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Jaywalking

Jaywalking: Novak Awards

Years from now, someone may be looking in the trophy case at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, staring at the Western Mass. Division VI runners-up trophy and wondering why a piece of the state of Massachusetts is missing. Cape Cod to be exact.

Turns out, it’s in Turners Falls.

I have not seen the trophy and do not know for sure that the story is true, but I did see what appeared to be a piece of the trophy on Sunday during the 55th annual Anthony “Cannon” Novak Award ceremony at St. Kazimierz Society in Turners Falls.

As the story would have it, a Mohawk player was walking off the field following the loss to Turners Falls. Helmet swinging in one hand and the trophy in the other, the two made contact and a piece chipped off. It was later recovered by someone from Turners Falls, who presented the story and the chipped piece at the dinner.

I know there was some bad blood between the fans at that game, but before anyone gets all up in arms over this, take a deep breath and relax. Sports are meant to be fun and nothing here was done maliciously. Some people may cross the line from time to time (for example, I’ve heard a report about a person telling the Mohawk players at halftime that “the game is over b*tches”), and perhaps an instance like this adds fuel to the fire. But it was not a malicious act, and in fact, provided a moment of comedy at the ceremony. If you ask nicely, Mohawk, maybe you can get the piece back and glue it on to the trophy.

And what a ceremony it was. When I first received an invite to attend the Novak Awards about four years ago, there were maybe 50 people or so in attendance. At the time, the members of the Novak Committee told me they were hoping to get the dinner back to what it once was — a big affair attended by many of the townspeople that used to be “the event” in town on a Friday night.

I didn’t know if that was all possible four years ago, but on Sunday, 135 people packed St. Kaz. The ceremony began with a delicious pot roast dinner from Kathleen Tomaus Catering. Master of ceremonies Lew Collins followed with a short speech and turned things over to Shawn Hubert, one half of the local radio team that brings local high school football games into our cars and houses on Bear Country 95.3 each week.

Hubert, a lifelong native of the Powertown and 1986 graduate of Turners Falls High School, and whose mother and grandmother were also graduates of Turners Falls, delivered an off-the-cuff speech that was a perfect blend of stories from past and present teams. He included a piece on the current team, referring to what he called a “shift of paradigm,” which he explained as “a change from one way of thinking to another.”

“That’s what you’ve created,” he said. “That’s the new paradigm. In 23 years of doing football, you guys made me believe again. The way you came together this season and what you were able to accomplish ... ”

That was also in reference to the Indians winning their third Turkey Day game in a row, something they had never done before. Hubert elicited a mix of emotions during his time with the mic, cracking a number of jokes that drew laughter from the crowd, but also talking about past players like Brian Bogusz and Adam Markowski, who both passed away suddenly at a young age. Hubert also referenced Ken “Mitzi” Croteau, who, he said, was a few years older than Hubert in school. Hubert said that while Croteau was the “toughest football player he ever saw,” it wasn’t that fact that made him memorable to Hubert.

“Off the field, he was the nicest guy,” Hubert said. “I couldn’t tell you any stats about Mitzie, Brian or Adam, the reason I remember them isn’t the wins and losses, it was the quality of person they all were. It’s not because they played football, it’s how they lived off the field.”

Hubert also asked the crowd if they knew the name Ricky Kidder. According to Hubert, Kidder was his older cousin who played on Turners Falls in the 1970s.

“I remember him as being my hero,” Hubert said. “He was big and tough.”

Hubert said that Kidder attended every one of the Indians’ home games, and he said that when he was broadcasting the Turkey Day game, he would always get a little nod or a wink from his cousin. Their way of saying hello. And Hubert always knew where to find Kidder, because he always stood in the same spot, at the top of the bleachers to the left of the press box when looking at it from field level. Unfortunately, Kidder committed suicide about a year ago and was not standing in his spot when Hubert looked over this past Thanksgiving.

“I glanced over to the spot,” Hubert said. “That guy came to every one of your games. It still mattered to him all these years later. And he would have been so proud of this team.”

