiver Dejour Releford took a lateral pass from junior Emmanuel Almonte and tossed a 38-yard reception to senior Jerome Penn that put English on the 7-yard-line with 3 seconds to go. Then, with no time left on the clock, Releford caught a TD pass from Almonte to secure the victory.
“It’s all about one catch, one catch can make the difference,” said Releford, who finished with 27 yards on four receptions. “If feels good. Everybody is happy. We ended the streak so that is always a good feeling.”
The game-winning catch capped a 13-play, 78-yard drive that started with 4:33 left in the game. Almonte (9 of 18 for 51 yards) completed three passes on the drive, including scrambling before tossing a 6-yard pass to Ruben Pena-Sanchez on 4th-and-5 from the 27.
English was also hampered by a holding penalty the play before its trick play set up the winning TD.
“It means the world … we didn’t make the playoffs,” Almonte said after receiving MVP honors, “it hurt us, and our goal was to win this game. And even though it took until the last second, we did it.”
After getting beaten 15 straight years, mostly by blowouts, on Thanksgiving, holding Latin (5-6) scoreless in the first half would have been a major accomplishment for English.
Latin didn't score until sophomore running back Justin Springle put the Wolfpack up 6-0 on a 3-yard TD with 3:55 left in the third. Almonte, who also plays defensive back, broke up the 2-point conversion pass.
When English starting senior running back Jodarnio Seide (45 yards on nine carries) was sidelined with a hand injury with 2:16 left in the third quarter, junior running back Darious Boodoosingh (45 yards on 10 carries) punched home a 6-yard TD run with 57 seconds left in the quarter. Almonte ran in the 2-pointer conversion to go up 8-6.
“I just had to work hard when I got in the game and you know, I just did me,” Seide said.
Five plays later Latin quarterback Roy Bahnam (7 for 18 with 114 yards) tossed a 14-yard TD to Jack O’Toole to go up 12-8 with 10:06 to play.
“Good for English,” longtime Latin coach John McDonough said. “Good for them. We don’t want to make them feel good, but that’s our problem. They took care of business. It was a good football game.”
Legendary coach Tom Lamb joined English’s program as an assistant in 2011.
“This is our dream,” a hoarse Lamb said. “We couldn’t have written it any better.”
David Bertucci Jr. sat on a cold, damp, concrete bench at Harvard Stadium Friday, looking on as floodlights illuminated the chilly night and dark green turf.
Normally on Fridays in the fall, David Jr. is on the field playing; he is West Roxbury High’s starting senior quarterback. But on this night he is watching his younger brother Derek start at right guard in the Play Ball! Township Championship game for Ohrenberger K-8 School in West Roxbury.
This season has been an important one for Derek. For the first time since he was 7 years old, the seventh grader had the chance to put on pads and play competitive football. And David Jr., knowing well what the sport means to his family, is glad to see his brother get another chance.
Play Ball!, a Boston-based charity, funds BPS middle school sports and created a football league in 2009. There were four teams back then, and the number has since risen to 10. Derek’s school is the most recent addition, as of October.
David Jr. was an eighth grader at Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale during Play Ball!’s inaugural football season. His team won the championship that year.
When David Jr. played in the championship game, he recalled it being at White Stadium in Jamaica Plain. But five years later, the high school senior was wowed as he walked into Harvard Stadium for the first time.
David Jr. enjoyed getting to see his brother play, but admitted he was itching to join Derek on the field.
“It feels really different,” said David Jr., who played Pop Warner until eighth grade, and will lead West Roxbury into the school’s first Thanksgiving football against Randolph Thursday. “I’m used to being on the field and playing. Watching him play, it’s like, ‘Wow, I wish I could play with him.’ It’s always great to see Derek play football.”
Play Ball!’s mantra is “Getting more feet on the field.” The goal is to provide middle school students a way to exercise, get them to participate in team-oriented activities, and motivate them to do well in school.
That is precisely why students like Derek have benefited from the opportunity to play football for their school.
Though football is his favorite sport, Derek hasn’t been able to play on a team since a year of Pop Warner at age 7. He learned the sport early on in life, attending David Jr.’s Pop Warner and high school practices while his dad helped coach the team.
David Sr. was a defensive lineman on West Roxbury’s championship team in 1983 – the first city team to win a championship.
The youngest in the family, Derek was tagging along to the practices from an early age.
“Before he could play, I’d be coaching his older brother,” said David Sr., who used to be an assistant for the Raiders. “[Derek] would have to get at the end of the line, but every agility drill, at 5,6 years old, he was running them.”
After playing at 7, Derek didn’t make the weight limit that Pop Warner sets. When he learned he wouldn’t be able to play, Derek describes the moment as “devastating.”
“We cried together,” said his mother, Shelly.
“He’s a big kid, and he tried to keep his weight down,” said David Sr. “We did everything we could, but he was devastated. Football is in his blood.”
Throughout the next five years, Derek was able to play basketball and baseball. But Pop Warner didn’t work out, again because of its weight limitation.
In October 2013, though, his school got a call from Play Ball! that gave Derek another shot at playing the sport he loves.
Play Ball! was looking for a 10th team to join the league, and Ohrenberger K-8 fit the bill. Derek heard the news at school and called his big brother when it was official. David Jr. can recall the excitement in Derek’s voice.
“He called me and he told me that his school was getting a football team,” said David Jr. “He was all excited. I think it was the first week of October, but he said everybody was really excited and I was excited for him.”
Derek stepped onto the football field with pads for the team’s first practice in early October. His dad was there and helped Ohrenberger head coach Mike Gavin with the team from the beginning of this season.
After watching his brother on the field so many times, Derek was now the one suiting up for games.
“I can’t really describe it,” Derek said. “It was overwhelming.”
The learning curve was steep for the players during the first season. Many of the students hadn’t played Pop Warner, and Ohrenberger had two practices before its first game, joining the league after the season had started.
Ohrenberger was grouped in the Township Division with less experienced teams because it was the school’s first season.
