RHAM senior Liam Calhoun recently broke the school’s boys cross country record, which stood for 30 years, running a 16:26 at the State Open on Nov. 5 at Wickham Park in Manchester.
It was a record two years in the making for Calhoun, who only joined the cross country team as a sophomore, switching from soccer to distance running.
Calhoun, who was born and raised in Andover, originally went out for soccer as a sophomore but could see the cross country team practicing and knew that’s where he belonged.
“This is going to sound biased but I think cross country guys are the best people. They are generally good, down to earth people,” Calhoun said. “I knew I liked running, but it was definitely an adjustment. I had so much fun and by the end of the season and I started getting the times I wanted.”
Calhoun, who also runs for the school’s indoor and outdoor track team, was set to make a big stride as a junior but the COVID-pandemic prevented postseason tournaments in cross country and eliminated most of the competition during the indoor track season.
“Last year was a really weird situation because I was in what I thought was the best shape. I felt like last year I was in the same shape I was this yea, but I just didn't have the chance to go and use it.”
Thankfully his junior year wasn't a total wash as he broke his first school record in the spring, registering the fastest mile in school history by running a blistering 4:26 to finish fourth overall at the Class MM meet on June 2.
Entering his senior year, he set his sights on the cross country record, which stood for three decades and was held by Mike Judenis.
Calhoun credited his coaches, who he described as very instrumental, and the hilly cross country course behind RHAM High School for helping him achieve his latest feat.
Following a fifth-place finish at the Class MM meet on Nov. 2, he eyed the State Open as his time to break the record.
“It was the right competition, the right atmosphere, and the right day,” recalled Calhoun. “When I crossed the line I didn’t even know because I was so focused on my place. I knew I had made Top 25 and that’s all I cared about because I entered to make New England’s. I eventually found out from my mom that I broke the record. It was the icing on top, especially being my senior year.”
His time and finish qualified him for the New England Championships, held in Vermont, where he would shake off a bizarre start that included bottleneck conditions with hundreds of competitors running elbow-to-elbow, which he referred to as “competitive jogging”. Despite the adverse conditions, Calhoun said it was really exciting atmosphere and would go on to pass 149 runners along the trail.
The record-breaking runner is one of four Calhoun athletes that compete at the connecting schools in Hebron. His sister, Caelyn and Alana, are part of the RHAM volleyball team that just won a state championship and his younger sister, Rian Grace, is a top cross country runner and captain at the middle school. Liam said that one he expects his youngest sister to break all his records one day.
When he’s not competing, the relaxed runner is practicing or playing his guitar and plays in the band at RHAM, also well as participating in National Honor Society.
He’ll compete in Indoor and Outdoor track before graduating in the spring. He said that he wants to focus on academics in college but has decided to continue running at the next level, saying, “I think I would miss it too much.”
Payten Wawruck, of Hebron, has committed to play baseball and study business at Fairfield University in 2022.
Wawruck, who is a senior at Loomis Chaffee, signed his National Letter of Intent in front of family and friends on Nov. 11.
“There were a lot of factors that went into it, but some of the biggest ones were location and the strength of school,” Wawruck said of his collegiate decision. “I wanted to have the best chance to play baseball and do academics, and Fairfield has a really strong business program.”
The 18-year-old outfielder will be joining a Division I program with a familiar face. His father, Jim Wawruck, played for Fairfield’s head coach Bill Currier when Currier coached at the University of Vermont.
“I’ve known him for a while and I have a strong connection with him. I trust him,” added the college commit.
Wawruck credits his time at Loomis Chaffee, a boarding school based in Windsor, as one of the biggest factors in his development as both a player and as a student.
He added that his teammates and coaches have pushed him to be a better player, “These guys work for their goals and the culture here is great and the coaching staff has been very supportive.”
Entering his senior season, his favorite memory at Loomis has been when the team returned after the COVID-cancellation, ‘We had an entire fan section packed on the hill, I got to bat leadoff and get a hit. We were known as one of the better teams in the league and this was our time to show it.”
