10 Highlights for My 10th Anniversary at the Bulletin
Oct 30, 2017 07:00AM
By Pamela Johnson
2014 Baseball & Softball State Champs
During this month a decade ago, I joined the Bellingham Bulletin as its sports editor after a 35-year career at the Providence Journal. The 10 years at the Bulletin have passed quickly, but the emotions from key events and the memories of individual efforts still linger and remain vivid. They’ve been inspiring, significant, heart-warming, and heart-breaking.
What better way for me to celebrate my arrival at the Bulletin in November, 2007, than to share 10 stories on my 10th anniversary as the newspaper’s Sports Editor. The events and the individuals are in the history books—their achievements stark reminders of how their grit and determination put Bellingham in the headlines, whether it was at the local, state or national level.
The events include winning three Tri Valley League championships in one day: winning two state titles on the same day; Ricky Santos’ successful football career; Zach Levy’s state record of 546 yards gained rushing; Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu being drafted into Major League Soccer; Beau Starrett’s being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks; his brother Shane’s signing a pro contract with Edmonton; Sarah Edwards’ amazing track career; the two BHS girls basketball teams that won sectional titles but lost in the state tourney; and the effort to start a BHS hall of fame.
Here’s a capsule look at the 10 stories that made the last decade memorable, in random order. It’s a testament to the athletes and coaches, who have proved over and over again that coming from a small town should never be a barrier for success.
1. ) June 14, 2014, is a date that will forever be viewed as Bellingham High’s most successful day in athletics. On that date, the baseball team won its first state crown by downing Monument Mountain Regional of Barrington, 11-6, at Holy Cross. A few hours later, seven miles away at Worcester State University, the softball team edged Grafton, 3-1, in eight innings, for its first state championship.
The road to those games involved five other triumphs for both teams. The baseball squad started its journey with victories over Dedham (4-1), Medway (14-2), Old Rochester (13-3) and East Bridgewater (5-0, for the sectional title). A tense eighth-inning 2-1 win over North Reading in the state semifinals ended when the Hornets’ Scott Allan was called for a balk. The blowout triumph over Monument Mountain was sparked by David Sampson’s superb relief pitching and Kevin Martinis’ four hits, including a two-run homer and three RBIs.
The softball team edged Norton in its opener, 3-2, then defeated Fairhaven, 5-1, Dighton-Rehoboth, 5-0, and Case, 1-0, for the sectional championship. A 3-2 victory over Tewksbury in the state semifinals sent the Blackhawks against Grafton for the state crown. Grafton entered the game with a 49-2 record in its previous two years that resulted in a pair of state titles.
Megan Cook was the winning pitcher and Chloe Woodward was the hitting star, getting a double in the eighth stanza and driving in two runs.
2. ) Capturing three championships is a rarity at any level, but BHS achieved that feat on May 21, 2014, when the baseball, softball and boys track teams won by defeating Medfield. Coach TJ Chiappone’s baseball squad downed Medfield, 3-0, and Dennis Baker’s softball contingent topped the Warriors, 4-1. Pete Lacasse’s track squad also defeated the Warriors at the 10-team, league championship meet, 116-111. Norton was third with 87 points.
3. ) Quarterback Rick Santos put Bellingham on the map in a variety of ways. He led BHS to a pair of Super Bowl victories in 2000 and 2001. Later, at the University of New Hampshire, he guided the Wildcats to four playoff runs, won the Walter Payton Award (the Division 1-AA equivalent of the Heismann Trophy) and had his number retired. He also was chosen to play in the Hula Bowl.
Santos had a brief tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, was released but joined the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and was a reserve QB for three years. He has two Grey Cup rings, the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl. Santos returned to UNH, became receivers coach but now is working as Columbia University’s quarterback coach.
4/5. ) The National Hockey League is getting to know Bellingham and the Starrett family very well. Three years ago, Beau Starrett became the town’s first hockey player to be drafted by a professional team, taken on the third round by the Chicago Blackhawks (88th overall). Last April, his brother Shane, a top-notch goalie for the Air Force Academy, agreed to a two-year entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers, giving him the distinction of becoming the first player from Bellingham to sign a pro hockey contract.