Following an0-7 regular season, Ohrenberger was matched up with another team for the Township semifinals. According to Play Ball! founder Mike Harney, Ohrenberger’s semifinal opponent had some players who weren’t eligible because of grades. Therefore, Ohrenberger didn’t play a semifinal game and was mched up with Dever-McCormack in the Township Championship last Friday.
Ohrenberger lost, 36-14, but as the players lined up at the 40-yard line across from their victorious opponents and received the runner-up trophy, their smiles and excitement didn't look like the reaction of a team that had lost eight straight games.
“They could care less,” said Gavin. “They just want to be part of a team, a sport, they want to be a part of something. They came every day, they came to practice, and they made the grades. It’s a testament to the kids.”
Seeing the positive effect a team atmosphere has had on the players – including his son – is something Derek’s father has recognized. Play Ball! has given Derek the chance to grow into more than just a football player. His father has noticed a change in the student’s attitude after having the opportunity to play a season of football.
“I’d volunteer every hour I have of my life to help this program,” said David Sr. “I cannot say it enough, and I live in the city. I see the violence every day. I was a coach for 15 years. This program, there’s zero negativity in it. It’s going to save a lot of kids.”
Having had the opportunity to coach both of his sons, David Sr. knows the importance football has had for them.
“The [game] they had at Harvard is unbelievable. All these kids together, and these are tough city kids,” said the father. “Don’t just think because they’re sixth, seventh, eighth grade ... I worked for the Department of Youth Services for two years.
“There are some hard-core kids out there. These kids are at positive events, working out, making friends who they’re going to have for a long time. It’s [immeasurable] what this program has done for these kids, this city, our community, my family and for me.”
Derek’s parents said they have noticed a change in how their son acts. His brother agreed, as did Gavin. To be on the football team, students at Ohrenberger must maintain a C- grade average.
Derek said that he was a C and D student before this year, but made sure to keep his grades up so he could stay on the football team.
“[Derek] was borderline himself with grades," said David Sr. "He’s gone from slacking where you have to ask him 10 times to doing it right away, and doing it when he’s supposed to do his homework and stuff."
Gavin is a computer teacher at Ohrenberger. He remembers Derek, among other current players, from when he was a fifth grader at the K-8 school.
Having seen what one season of football has done to motivate Derek is encouraging for Gavin.
“The sky is the limit for the kid,” said Gavin. “It’s up to Derek though. It can’t be just this. It needs to continue.
“The willingness to do his work, to take that extra effort. To make sure he’s on top of all his schoolwork. He would have put [schoolwork] on the back burner last year.”
To Gavin, the importance of what the players learn by playing a team sport is invaluable, even relative to what his players learn at school.
“What it does for the kids on the front lines,” he said, “is nothing any teacher can teach them in a classroom.”
Nick Ironside can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @nironside.
The following is the final story in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
Going into Thursday’s 127th playing of the nation’s oldest continuous high school football game against Boston Latin, Boston English will be much more confident in its ability to hang with the Wolfpack than it has been in the last decade.
Boston English has even created the hashtag #GoEnglishBeatLatin for Thursday’s 10 a.m. meeting at Harvard Stadium.
“All Boston English alumni please come support the 2013 Boston English football team
on Thanksgiving vs. Boston Latin (5-5)!” first-year coach Brian Vaughan posted on the English High Alumni Association’s Facebook page over the weekend. “The 2013 football team is now 6-4 (1st winning season in  years). The team is led by Jr. QB Emmanuel Almonte, who is one of the top players in the state with over 1,500 yards rushing, 846 yards passing, & 20 total TDs. My name is Brian Vaughan and this is my first year as head coach. The team has worked hard on and off the field all season and we are trying to bring Boston English Football back to where it should be. Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving.
A little context is needed to understand English’s enthusiasm for having a winning record going into its rivalry game: English’s only victory against Latin since 1981 was in 1997. And the last time English had a winning record going into Thanksgiving was in 2004, when it lost, 44-0. Since that game, Latin has won by an average of 29 points.
After English won its first non-forfeit game since 2009 last season, it seemed like the team was poised to compete on Turkey Day against a Latin team that had only one victory. But the usual combination of injuries and academic ineligibility conspired against them. English nearly had to forfeit the game but ended up fielding enough players for a 44-15 loss.
This year the team has won five of its last six games and is currently on a three-game win streak.
“I think it’s big,” Vaughan said of the win streak. “Especially with the seniors, I’m so honored to be part of these seniors. They’ve come through so much, just the adversity, the overall direction of where the program was going to where we are trying to get it to now. They took whatever we threw at them.
“We’re confident, not cocky because they know the test ahead of us. But we definitely feel good about it.”
But after beating Lynn Tech, 24-6, English’s last game was a 44-18 win against Minuteman because Marian forfeited the following week.
“We’re definitely worried about that, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing we can do about that now,” Vaughan said. “Our main goal is to just prepare guys and make sure we know what we’re doing when we line up against a really good Latin team.”
Latin is on its own three-game win streak, beating Medford, 25-21, Salem, 21-7, and Belmont, 40-29. But after Latin opened the season 2-0, senior running back Patrick Fahy tore his ACL and meniscus on the first play of a loss in Week 3 to North Quincy. After that the Wolfpack went on a five-game slide.
Since Week 3, Latin has used a bevy of players to fill his shoes, including senior Pat O’Grady, senior Jack O’Toole, sophomore Justin Springle, sophomore Danny Bohan, and junior Duncan McGaff.
“It was peak, a valley, and a peak,” Latin coach John McDonough said. “Of course it’s good for everybody, it’s always fun to win. It instills a little confidence in you. The kids are looking forward to Thursday.”
McDonough will be coaching Latin on Thanksgiving morning for the 33d straight year.
“It’s not about history,” McDonough said. “That’s not even a thought. It’s a football game, it’s the last game of the season. Besides the rivalry aspect, it’s the last game of season and half the teams in the state lose the last game and we don’t want to be a part of that.
“We’re looking forward to it. I hope we get some decent weather so it doesn't impact people’s enjoyment of the game. Last year was sunny and 60. You couldn't ask for a better day, but it’s late November.”
