Dirty 40 racers enjoy the best of the Northeast Kingdom’s back roads

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A soft whir, hum and crunch was all that alerted the casual observer to the arrival of the first group of cyclists heading along Nelson Hill Road during the first stage of the Dirty 40 race on Saturday.  In its inaugural year, the race raised an estimated $4,000 to help support the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Orleans County families dealing with cancer.  Photos by Richard Creaser

A soft whir, hum and crunch was all that alerted the casual observer to the arrival of the first group of cyclists heading along Nelson Hill Road during the first stage of the Dirty 40 race on Saturday. In its inaugural year, the race raised an estimated $4,000 to help support the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Orleans County families dealing with cancer. Photos by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

HOLLAND —  There was very little warning of when the riders would make their first appearance, only a best guess and a couple of Labrador’s barking out a greeting at a photographer.  The sound came first, the crunch of tires on gravel, the steady whir of gears and wheels and legs united in motion.  Then a blur surged out from the trees shrouding the bend and the leaders emerged in tight formation, swelling like a wave of brilliant blues and yellows, reds and whites.

Smiling cyclists streamed by for perhaps 20 minutes, bodies bent forward to reduce drag, legs pumping as the riders hit yet another incline however slight.  Over the next six hours, 200 cyclists would clock in, having completed the inaugural Dirty 40 race.  Others would drop out along the way, and still more would finish their runs, proud about the accomplishment if not overly concerned about their time.

“That’s what’s really great about this race,” Todd Bowden of Glastonbury, Connecticut, said at the after race party at Tavern on the Hill in Derby.  “It’s very laid back and not super serious.  You race for the love of it and for the bragging rights, not the hardware.”

On this day, the bragging rights would belong to Mr. Bowden.  He led all racers with a blistering time of 2:55:21.6 over the 60-mile course, 40 of which were on the gravel roads that give the race its name.

Eric Daigle of Newport Center rides by pastured horses drinking in the scenery on the race route of the Dirty 40 cycle race.  Participants traveled from all over New England, New York, Quebec, and Ontario to take part in the inaugural gravel road race.

Eric Daigle of Newport Center rides by pastured horses drinking in the scenery on the race route of the Dirty 40 cycle race. Participants traveled from all over New England, New York, Quebec, and Ontario to take part in the inaugural gravel road race.

Not that Mr. Bowden completely blew the competition out of the water.  Iain Radford of Chelsea, Quebec, and Matt Surch of Ottawa, Ontario, finished with times of 2:55:22.9 and 2:55:23.0.  Five other racers also finished within 24 seconds of Mr. Bowden’s precedent setting time.

On the women’s side, Kathleen Lysakowski of Quincy, Massachusetts, led the field with a time of 3:12:17.3, followed by Heather Voisin of Montpelier with a time of 3:14:14.4 and Danielle Ruane of Bow, New Hampshire, with her time of 3:16:52.7.

Bev Gage of Orleans came in thirty-second overall, earning her the dubious distinction of being dead last with a time of 6:11:13.  There was no hang-dog expression for Ms. Gage, however.  As someone who only began riding in earnest in July and whose previous longest ride had been 32 miles, Ms. Gage was proud simply to have finished.

“My inspiration was raising money for the Halo Foundation,” she said.  “Doing something to helps others is just so wonderful.  Anthony (Moccia) and Heidi (Myers) should be so proud of what they accomplished.”

As the founders and organizing forces behind the Dirty 40, Mr. Moccia and Ms. Myers worked diligently to round up sponsors and work the social networks to attract racers to the event.

Behind it all, however, was the fact that all profits from the race would go to benefit the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation, which provides financial support to Orleans County cancer survivors and the families of individuals fighting cancer.  Ms. Myers said Monday morning that, although the numbers are preliminary, she expects the Dirty 40 race and raffle raised an estimated $4,000 for the Halo Foundation.

Dave Lafoe of Norton plays a game of chicken with a photographer during the first leg of the Dirty 40 cycling race Saturday.  As the oldest listed participant in the race at age 72, Mr. Lafoe finished with a respectable time of 4:41:31.

Dave Lafoe of Norton plays a game of chicken with a photographer during the first leg of the Dirty 40 cycling race Saturday. As the oldest listed participant in the race at age 72, Mr. Lafoe finished with a respectable time of 4:41:31.

“We’re pretty happy about that,” she said.  “We’d like to raise more next year.  We could have raised more but it being the first year there was no registration fee for the first 100 riders.”

When the Dirty 40 was conceived the ideals behind the race included a celebration of what rural Vermont was all about — back roads, gorgeous countryside and a community that stands together to help its own.

The friendliness of the community was apparent to the cyclists participating in the race.  Locals came out to wave at the riders as they passed by.

“I’m not really sure where it was, but there were some little girls serving lemonade,” Robert Schiesser of South Royalton recalled.  “How great is that?  I really couldn’t tell you how the organizers could have designed a better course.”