One of the lighter moments came when Hubert brought up a former player named Todd Bucci, whom he said was a great player in his own right, but who he best remembers for being injured during a Turkey Day game. As he was being carted off the field, Bucci began the tomahawk chop to the delight of the Indians fans.

Following Hubert’s speech, coach Chris Lapointe and line coach Jay Wonsey handed out awards. A list of all the award winners can be seen at the end of the column. They gave the Rookie of the Year award to freshman Tanner Castine, and the Most Improved Player to junior Alex Carlisle. Lineman of the Year went to under-sized senior Sam Danford, while Defensive MVP went to Trent Bourbeau. Offensive MVP was given to wide receiver Jalen Sanders, and Team MVP went to Malcolm Smith.

It was then time for the Novak Award to be given out. For those who don’t know, Anthony Novak was a football player for Turners Falls in the 1930s, growing up in the Patch section of Turners Falls. He was a four-athlete star, and got the nickname Cannon due to his speed and strength. He would go on to serve on a Navy Destroyer following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. He would return home, marry and move to Connecticut, but was diagnosed with leukemia and died 17 years to the date of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1958.

One year after his death, an award was named in his honor and given out to the top football player at Turners Falls ever since. The Novak family was on hand on Sunday as they always are, and for the second year two players received the award. Quarterback Malcolm Smith and fullback Brody Markol were given the giant trophies. Smith, who in my opinion was the top quarterback in the area this season, finished the year with nearly 1,600 passing yards and over 300 yards rushing, while completing 60 percent of his passes for an area-record 24 touchdowns. He was also a top defensive back in the league.

“It’s an honor to win this award,” Smith said. “It’s an honor to even play for Turners. To accept an award like this and be put in the history books with all those other winners, it really is an honor. And none of this would have happened without the coaches and the rest of my teammates.”

As for the fullback Markol, he finished the season with roughly 400 receiving yards and 200 rushing yards. He was also one of the top linebackers on the team. I’ve spoken with Markol mutliple times this season, and everything was always about the team. Even after winning the award, he did not waiver from that.”

“Like I said to you on Turkey Day, it’s an honor to play for Turners; it’s an honor to play for this community,” Markol said. “This was definitely a team thing. On August 19 we came together and we said we wanted one thing, and that was the Western Mass. championship. Then we wanted one more thing, and that was Turkey Day, the three-peat. And we got that. Everyone at practice stepped up for us. And I know the guys on Scout O and Scout D don’t really get recognized, but I’m going to give them a shout out right here. They helped make us who we are today.”

***

As promised, some of the other awards presented to the Indians on Sunday:

All-Intercounty League — Offense: Malcolm Smith, Trent Bourbeau, Tyler Charboneau, Jalen Sanders, Sam Danford, Brody Markol. Defense: Alex Carlisle, Malcolm Smith.

All-Intercounty League Academic Team — Freshman: Owen Ortiz, Ricky Craver, Tanner Castine, Tionne Brown, Quinn Doyle, Jack Darling, Mikey Babcock, Nicolas Croteau, Noah Palso. Sophomores: Will Roberge, Colby Dobias, Trevor Mankowsky, Cullen Wozniak, Jalen Sanders. Juniors: Trent Bourbeau, Alex Carlisle. Seniors: Melvin Moreno.

***

One person missing from yesterday was George Bush, who was at the Patriots game watching that miracle comeback first hand. I spoke to Mr. Bush on Monday and I had to ask him if he was still in his seat for the comeback. Say what you want, but Mr. Bush is no fool. He stayed right up until the end and was there to see the comeback orchestrated.

“It was just amazing,” he said of the late-game heroics.

And for those who missed the correction in the paper on Wednesday, I had the wrong year of the old Turners Falls High School building burning down. I appreciate the e-mails that people sent in to correct me. It was 1987, not 1967 as I had written.

One other thing that people talked about was the positioning of the field, which I misinterpreted from Mr. Bush. Apparently the old Sheff Field football field was not exactly where the Gamelin and Campbell baseball fields are now, but rather where the jungle gym equipment is located. Near the baseball fields, but not exactly where those now stand.

And there is still some mystery surrounding the story. Could be more to come.

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

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