Wawruck, who is a natural lefty at the plate and throws righty, is hoping that his final season at Loomis is the best one yet. The team is slated to do spring training at the Jackie Robinson Complex in Vero Beach, Florida.
“We all have a common goal. We have a winning culture and we’re building on that. We have a brotherhood,” he said of the upcoming spring season.
Wawruck played other sports when he was growing up before primarily focusing on baseball. He recalled that in one of his first memories was lapping a baserunner in tee-ball and that his coaches had to tell him to slow down.
At Fairfield he’ll be joining a very successful program that is coming off a season in which they set a program record with 39 wins, including 28 consecutive to start the season.
College baseball is a challenge that Wawruck is ready to embrace, saying he looks forward to the travel, the fan base, and the competition, adding, “It will be a whole different world. It’s that grind of playing Division I sports and being surrounded by that workhorse culture and being surrounded by the best athletes that I look forward to the most.”
Here are the Rivereast Standout Athletes of the Week for the week of Nov. 15-21:
Jodie Pickel - Portland (Swimming): Pickel had a memorable and successful Class S swimming meet at Cornerstone Community Pool in West Hartford on Nov. 17. The senior placed 6th in the 500 freestyle and 7th in the 200 freestyle, missing all-state honors by only a few seconds in each endurance race. Her 6th place finish in the 500 free earned her a medal to match the one she earned two years ago, the last time state swimming championships were held. Pickel has now earned the only two medals ever for Portland High School in the sport of swimming and she will graduate as the school record-holder for both the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
Avery Anderson - Bacon Academy (Swimming): Anderson had a fantastic state finals debut at the Class S swimming meet at Cornerstone Community Pool in West Hartford on Nov. 17. The freshman took on an experienced field, placing 6th in the 200 freestyle and 7th in the 500 freestyle, finishing behind only five seniors and a junior in the 500 free finals.
Chris Progano - East Hampton (Football): Progano has been the leading receiver for the Coginchaug Regional/East Hampton/Hale Ray co-op football team. Through the first six games, the EHHS senior was averaging a gaudy 18.8 yards per receptions, hauling in 20 passes for 376 yards and four touchdowns, all team-highs.
Zoe Parkinson - RHAM (Volleyball): Parkinson, a senior, had team-highs in kills (8) and blocks (3) as RHAM defeated Simsbury in three sets (25-21, 25-16, 25-20) to win the Class L state championship on Nov. 20. Junior teammate Ally Hadley was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player as the program won its eighth state championship since 2007.
WHS boys soccer capture thier 16th state title, a state record, with a 4-1 victory over Fitch at Dillon Stadium in Hartford
It took 40 minutes for the Wethersfield boys’ soccer to warm up, but once they did they played like a championship-bound team.
Senior William McCarter hammered home the game’s only goal in the 64th minute as the Eagles held on to beat Guilford 1-0 last Wednesday (Nov. 17) in the Class L semifinals, reaching the championship game for the first time since 2015.
“We knew they had a great keeper and a solid defense, and we knew it was going to be a battle,” said Wethersfield head coach Rob Jachym, who energized the team at half. “The biggest adjustments were in the back. Our two center backs dropped back, nothing earth shattering, just something high school kids need to be reminded of sometimes.”
Following a scoreless first half, the Eagles began to control the ball and fire consistent shot attempts at Guilford’s brilliant keeper Justin Hess.
In the 64th minute, senior captain Sammy Johnson weaved through a handful of Grizzlies defenders and fired a missile, which Hess rejected back into the field of play before McCarter followed with a blast that found the back of the net.
“We knew their goalie was pretty insane. We knew how good he was and we would have trouble scoring. We were hoping to get a lucky one by,” said McCarter, who added the offense woke up after half. “We realized we needed to change things up and coach gave us a nice pep talk. We just wanted it more.”
Jachym said the offense, led by Johnson and McCarter, dug down deep in the second half, “Sammy is a player that can do something special like that. He’s deceptively quick.”