Even a local like Ms. Gage was impressed at the breadth of terrain the course encompassed.  Whether as a cyclist or just someone enjoying the area, the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom was to be found everywhere along the route, she said.

“I had a chance to go on some dirt roads I never would have traveled before,” Ms. Gage said.  “It really opens your eyes to how beautiful and how special a place we live in.”

While the beauty of the landscape was most often mentioned by participants, it was the challenge of the course that appealed to hardened cyclists like Mr. Bowden.

“It was a tough course, a real challenge,” he said.  “Unlike your traditional road race the ending was not proscribed.  It was a little bit crazier with a lot more variables thrown in there.”

Mr. Schiesser comes from a mountain bike racing background.  While some elements translate from mountain bike racing to gravel road racing, it was a new kind of experience for him.

“Mountain bike racing is won in the turns,” he said.  “In this kind of race you need to be in it the whole way, there is no last push to get through.  You need to pace yourself.”

Gravel road races are growing in popularity but the amount of races available are still limited, Mr. Bowden said.  That’s why he was more than willing to make the trek up from Connecticut to participate in the Dirty 40.

“It’s a really unique area,” Mr. Bowden said.  “Something is changing all of the time.  Those last 5 kilometers with the steep climb was hard, real hard.”

Mr. Bowden praised the work of the road crews responsible for maintaining the gravel roads that comprised the Dirty 40 course.  In general, gravel road racing requires a thicker tire with an aggressive tread.  Road conditions on Saturday were such that a rider could have gotten away with a narrower tread because of the excellent state of the roads.  Narrower treads lead to less resistance and a corresponding increase in speed, he explained.

Voyaging through the back roads was more than a bike race, Mr. Schiesser said.  It was akin to an adventure race where you need to be prepared for any and all sorts of conditions.  He even likened the course to a ride through Alaska’s boreal forest.

“I thought it was really neat to be out there,” he said.  “I think the course was just right.”

If there is one change to be recommended, it came from Ms. Gage.  Her recommendation was that perhaps someone better prepared might be able to take her place in next year’s race.

“I’m proud that I did it and that I’m still standing after,” Ms. Gage said.  “I still want to be involved but I think I might volunteer next year.  It was a wonderful experience and a great cause.  That’s why we do these things, to help people.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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Barton golf tournament benefits Jones Memorial Library

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Pictured, from left to right, are:  Eben Alexander, Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, and Bill Binney.  Photo courtesy of Martha Kinsley

Pictured, from left to right, are: Eben Alexander, Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, and Bill Binney. Photo courtesy of Martha Kinsley

The Friends of the Jones Memorial Library in Orleans held its fourth annual benefit golf tournament at the Barton Golf Club on August 24.

The first place winners of the four-person scramble were River Garden Cafe’s team of Nick Ouellette, Aric Steen, Bill Binney, and Eben Alexander, with a score of 60.

The second place team was Jamie Barron, Annie Barron, Alexis Harper, and Bruce Reed with a score of 61.  The third place team was Mark Tinker, Judy Tinker, Judy Martel, and Lyle Noyes with a score of 62.

Brent Kinsley won the putting contest in a putt out with Paulette Rogers.  Bob Hoyt won longest drive for men.  Annie Barron won longest drive for women.  Bruce Reed won closest to the pin at 12 inches.  Of special interest, Eben Alexander nailed a hole-in-one on number 8.  There are six par 3s at the Barton Golf Club and four of the six had special prizes offered by Hayes Ford including a car.  Unfortunately, number 8 was not one of the prize holes.

All proceeds from the event help to support library services and programs.  — submitted by Martha Kinsley.

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Lafoe Logging wins F Division state championship

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The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament.  Photo courtesy of Scott Burdick

The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament. Photo courtesy of Scott Burdick

The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament.  The tournament was held in Newport on July 27 and 28.  After a number of years of not competing in state tournaments, Lafoe Logging entered the F Division Tournament and spent two days working their way through the brackets and, ultimately, capturing the championship.  The team would like to thank Brian Lafoe from Lafoe Logging for his many years of sponsorship.   Pictured above, from left to right, in the front row, are:  Dave Bennett and Steve Devost.  In the middle row are:  Jessie Bennett, Jon Lafoe, Tanner Flynn, Joey Paxton, Jared Lafoe, and Tim Cloney.  In the back are: Justin Bursey, Doug Oliver, Travis Waterman, Eric Trucott, and Scott Burdick.  There are no plans to raise any money to go to the nationals or regionals.

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Newport team clinches softball D division title — headed to nationals

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Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday's tournament play.  Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play.   Photo by Richard Creaser

Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday’s tournament play. Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser 

NEWPORT — Solid defense and great team chemistry have propelled D&D Electric onto the national stage.  The Newport-based team has earned a berth at the Amateur Softball Association of America’s national eastern C and D division championships in Canton, Ohio, at the end of August.  D&D Electric earned the berth by winning the D division state tournament held at Gardner Park in Newport over the weekend.

