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Annual Lewis Basketball Tourney Honors a Special Man

Nov 30, 2015 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey

(L-R): Celtics mascot Lucky the Leprechaun with BYBA executive board members Joe Rotigliano, treasurer; Adam Thorell, president; Brian Olson, vice president; and Jack LaRose, secretary.

written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor

photo courtest of BGSA

The Bellingham Youth Basketball Association’s Walter Lewis Memorial Tournament is all about helping and volunteering—an event designed to help keep costs low so that families can register their children for a season of enjoyment and excitement.

Its mission personifies what the late Walter Lewis (pictured below), who died at 47, strived for as he served Bellingham as president of youth basketball, baseball and softball. Lewis was selfless, caring and always giving. From 1985 to 1999, he and his wife, Suzanne, cared for 57 foster children, eventually adopting four of them.

“Walter didn’t have a selfish bone in his body,” said Courtney Parker, who started playing softball at age eight and was a star hurler for Bellingham High’s varsity softball team 2007–2009. “He treated the three leagues he volunteered for like his family. He was extremely genuine.”

The year’s tourney, the 12th annual gathering, was held at BHS and BMMS Nov. 13–15; it featured 82 games, showcasing 50 teams and 500 youths from 25 towns, some as far away as Dracut and East Greenwich, RI. Hundreds of family members, friends and fans flocked to both venues during the three-day event that, according to BYBA President Adam Thorell, raised 20 percent of the organization’s budget.

An added bonus this year was the appearance of the Boston Celtics’ mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun, who posed for photos with players and their families. He brought the Celtics 1984 championship trophy with him for additional photo opportunities. “I really love going out to communities for various events,” Lucky said, “and this tournament is for a great cause.”

When the tourney began in 2004, the year that Lewis died, money raised went to his family, and that move continued through 2007. Since then, the BYBA has run the tourney in Lewis’s memory as its largest fundraiser. Besides using revenue generated to keep registration costs low, the BYBA also donates money to the town’s schools.

“The last few years we’ve supported the boys and girls basketball booster clubs,” Thorell said. “This year we’ll replace backboards at the middle school.”

Since the tourney is a pre-season event for travel teams, no championship trophy is awarded. “We don’t award trophies or declare champions because we want the kids to play with no pressure attached,” said BYBA secretary Jack LaRose. “Also, this is a fundraiser, and it’s meant to keep the memory of Walter Lewis alive.”

Most of the teams played three games and the league had six teams competing every hour. “It’s six in and six out,” LaRose said. “What’s rewarding about the tourney is that every parent with a child in the league volunteers for at least an hour. Members of the Board of Directors spend 20-30 hours during the three-day weekend. Rocky Edwards, our travel league director, preps for the tourney months in advance. He coordinates registration for all the teams that enter.”

The Executive Board of the BYBA consists of Thorell (president), Brian Olson (vice-president), LaRose (secretary) and Joe Rotigliano (treasurer). “The reason the Celtics sent their mascot to the tourney is because we sold 600 tickets last year for a Celtics game,” said Thorell. “They appreciated our promoting the franchise.” Olson noted that last January the league, its parents and many of the kids enjoyed a night with the team and said, “We’ll be doing it again next year on Jan. 15.”

The tourney is a fitting way to honor Lewis for his giving nature. He and his wife had five children (four adopted) and lived in Bellingham for 17 years. He previously lived in Framingham and Maynard. Raised in Stow, he graduated from Nashoba Regional in 1974. A graduate of Quinsigamond Community College (associate’s degree), he graduated from Bentley College with a degree in accounting in 1982. Lewis managed stores for CVS in MA and RI after working for EMC for 20 years.

He was president and treasurer of the BYBA for five years and also coached and was a referee. He was president of Bellingham Youth Baseball for 12 years and also served as a coach. Lewis also directed the Girls Softball Association for four years.

“Walter was all about helping the kids,” said Dan Bailey, who has served as a BYBA member for the last 12 years and currently is its director of referees. “He gave tons of time and was a great public servant. He didn’t volunteer because of any self-interest, and he could deal with conflicts effectively and resolve situations if they arose.”

A music enthusiast, he loved sports, and he found time to channel that love by volunteering and serving his community. The tournament keeps his name and his achievements on a front burner and there’s overwhelming concurrence that Bellingham lost someone special on Aug. 15, 2004.
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