He added, “Will is a lefty, but he put it in with his right foot. He hit a couple that didn’t go in and it was nice for him to see that one go in.”
The offensive highlight was the after-dinner mint to the four-course meal that the Eagles defense served up.
As they have done all year, goalie Ricky Torres and Christopher Daley took turns manning the net. Torres played the first half and Daley played the final 40 minutes.
Both played valiantly, combining with the guys in front of them to shut down a talented Grizzlies offensive.
Captains Owen Ahmetovic and AJ Contreras, along with outside center backs Connor Swanson and Marco Capasso, led a defensive unit that limited scoring opportunities for a Grizzlies team that had scored three or more goals in ten games this fall.
The semifinal victory lifted the Eagles to the Class L championship game where they soundly defeated Fitch 4-1 on Sunday (Nov. 21) behind to a terrific all-around performance on both ends.
Josh Gstell scored off an assist from McCarter; Thomas Brodowicz netted one on an assist from Johnson; Joey Tata scored off an assist from Brodowicz; and Giankarlos DeJesus put the game on ice with a goal off a penalty kick.
The triumph over Fitch was a fantastic finale for 20 seniors, who banded together over four years to secure a championship celebration at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
Jachym added that all the seniors had a role, “We don’t keep guys just to keep guys. It’s not just about ability, it’s about the team and some of these guys are good to have around and support the team. The guys have been a great cohesive group. It reminded me of the group we had in ‘04.”
Jachym’s 2004 team also won a championship, as did his 2008 team. All told, it was Wethersfield 16th state title, a state record.
This season’s team battled through a difficult regular season schedule, finishing 10-3-1, entering the tournament as the #13-seed before ousting Torrington (6-0) in the opening round, Woodstock (4-0) in round two, and then eliminating Notre Dame-West Haven (2-0) in the quarterfinals.
McCarter said the senior’s swan song has been amazing, adding “We’ve been dreaming about this since we started playing. To see everything that we’ve dreamed about come true is unreal. It’s the best feeling.”
WHS field hockey reached the state championship game for the first time since 1980
For the first time since 1980, Wethersfield High School’s field hockey played in a state championship game. The Eagles fell to perennial powerhouse Guilford 4-0 last Saturday (Nov. 20) in the Class M title game, but the departing seniors delivered a season the program hadn’t seen since people were asking, “Who Shot J.R.?”
The end result was different from the 1980’s team, who defeated Westhill 3-1 over three decades ago, yet the performance delivered by Wethersfield keeper Julia Peacock was championship-worthy.
Peacock stopped an astonishing 29 shots from the aggressive Grizzlies from Guilford, who relentlessly pelted shots at the senior goalie. Peacock and her defensive mates, captain Emily Messina, Gabriella Tomaino, Emma Anzidei, and Emma Hucks, held up for nearly three quarters.
“Throughout the entire tournament they came to play,” Budaj said of her defense, “They saved us when other teams were knocking on the door. Every game we played they came up huge for us with the good strong clears. Our defensive back was our strongest line throughout our whole tournament run.”
The dam finally broke late in the third when a fast break opportunity by Guilford captain Maddie Epke led to a goal from junior Grace Barlage, who snuck one past Peacock from the left corner with 7.8 second remaining in the quarter.
Barlage would add a second goal at the 12:03 mark of the fourth before Allie Pentonito and Isabel Matthews sealed the victory with a pair of scores late in regulation.
It was Guilford’s third straight Class M championship. The Grizzlies finished 19-1 overall, outscoring their four tourney opponents 23-0.
For Wethersfield, the loss ended a sensational run for a senior class that became the winningest class in the program's history. Despite a shortened 2020-season because of COVID, the seniors amassed the most wins during a four-year span, including an overall record of 34-4 during the last two full seasons (2019 and 2021).
Budaj, who just wrapped up her seventh season, said this year’s seniors helped the program take the next step towards a title, “The nice thing is that we got contributions from all the seniors on different levels. Whether they were starting or coming off the bench, these seniors have been the heart and soul of this team. They did an amazing job leading this program where we wanted it to go. We couldn't have done it without them.”
