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Here's a last look at memorable winter season

March 17, 2011

St. Raphael Academy's state championship in boys' basketball was one of the many highlights of the winter season.

The seasons come and the seasons go.
Another winter of high school sports in our region has come to an end (except for Mount St. Charles hockey, both the boys and the girls).
It wasn’t a particularly great campaign for teams from the Blackstone Valley. St. Raphael Academy did win the boys’ basketball open tournament. That was no small achievement, especially after the Saints limped to the finish line during the regular season and made a quick exit from the division playoffs.
Life is about second chances and the Saints made the most of their opportunity.
Shea High’s Freddy Gobewole sprinted to a New England championship in the 55-meter dash, beating the favored Jerickson Fedrick of Salem, N.H., a Division I college football prospect who had 3 inches in height and 30 pounds in weight over the 5-7, 165-pound Gobewole. Not that size matters in a race this short. Fedrick also had the fastest time (6.39 seconds) in New England heading into the event. Freddy beat him out of the blocks and won in a time of 6.44 seconds. Nobody measured the size of Freddy’s heart before this race started. Now they know.
In wrestling, East Providence crowned three individual state champions – Jacob Burroughs, Joan Vicente and Jonah Aurelio. Lincoln added one of its own (Nikolis Zacuis) while Cumberland High finished second in the state team race.
In a major surprise, Cumberland’s fabled Lariviere twins failed to win individual titles for the first time since they were freshmen. Shai Lariviere bowed out due to injury and brother Shoneil got beat in the finals by E.P.’s Vicente, who avenged a one-sided loss to his finals foe just a month earlier.
We witnessed North Smithfield standout Kayla Kiernan passing the century mark in career goals, something nobody else in R.I. girls’ hockey has done. We shook our heads in amazement when Mount St. Charles hockey coach Bill Belisle recorded his 900th career victory. It is very rare to see a high school coach still going strong at Bill’s age (81). But it seems like the desire to win never dies in some people.
Maybe it is even more than competitiveness that keeps Belisle on the bench, sharing coaching duties with his son David. Like Joe Paterno in college football, perhaps Bill Belisle just can’t walk away from the sport, and the players he coaches from year to year. The sport has become his life -- and not just the winning along with the occasional losing. Watching high school players develop from tentative underclassmen into well-trained seniors is a joy that coaches can share with teachers in the classroom. How do you walk away from something so meaningful?
Anyone who follows high school sports on a regular basis can share those same feelings with coaches like Bill Belisle. Significant high school games always draw a fair share of alumni. These people are not just reliving old memories. They are watching today’s high school athletes do the same thing they did decades earlier. It’s called growing up.
Through competition, young people learn how to accept victory in a gracious manner. They also learn how to lose and not offer excuses, mainly because their coach won’t let them. The good coaches understand that they are role models for the players. If coaches control their own emotions during trying circumstances, players can take a cue from this behavior.
I’ve been a sports writer for 42 years, which is a scary thought in itself. You start seeing the finish line in a career at some point. What currently comes to mind is how much your personal beliefs continue to evolve. Whether a team wins or loses has never been significant to me. How a team wins or loses was always something I found myself observing at the end of a game.
Now I find myself looking at the players and wondering what kind of odds do they have to beat each day just to participate in sports. Freddy Gobewole told me this week that “finding my way out” of his current station in life is important to him. That’s true of so many kids today.
Freddy also said college is important. Well, my generation and his do agree on that. Our parents back in the 1950s all wanted their kids to graduate from college. Most of them never had the chance to attend college, let alone graduate. It was the classical parental strategy of trying to give their children a better chance at succeeding than they had.
So at this stage of my sports writing career, I’m rooting for the high school athletes to pay attention in school and go on to college. Success in life is something that lasts for a long time.
Up ahead comes the spring sports season, a time for baseball, golf, track and field and softball to take center stage. There is a joy that comes with being outdoors and playing a sport, even if the wind turns fly balls into moments of embarrassment, and rain slows down a sprinter as he heads to the finish line.
Spring represents the rebirth of life after a long winter. For high school seniors, it is one final semester marked by the need to graduate and move on with their lives.
Next year’s seasons will bring us new sports stars, and many of the same coaches, teaching their own lessons. Life goes on.

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