D&D Electric defeated Accura Printing of Barre, 4-2 to clinch the title and remain undefeated throughout the tournament.  Coach and pitcher Rhonda Howard credits solid defense, particularly from fielders Krista Sargent and Christiane Brown, for keeping Accura off the board and securing the win.

“They had some really great catches to keep them off the bases,” Howard said.  “It was a really close game but we came out on top.”

Slow pitch softball is a game within a game.  The slow arc of the ball is deceptive in its movements.  Unlike a batting practice lob, the ball can be imbued with off-speed movement.  Controlling the arc and controlling its location are essential elements to the game.

“A good pitcher can have a great impact,” Dori Austin of The Rez in Waterbury said.  “A good pitcher can place the ball to make a hitter hit it where you want it to land.  That’s why you will hear the good pitchers moving their players around.”

The ability to dictate the flow of the game separates the good pitchers from the rest, Ms. Howard agreed.  It’s also a matter of learning the hitting habits of your opponents and playing to their weaknesses, she said.

“If you know the teams, you know where they are most likely to hit it,” Laura McClure of Burnett Scrap Metals from Burlington said.  “It does help to play against teams you normally would play.  You start out already knowing something about them.”

Playing against unfamiliar teams requires patience and a willingness to watch your rivals in action against other squads.  It was not unheard of for at least some opponents to watch games in progress, scouting out their rivals in preparation for the next round.

Slow pitch is less about big, dramatic hits and more about small ball — the art of generating hits and moving your players along the base paths.

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base.  Newport's Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America's state C and D division tournament over the weekend. Photo by Richard Creaser

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base. Newport’s Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America’s state C and D division tournament over the weekend.
Photo by Richard Creaser

“Defense plays a huge part in this game,” Ms. Austin said.  “You need to work at getting people on base and taking advantage of any play that lets you score runners.  You have to earn every run.”

As competitive a sport as it might be, particularly at the state tournament level, no one has forgotten that having fun is also part of the equation.  Many of the players at the tournaments have not only played with their teammates for years, but they have also played against one another for years as well.

“When you get to a tournament like this, sure, it’s about winning games and moving on,” Ms. McClure said.  “But you also have that social aspect.  It’s about good friends meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in a while.”

softball cooler

Dori Austin, playing for The Rez out of Waterbury, rides on the must have cooler for tournament play. The cooler keep beverages cool and helps players navigate the tournament grounds ensuring they arrive at the dugout rested and refreshed.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Cans of beer, canopies and the smell of hot dogs give the tournament a festive air.  The fact that Ms. Austin is also driving around on a motorized cooler only adds to the carnival-like atmosphere.  The scooter-cooler is a handy way to get around and keep beverages cold, but it also has a story behind it, Ms. Austin said.

“I wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen Degeneres and she read it on air,” Ms. Austin said.  “A little while later they sent this cooler from her show.  They featured the Cruzin’ Cooler on her show and she sent us one.”

Ms. Howard, Ms. Austin and Ms. McClure have all been part of teams that have competed at the national level.  It is, they agreed, an incredible experience as players and fans of the game.

“The level of softball you see when you get to nationals is just phenomenal,” Ms. Howard said.

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday's tournament play at Gardner Park.  Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August.  D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre. Photo by Richard Creaser

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday’s tournament play at Gardner Park. Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August. D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Does that high level of play intimidate the Vermont teams at all?  Not in the least, Ms. Howard said.

She played on the Newport squad that went to nationals in 2007.

“The teams from the south, where they can play pretty much all year, yeah, they have some advantages,” Ms. Howard said.  “We play sometimes in the winter, in the snow.  But ball is ball.  You go out there, give it 100 percent and see what happens.”

Ms. McClure’s team, though relatively new, includes a core group that had participated in eight straight C division state titles.  Team chemistry matters as much as field time when it comes to tournament play, she said.

“It takes it to a whole other level,” Ms. McClure said of the national tournament experience.  “It’s an awesome experience and it’s just always great to be able to travel as a team.”

Winning the state tournament or being the runner-up is only part of the ticket to the national tournament.  Each team that advances to represent Vermont now faces less than a month to raise the money to get them to Ohio.  D&D Electric will hold a team meeting later this week to formulate a plan, Ms. Howard said.

“We don’t have anything definite planned right now but we have a few ideas,” she said.  “We are thinking of a big garage sale, holding a car wash, and approaching local businesses to sponsor us.”