As they have done since 2005, WHS hosted all three field hockey championship games over the weekend, giving the Eagles the comfort of home for the title tilt. Budaj said that the experience was a little surreal for the girls, adding that they had worked hard all four years for the opportunity.
After finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record, the team defeated Brookfield 2-0 behind a pair of goals from Sadie Ruiz in the opening round of the tourney. They would then beat East Lyme 2-0 on goals from Ruiz and Molly Bowers in the quarterfinals, before coming from behind to beat Joel Barlow 2-1 on penalty shots in the semifinals.
The title game didn’t go as planned, but Budaj’s husband/assistant coach Steve Budaj summed it up perfectly as the two coaches addressed the team after the game, saying “You all did a great job and got all of the goals we laid out for you, but one. We love you.”
Glastonbury #11 Christina Guanci celebrates her goal against New Canaan. Photo credit: CW Photography
Sometimes a loss doesn't tell the entire story.
The Glastonbury High School field hockey team was eliminated from the Class L tournament after falling to top-seed New Canaan 2-1 last Tuesday night (Nov. 16) at Pomperaug High School.
Yet the way the Guardians battled against the powerhouse Rams was more memorable than the loss.
Glastonbury, who came into the contest riding a seven-game winning streak and hadn’t lost since Oct. 2, was facing a daunting task against a team that had one of the most successful field hockey teams in the state’s history.
New Canaan was 18-0 and had outscored their opponents 96-3. MaxPreps.com ranked the Rams as the 14th best team in the entire country.
The Guardians nearly pulled the gigantic upset, trading blows with the Rams for 60 minutes of riveting action on a bitter cold night.
“We felt like if we played well we had a chance, and we did,” GHS head coach Maureen Perkins said. “We played some of the best field hockey that we played all season. I told them to be sad, but don’t be upset. I think there is a difference. I couldn’t have asked them to play any harder or do anything more than they did.”
New Canaan delivered the first strike with 5:59 to play in the first quarter when senior captain Zoey Bennett found Carolyn Baran in front of the goal to break a scoreless tie.
The Rams maintained their narrow lead until the Glastonbury’s senior captains worked their magic with 6:34 left in the third when Molly Harding fed Christina Guanci with a pass, which Guanci fired into the back of the box.
“They took advantage of the chance that they got,” Perkins said of her field generals, “[New Canaan’s] defense is so good and just to generate a chance is something that you hope to do. It was unbelievable, the goal was beautiful.”
With 1:01 left in the third, New Canaan regained the lead for good when Baran scored her second of the game with an assist from senior captain Molly Mitchell.
It was one of the few breakdowns that goaltender Kaitlyn Parent and the Guardians defensive unit had all night. Parent, who has committed to play field hockey at Southern Connecticut State University, finished with 10 saves, including a handful of spectacular stops in the second half when New Canaan had several short corner opportunities.
Senior defenders Kaitlyn Welsh and Hannah David, along with junior standouts Teagan Rooney and Mikayla Balatbat were instrumental in helping Parent protect the box against a Rams team that came in averaging over five goals per contest.
Perkins praised the defensive effort, “A lot of times it can be a little underappreciated because it’s not flashy, they are just solid and they work together. They are fundamentally sound in terms of making sure they are in the right spots and knowing what to do. I’m really proud of them. We knew we needed a really good defensive effort today and I can’t ask this team to do more than what they did. I wish it was a little different, but it wasn't in the cards.”
Perkins' squad had reached the semifinal round after a pair of impressive tournament wins over Conard and Cheshire.
The Guardians, who entered the tourney as the #5-seed, beat #12-seed Conard 1-0 at GHS in the opening round.