Beau, who is 22, is a junior at Cornell University and plans on signing with Chicago when he finishes his collegiate hockey career for the Ivy League school. Shane, who is 23, decided the time was ripe to pursue a lifelong dream to play in the National Hockey League. Shane led Air Force to a 26-6-4 record and had a 1.99 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage, and five shutouts. He was named the Most Valuable Player at the Atlantic Hockey Conference’s Final Four and was voted by his teammates as the Falcons’ Most Valuable Player for a second straight year.
Beau and Shane have two other brothers who played hockey. Peter played at Harvard and Troy was a captain at Babson. All four brothers played at Catholic Memorial.
6. ) BHS running back Zach Levy gained a state-record 546 yards and scored seven touchdowns as the Blackhawks defeated Case High of Swansea, 48-38, last year. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder scored all 48 points, which included three two-point conversions.
Levy had 38 carries, and his touchdown runs went for 29, 47, 70, 10, 57, 71 and 57 yards. His seven TDs covered 341 yards, and he also had TD runs of 57 and 30 yards that were nullified by penalties.
“I’m speechless,’’ Levy said after that game, which was played in Swansea on Nov. 4. “It’s the coolest thing that’s happened since I started playing football. The offensive line made my job easy. Setting a state record is rewarding but what’s important was getting the win. I’d like to see us finish the season over .500.’’ BHS finished last season with a 5-6 record.
7. ) Sarah Edwards (left) is Bellingham High’s all-time best female track star, setting 16 school records, capturing MVP honors in the Tri Valley League, becoming an all-American and earning a full scholarship to Virginia Tech, where she’s excelling in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, an event she never ran in high school. A 2016 BHS grad, she won district and state titles at BHS, but it’s her last two races at Virginia Tech that are an indication that the best is yet to come.
The 19-year-old Bellingham native, who’s now a sophomore at Virginia Tech, led from start to finish and won in a time of 10:10.68, about 10 meters ahead of second-place finisher Alondra Negron Texidor of Puerto Rico. Negron Texidor’s time was 10:13.73.
Edwards’ victory in the Pan Am event was her second first-place finish in a month. In June, she won the steeplechase at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships at Sacramento. As a result of finishing in the top two at Sacramento, the former Bellingham High all-American qualified for the Pan American meet.
“This is really special,’’ Edwards said about her triumph in Peru. “I’m overjoyed. It was great to represent the United States, wearing red, white and blue.’’
8. ) Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu is a high-caliber soccer player who became Bellingham’s first draftee in Major League Soccer. He was selected by Atlanta United on the third round of the MLS draft. He was one of 88 players chosen.
A native of Bellingham, Wheeler-Omiunu played for the Bellingham Youth Soccer Association for 10 years. After attending Macy, South Elementary and the Memorial Middle School, he enrolled at Roxbury Latin in the Independent School League, where he earned Offensive Player of the Year honors.
For four seasons, the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder competed for Harvard, earning first-team all-Ivy honors as a sophomore and junior. (He has since graduated with a degree in economics.) A two-time captain for the Crimson, the 22-year-old Wheeler-Omiunu knew his chances of being drafted were high when he was one of 70 players invited to a combine outside Los Angeles.
9. ) The 2013/14 and 2014/15 girls basketball teams won back-to-back sectional championships and advanced to the state semifinals, where they lost both times to Hoosac Valley of the Berkshire County League.
The loss in 2015, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, was by a score of 63-57. In 2014 at the same arena, the setback was very close. The ’Canes jumped out to a 16-point lead, then held on for a two-point triumph. In 2015, Hoosac led by 16 in the third quarter, 46-30, then saw its lead dwindle to two, 48-46, in the final period; but a seven-point run gave Hoosac Valley the cushion it needed.
10. ) A second attempt to start a BHS athletic hall of fame became a reality, and plans are underway to honor past athletes, teams, coaches and contributors.
Michael Connor, the BHS athletic director and chairman of the selection committee, conducted meetings on Aug. 15 and Sept. 7, when bylaws were ratified and the selection committee was formalized.
Any individual may nominate a candidate for induction. The nomination process will begin on Jan. 1, 2018, and will end on March 31. Nomination forms will be available on the BHS athletic web page and at various athletic department events. “To fully establish the Hall of Fame, we likely will have an induction ceremony for several consecutive years, then consider alternating the years,’’ Connor noted. “We’re planning to have the first ceremony in November, 2018.’’