Vaughan's first order of business when he was hired as Boston English coach last spring was to print up workout shirts that simply read “Beat Latin.”
“We got them for the summer, those are summer workout shirts,” Vaughan said. “Those are supposed to be white but by now they are like gray or black, I don’t even know.
"So I know all about Thanksgiving and what it means to a lot of high school teams. I’m from Lynn and to this day this weekend I’ll see friends and we’ll talk about Thanksgiving battles we had against each other.
“I’m excited just because of the history of the game and it’s just another opportunity for this program to take another step in the right direction. Again, it’s not going to be easy. We’re fighting an uphill battle. But I think it’s a battle our guys are willing to accept.”
Perhaps the greatest quarterback in Boston Public School history, Kyle Dance, will end his career with a 2-0 forfeit on Thanksgiving morning.
The Latin Academy-Charlestown game will go down as a forfeit because Charlestown doesn't have enough linemen to safely play the game. The forfeit will give Latin Academy (8-2) its best record in school history.
"I'd rather play and lose than win like this," Latin Academy coach Rocco Zizza said over the weekend when it looked as though the game wouldn't be played.
But then on Sunday, Zizza said, he spoke to the Charlestown headmaster and was told they had a enough players to field a team. But after practice on Monday, Zizza learned that the game was off again. Even though Charlestown has 15 players for the game, the coaches don't feel they have enough linemen to play it safely.
"So Kyle's last game is a 2-0 forfeit," Zizza said. "It's kind of depressing."
Dance, who ends his career with 46 touchdown passes, got injured in a playoff game against O'Bryant and was only about 50 percent for a 21-14 loss to St. Clement in the Division 6 North sectional final Nov. 16.
"It's a disappointing way to end the season," Zizza said. "We had a great season. I have no regrets."
With the Boston City League Volleyball All-Star game tied 20-20 in the fourth set on Saturday afternoon, Nancy Liu had the ball in her hand on the service line and one thought in her head: Get the ball over the net.
“I was actually really nervous because every time we [practice] serving my coach is always like ‘Just get the ball over,’” the O’Bryant senior said. “Sometimes you want to try to win it but my mind was just ‘Get it over, do it simple’ and let my teammates do the rest of the work.”
That game plan paid off as the Red team scored the next four points off Liu’s service before ultimately defeating the Blue team two points later, 3-1 (25-16, 18-25, 25-21, 25-21) at UMass Boston’s Clark Athletic Center.
Liu was happy to keep the match from going to a fifth and decisive set.
“I just worked with my teammates, that’s the most important part,” she said. “Getting the ball over the net is just one important part and the rest is you have to depend on your teammates. Just keep in simple.”
Perhaps the biggest helping hand came during a long rally that ultimately put the Red squad up, 22-20. Just when it seemed like the Blue team would grab the point and the momentum, English High’s Massiel Ramirez plucked a ball at its apex above the net and managed to find an open piece of floor.
“It was great, I didn’t meant to do it,” she said. “It was great. I didn’t think I was going to come here but I made it.”
Boston International’s Antonea Green said her Blue team struggled with the Red team’s serve all day.
“Today was a good game, we played our heart out and it just happened,” she said. “We just hesitated and when they started serving we started getting scared. Other than that we did a good job and I’m proud of them and I’m looking forward to next year.
“It was amazing and I enjoyed it. It was my first year playing.”
The game was the last high school volleyball game for several of the players, including the Red team’s Heidy Barreiro, who helped Boston English win its fourth city title in five years.
“It means a lot because all the hard work paid off,” Barreiro said of winning the city championship. “We worked hard together.”
The Blue squad was coached by Madison Park coach Gladys Byrd, who led the Blue team to a 3-0 sweep last year at Emmanuel College.
“In the All-Star game it’s more important to play all the kids than to win I told the kids ‘It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about being an All-Star and being able to represent yourself and your school and your division,” Byrd said.
English coach Hardy Mondesir co-coached the Red squad with O’Bryant coach Trudy Fisher. Mondesir gave Fisher all the credit.
“She knew the players and knew when to put in the right players and the defense definitely helped,” he said. “This is my first time. it was fun. It was definitely good to get a more collaborative effort. We had a lot of good players offensively and defensively. It was fun."
And Fisher credited Liu’s solid serving in the final points of the fourth set.
“She’s a pretty consistent server and we put her in and she came through,” Fisher said. “I think the kids enjoyed playing. I think this is one of the best All-Star games I’ve seen in a long time.
“It was important to them so they are the ones that did all the work.”
It was a pretty important way for Liu to cap her senior season of volleyball.
“It’s pretty good, I had a great experience in my senior year,” she said. “I’m going to miss volleyball after this.”
CAMBRIDGE – Timilty Middle School quarterback Khalil Blair’s speed overpowered Fredericks Middle School on Friday night at Harvard Stadium in the Play Ball! City championship game.
Blair, an eighth grader, ran for four touchdowns, threw for one and returned a punt 53 yards for another score as the Panthers overcame a 14-12 halftime deficit to win, 40-14.
“He’s a very talented athlete,” said Timilty coach Gary Smith. “Sometimes he’s the leader every coach needs to be on the field and make the difference.”
Before the City Championship was contested, the Dever-McCormack Panthers took down the Ohrenberger Owls, 36-14, in the Play Ball! Township championship game.
The Ohrenberger scored on its final drive of the first season, but the McCormack’s experience and size proved to be too much for the Ohernberger, which participated in its first football season this year.
After the Timilty took home the title in the nightcap, Blair didn’t take all of the credit himself, praising his teammates.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have done any of that," he said. "All of the blockers, they all block and that’s all I need them to do so I can do my job."
Both the Fredericks and Timilty defenses stopped any scoring in the first quarter. But Blair and the Tigers struck first.