Guanci scored the game’s only goal late in the first quarter following a deflection from Conard goalie Lilly Grosem, who made 11 saves as Glastonbury held a 19-2 shot advantage. Conard's best scoring opportunity came late in the fourth quarter on a corner, but the Guardians’ defense rose to the occasion thanks to Harding, who rushed out of the cage to put pressure on the ball at the top of the circle before Welsh intercepted a pass.
In round two, the team defeated #4 Cheshire 1-0 at Cheshire High School behind a goal from Guanci. The teams battled to a scoreless tie through three quarters despite an 8-0 shot advantage by GHS. The Guardians broke the tie with less than ten minutes to play in regulation on their 15th penalty corner of the game. On the play, Harding inserted the ball near the top of the circle to freshman midfielder Addie Infante. Infante dragged the ball back towards Harding, who redirected the ball towards the left post where Guanci tipped it past goalie Virginia Curello. Parent had three key second-half saves to help preserve the team’s seventh shutout in a row.
Including postseason play, the Guardians finished 14-2-2-1, shutting out 13 opponents. Guanci led the team with 19 goals, including all three in the postseason. Harding added 14 more goals and dished out a team-high 19 assists. Welsh chipped in 12 goals and 10 assists, while Choquette also had a dozen goals and David added a half dozen assists.
After a long, successful season the loss to New Canaan wasn’t the ideal ending, but Perkins was proud of the way her team left it all on the field, “They gave me everything. We’re going to fight and claw and leave everything out there and we did that today.”
New Canaan advanced to the Class L title where they would beat #11 Wilton, 3-1, at Wethersfield High School on Saturday (Nov. 20), finishing the season a perfect 20-0 en route to their first state championship since 2015.
Glastonbury's Kaitlyn Welsh controls the ball as New Canaan's Carolyn Baran pursues. Photo credit- CW Photography
GHS girls crew first Varsity Eight
Both the boys and girls crew teams at Glastonbury High School had a fall season to remember, culminating with a record day for the girls at The Head of Charles in Boston on Oct. 24.
The girls Youth Four team placed 30th overall in Massachusetts, which was a program record at the prestigious regatta. Senior coxswain/captain Brooke Beighau guided the team down the winding Charles River. Head coach Eleanor Dowd said Beighau “handled the pressure of being surrounded by hundreds of other boats gracefully while motivating her rowers.”
Dowd also praised Nicole Jasmin and Emily Shadron, the leading stern pair, saying, “Both girls are versatile in the sense that they can set an ambitious pace and add an extra sense of focus and drive to the boat.”
The fourth rower was Nora Printy, who Dowd praised as a dedicated rower who pushed herself and her teammates every day on the water, adding, “This season she has grown as an athlete through her resilience. She has faced several obstacles and has handled each one with a great level of foresight and focus which is part of what makes her an excellent role-model on the team.
The final and youngest member was Stella Curcio, as a sophomore in her first season on the varsity team, who fought her way up the ranks to earn a spot on both the varsity four and first varsity eight teams. Dowd said Curcio “added a new level of intensity to the team and she will be imperative to our success this spring.”
The great showing in Boston wrapped up a fantastic fall season for the team that had a complete sweep, placing 1st in the Varsity 8, Second Varsity 8, Junior Varsity 8, and in Varsity 4 events at The Guardian Chase at Riverfront Park in Glastonbury on Sept 25.
The team again swept the events (Varsity 8, Second Varsity 8, and Third Varsity 8) at the New England Junior/HS Championships in Worcester, Mass on Oct. 10.
The boys’ team, coached by Steve Somosky and Sean Peoples, placed 2nd in the Varsity 8, 1st in the Second Varsity 8, 1st in the Third Varsity 8 and 2nd in the Varsity 4 event at The Guardian Chase and placed 3rd in the Second Varsity 8, and 3rd in the First Varsity 8 at the New England Championships. The boy’s youth eight placed 56th at the Charles in Boston.
Dowd, who coaches the girls with Jason Post and Gwen Valencis, added that the success in the fall should help this spring when the competition heats up.