Anyone interested in supporting D&D Electric in their bid for the eastern national C division title can contact Ms. Howard at (802) 673-4156 for more information.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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Orleans County All Stars runners-up in district tournament

The Orleans County All-Stars were runners-up after losing a tight 5-4 championship game against district champions St. Johnsbury.  The OC All-Stars are, back row from left to right: Coach Allan Wright, Denver Bodette, Ben Myrick, Devin Royer, Ethan Willey, Caleb Derbyshire, John Stafford, Coach Denis Houle and Manager Mark Royer.  Front row from left to right: Robbie Diaz, Zachary Royer, Phoenix Malanga, Brennan Perkins, Ryland Brown and Caleb Sweeney.  Photo courtesy of Mark Royer

The Orleans County All-Stars were runners-up after losing a tight 5-4 championship game against district champions St. Johnsbury. The OC All-Stars are, back row from left to right: Coach Allan Wright, Denver Bodette, Ben Myrick, Devin Royer, Ethan Willey, Caleb Derbyshire, John Stafford, Coach Denis Houle and Manager Mark Royer. Front row from left to right: Robbie Diaz, Zachary Royer, Phoenix Malanga, Brennan Perkins, Ryland Brown and Caleb Sweeney. Photo courtesy of Mark Royer

by Richard Creaser

LYNDONVILLE — The Orleans County All-Stars, composed of players from two Lake Region and one North Country squads, earned runners-up honors at the 13-to-15-year-old Babe Ruth district tournament held in Lyndonville over the weekend.  Team manager Mark Royer had nothing but praise for his team.

“I told the boys after the game, we came here with pride, we played with pride and we left the field with pride,” Mr. Royer said on Monday.  “It was an honor to coach them.”

The caliber of sportsmanship displayed by the Orleans County team was such that even the umpires took note, Mr. Royer said.  The umpires admired the way the players remained composed and respectful, even at their worst moments.

The district tournament pitted the Orleans County squad against all-star teams from Lyndon and St. Johnsbury.  The double elimination tournament took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with St. Johnsbury emerging as the district champs following Sunday afternoon’s match-up against Orleans County.

The tournament started out well for Orleans County as they defeated Lyndon on Friday night.  Orleans County faced St. Johnsbury in the first game of the day Saturday morning and lost 10-0 with the game called in the fifth inning by the ten-run mercy rule.

“Even though we lost 10-0, St. Johnsbury was only ahead 5-0 coming into the bottom of the fifth,” Mr. Royer said.  “If we could have caught a few breaks it might have been a completely different game.  We played well, but just couldn’t cash in those runs.”

Orleans County finished off Lyndon in the nightcap to set up a rematch with St. Johnsbury on Sunday afternoon.  Because of the double-elimination format, the St. Johnsbury squad was playing for the championship while Orleans County played to force a second and deciding match.

Ethan Willey of Glover slides into base during the game on July 12 versus the Lyndon All-Stars.  Minding the base is Levi Daniels.  Photo by Walter Earle

Ethan Willey of Glover slides into base during the game on July 12 versus the Lyndon All-Stars. Minding the base is Levi Daniels. Photo by Walter Earle

The rematch proved the capabilities of the Orleans County squad as they managed to carry a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning.  Unlike in the first meeting, Orleans County generated some offense by finding holes in an otherwise tight St. Johnsbury defense.

“We definitely hit the ball better,” Mr. Royer said.  “The ball found the grass.  That’s what we would say in the dugout, ‘Make the ball find the grass.’”

St. Johnsbury plated two runs in their half of the sixth inning and carried it over into Orleans County’s final at bats.  St. Johnsbury would hang on to the lead and with the win, clinch the district title.

“We pitched really well and played solid defensively,” Mr. Royer said of the championship game.  “After they shut us down ten to nothing on Saturday there was no head-hanging.  We knew we had something to show them and we showed it on Sunday.”

Mr. Royer admired the way his team handled their loss in what may have been the biggest game of the season.  Baseball is just a game, he said, but the way you handle the outcome speaks volumes for the depth of a person’s character and that carries over to life off the diamond.

“Even when you try your best you won’t always get the result you want,” Mr. Royer said.  “Your effort and your attitude are the only things in life you can control.  It’s how you handle adversity and how you get back up and try again that really matters.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For a story on the Babe Ruth district three 13-year-old title win by the Lake Region All Stars, click here.

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Lake Region wins Babe Ruth 13-year-old district title

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The Lake Region Babe Ruth 13-year-old All Stars were crowned district champs following a 19-9 win over Lyndonville at Lake Region Union High on Sunday.  With the win, the LR all-stars head to Brattleboro on July 19 to compete in the state tournament.  The members of the district champion squad are, back row, from left to right:  Coach Shawn Santaw, Mitchell Gonyaw, Kaleb Gibson, Liam Kennedy, Cole Azur, Hunter Marsh, Coach Greg Marsh, and Coach Jason Kennedy.  In the front, from left to right, are:  Brady Perron, Ryan Descheneau, Caleb Lanoue, Tanner Amyot, T.J. Santaw, and Noah Royer. Photo courtesy of Jason Kennedy

