Saturday, March 14, 2020

The MIAA State Championship Weekend That Wasn't

Many teams are left wondering whether they could have had the same experience Maynard did back in 2017 (Photo Courtesy: Joe Parello/@HereWeGoJoe)
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

For hundreds of high school athletes across the state, this upcoming weekend was supposed to be one to remember. Instead, Thursday night turned into one to forget.

On Thursday afternoon, the MIAA Board of Directors unanimously voted to cancel the MIAA Boys and Girls basketball and hockey state championships that were slated to be played over the course of Saturday and Sunday in an effort to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Massachusetts. As a result, the remaining teams in both sports were declared 'co-champions.'

The unprecedented nature of such a decision because of unthinkable circumstances led to dismay, anger, and understandable frustration from athletes across the state who were preparing for one last game. Athletes who had been preparing for days, weeks, months, and years to have the chance to bring a championship back to their communities were left wondering what could have been.

On Thursday night, a video circulated on twitter of Arlington hockey coach Anthony Messuri notifying his team that they would not receive the chance to compete against Pope Francis for the Division 1A Super Eight title. It was heartbreaking, depressing, and surreal. The shock felt radiated through the screen. Student-athletes on the brink of making school history will never be afforded the chance to have their moment.

Messuri's son, Anthony, took to twitter to try and explain his emotions in light of such a lost opportunity.

"I am truly heartbroken knowing I will never have the the satisfaction of my final high school hockey game," Messuri said. "(High school) hockey was to me what college hockey or the NHL is to many other young boys or girls playing the sport."

Those across the high school basketball community expressed similar displeasure. Lynn English was set to take on Springfield Central in the Div. 1 Boys Basketball State Final in hopes of proving for the second straight season they are without question the top team in the Bay State.

"Let us play just one more game please, we gotta finish," Bulldogs' star point guard Jarnel Guzman wrote on twitter. "This is what both teams have worked for all year. We can't go out like that. There can only be one winner."

There are track athletes who qualified for nationals that are not able to compete, and a state cheerleading competition scheduled for Sunday that will not take place.

Throughout the state there are people who know about high school sports far more than me. They know the history, have seen hundreds of more games, and have built stronger relationships with coaches and administrators. They will forget more with regards to the ins-and-outs of this business than I will ever learn.

But I can confidently say that this is a situation that no one has ever experienced. There's no guide for this, no playbook, or no rule book to read from that helps alleviate the sentiment that overwhelmed athletes and coaches in recent days. Nothing can be done to make sure the games are played this weekend. Nothing to do to make the participating programs feel better.

The only consolation in the absence of championship games themselves is that they allow a better appreciation for what they symbolize.  For everyone involved its devastating. The chance to compete for one final time, in an effort to bring home a trophy, only comes around for so many once in a career.

Its even more crushing for those who this weekend was supposed to be climax of their athletic careers. This is no disrespect for the Division 1 scholarship players, or those who have already found a home for collegiate athletics. They have worked equally hard, pouring in unthinkable hours of time and dispensing countless amounts of energy to reach this point. But those players will have a second career. Due to their ability - on top of their effort - those boys and girls will have a chance to compete for something greater whether it be a collegiate conference title or a national championship.

For everyone else, however, this was their last dance. Their final chance to etch their name in program lore. Whenever a writer like myself is assigned a game or a human interest story its exciting. Knowing you have the chance to shed light on a particular player's experience or a program's recent excellence is exhilarating and something I will never take for granted.

Its even more rewarding, however, when you receive that opportunity to cover a player from a program that does not often get statewide recognition. There is a thrill, adrenaline rush, in talking to that coach who is unable to contain him or herself through their answers because they feel as though their program is finally receiving the attention and respect they have worked so hard to achieve.  Its in those moments, through those stories, that I discover why I enjoy doing what I've had the chance to do for the past six years now. Cover high school sports.

This weekend was intended to create more of those stores, more of those moments. Unfortunately, they will never come. Multiple schools were going for their first championship in hockey and more in basketball. They will be labeled as "co-champions" and rightly celebrated and honored for their season, but that feeling of elation once the final buzzer sounds is lost for the time being.

On Thursday night I had the chance to cover the final two games of the winter season. They were originally dubbed state semi-final games set to be played without fans in hopes of quelling the spread of the virus. It seemed like the proper, reasonable course of action. Perhaps the games this weekend would follow similar protocol giving kids the chance to compete for a state championship while narrowing down the risks for all involved.

Except then it was announced late Wednesday night that Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Coronavirus leading to the postponement of the NBA regular season, beginning a snowball of events that left only one appropriate course of action.

That left the two games Thursday night between Div. 4 Girls participants Maynard and Munson and Div. 3 Boys counterparts Sutton and Sabis as de-facto state championship games. It was eerie with such a high profile game being played in front of a seemingly desolate Worcester State University gym. Just six days earlier, in the same arena, St. John's Shrewsbury had squeaked past Franklin in front of a sold out crowd comprised of a pair of fervent fan sections. Yet the enthusiasm between the four teams competing never waned. This was their time to compete for a championship, and they were taking full advantage.

Following the conclusion of the two games, won by Maynard and Sutton, I was talking to a former high school football player who had the chance to compete for a pair of state championships during his career. He said he thought the whole situation was, "f--cking stupid" and that if he was in the shoes of players who have had the opportunity stripped from them, he would show the same sort of frustration and anger on social media.

Its easy to strike back at such a reaction and deem it as ill-informed or irrational. But once you take a step back, you realize that for most of these players its more than just cancelling a sports game. Whether a freshman who may never get back again or a senior who has been waiting for their moment to be the leader of a title team, this is their passion. Its been a catalyst for motivation. A sense of purpose. All the effort seems to have led to no reward.

The actions are necessary, but that does not alleviate the frustration. The feelings displayed over the last 48 hours were supposed to be used towards success on the court and rink these two days. They were supposed to be used to fill columns of newspapers and windows of text.

Hopefully one day in the near future, people will look back on these measures and think to themselves that they were all an overreaction. That's when we'll know they were a success.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

My Dad and Sports

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ed. Note- This story was originally published in September 20th, 2019, but Joe has republished it so that it appears at the top of the website.

My dad passed away Thursday night.

We all grieve in different ways, and I think did all the usual things, but honestly, after a few hours, I just wanted to zone out and watch a bad football game.

Luckily, the Jags and Titans obliged me, but the game also reminded of all the sports memories I had with my father.

I remembered walking two miles from our parking spot to Super Bowl XXIX in Miami, and making him buy me an Arepa from a guy in a cart along the way. I remembered walking across a bridge in Pittsburgh with him when I was in 3rd grade, after we watched the Steelers win the AFC Championship, singing with a bunch of drunk dudes that the Steelers were finally going back to the Super Bowl.

I also remembered that I had this site, and that writing, though not my profession anymore, has always been cathartic. So, here we go...

My Dad was the Best/Worst Sports Fan

Maybe it's because he grew up poor in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, but my dad never really mentioned his youth sports heroes, and never took pro sports particularly seriously.

He was 19 when Bill Mazeroski homered in the bottom of the 9th to win the Pirates the World Series against the Yankees, but he never even mentioned to me if he watched or listened to the game, though he did have memories of my grandmother screaming when Bruno Sammartino was in trouble against some evil, non-Italian, wrestler.

Still, he would always talk fondly about the 1970s Steelers teams from his 30s, most notably his favorite players, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell, the latter of which he still couldn't believe wasn't in the Hall of Fame.

He also thought the Steelers should have permanently benched Terry Bradshaw for Joe Gilliam, so he definitely had some Hot Sports Takes™ in his day.

My dad is the reason I root for the Steelers. I was born in Pittsburgh, but we moved to South Florida when I was still a baby. I remember the Steel City as a tough, gritty, smoggy place, where we would go to visit my grandparents, and my dad would occasionally take me to see the Steelers or the Pirates play in the old Three Rivers Stadium, or the Penguins skate in the old Civic Center.

The city made me think of my parents as kids, and the toughness they had to have as the son and daughter of immigrants to make it in this country the way they did. I always liked that identity, though it was never really mine, so I pasted it onto Pittsburgh's pro sports teams.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 10 MIAA Games Of The Decade

Catholic Memorial senior Jarrett Martin's 45-yard Hail Mary reception to lift the Knights past BC High back in 2017 is one of the more memorable MIAA moments of the decade (Photo from Catholic Memorial, and taken by Marcus Miller).

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Throughout the 2010s, there were hundreds of MIAA High School sporting events filled with excitement, energy, and intensity. Thousands of fans were treated to record-setting performances, game-winning goals, and eyebrow raising finishes.

Over the course of the last 10 years I have been fortunate to witness, report on, and enjoy a number of these games. While there are plenty that come to mind when it comes to thinking back on the top showdowns that I had the pleasure of taking in, these 10 classics standout amongst the rest.

With 2020 right around the corner, here are my top 10 MIAA high school sporting events I had the opportunity to witness.

10. MIAA Football: Central Catholic 49, Andover 41 (2015)

Monday, November 11, 2019

One Last Chance: Owen McGowan and Barrett Pratt Use Lasting Memory to Help Fuel Catholic Memorial's Super Bowl Run

Former Canton Pop Warner teammates Owen McGowan (kicker) and Barrett Pratt (#7, pictured) now are at the center of Catholic Memorial's Super Bowl Charge.
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

In 2011, on a cold Thanksgiving morning on Baker Street, host Catholic Memorial went pound for pound with rival BC High. With a Super Bowl berth on the line and over 10,000 fans in attendance, the two sides refused to give an inch into the latter stages of the second half. Before it was all said and done the scoreboard told what had become a familiar story as the Eagles outlasted the Knights, 13-0, en route to the schools second title in four years. A Knights core that consisted of four Division 1 senior captains was unable to bring home Catholic Memorial's first crown in 35 years.

Weeks earlier, on a grass field in Sharon, Canton's Pop Warner football team was rushing onto the field for a last second field goal try. A conversion needed for a tie and a chance at an overtime win hung in the balance. Snap perfect, hold steady, kick through the uprights. For the fourth and fifth grades involved, it was the thrill of a lifetime. Except the holder and the kicker on that very day are now not only two close friends, but the staples of a Catholic Memorial team hoping to finish the job that the 2011 team was unable to complete. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

If MIAA Stars Entered the NFL Draft: 2019 Edition

Everett's Mike Sainristil has all the tools to be the top pick in our mock draft.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We may have (mostly) shut down operations here at SuiteSports, but dammit, I'm not gonna end this school year without putting out our fun, but mostly pointless blog about where the best players in the MIAA would be selected, were they available in this week's NFL Draft.

If you need to get caught up, you can find our 2017 MIAA/NFL Draft here, and our 2018 edition here.

A reminder of the rules for players being taken in our MIAA/NFL Draft:

1. The player must be a senior. I know college juniors (and redshirt sophomores) can be taken in the real NFL Draft, but that's not how our draft works.

2. The player can be headed to prep school next year. Since we don't include ISL or other Prep School players in our draft, guys who are finishing up their MIAA careers and graduating from an MIAA school get the chance to be drafted.