“Overall, this has been a great season for Glastonbury Crew. The girls are seeded as the top public school going into the spring so we're hoping our momentum from this fall carries us through winter training. The seniors have done a great job stepping up as leaders and role-models for the underclassmen,” said Dowd, who added the team does lack some experience because last year’s COVD-restrictions, “Our team has not experienced the excitement, and sometimes high stress, that accompany regattas. One big challenge we will face this spring is staying focused on the water on race day.”
GHS boys crew first Varsity Eight
Wethersfield's Louie Montalvo stiff arms Middletown's Chace Petgrave during the Blue Dragons 16-13 win on Nov. 12. Photo: Jo-Ann Campbell (instagram: grafx.eagle)
After losing five straight games to start the season, Middletown football has rebounded with four consecutive wins. The latest was an impressive 16-13 road win at Wethersfield last Friday night (Nov. 13).
“It’s a quality win, that good football team we beat tonight. I’m so proud of them,” Middletown head coach Sal Morello said of his players, “At 0-5 these kids could have rode out the season, but we challenged them to just take one game at a time. We’re playing much better than we did the first half of the season and all the credit goes to these kids.”
The Blue Dragons scored on their opening possession, a five-yard touchdown run from Shaun Gaskins, and never looked back.
Following a Wethersfield fumble, Griffin Ladd connected on a 20-yard field goal with 6:59 to play in the half, putting the road team up 9-0.
Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon thought the second quarter sequence was a critical moment in the game.
“Things didn’t go well early. It came down to special teams and a few plays on defense,” said McKinnon, who added. “Our younger guys got to experience a little adversity tonight. I knew [Middletown] would figure it out after 0-5. Coach [Morello] does a great job over there.”
Following Ladd’s field goal, McKinnon’s team countered with a Wil Bankowski to Mathyas Nieves 12-yard scoring strike. It was one of a handful of noteworthy plays from Nieves, who also intercepted a pass and had a 37-yard kick return to set up his touchdown reception.
On the opening possession of the second half, Middletown drove 64 yards in six plays, capped by another Gaskins rushing touchdown. Quarterback Colin Skene found Chace Petgrave down the left sidelines for a 38-yard connection, setting up Gaskins’ second score.
Wethersfield again countered when freshman backup quarterback Cam Righi and Louie Montalvo hooked up on a 12-yard touchdown midway through the third, but the Blue Dragons defense held the Eagles offense at bay the rest of the night and Gaskins grinded out back to back first downs late in regulation.
Gaskins finished with a season-high 141 rushing yards.
“We were going to ride Shaun,” Morello said of the fourth quarter strategy. “He had a knee injury earlier in the year and now he’s healthy. We were going to trust our seniors at that point in the game. He had great leg churn, had two hands on the ball, and had yards after contact. He was phenomenal tonight.”
Morello’s squad will look to make it five straight wins when they host Windsor (8-1) in their annual rivalry on Wednesday, Nov. 24 at Middletown High School. Kickoff on the regular season finale is 6:30 p.m.
Morello said it will be another tough test, “[Windsor] is going to be in the playoffs and they are a great football team and well coached, but we just have to come out and fight. We’ll see what happens.”
On the same night, Wethersfield will travel to Newington for their annual Thanksgiving-eve battle with the Nor’easter. Both teams were eliminated from postseason contention with losses last week, but bordering-bragging rights will again be on the line.
Newington leads the all-time series 23-20. In the last meeting, Wethersfield won 35-0 thanks to a rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns from Matt Silver (both to Connor Pace) and a fumble return for a touchdown by defensive disruptor Nick Thompson at Cottone Field on Nov. 27, 2019.
This season Newington has been carried by an explosive offense that can score from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Paddy Brown has thrown for 29 touchdowns, leading a unit that is averaging over 38 points per game. All-world wide out Austyn Howe has found paydirt 18 times (13 receiving and 5 rushing) and has thrown three touchdowns. Josiah Ross has chipped in 11 touchdown receptions.