The Lake Region Babe Ruth 13-year-old All Stars were crowned district champs following a 19-9 win over Lyndonville at Lake Region Union High on Sunday. With the win, the LR all-stars head to Brattleboro on July 19 to compete in the state tournament. The members of the district champion squad are, back row, from left to right: Coach Shawn Santaw, Mitchell Gonyaw, Kaleb Gibson, Liam Kennedy, Cole Azur, Hunter Marsh, Coach Greg Marsh, and Coach Jason Kennedy. In the front, from left to right, are: Brady Perron, Ryan Descheneau, Caleb Lanoue, Tanner Amyot, T.J. Santaw, and Noah Royer.
Photo courtesy of Jason Kennedy

by Richard Creaser

ORLEANS — The tournament may have been small, but the competition wasn’t.  However, the Lake Region squad defeated Lyndonville to earn the Babe Ruth district three 13-year-old title over the weekend.  The two teams squared off at Lake Region Union High on Saturday and Sunday to determine the winner under scorching conditions.

“I’m not sure I could have gone out in that heat and played three games with that level of intensity,” Coach Jason Kennedy said Tuesday.  “I think they’re just a great group of young guys who really love the game of baseball.”

Even though there were only two teams vying for the title — the Lake Region team being composed of players from both the Lake Region and North Country Union High School areas — the competition still followed the double elimination tournament rules.  As such, the tournament played out more like a major league divisional series than a one and done playoff game.

The Lake Region squad struck first, taking the first game of the tournament 6-4.  That first game, it would later seem, was merely an effort to gauge each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Lyndonville rebounded with a decisive 19-12 victory in game two, setting up a tense and exciting championship match on Sunday afternoon.
Lake Region would break out the big bats to post a five-inning, 19-9 victory to capture the district title and advance to Friday’s state tournament in Brattleboro.  Though the score may have seemed lopsided, taken as a whole both teams put up a tremendous effort, Coach Kennedy said.

“Our bats really came alive on Sunday,” he said.  “Both teams really hit the ball well all weekend.  We had to earn that win.”

Although the Lake Region squad is composed of players from different teams, finding that team chemistry wasn’t a big problem, Coach Kennedy said.  Many of the players had played against one another at different levels of baseball throughout their young careers.

“They may not have played together, but it’s not like they were meeting each other for the first time,” Coach Kennedy said.  “They all wanted to be there and to play baseball.  They have a drive and a desire to do well.”

The state tournament kicks off with Lake Region playing against host Brattleboro at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19, at Brattleboro High.  The winner of the state tournament will move on to compete at the New England Regional Tournament in Manchester, New Hampshire, starting on July 26.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For a story on the 13-to-15-year-old Babe Ruth district tournament, click here.

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Hartford wins Cal Ripken baseball championship

Hartford’s Cal Ripken All-Stars won the state championship in baseball for players age 12 and under at Barton Sunday, according to an account from Coach Jethro Hayman of the Lake Region All-Stars.

Mr. Hayman said the Lake Region team gave the Hartford team a great challenge, but it was an uphill battle as the Hartford team was big and intimidating and had a pitcher who could pitch 70 miles an hour.  He said the Hartford team has a good chance to win at the New England level.

“We earned their respect,” Coach Hayman said.  He said the other team’s coaches told the local team they were extremely impressed with the level of play from the challengers.

The final score of the championship game was 9-2.  Mr. Hayman said some of the other teams were not able to score against the Hartford team.  Some games were called off after the stronger team got ten runs ahead, through what is known as a mercy rule.  Not so with Lake Region’s team, which Mr. Hayman said never gave up.

The runs were earned by Parker Perron and Asom Hayman-Jones, on a bunt by Josh Royer.  Mr. Hayman said the other team was not expecting a bunt, and it was well executed and it worked.

He also was proud of his team for throwing against the Hartford runners each time they tried to steal.  He said they did not let them get away with anything without an effort, catching them twice in attempted steals.

“They never quit,” he said.

Mr. Hayman said the game on Saturday night between Lake Region and North Country was the best game of the series, in his opinion.  There were eight lead changes in the game, and Lake Region won it finally, eight to seven.  The game didn’t end until after 10 p.m., which means the Lake Region players were up late both nights before their state championship game on Sunday.

“It was a great event.”

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Cal Ripken tournament: Celebrating America’s pastime between weather delays

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Lake Region All-Star Dylan Gagnon sets for the play as Lake Region takes on Central Valley under the lights at the Barton Recreational Field on Friday night.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lake Region All-Star Dylan Gagnon sets for the play as Lake Region takes on Central Valley under the lights at the Barton Recreational Field on Friday night. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

BARTON —  By any objective measure, the greater the number of delays, the harder it is for pitchers to stay warmed up.  Friday night, opening night of the Vermont U12 Cal Ripken Baseball tournament, was just such a night.  Fans and players alike sought what shelter they could find as the umpires cleared the playing field behind the Pierce Block in Barton Village.  Overhead menacing skies threatened, but so far, had failed to surrender anything more than loud noises.

Twice the game would be called for thunder delay, a mandatory period of 20 minutes to allow any danger of lightning strikes to pass.  Given the fact that tall light poles and chain link dugouts constituted the bulk of structures closest to the field, the precautions seemed justified.

No sooner had the second thunder delay come to an end when a light rain began to fall.  The players, coaches and umpires gamely took to the field, playing half an inning before the intensity of the rain increased and even the most die-hard of parents and fans scrambled to their cars, under the trees or, through forethought and good planning, popped open their umbrellas.  Game one of the tournament was off to a rather poor start.

Coming out of the third delay in as many innings, the field now given a good drenching, the quality of play suffered somewhat.  Pitchers struggled to control sopping wet baseballs from atop a greasy mound.  The ring of aluminum bat on plastic cleats became a familiar sound as the players took breaks to remove the accumulated muck from their spikes.

“I got a lot of dirt stuck in my cleats,” Hartford reliever Chris Nulty acknowledged.  “I was having a hard time staying on the mound.  I would throw and then start to slip.”

Nulty was the second pitcher to take the mound for Hartford, Hunter Perkins having been pulled after an accumulated hour-long delay.  Though Nulty struggled, loading the bases and allowing North Country to tie up the game, he was far from defeated.  Nulty went on to record a three-run inside the park home run to begin Hartford’s rally from a long, painful inning.

North Country All-Star Aiden Gariepy takes to the mound against the Hartford All-Stars as second baseman Derrick Breault looks on.  A series of thunder and rain delays extended the opening round of the tournament on Friday night.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country All-Star Aiden Gariepy takes to the mound against the Hartford All-Stars as second baseman Derrick Breault looks on. A series of thunder and rain delays extended the opening round of the tournament on Friday night. Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country’s Aiden Gariepy, though subjected to the same routine dashing delays as his Hartford counterpart, would likewise struggle to recover his form.  Fastballs adopted unexpected movement, jinking and juking like knuckleballs, rising or dropping unexpectedly.  The role of the catcher became one less of calling pitches and catching strikes than one of simply arresting the ball’s forward momentum and hoping to keep it out in front.

Hartford moved on to the winner’s bracket, ousting North Country 15-5 in five innings.  Despite the ten-run mercy-ruled game, an hour of delays pushed back the start of game two.

The slick conditions persisted into the evening portion of the tournament as the Lake Region All-Stars took on Central Valley.  The lights, coupled with a persistent haze, gave the outfield a rather Field of Dreams quality.  However, what came out of the shrubbery on this night was not Shoeless Joe Jackson but, rather, a determined and ravenous horde of mosquitoes.

Despite the weather and the little miseries that accompanied them — or perhaps because of an ample supply of popcorn and hot dogs provided by the Barton Academy and Graded School’s eighth grade class — the players returned to the field and the fans got up and stretched, tried to dry out a bit, and went back to the business of baseball.

It was a sentiment shared by the players.  The night game has a certain mystique about it, recalling the major leagues and all those golden heroes of the diamond.  Maybe it’s just a function of the background being lost behind the lights, but everyone seems to stand a little taller.  There are no network TV cameras, but the dim glow of shaky handy cams and  the luminescent sparkle of camera phone flashes fills the night.

“This is my second one,” Lake Region catcher Parker Perron says of night games.  “You don’t really do anything different.  You just don’t want to look right at the lights.”

Lake Region All-Star Parker Perron (right) takes a short lead as Central Valley All-Star first baseman Chris Frost and base umpire Mike Wise prepare for the next play during Friday night's action.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lake Region All-Star Parker Perron (right) takes a short lead as Central Valley All-Star first baseman Chris Frost and base umpire Mike Wise prepare for the next play during Friday night’s action. Photo by Richard Creaser

Tracking pop-ups and running down baseballs in the outfield are probably the hardest parts of night baseball, he said.  The lights tend to be off to the sides and pose little problem for the catcher, he added.

The night game also holds the power to magically ward off bedtime, a fact not lost on the players.  Rian Hayman-Jones marveled at the hour when his walk-off three-run inside the park home run allowed the Lake Region team put away Central Valley 11-0.

“It’s pretty fun to be out playing baseball at 11 o’clock at night,” Hayman-Jones said afterward.

Adding to the fun was a strong sense of teamwork that enabled Lake Region to advance to the winners bracket.  A loss to North Country in the district playoffs spurred the Lake Region squad to do better, Hayman-Jones said.

“Losing that game made us work harder as a team,” Hayman-Jones said.  “We just had to work harder and play better.”

Despite being made up of players from Glover, Barton and Irasburg, the Lake Region All-Stars played as if they had spent the entire season together.  Indeed, this U12 team is largely composed of the same players who came within one out of being the U10 state champions two years earlier, Coach Jethro Hayman said.

North Country All-Star Briley Carter sheds water during a rain-delayed third inning on Friday night.  North Country would fall 15-5 in the opening round of the U12 Cal Ripken state tournament.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country All-Star Briley Carter sheds water during a rain-delayed third inning on Friday night. North Country would fall 15-5 in the opening round of the U12 Cal Ripken state tournament. Photo by Richard Creaser

“Some kids have gone and others come in, but this is basically the same team,” Mr. Hayman said.  “They’re very close.  They’re like brothers, and it shows.”

Like brothers, some of their dugout chatter spoke of their fellowship.  Parker Perron admired a bat and asked Parker Brown, the bat’s owner, if he could use it in his next at-bat.

“You don’t have to ask,” Brown replied.  “Unless you’re gonna use it to hit rocks or something.”

That good-natured rivalry and the spirit of fellowship that is the game of baseball would prevail.  Bernie Gonyaw, the state commissioner for Vermont Cal Ripken Baseball summed it up best.

“What better way to spend a Friday night than to spend it watching baseball under the lights?” Mr. Gonyaw mused.  “It’s the only place to be.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For an article on the tournament champions, click here.

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Sports pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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North Country grad will coach NBA Charlotte Bobcats

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Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High, was named the head coach of the NBA franchise the Charlotte Bobcats on May 29.  It has been a long 28-year journey, but Mr. Clifford is thrilled to be doing what he loves most.  Courtesy photo by Kent Smith, NBAE/Getty Images

Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High, was named the head coach of the NBA franchise the Charlotte Bobcats on May 29. It has been a long 28-year journey, but Mr. Clifford is thrilled to be doing what he loves most. Courtesy photo by Kent Smith, NBAE/Getty Images

by Richard Creaser

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High School, has been named head coach of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats.  Mr. Clifford accepted a two-year, $6-million deal with a club option for a third year.  Mr. Clifford spoke with the Chronicle about his new position on Thursday, June 6.

“My dad was a really successful coach at North Country, and I think that’s really where it all started,” Mr. Clifford said, referring to his father, Gerald Clifford.  “There were a lot of nights spent sitting around the kitchen table talking basketball.  We definitely were a basketball family — it was a big part of how we lived.”

By the time he graduated from North Country, Mr. Clifford had already taken his first steps on the path to the NBA.  He entered the University of Maine at Farmington, graduating with a degree in special education.

“I always knew, even from a young age, that teaching and coaching were something I wanted to do,” he said.  “It was while in college that I started off coaching at Woodland High School.”

Mr. Clifford made the transition from high school varsity to the collegiate coaching world with a four-year stint at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire.  Over the next 14 years he would find himself at Fairfield College, Boston University, and Siena College before landing a head coaching position at Adelphi University.

During his time at Adelphi, Mr. Clifford led the program to an 86-36 record and four straight 20-plus win seasons, including four appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament.  Mr. Clifford would then serve one year as assistant coach at East Carolina University before making his first foray into the NBA.

Mr. Clifford’s career in the NBA began in 2000 as an advance scout for the New York Knicks and as an assistant coach from 2001-2003.  He then went on to serve as assistant coach to Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets from 2003-2007 and then as an assistant coach to Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic from 2007-2011 before landing with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2011-2012 season.

“I didn’t set out to be an NBA coach,” Mr. Clifford said.  “I’ve just always loved my job and went where the opportunities presented themselves.”

There are a few simple sounding things that have helped guide him to his current position, Mr. Clifford revealed.

“It starts with finding a profession you have a passion for,” he said.  “I go to work every day and I’m excited by it and challenged by it.”

It’s also important to focus on each and every task you encounter.  You need to take pride in what you produce each and every time, Mr. Clifford said.  When you take pride in your work, others will take notice.

Next you need to be able to handle the good and the bad.  It’s never easy to accept bad news, but it is a fact that life doesn’t always give you exactly what you want or how you want it, regardless of what profession you’re in, Mr. Clifford said.

“How you deal with adversity is a big part of life,” he said.  “Throughout my career I’ve been fired four times.  It’s never easy but you have to pick up and move on.”

But success is not a plateau but an ever-evolving goal.  “You need to strive to continually evolve,” he said.  “It’s not always easy in this world but you need to be ready to jump at the opportunities that present themselves.”

Along with success there are always drawbacks as well.  Some sacrifices will have to be made, even as the head coach of an NBA franchise, Mr. Clifford said.

“The demands of the job will affect your personal life and your family time,” he said.  “That’s the biggest negative.  It’s the kind of job where you can’t just half do it.  It takes a lot of your time and you have to be prepared for that.”

As head coach you’re always under the microscope of the fans, your employers and the media, Mr. Clifford said.

“There’s nothing else I could do to make the kind of money I do at something I love,” he said.  “Dealing with the reality of what it is is a big part of being able to move on and do better.  You don’t get all of the great things without all of the bad things.”

