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A Rewarding Journey Ends with an Appreciative Goodbye

Jun 28, 2019 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey
Bellingham Bulletin Sports Editor Ken Hamwey (ret.) with General William Thornton at a previous Memorial Ceremony

written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor

It’s never easy to say goodbye, but that’s what this column will attempt to do. For the last 12 years in what I’ve called “semi-retirement,” I’ve been the Bulletin’s Sports Editor, and what a marvelous journey it’s been. It wasn’t planned; it just kind of happened.

Publisher Pam Johnson owns a top-notch monthly paper, distributed free to homes and businesses. It’s filled with plenty of news and advertisements and it focuses on a variety of local events and topics, but 12 years ago it lacked one key ingredient—sports news.

So, in 2008 at the age of 65, when I was wrapping up a 41-year career as a news and sports journalist, I wanted to continue in a field that truly was a labor of love. For six years (1967-1973) I had worked at the Framingham News (now the Metrowest Daily News). Then I moved on to the Providence Journal (winners of four Pulitzer Prizes), where I eventually became the night sports editor. 

We handled some incredible stories during my 35 years in Providence. The night Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run to propel the Red Sox into Game 7 of the 1975 World Series against Cincinnati was nerve-wracking on deadline. So, too, was the Celtics’ triple-overtime win over Phoenix in Game 5 of the NBA playoffs in 1976.

It was never easy when a moderate news night turned into a deadline frenzy—like when the Celtics’ Reggie Lewis died suddenly or when Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose 48 hours after being drafted by the Celtics. 

Major sports events like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and the World Series were always a challenge. But, when those events ran their course in 2008, I said goodbye to Providence. Forty-one years of full-time journalism were in the books, but there was one more box to check—writing sports in my community. So, I called Pam and she decided the time was ripe to expand her news budget.

For the last 12 years, I’ve written local sports and a municipal column. The municipal column will continue, but local sports will no longer start with my byline. The memories, however, are many and they remain indelible.

What a thrill it was to be on the beat with Bellingham High’s baseball and softball teams in 2014. All they did was win State championships.

The day was Saturday, June 14. The calendar labels that day as Flag Day. Well, it was more like banner day in Bellingham. Coach TJ Chiappone’s baseball squad defeated Monument Mountain at Holy Cross, and coach Dennis Baker’s softball crew stunned highly-favored Grafton at Worcester State. The titles were won in the same city, seven miles apart on the same day.

The town’s welcome was something to remember as both buses headed toward Richardson Field for a celebration with Bellingham’s youth teams. But what I’ll always remember is Chiappone’s pre-game talk in the BHS locker room.

After five straight victories in the playoffs, he said this about Game Six: “Today we’ll be playing a different team in a different city in a different stadium, but the way we play doesn’t change. Allow yourselves to be great today.”

Another wonderful event occurred on May 21, 2014. That’s when Bellingham High’s baseball, softball and boys track squads won Tri Valley championships. Three championships in one day. Not a bad haul!

Championships are won when quality coaches and athletes are in the mix. Success usually comes with a price, and at BHS student-athletes pay a high price for their successes. 

Here are some names from features and columns that I wrote:

• Sarah Edwards rewrote the record book at BHS in track and cross-country. Now she’s excelling at Virginia Tech, where she’s earned all-America honors for the third time. When she graduates in 2020, don’t be surprised if she goes to the Olympic Trials and secures a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

• Ricky Santos, who was coaching quarterbacks at Columbia University, has returned to the University of New Hampshire as Associate Head Coach/quarterback coach. What a pleasure to report on his career when he earned Division 1AA all-America honors at New Hampshire, was named to play in the Hula Bowl, and was chosen for the Walter Payton Award. He later received two Grey Cup rings as a reserve quarterback for the champion Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.