Wethersfield’s confident cornerback tandem of Tanner Healy and Ben Caulfield will be tasked with stopping Newington’s productive receiving duo, while senior defensive captain Cooper Moreau will lead a unit that is allowing only 15 points per game. Bankowski, who threw a career-high four touchdown passes in the win over Manchester on Nov. 5, will look to get the offense back in rhythm following the loss to Middletown.
The 45th meeting between the rival schools will kickoff at 6:00 p.m. at Alumni Field at Newington High School.
Rocky Hill (5-3) will host Cromwell/Portland (8-0) in the sixth annual Shunpike Showdown.
Rocky Hill leads the all-time series 3-2 with Cromwell/Portland winning the previous two contests. In the last meeting, the Panthers were victorious 20-14 behind three touchdown passes from freshman quarterback Cole Brisson at Pierson Park on Nov. 27, 2019.
The undefeated Panthers have a home game this Friday (Nov. 19) against Stafford/East Windsor/Somers and have outscored their previous eight opponents by a combined score of 347-37. They have yet to allow an opposing team to score more than eight points this season thanks to a defense led by linebacker extraordinaires/captains Owen Brunk, Teddy Williams, and Ryan Rozich. Williams, who also stars at receiver, has been a touchdown machine this fall, scoring 18 touchdowns between offense, defense, and special teams. Brisson is now an experienced junior and has thrown 22 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions this season.
Rocky Hill could play a make-up game against Avon on Nov. 18th before hosting the Cromwell/Portland. The Terriers are led by multi-talented quarterback Tyreice Dominque who has rushed for over 700 yards and 11 scores, and thrown for four more. Dominque, who also starts at defensive back, also leads the team with five interceptions on defense, creating havoc with defensive standouts Brody Troiano (44 tackles and six sacks) and Alex Peruta.
Kickoff for the Shunpike Showdown will be 6:00 p.m. at RHHS on Nov. 24.
Marlborough’s Jackson Heslin, a freshman at Xavier High School in Middletown, won a gold medal in freestyle and a silver medal in Greco-Roman to help the United States win a team championship at the Under-15 Pan American Championships in Oaxtepec, Mexico.
Heslin, who wrestles at 114 pounds (56 kilograms), won seven of his eight matches, defeating Mexico’s David Martinez Gomez in the freestyle championship match to capture the gold on Oct 22.
“It was pretty cool. I knew I earned it. The month before I was training really hard,” said Heslin, who was one of nine Americans to win gold in freestyle at the Pan-Am games.
Heslin won all four of his freestyle matches during his gold medal march and defeated three opponents in the Greco-Roman tournament to capture the silver.
“The wrestling style was different and none of them spoke English, so it was different not understanding what they were saying,” added Heslin, who prefers freestyle to Greco-Roman a.k.a. “folkstyle.”
The now 15-year old earned a spot in the Pan Am games after winning Nationals at the United States of America World Team Trials, which took place in Wisconsin in April.
At Nationals he won the Greco-Roman and placed fifth in freestyle, showcasing an ability to wrestle both ways effectively.
His father, Matt Heslin, said his son’s development as a wrestler has been swift, “It’s an exciting time for him. He went from being a kid that competed just around this area to being a real competitor on the national level and now on the world level. It’s been a tremendous increase in talent.”
A fire to the family's home in 2017 may have spurred the development of the promising wrestler. The family's dog, Teddy, caused a fire by jumping up on the stove while the family was away. Miraculously, Teddy was rescued but the fire destroyed the home, causing the Heslin family to rebuild from the ground up.
After the incident, Jackson developed a life motto that “everything happens for a reason” and because the family was displaced they were able to travel for wrestling tournaments.
“Every opportunity we had we’d hit the road. We spent a lot of time with his teammates and other dads in hotel rooms,” added Matt Heslin, “We were with the most successful people and [Jackson] was losing a lot.”
Jackson called the house fire “a restart for the family” and said that the wrestling losses toughened him up and made him train harder, even though he admits he doesn't always love the training.
“When I lose I kind of turn the switch on and start wrestling well. I want to let it all out,” he said.