Taking the helm of a team, at any level, is a test of leadership.  It involves establishing credibility with your players and setting a direction for the team, Mr. Clifford said.

“The detail parts are so important,” he said.  “Coaching, to me, at any level, is hard.  The difference is this:   If you’re coaching at the high school level, you’re the best coach that guy has ever played for.  By the time you get to the NBA, they’ve played for a lot of great coaches.”

Standing out among great coaches isn’t easy.  Despite the challenges, Mr. Clifford is certain that it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept.

“It’s great,” he said.  “It’s something you never take for granted.  There are times when you’re driving home and you’ve just seen the brilliance of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard and you have to think this is the best job in the world.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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In baseball playoffs: Hot-hitting Rangers double up Highlanders

Lake Region's Josh Locke laid down a perfect bunt and beat out the throw to set the stage for the Rangers' four-run first inning on Tuesday.  Lake Region took on visiting Harwood Highlanders in boys Division II playdowns and advanced to Friday's quarterfinals with an 8-4 win over Harwood.  Photos by Richard Creaser

Lake Region’s Josh Locke laid down a perfect bunt and beat out the throw to set the stage for the Rangers’ four-run first inning on Tuesday. Lake Region took on visiting Harwood Highlanders in boys Division II playdowns and advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals with an 8-4 win over Harwood. Photos by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle June 5, 2013

ORLEANS — The Lake Region Rangers (11-5) hot-hitting ways continued Tuesday as they faced the visiting Harwood Highlanders (8-7) in the first round of Division II baseball playdowns.  The Rangers rapped out ten hits against three Highlander pitchers en route to a convincing 8-4 win.

“I feel like that was our best hitting game this year,” Rangers freshman second baseman Kolby George said after the game.  “I really liked batting today — lots of nice, straight pitches.”

George’s early at bats may have contributed to the early departure of Highlander starter Ty Delphia.  George battled his way through 11 pitches in the first at bat for the home team before launching a double deep against the centerfield wall.

“I knew our guys were going to hit it,” Coach Eric Degre said after the game.  “We’ve been really dialed in at the plate.  Today we worked the pitch count and took advantage of our opportunities.”

Coach Degre took a chance using his number two starter, Dustin Bathalon, opting to save flame throwing starter Matt Messier’s arm for later in the playoffs.  It was a good call, as Bathalon pitched six innings surrendering four runs, only three of them earned.

“Dustin was pretty awesome,” Coach Degre said.  “He’s been pitching pretty well all year.”

Though Lake Region has played a primarily Division III schedule and Harwood a Division II schedule, Coach Degre was confident that his team was up to the challenge.  Tuesday’s game was the first match-up between Harwood and Lake Region this year.

“I don’t care who you play,” Coach Degre said.  “You still have to catch, pitch, throw and hit to win the game.  We knew what we needed to do to win, and we did it.”

Solid defense and hot hitting have been key elements in Lake Region's late season surge.  Here Ranger Sam Barbeau snags the throw as Harwood Highlander Matthew Fischer charges down the first base path.

Solid defense and hot hitting have been key elements in Lake Region’s late season surge. Here Ranger Sam Barbeau snags the throw as Harwood Highlander Matthew Fischer charges down the first base path.

Despite never having faced Harwood before and fielding a relatively young team, the Rangers were not in the least intimidated by their opponents, George said.

“I knew they would be a similar sort of team,” George said.  “They would play a lot like us.  We knew this was a playoff game and I figured we’d step it up.”

The Highlanders got on the board early as Lucas Russell came around to score on Dylan MacIsaac’s RBI single in the top of the first.  The Rangers would respond by bringing around four batters to jump out to an early 4-1 lead.

The Rangers endured some costly defensive lapses that allowed Harwood to tie the game at four apiece in the second inning.  Despite those costly errors, the Rangers rallied back.

“I always talk to the guys about dealing with adversity,” Coach Degre said.  “They know how to handle it.  They’re very supportive of each other.”

Lake Region reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the third after Logan Harper reached on a single and advanced to third on a pair of brilliantly executed stolen bases.  With the bases loaded and one out, Highlander Coach Mitch Casey made a pitching change and brought in Dominic Moreno to relieve Dephia.  Though Moreno retired the first batter he faced, he plunked Alex Beauregard to bring in the go-ahead run before inducing a groundball out to end the inning.

Lake Region plated two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to cement their lead, and add their eighth and final run in the bottom of the sixth.  Bathalon continued to pitch into the top of the seventh before a single and an error put men on the corners.  Coach Degre let Messier take the mound.

Messier struck out all three batters he faced to secure the win and help the Rangers advance to the quarter-final round.  With the win the Rangers will face either number two seed Otter Valley or number 15 Montpelier High on Friday, June 7.

“To advance to the quarter finals with such a young team really feels wonderful,” Coach Degre said.  “They’re young but their learning.”

Contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

 For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Sports pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

 

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