The quarterback hit Mykel Dering in stride for a 56-yard touchdown pass that opened the scoring early in the second quarter, giving Timilty a 6-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, the Fredericks quarterback Sayvoin Jones tossed a 34-yard pass that running back Erick Brown caught and ran into the end zone for the Fredericks’ first score. After rolling right, Jones found tight end Jordan Riggs on the 2-point conversion to give the Fredericks an 8-6 lead.
On the following possession, the Timilty was stuck on its five-yard line following a holding penalty. That’s when Blair rolled right and sprinted 95 yards down the sideline to electrify the Tigers fans.
Blair was unsure of whether the 95-yard dash was his longest run of the season, but it gave the Timilty a 12-8 lead.
With less than two minutes left in the first half, the Fredericks took the lead. Brown, who shares time with Jones at quarterback, found Stefan Jones on a 46-yard strike to give the Fredericks a first-and-goal from the four-yard line.
Brown ran the ball in from one-yard out to give the Fredericks a 14-12 lead at the interval.
But it was the last time the Fredericks would have an advantage on the scoreboard. The Timilty outscored the Fredericks, 28-0, in the second half as the Tigers’ defense stood strong the entire half, getting lots of pressure in the Fredericks’ backfield.
“Our defense is the key to our game,” Smith said. “No one’s ever scored all season more than two touchdowns on us, so when they got the 14, they realized that this is the key. We now get angry, we now get emotional, and we shut them down.”
Blair put on a show in the second half. Following a three-yard touchdown run, Blair returned a punt the distance to give the Timilty a 26-14 lead after three quarters.
The Timilty’s star player – who also starts at middle linebacker – added a pair of 13-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to give the Timilty the city championship.
The following is the fourth in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
For the second year in a row, New Mission and Burke will square off in a Thanksgiving matchup at Burke High School dubbed the “Unity Bowl."
The game is called that because it exemplifies the two communities unifying.
In last year’s Unity Bowl, Burke defeated New Mission, 22-0, but it was New Mission’s first year fielding a football team, and it didn’t win a single game.
But that was last season.
In its second year, New Mission has turned it around and won four games. In fact, it is on a three-game winning streak.
“It’s been nice to go on this three-game streak,” said coach Michael Pittman-Forman. “The young guys are starting to play well, and as a team our overall confidence level has been rising. We’re also starting to really grasp what we’ve been trying to do all year.”
One win during New Mission’s streak actually came against Burke, in a nail-biter of a game Nov. 2 that ended 18-14.
“That was quite the game,” Pittman-Forman said. “It was definitely a competitive one.”
The Thanksgiving showdown with Burke is sure to be just as close.
“Over the last couple of our games, our guys are starting to make plays” said Pittman-Forman. “We’re making plays we hadn’t been making all season; we’re making the plays that opposing teams had easily made on us. Another positive is our offensive line is really coming together as of late, which is something we struggled with early on.”
Burke coach Byron Beaman is also looking forward to a rematch with New Mission.
"We're handling practice this week the same as we always do; business as usual." he said.
"Like last year, It's a big game for us and we want to win. Anytime you play a team twice it's bound to be interesting. We only lost that first game (against New Mission) by four, so we're doing all we can to come out on the other side this time."
New Mission and Burke are set to square off at 10 a.m. at Burke High School.
The following is the third in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
The last time East Boston lost to South Boston in their traditional Thanksgiving football game was 2008, but Jets coach John Parziale is taking nothing for granted when his team meets a winless South Boston team for the 96th time at 9:30 a.m. next Thursday.
Otherwise he’ll hear about it up until next Thanksgiving.
“It’s a big game and I think the people of South Boston feel the same way, especially the older generation,” Parziale said. “When you run into them, they don’t want to know if you beat Greater Lowell or Brighton or West Roxbury, they just want to know, ‘Did you beat Southie?’
"That’s the question they all ask. If you can say you beat them, everything else doesn’t matter. If you have to say you lost, they give you a disgruntled look and tell you about when they beat you back in ’63. That’s the legacy. We try to impress that on the kids.”
First-year South Boston coach Ray Butler joked that he doesn’t have that problem this year:
“We don’t have any wins this season, so not a lot of people come up to talk to me,” he said.
Butler got his first taste of the East Boston-South Boston rivalry while working as an assistant coach in the only older City League rivalry last Thanksgiving: the Boston English-Boston Latin game.
“We play at 9:30, we’re the first game off, I remember last year at the Latin-English game [former East Boston] coach [John] Sousa was umpiring the game,” said Butler, who was a Latin assistant last year. “As the game was getting going, he asked if anyone was getting [East Boston-South Boston] updates yet. So a lot of people have a vested interest in it.”
Parziale said he doesn’t care that South Boston hasn’t won a game this year.
“That’s true, they had a rough year, at the same token, you throw records out the windows on Thanksgiving and we say that all the time you never know,” he said. “It’s one of those things where anything can happen. You can get a day where it’s snowing -- we’ve played in snow -- or it could be pounding rain. In the elements, the ball goes the wrong way; you could fumble at the wrong time, you never know. It could be a windy, cold day.
“We had years we beat Southie when they were favored; ’99 comes to mind. Southie was an excellent team and we were pretty good, too. Everyone picked Southie to win and we came out and pulled the upset. We just played and hard and it worked out for us.”
That’s what Butler is counting on. Getting his first win as the Knights coach on
Thanksgiving, he said, would be amazing.
“That would be incredibly special,” he said. “It would mean a lot for the kids and it means a lot to the school. A lot of places, you look at Thanksgiving and no matter what the record is, the Thanksgiving win is the thing that carries you throughout the year. It’s a very important game.”
Aside from looking for his first win, Butler’s team also will have gone nearly three weeks without playing a game. That’s because they had a bye during the last week of the season. But Butler said the time off has given his team a chance to get healthy and take care of business in the classroom.
“It’s been good for us,” he said. “We are a young group of younger players. We only have two seniors on the team so we need all the prep to get ready for Thanksgiving and for how big a moment it is and how special. It’s a chance to heal up.
“It’s been good to make sure the kids get that final push to get their grades up; it’s the end of the term. You never like to not play for that long but it’s been a real positive for us in getting ready for this game taking care of all those other things and getting the preparation.”
