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Keeping Score

Fish stories & other tales

Good morning!

Ask an old-timer from New Hampshire a simple question and you’ll get a simple answer. “When’s it gonna freeze?”

“Freezin’ already,” answered Marvin Carley, who was sitting in his pickup truck and staring at the thin glaze of ice on the setback above the Vernon Dam.

It was two days before Christmas and the shanties were lined up on the rail trail that bisects the backwaters of the dam. Impatient ice fishermen were ready for the hard freeze and the three inches of ice needed to hold the sturdy huts.

“I used to be out here by December 10,” said Carley. “I’d set up over at the end of that peninsula. Problem these days, it gets cold and then warms right back up again.”

The setback harbors its share of lunkers, and the New Hampshire record for channel catfish (11 pounds, six ounces) and carp (33 pounds) have both been taken from the Connecticut River in Hinsdale. “Walleye too,” said Carley. “Used to be more before the nuke plant, but they’re still here.”

And so the waiting game continues for a rite of winter that grows shorter each year.

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Greenfield’s Josh Hillman was chosen from a field of 77 applicants to be the new head pro at Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown and the head coach of the Williams College golf team. He is only the fourth pro in Taconic’s 90-year history.

Hillman joins another Franklin County native on the Williams College coaching staff. Deerfield’s Mike Russo completed his 34th season (415-103-58) coaching the Ephs’ men’s soccer team and was named the New England Small College Athletic Conference’s coach of the year, his fifth such honor since 2000.

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Bob and Doug Weiss watched the U.S. under-18 team beat Merrimack, 3-1, in North Andover earlier this month. During the game, L.A. Kings scout Bob Crocker pulled out the U-18 roster and said that UMass is recruiting Thatcher Demko, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound goalie from San Diego, and that 6-foot-5, 227-pound defenseman Mike McCarron is projected as a top ten pick in next year’s amateur draft.

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Phil Villapiano was not, is not, and will never be a true believer of the Immaculate Reception that happened when Franco Harris caught a tipped pass and scored the touchdown that beat Oakland on December 23, 1972. “I say to this day I was clipped on that play,” said Villapiano, a Raiders linebacker who was in pursuit of Harris. “The ball should’ve come back, a 15-yard penalty and five seconds left. There was no such thing as the Immaculate Reception.”

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Among the year’s notable deaths, horseman Peter Fuller passed away nine days after the Kentucky Derby. He lived in North Hampton, N.H., and his daughter Abby Fuller attended Stoneleigh-Burnham School. She later became a nationally regarded race jockey.

In 1968, Fuller’s horse Dancer’s Image won the Run for the Roses, but was disqualified after it tested positive for an analgesic called “bute” and he was ordered to return the $122,600 winner’s share.

Fuller was the son of a former Massachusetts governor and a wholehearted civil rights activist. He always suspected that his northern roots and liberal upbringing were the cause of the DQ. Weeks prior to the Derby, he’d donated his horse’s purse winnings to Martin Luther King’s widow. This, he thought, was payback, and that someone had snuck into the stall and administered the drug.

He was in a nursing facility called Clipper Harbor in Portsmouth the day of the 2012 Kentucky Derby. According to another patient, J.D. Forsberg, Fuller phoned in a wager on the winner, I’ll Have Another. They whooped it up a bit, but it was small consolation for a man who vowed if he ever got back to the Derby, he’d name his horse Dancer’s Revenge.

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The Dec. 24 issue of SI includes an article by Ben Reiter that claims the replacement NFL officials actually got it right on Sept. 24 when they ruled the Hail Mary pass was complete and a game-winning Seattle touchdown. After he came out from under the hood to announce his decision, referee Wayne Elliott said he had no idea what was in store. “I’m making a call, like I’ve been making calls for 35 years. I’m not thinking it’s something the world’s never going to forget.”

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Fred McCarthy called with news that retired New Hampshire racing official Calvin Fillmore passed away last month. “He was an all-around good guy, a good s**t believe you me,” said McCarthy, who knew Fillmore from their Hinsdale days when McCarthy ran the lure and Fillmore worked in the judges’ booth.

“Calvin started off by training greyhounds and he was a good one,” said McCarthy, “but babysitting dogs seven days a week got to him. He had a chance to get upstairs and he took it.

“Sixty-seven he dropped dead in Bonita Springs visiting Eddie Trow who’s running a kennel down there. Calvin was helping him with the books because Eddie couldn’t add two and two.”

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Australian mountaineer Lincoln Hall died in 2012 at age 56 of cancer. Hall was once left for dead near the summit of Everest, abandoned by Sherpas who were fearful of losing their own lives. By chance, another climbing party found him sitting and waiting, without gloves, a hat, oxygen bottles or a sleeping bag. He looked at his rescuers and said, “I imagine you’re surprised to find me here.”

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Hal Schaefer’s obituary in last week’s Washington Post included an allegation by Schaefer, who was Marilyn Monroe’s vocal coach, that Yankees star Joe DiMaggio had beaten her during their brief marriage in 1954. “I was on my way to confront him,” Schaefer said in a 2001 documentary, “but she said he would make dog meat out of me. She stopped me from going.”

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The UMass-Butler game at the Mullins Center on March 7 is already shaping up as the marquee home game of the season. The Bulldogs have just two losses (to Illinois and Xavier) and have beaten top-ranked Indiana and ninth-ranked North Carolina. Tonight Butler plays at Vanderbilt. Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today ratings have the Bulldogs 38th and UMass 119th.

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Year-end squibbers: During the baseball season, a hacker got onto the Yankees Facebook page and posted that Derek Jeter was lost for the season “with sexual-reassignment surgery. He promises to come back stronger than ever in 2013 as Minnie Martinez.” . ... On Nov. 10, the college hoops game between Florida and Georgetown was cancelled after the first half because of condensation on the hardwood. The game was being played aboard the USS Bataan off the coast of Jacksonville. … The Yankees went three-and-out in the playoffs, losing the first two games to Detroit in front of thousands of empty seats at overpriced Yankee Stadium. Alex Rodriguez was 3-for-25 with no RBIs. ... During the Summer Olympic basketball quarterfinals, France’s Nicholas Batum drilled Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin, saying afterward, “I wanted to give him a good reason to flop.”. ... Departed Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro began the season batting leadoff for the Colorado Rockies and ended it a World Series hero for San Francisco. … In Florida, a 32-year-old West Palm Beach man won an $800 python by eating more cockroaches than anyone else, then collapsed and died. The snake was given to his estate. ... In September, outfielder Josh Hamilton was diagnosed with a vision problem caused by too much caffeine and energy drinks. He’d become fixated on one spot and couldn’t stop staring. “It’s me we’re talking about here,” said Hamilton. “Guys, it’s me — it’s Josh. There’s got to be something weird.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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