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Jaywalking

Jaywalking: Best of 2013

Happy New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Day signs are everywhere. School vacation is winding down, the bowl games are in full swing, and ABC is likely queuing up footage of Dick Clark to bring out as Ryan Seacrest once again sits on the throne made famous by the late Rockin’ New Year’s host.

The other New Year’s signs are ubiquitous Top 10 lists. The best songs of 2013, the best movies and so on. If you like such lists, this column is for you. If not, then I suppose we’re not ending 2013 on a happy note. Suck it up.

A lot has happened on the local sports scene the past 12 months. We have had four western Mass. championship teams from Recorder land, four runners-up, and one state champ. We’ve also had three individuals win WMass titles, but it wasn’t all fun and games. Oh no. We had a tragedy at the Boston Marathon that affected a number of local folks, we saw the passing of a local golf legend, and have had multiple coaches fighting to keep their jobs.

So, yes, the past year has been another memorable one. So let’s count down the Top 10 local stories of 2013. As always, it’s possible that I left out someone or something. If so, feel free to chime in.

10. Coaching controversy — Two stories that hit the area over the past year were battles by Turners Falls boys’ basketball/softball coach Gary Mullins and Pioneer boys’ basketball coach Dave Hastings, both of whom fought to keep their jobs. Mullins was thought to be in hot water after he retired from the athletic director position, while Hastings battled with the Pioneer administration to keep his post. The Mullins fight came to a head when the softball team and a large supporter retinue appeared at school committee meetings to voice their concerns. Mullins wound up keeping both posts, helping guide the softball team back to the WMass title game, and has now guided the basketball team to early-season success that has many picking the Indians as an early favorite for the WMass Division IV hoops crown. Hastings, meanwhile, kept his job at Pioneer and the Panthers appear poised to make a run at the WMass tournament this season.

9. Raider surprise — Two teams from the past season made the list after coming up short in a WMass championship game, and one of those had to be the Athol girls’ soccer team. The Red Raiders pulled off perhaps the biggest surprise of 2013 by qualifying for the WMass Division III girls’ tournament on the last day of the season, then picking up the 10th and final seed in the postseason before making an improbable run to the title game, winning three games over the seventh-, sixth- and second-seeded teams. The Cinderella story ended with a heart-wrenching 1-0 finals loss to Granby.

8. Track champs — It’s not every year that we get an All-State champion in track & field. So when two local athletes brought home All-State medals, it was even more impressive. Greenfield pole vaulter Vlad Popusoi and Mahar shot putter Sabrina Silva each won All-State championships, which takes every athlete regardless of division and pits them against each other. Popusoi was the state’s only pole vaulter to clear 14 feet, and then went to the New England meet, where he broke his own personal-best with a 14-foot, 3-inch vault, good for sixth place. He will get another crack this spring as a senior. Silva, meanwhile, finished off her storied career at Mahar with a state shot-put title, with a third in the discus. She had already won All-State and New England championships during the indoor track season, and wound up placing second in the shot and sixth in the discus at the outdoor New Englands. She is now a University of Rhode Island freshman.

7. Golden tees — Franklin Tech’s Cody Booska had a strong season on the links. He kicked things off prior to the high school season by winning the Crumpin-Fox Club men’s club championship, and that momentum carried into the fall, when he capped off a successful high school career by winning the state Vocational crown and then earned the WMass Division III individual title. To take nothing away from either accomplishment, it was the WMass victory that was most impressive. Booska, who entered the WMass meet as the defending champion, ran away from the field to earn his second consecutive title with a 2-under-par 70 that gave him a no-contest nine-stroke victory. Booska did not have a great day at the state meet, finishing 29th overall, but Pioneer’s James Elliott had a strong showing instead, capping off a solid junior campaign. Elliott finished in a second-place tie at the WMass meet and stayed true as state runner-up.

6. Wave hoop it up — For years, the Greenfield boys’ basketball team had been among the top teams in WMass, but over the past decade the once-proud program had fallen a bit. Things turned around last season, when the Green Wave went through the regular season with one loss and made it all the way to the WMass Division II title game. The team rejuvenated Greenfield hoops, as fans turned out en masse right through the playoff run. Greenfield again has a chance to make some noise this season and has been coming around after a slow start.

5. Marathon madness — No one needs to be reminded of the tragedy that struck at the Boston Marathon finish line in April. Terrorism never felt so close to home as that day, and it was made even more real given the large number of locals either running in the event or taking it in as spectators. Nearly everyone reading this likely knew someone who was in Beantown that day. Stories abounded in the aftermath, including one about Greenfield native Cassie Taylor, who wound up organizing a small group that finished the race and landed her on CNN to tell the story.

4. Cassidy-less title for Hawks — It’s possible that local volleyball fans thought Cassidy Stankowski’s graduation meant the end of Frontier volleyball domination. Those people were proven wrong this season by a new crop of Red Hawks who stepped onto the court and brought home a pair of trophies to South Deerfield. Frontier proved that things would not change just because the former Gatorade Player of the Year had moved on to collegiate volleyball. The Red Hawks moved up a division this season, playing the top teams in WMass during the regular season. Despite finishing second in the division in the regular season behind Minnechaug, the Red Hawks went on to win the WMass Division III and state Division III titles. That gave Frontier its fourth straight state crown.

3. Farewell, Bucky — The area lost a cherished member of the golfing community with the passing of James “Bucky” O’Brien, the popular longtime pro and Greenfield Country Club director of golf. Bucky began working at the Country Club in 1969 and remained at the Club for the rest of his life. He was there on the tragic day that the clubhouse burnt to the ground, and remained alive long enough to see it rebuilt in all its newfound glory. O’Brien was diagnosed with prostate cancer and battled the disease for 15 months before succumbing on Sept. 9 at age 77.

2. Double play — Not one, but two local baseball teams were crowned WMass champs in high school baseball this past spring. Greenfield and Frontier won the WMass Division II and III crowns, respectively. Greenfield ended a 21-year title drought with a 2-0 victory over Mount Greylock in the title game. The team was led by pitchers Garrett Hudson and Mike Duclos, and it was Hudson, a junior, who pitched the Wave to the title with a one-hit shutout in the championship game. The win marked the sixth WMass crown in the 41-year career of Green Wave coach Tom Suchanek. Greenfield finished the season with a 4-3 state-semifinal loss to Auburn. Frontier, meanwhile, was in the Division III title game after going 14-6 in the regular season under first-year coach Chuck Holt. The Hawks wound up as the tourney’s third seed and beat second-seeded St. Joseph’s in the semifinals before outlasting Smith Academy, 8-7, in a 10-inning finals thriller. Frontier went on to fall 5-1 to Hopedale in the state semifinals.

1. Powertown powerful — It was an exciting football season for local fans.

Sure, the new statewide playoff system was implemented amidst mixed reviews, but there was no mistaking the excitement it generated in Turners Falls. One season after losing eight of 11 starters from a WMass runner-up, the Indians did the improbable and made another run to the WMass Division VI championship game with a vastly different look. The four-team WMass Division VI tourney generated excitement locally and set up some new rivalries, including one between Mohawk and Franklin Tech and another between Mohawk and Turners Falls. The Indians wound up winning the WMass title over Mohawk and advanced to the state semifinals, where they were dropped by eventual state champion Littleton, 52-26. The excitement did not stop there for the Indians, who punctuated their memorable 9-3 season with a third straight victory over Greenfield in the Turkey Day game, marking the first time in the program’s history that Turners had accomplished that feat. Eat your heart out, Turbo.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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