• Beau and Shane Starrett put Bellingham on the hockey map. They played at Catholic Memorial and both excelled in college—Beau at Cornell and Shane at the Air Force Academy. Shane signed a free-agent contract with Edmonton, and Beau, who was the first Bellingham-bred hockey player to be drafted by a National Hockey League team, could be signing with the Blackhawks. He was taken in the third round by Chicago.

Some former athletes from my “Where Are They Now” column had some remarkable stories to tell. Here are a few: 

• Val Sender, a native of Poland, couldn’t speak English and had only a high school diploma, but he was willing to forge a new life in a new country by blotting out the images of martial law, curfews, strikes against the government, and military tanks on street corners. 

Now 54, Sender came to the United States in 1986 at the age of 23 as a touring member of the Polish National basketball team. His decision to defect to the U.S. was difficult. “I had no paperwork, no passport, no money and limited clothes,” he said. “I had an apartment and a car back in Poland, but I knew I had an opportunity to become a U.S. citizen and be associated with a country that not only had unquestioned freedom, but also had great accomplishments around the world.”

In spite of a language barrier and no college background, Sender relied on personal responsibility and a will to live and embrace the American dream. He became a U.S. citizen in 1992, a year after he had graduated from UMass-Dartmouth, where he starred in basketball and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He became the university’s all-time leading scorer and a Division 3 All-American. He’s lived in Bellingham for 21 years.

• Luke Simpson was Framingham South’s MVP in hockey during his senior season in 1982. He also was captain of the Flyers’ baseball team that year, a Bay State League all-star in both sports and a member of championship teams in baseball and hockey. The Red Sox even had him on their radar, sending their New England scout, Bill Enos, to check his pitching ability. 
Those honors no doubt were thrills, but they pale in comparison to what the 21-year Bellingham resident achieved in a hockey game against Norwood on Feb. 3, 1982. South won the contest, 9-4, but the real story was Simpson’s scoring three goals in 36 seconds and a total of five for the game.

“I had no idea the three goals came so fast,” said Simpson, who played right wing. “All I was concentrating on was winning the game. It’s something I’ll never forget. All three goals were 20-foot snap shots in the slot. I was told that the 36 seconds was the second fastest time that three goals had been scored in a high school game.”

• Steve Priscella is an 18-year Bellingham resident who has the distinction of competing against Michael Jordan as a collegian. Priscella played Division 1 basketball for Boston University. A star at Quincy High, he battled Patrick Ewing when the former Knicks star played at Cambridge Rindge & Latin.

Now 54, Priscella earned a full scholarship to play at BU. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder relied on long arms and sizable hands and made defense his calling card. He averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds in high school, and at BU he averaged 12 minutes a game, causing turnovers, taking charges, getting steals and pressing.

During Priscella’s junior year (1984), the Terriers faced North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels’ lineup included Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty, four players who had long-lasting careers in the NBA. Priscella guarded Jordan for five minutes. “He was so quick and very wiry,” Priscella recalled. “He was tough to stop. He scored 14 points and played just a half because the game was decided in the first 20 minutes. They beat us by 12.”

I covered many top-notch coaches at BHS. Chiappone and Dennis Baker stand out because they win consistently. More important, they turn out student-athletes who win in the real world. And I dealt with quality administrators. Two who often expressed appreciation for my work promoting student-athletes and programs were Baker and Leo Dalpe. What makes them a breed apart is their sincere and genuine nature.

There are more fond memories. One was covering the first Hall of Fame induction ceremony last year. Another one that stands out is personal. I was selected as the recipient of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Distinguished Friend Award in 2010. That was humbling. 

Finally, I’d like to thank Pam Johnson for her commitment to make her monthly newspaper part of the fabric of Bellingham. Not many communities in the Commonwealth have a local newspaper that supplies news and sports the way the Bulletin does.

It’s difficult to say goodbye, but I walk away knowing that my 12 years at the Bulletin were devoted to quality people and quality programs. The journey was memorable and rewarding.






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