East Boston (4-6), which has been one of the more consistent city programs in recent years, has had a down year and is looking to finish on a strong note.
“It’s one of the oldest games in the country and it’s still a big thing with the community, it’s a real big deal in the community,” Parziale said. “I have a few volunteer assistants that played in the game over the years. Some of the kids had brothers and fathers and uncles who played in the game.
"This year we’re not doing too well, but we make it a one-game season. One game for the championship for us. We say, ‘Hey, beat Southie; that cures a lot of ills.' It’s good for the season. It’s very important.”
The following is second in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
The West Roxbury football team is set for a Thanksgiving matchup for the first time.
“We wanted a Thanksgiving game, so when Randolph offered to play, we picked it up,” West Roxbury coach Derek Wright said. “We’ve got some valuable practice time to prepare, too. This week has been pretty light, just going into some light conditioning drills and such. Next week we’ll dive into more of the structured stuff.”
West Roxbury finished in third place in the City League North Division, logging a 3-2 league record. On Nov. 1, the Raiders gave City League South champion O’Bryant a tough time, outscoring O’Bryant, 18-14, in the final three quarters, but ultimately fell, 33-18.
On Thanksgiving, they’ll square off against a Randolph team that’s looking for its first win of the year.
“We’re just practicing hard, and going over the things we’ve been doing all year long,” Randolph coach Keith Ford said. “Our athletic directors got together and put the game in place. Our AD is a West Roxbury alum, so that definitely helped in setting up the game for us.”
The opportunity to play on Thanksgiving means a lot to the West Roxbury players, whose season otherwise would be finished.
“It’s really exciting,” said senior quarterback David Bertucci. “To be able to play on Thanksgiving in my senior year after going three straight years without it, it’s just great.
"As a team, we’re all just really pumped. We’re definitely going to stick to the run game against Randolph. The last couple games, we really tried to air it out, but I think we’re going to go back to pounding the ball on the ground.”
With senior Mike Obiangwe in the backfield, running the ball is definitely the Raiders' best bet. Obiangwe logged eight touchdowns on the year, including two against O’Bryant.
“I feel thankful to be able to play the game,” Obiangwe said. “I mean, after this, there’s no more football. So we’re going to work really hard.”
When the 3 Point Foundation started in March 2012, co-founders Andrew Mirken and Boston Celtics attorney Neil Jacobs had a vision of improving the lives of Boston’s youth through positive reinforcement in the classroom and on the basketball court.
Now, 18 months and more than 100 kids later, Mirken says he’s thrilled with the influence the program has had. But for him and his hard-working staff, the journey has only just begun.
“We’re really trying to influence these kids in an academic way, along with helping them out on the court,” Mirken said. “I mean, everything you do on the basketball court translates to how you carry yourself in life, and we’re really trying to preach that to the kids.”
The 3 Point Foundation works specifically with fifth- and sixth-grade boys, and uses the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury. Its partners include Olympia Sports and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation.
Before running drills on the court, the boys are mentored in mathematics, literacy, and word problems.
During the school year, Mirken and his fellow employees hold these skill-building programs on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings, working with 26 kids, most of whom are BPS-rooted. During the summer, Mirken says, they expect more than 100 participants in their four-week program to be held in Newton.
“Our different programs fall under what we call 'C.A.B Academy,' ” he said. “C.A.B comes from the three initiatives we stress. They stand for character, academics, and basketball."
The instructors include Kyle Casey, who played for Harvard, Alece Mark, who plays for Northeastern, and Anthony Gurley, who played for UMass-Amherst.
Asked why he partnered with the 3 Point Foundation, director of the Reggie Lewis Center Keith McDermott, said it was a no-brainer.
“They create great opportunities for the kids,” he said.
“Andrew and Neil came to us in 2012 and immediately seemed very serious about how they were going to positively influence the community. And they’re doing just that. So someday these boys they’re working with will hopefully go out and flourish, but also go on to positively influence the lives of others. So, it was actually pretty easy to partner with them because of what they do.”
And, as McDermott said, it’s not only basketball and homework that the boys tackle. They’ve also participated in food giveaways among other volunteer events.
“Last year we fed 300 people in Dudley,” Mirken said. “This year we’re giving 500 bagged lunches out on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The kids come in with their families and we make sandwiches to donate. They also write notes on the bags, so it’s a really cool experience.”
Mirken also said they volunteered at the Franklin Park Zoo, where the kids helped grow vegetables to feed the animals.
Whether these young BPS students go on to play for the Celtics or someday return to the Reggie Lewis Center to mentor a new generation, there’s no question that Mirken, Jacobs, and the rest of the 3 Point Foundation are making an impact on Boston.
And McDermott couldn’t be happier with what he’s witnessing.
“When you see a guy as prominent as Neil Jacobs sitting in the classroom with the kids on a Saturday, helping with math or whatnot, you just witness genuine commitment,” McDermott said.
“You see a real-life real-person commitment that means so much more than just putting money behind a cause. It’s really quite amazing what’s going on here.”
Brighton and O'Bryant to play unofficial city championship after Madison Park bows out of Thanksgiving game
The following is first in a series of Thanksgiving football previews.
In an unexpected last-minute plot twist, the winners of the Boston City League North and Boston City League South will play an unofficial "city championship" game at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning at O’Bryant.
Madison Park bowed out of its traditional Thanksgiving matchup with campus rival O’Bryant, and Brighton stepped in to fill the void.
Brighton finished 7-0 to win the North and O’Bryant finished 7-0 to win the South, but there is no official city championship in football in Boston.
Brighton coach Randolph Abraham said the O’Bryant team captains approached him with the proposal during the Boston Scholar-Athlete program’s football banquet Saturday night, and the administrations of both schools approved the game Tuesday.
“We know each other well, we work closely with O’Bryant in the summer because they are one of the only other city teams to run the spread,” Abraham said. “We spent the summer working with each other and had a scrimmage.
“It’s the funniest thing. We already collected equipment. We had an emergency team meeting today and all of the kids are excited. They unanimously voted that they wanted to play on Thanksgiving. Now I’m talking to parents to get these kids to stay in Boston [for the holiday]. So far so good.”
Brighton doesn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving rival, and Abraham said the last time it played on Thanksgiving was in 1990 against Charlestown. The Bengals thought their season was over after they lost to Manchester Essex Regional, 42-28, in the Division 5 North sectionals at Harvard Stadium.
“It feels great," said Brighton quarterback Jalen Apperwhite, the BSA Player of the Year. "It feels like we have a second chance. I felt like the season was over.
"There’s been talk between both teams -- who is the real city champ? Now we get to see who is the actual city champ.”
Apperwhite said he has friends and family who play and coach for O’Bryant. So on previous Thanksgivings, he would watch them play against Madison Park or he would attend the Boston English-Boston Latin game since his father used to coach at Latin.
“One year I just stayed at home, helped mother cook Thanksgiving dinner, and just watched NFL games,” he said. “I was jealous. Now it’s like, ‘Hey, we finally get to have our big moment, a Thanksgiving game.
“I think it will be very exciting, because Thanksgiving morning everybody’s family always comes out, just a whole bunch of people. I know I’m going to have a lot of family out there. It will be nice to have everyone see me at my best. It will be a very uplifting feeling. I can’t put it into words right now.”
Abraham, who played at Brighton in the 1990s and took over as coach two years ago, said the previous coach, James Philip, never scheduled a Thanksgiving game because he thought the day should be spent with family and because he wanted his team to rest for the playoffs.
“[He thought] Thanksgiving is sacred, he was manly about it and wanted to rest. He likes to stay home and cook,” Abraham said. “I’ve been approached several times these last two years to pick up a Thanksgiving game. But with the new playoff system, it needs to be someone worth doing it, and O’Bryant is definitely that team and this is something hopefully we can continue to do.”
This will be the second straight year there is an unofficial "city championship." Last year, South winner Dorchester and North winner Madison Park happened to meet in the final regular-season game.
The winner is going to be the city champion," Abraham said. "Whoever wins the game is the city champ.”
Brighton quarterback Jalen Apperwhite was named the Boston Scholar-Athletes Boston Public Schools Football Player of the Year during a banquet at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
The senior, who collected 21 passing and 5 rushing touchdowns, beat out last year’s Player of the Year, Kyle Dance, whose Latin Academy squad lost to St. Clement in the Division 6 North semifinal Saturday night.
Apperwhite said he thought either Dance or Brighton running back Ricardo Edwards was going to win the award.
“I actually thought Kyle was going to win,” Apperwhite said during a telephone interview on Monday. “I was very surprised when they said Brighton. I was like, ‘Oh, Ricardo got it.’ When they said, ‘Jalen,’ I was like, ‘Wow.’
“It felt good. I started training for the season back in June so it felt good to know that my hard work paid off.
"I couldn’t have gotten the stats this year without my teammates working out with me in June, July, August and throughout the season. None of that would have been possible without my brothers. It feels good after all the hard work to get that recognition.”
Former Patriot Patrick Pass gave the keynote address at the banquet, which was held in the EMC Club that overlooks the field.
“It was very nice,” Apperwhite said. “I couldn’t think of a nicer place to have the banquet at.”
O’Bryant coach Kevin Gadson was voted Coach of the Year by his peers after leading the Tigers to an undefeated regular season before falling to Latin Academy in the playoffs.
"It just meant that our program is going in the right direction and we’re doing a good job," Gadson said during a telephone interview on Monday. "It’s not a reflection of me. I think it’s more a reflection of our program and assistant coaches."
Brighton was unbeaten in the regular season before losing to Manchester Essex Regional, 42-28, in the Division 5 North sectionals at Harvard Stadium.
“We knew what to expect, and to go out there and lose our first game, it felt like it’s not supposed to happen, like we're supposed to go to the Super Bowl,” Apperwhite said. “I think that was part of the problem. We started thinking we were supposed to [go to the Super Bowl].
“The only thing I will say is that we did fight to the end. We didn’t turn into that team that doesn’t care anymore. We finished out the season as best as we could and made the best of what we had left.”
Apperwhite said he is applying to Stonehill, Amherst, Colby, and Howard, but he also is thinking about joining former Brighton standout football and basketball player Prince Unaegbu at Bridgton Academy in Maine.
“Right now I’m applying to both,” Apperwhite said. “At the end, I’ll weigh my options and see which is best for me and which is best for my future.”
The BPS middle school football championships are set for Friday at Harvard Stadium.
The Township Championship between the Dever-McCormack Panthers and Mildred Avenue will kick off at 4 p.m., and the City Championship between Timility Tigers and Lila G. Fredericks will follow at 6.
Come watch some rising BPS stars on the gridiron Friday at Harvard Stadium.
SOMERVILLE — After recovering consecutive stripped balls in the fourth quarter — including returning one 57 yards for a touchdown — the Latin Academy football team could not have been knocked out of the postseason in more dramatic fashion on Saturday night at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville.
Chinedu Igbokwe's 57-yard fumble return put the Dragons down 1 point with 6:42 to play in their eventual 21-14 loss to St. Clement in the Division 6 North Sectional Finals.
Igbokwe said the last-ditch comeback made the loss easier to swallow even though victory was close enough to taste.
“A lot of teams when something like that happens, when they get down, they break apart and people start to get angry, curse or whatever they want to do,” the senior running back and defensive end said after his team fell to 8-2 on the year. “But to know that we have the people and the personnel, integrity and charisma that we could stay together and keep our cool the whole game, it means so much to us and the coaches and to the fans and to everybody else.”
With 7:07 left in the game St. Clement (9-1) blocked a punt on fourth-and-3 from the 18. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety that gave the Anchormen the 15-6 lead. On the first play on the drive after the safety, Duc Nguyen and Igbokwe stripped running back Brandon Williams. Igbokwe scooped up the fumble and returned it 57 yards for the TD. Senior quarterback Kyle Dance added the 2-point conversion run to make it 15-14 with 6:42 left in the game.
"Usually in a more safe situation you just fall on top of the ball but in my head I knew we needed a score, so I knew I had to scoop it and run as far as I could," Igbokwe said. "Luckily my team recognized it and they formed a convoy around me and I pointed the people around me and they picked up the blocks really well. So it was a full team effort.
"[After the TD] I’m thinking 'This is our game, we got the game back. This is our game to win or to lose' but it didn’t pan out that way the way I wanted it to.”
Forty seconds later, Latin Academy stripped the ball again, this time from Deron Hines and took over on the St. Clement 40. But two plays later, Dance’s pass was deflected and intercepted by Will Rennie with 5:36 left. The Anchormen capitalized on the turnover with 3:20 left in the game when Michael Sullivan scored on a 24-yard QB keeper that put St. Clement up, 21-14.
“I have no clue [what happened on the interception], I thought the ball was in the air going to my receiver and I turned around and it’s an interception so …,” said a despondent Dance.
Dance finished the game 8 for 18 for 76 yards passing, including a TD pass and two interceptions. Dance was only playing at about 75 percent after he injured his left hamstring against O’Bryant in the semifinals. He only practiced once last week.
"It hurts because I feel like I let down the team," Dance said. "I didn’t think I was going to be hurt. I thought I would be able to do 100 percent but I couldn’t. It affected us and we lost the game.
“We played as hard as we could and we just came up short. We tried. We did our best and the better team won I guess.”
After St. Clement opened the scoring with an 8-yard TD pass with 3:29 left in the opening quarter, Dance threw an interception in the end zone with 7:16 left in the half. But after a 12-play drive, St. Clement finally punted the ball. During that drive there was a 15-minute delay when St. Clement lineman Connor Sullivan went down with an injury and was carted off in an ambulance.
After the delay ended, Latin Academy finally got on the board three plays into their drive when Dance hooked up with Devaughn Riley on a 39-yard pass. But Dance’s 2-point conversion run failed and the Dragons trailed, 7-6.
St. Clement responded with its own 39-yard TD pass when Sullivan connected with Junior Oyaronbi with 1:33 left in the half. The Anchormen led, 13-6, after they missed the extra point.
Latin Academy made the most of the final moments of the half but missed consecutive opportunities when Dance had two long passes to Riley broken up in the end zone. First Brandon Williams swatted away the pass before Bruce Khaneil blocked the ball on the very next play on third down. Riley was wide open up the seam on fourth and 10 from the 26, but Dance was forced to scramble and his off-balance pass could reach Riley.
“You’re not going to get them all,” Riley said. “They did a pretty good job stopping us. They are probably the best defense we faced all year and they did a good job holding us at the end and keeping us finishing the big plays.
“[It makes us feel] worse because we came so close. It was right there. We were just this close and we lost it.”
The No. 4 seed in the Division 6 North Sectional, Latin Academy defeated Dorchester, 22-14 in the quarterfinals before beating O’Bryant, 20-6, in the semifinals after Dance went down with an injury. Latin Academy coach Rocco Zizza said those two wins were the first in school history since the winner of the Boston City League South Division went straight to the Division 5 Super Bowl under the old playoff system.
Two years ago Latin Academy lost to Nantucket in the Super Bowl.
“Two years ago we went to the Super Bowl but only a handful of teams were in our division,” Zizza said. “This is a massive division [now]. A [MIAA official] beforehand said there are 200 teams that would love to be in our position tonight so I think it was a great opportunity for us.
“Each playoff game was the equivalent of a Super Bowl.”
Zizza also said his team will secure the best record in program history if they beat Charlestown on Thanksgiving morning.
“Usually after a playoff loss it’s really depressing and you say ‘I wish we could play one more game,’” Zizza said. “Well, we will be playing one more game.”
The stage is set for fourth seeded Boston Latin Academy to head back to the Super Bowl. The last time Latin Academy made it was in 2011, when they fell 35-7 to Nantucket.
All that stands in the Dragons way is a second seeded St. Clement’s team that defeated last season’s Division 6 champion Cathedral in dominating fashion, 28-8, in their semifinal matchup on Nov. 9.
Latin Academy quarterback Kyle Dance said all his team needs to do is go out there on Saturday night and play their game.
“Both teams are hungry,” Dance said in a recent phone interview. “I mean, it’s definitely going to be a battle. We just need to play our game. I think what it’s going to come down to is who’s hungrier.”
Dance logged two touchdowns during Latin Academy’s resounding 20-6 semifinal victory over City League South Champion O’Bryant, but left late in the first quarter with a slight leg injury.
After taking it easy for a few practices, Dance says he’s getting better.
“I’m in the healing process, so I’ve just been working my way back to full health so I can play Saturday,” he said. “I’ve also been seeing a personal trainer, too, and he say’s I’ll be ready to go.”
Dance and company will have their hands full with a St. Clement’s team that averaged 40 points a game during the regular season.
St. Clement’s coach Colin Walsh praised Latin Academy on being a sound team, and discussed his team’s preparation for the Dragon’s highflying offense in a recent interview over the phone.
“When you're playing against Latin Academy and coach Zizzi, you definitely have to do a ton of preparation,” he said.
“They throw so many different things at you offensively. So we’ve been working all week on our defense and containing Kyle Dance, who’s such a great athlete. The last time we made it to the Super Bowl was in 1984, so we’re definitely excited for this opportunity.”
Latin Academy and St. Clements will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16th at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville.
For Dance, the opportunity for a super bowl berth in his senior year means everything.
But he was adamant in expressing that, more importantly, a win means more for all of his teammates who have worked so hard for the entire season.
“To make it this far, it means so much,” he said. “But not just personally. For the entire team. For all the players I’ve been playing varsity with for the last few years. If we come out like we did against O’Bryant in that first quarter, I think we’ll have a great chance. Now it’s just about proving as a team that we can go even farther.”
Surrounded by classmates and parents, five Boston Latin School senior athletes signed National Letters of Intent during a Wednesday morning ceremony.
Paige Mulry signed to play softball for Providence College, Patrick “Packy” Naughton signed to play baseball at Virginia Tech, Maggie Mulligan signed to play basketball at UMass Amherst, Lucy Moyes signed to row at University of Rhode Island and Meagan Lew signed with the crew team at Duke University.
“I like the atmosphere of the school and the whole team was so nice, I couldn’t ask for a better school to go to,” Mulry, a utility player from West Roxbury, said of Providence. “The whole team, the coaching staff everything is so great.”
Another West Roxbury resident, Naughton, went 13-2 on the mound for Boston Latin as a junior last spring.
“When I went there I loved the campus and the coaching staff and everything was great,” he said of Virginia Tech. “Blacksburg is just so warming and welcoming and I loved it there.
“The competition is going to be increased dramatically. The bottom hitters aren’t going to be weak hitters. You’re going to have to pitch to every spot in the lineup like it’s the top of the order.”
Mulligan is excited to have achieved her goal of making it to a Division 1 basketball program at Umps.
“It was just such a perfect fit for me after I met the team, I just clicked with them,” she said. “It’s a huge honor. I think after all the hard work I’ve put in over the years it’s such an awesome thing to be able to say that I am doing and to compete at the next level.”
The 6-foot-2-inch junior center helped lead the Wolfpack to their first state tournament in 10 years last spring. She scored a game-high 11 points in their post-season loss to Lexington.
“I think [UMass is] going to have me move around [positions] but I’m ready to play whatever position they want me to,” she said while noting she needs to work on her strength and her jump shot. “I think the aspect of being more independent from my parents, they’ve been there the whole time, is going to be a tough transition but it should be interesting.”
Moyes and Lew are both coxswains on the Latin crew team.
“I really like the coaching staff there and I feel like when I went on my official visit I really clicked with the girls on the team,” Moyes said of URI. “And my mom actually went to Rhode Island and I just love the schools."
She said the fact that her mom also went to URI wasn't the deciding factor. It helped that
between athletic and academic scholarships Moyes has a full ride to URI.
“I chose the school because I wanted to go there but it’s also cool that [my mom] also went there,” she said.
Finally, Lew will join two other former Boston Latin rowers, Caroline Kiritsy and Rachel Wolsfelt, at Duke next fall.
“I think it’s so cool it definitely brings a bit of comfort going into Duke,” she said. “it's definitely nice to know people on the team going in. I rowed with Rachel Wolsfelt not with Caroline Kiritsy; she was older than me.
“I’m really excited. I definitely want to go premed track, definitely some sort of science but I’ll figure it out when I get there. I talked to Rachel about it and she said it’s a lot of studying and learning on your own which I think BLS has prepared me for. So I’m excited. I’ve seen Caroline and Rachel be very successful at Duke so I’m excited.”
After defeating top-seeded O’Bryant, 20-6, in the MIAA Division 6 North semifinals Friday night, fourth-seeded Latin Academy is set to continue its state run against St. Clement this Saturday at Dilboy Field in Somerville at 6 p.m.
And fortunately for Latin Academy, it appears that star quarterback Kyle Dance will be good to go.
Dance suffered a slight leg injury against O’Bryant during a first-quarter touchdown run and sat for the rest of the game. According to coach Rocco Zizzi, Dance has been taking his recovery one step at a time.
“He says he’s been getting better,” Zizzi said. “That’s all I really know so far. It was a slight pulled muscle in his leg on his second touchdown run, so he should be good to go on Saturday. But we’ll see what happens.”
Latin Academy will play a second-seeded St. Clement team that beat Cathedral, 28-8, and a Super Bowl berth will be on the line. The winner will head to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Dec. 7.
Although his team failed to make the city championships and got knocked out of the state tournament in the first round, Pedro Daveiga managed to cap his final high school soccer game on a huge high note.
The Boston International senior scored a hat trick in the Red Team’s 3-0 victory against the Blue Team in the boys’ Boston City League All-Star Game on Saturday afternoon at Wentworth’s Sweeney Field.
“In the first half we didn’t control the ball, pass it around, after the first half the coach said the better we pass the ball the better we will play so we did that,” Daveiga said after scoring all his goals in the second half. “We kept on moving the ball around and made the passes. And on the last one the goalie kicked it to me and I the last goal.
“It feels great. Thanks to all the people that are here to watch me to play. I’m a senior and we didn’t make it so far we didn’t make it to the cities’ and we lost in the first round of the states. It was my last year. This one was my last game of my high school season so I’m happy to finish it great.”
After launching a rocket from the left side of the net for his first goal in the 27th minute of the second half, Daveiga scored again in the 34th minute and again in 37th minute.
“The first goal [West Roxbury’s Ricter Mirville] crossed two people and passed it to the side and I moved forward and I got a shot to the corner,” Daveiga said. “The second one it was the same thing from the other side. On the last one the goalie just kicked it to me and two guys were on me and I just fought my way in and got the shot.”
A few minutes after the first goal, the Blue Team’s Kovin Ortiz hit a shot off the crossbar that could have tied the game.
“I was just asking for the ball and [my teammate] kept crossing everybody up but by the time he got it to me it was too late,” the Madison Park senior said. “I barely got to touch it because the defender was there and it hit off the crossbar.
“I wanted to finish with a win but there’s only team that won the game. They had a chance to win the game, three goals.”
The Red Team was coached by Dorchester’s Tim Lavin, whose team was the last City League soccer team to bow out of the state tournament the previous night with a 3-1 loss to Masconomet in the Division 2 North semifinals.
Lavin said the victory took the sting out of Friday night’s loss a little bit.
“The All-Star game is always fun and it’s nice to coach a group of good players and good young men,” he said. “They worked well together today and got themselves a few goals and a nice little win.
“We were able to create a few chances for Pedro and he’s an excellent finisher for both Boston International and for us today. He took those chances and we’re appreciative that he did. It’s a nice way for the city to cap off the season and celebrate soccer here in Boston.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.