Next is a new challenge for the first-year high schooler, who will be wrestling for the reigning champion Falcons from Middletown. Xavier will be looking to defend their title after winning the Class L championship in February of 2020.
Jackson said he looks forward to the venture, saying “I’ve grown up with all of them my whole life and I’ve always looked up to high school wrestlers. It will be cool going to school with my teammates.”
The high school wrestling season starts later this month, with practices beginning Nov. 29. Last year wrestling was on hiatus because of COVID-19 restrictions, but this season full competition, including postseason tournaments, are scheduled.
“I’m definitely going to have a lot of nerves for the first couple of duals and tournaments because I have never experience any of that before. I’ll be nervous but I think I’ll have that switch turn on,” Jackson said. “I have good practice partners and my coaches are super good and also wrestling everyday will help. I think it will turn out pretty well.”
If the last couple of years are any indication, this winter will be just another stepping stone for the gold medal grappler.
“No other kid in the country did what I did in my weight and only ten others did it for my age,” Jackson said of his most recent accomplishment, “Even if I don’t stick with wrestling, it’s cool knowing what I accomplished.”
The 12th annual Turkey Plunge was a huge success, raising $16,513 for the East Hampton Food Bank.
Nearly 100 plungers, many in festive costumes, took to the shores of Lake Pocotopaug at Sears Park on Nov. 12 to brave the chilly waters on a mild, sunny Saturday morning.
For the first 11 years of the event, the Crean Family organized the festivities and ran the annual operation.
In 2010, Tom Crean originally had an idea to raise money for people in need around the world and his wife, Alexis Crean, discovered a need locally, “We live here with this beautiful lake and we thought how we can help. We thought we’d get a couple friends and jump in the lake and make about $1000 and donate it to the East Hampton Food Bank. That first year we raised over $11,000.”
The Crean daughters, Gabriella and Caroline, have participated in the event every year. The sisters said submerging in the cold waters of the lake never gets any easier.
“Mentally we are more prepared, but physically it’s a shock every time,” said Gabriella.
Caroline added, “You sweat it a little bit every time, but the spirit and adrenaline of everyone around you keeps you moving and going.”
The Creans were again participants this year but passed the leadership baton to the East Hampton Rotary, who took the reins and, along with the help of the Interact Club from East Hampton High School, put on one of the most successful events to date.
“The Creans had done it for 11 years and they were ready to step back and we wanted to step up,” said East Hampton’s Alan Hurst of Rotary International, “We hope that we can hand it off to the Interact Club next year and have one of the seniors take it on as their Capstone Project. It’d be nice to see every year that a new student does it and keeps it involved in the community and gets more people involved.”
EHHS Interact Club President Sarah Johnson said the club jumped at the opportunity to get involved, “I’ve been going to the Turkey Plunge since I was little so it’s exciting to be able to help out and raise money for the food bank.”
Over 20 Interact Club members, along with a dozen more Early Act (East Hampton’s Middle School Club) members volunteered at the event and many participated.
During the height of the event the Creans said they had as many as 210 plungers and on average they have around 100 each year, with the exception of last year when they had a hybrid plunge because of the pandemic. Those that didn’t make the plunge at Sears Park could send in virtual videos to be viewed online.
This year 96 people took the plunge, raising $13,211 in donations with Liberty Bank matching 25% of the donations for the gaudy grand total, all benefitting the Belltown community.
Awards and trophies were given out for best in show. The Littlest Gobbler Award went to seven-year-old Olivia Burgan. The Most Spirited Individual went to Ashley Wolff and her son, Hunter. The Best Costume went to Abby Kiernan. The Most Spirited Team was Team Drumstick. The Top Turkey (the highest fundraiser) went to the Papagiannopoulos family.
The Crean family also received The Founder’s Trophy for their 11 years of services and dedication to the event.
The Crean Family are the founders of the Turkey Plunge. (l-r) Alexis, Tom, Gabriella, and Caroline
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin