City of Champions: Part 2 of 2
[26-PLUS MILES, 26 STRAIGHT RACES]
Emilio Rotondi doesn't keep a training diary as he prepares for next month' Boston Marathon. After running Boston 26 years in a row, the 66-year-old has the routine down pat.
“When I feel good, I run,” he says in a thick Italian accent. “When it' too cold, I don't.”
Rotondi, who has lived mostly in Wellesley since immigrating from his native Naples in the 1950s, has run Boston more often than all but one other current entrant. He started in 1969 “to help a bad back,” finishing in 3:08. He posted his personal best of 2:39 in 1972 and again in 1976. “That was a long time ago,” he says.
As long ago as it seems, Rotondi isn't likely to break any longevity records, such as Pennsylvanian Neil Weygandt' current streak of 37. But he' not concerned with that. “You never know what' going to happen,” says Rotondi, who compares the race to life itself.
“Once you're done, you can say, 'I did well,' but not before you've started.”
Gaelic culture, in the form of a hard ball, comes to life at
a hurling tournament.
By John Patrick Pullen
As the ball falls toward the field, three men jump up, reach, and swing at it. A mess of arms, faces, and clubs crowds the sky until Niall O’Dwyer comes down with the small, rock-hard sphere. He smacks a shot into the top-right corner of the goal. “In the air, on the ground, anywhere he wants to put it,” says his former manager Brendan Dunphy, “he has tremendous skill of the game.”
The game is hurling, which is played across Ireland and predates Jesus Christ. No pads, few helmets, and even less fear. Broken bones and gashes scar deep like the culture inherent within the game: the ball is known by its Irish name, sliothar, and the teams are named for places in the Old Country. Last Labor Day weekend, the North American County Board Playoffs of this fastest and most brutal field sport ever played were held at Canton’s Irish Cultural Centre.
Boston’s first hurling match was played on the Common in 1888. In 1918, the Gaelic Athletic Association, which oversees Gaelic sports worldwide, established its first local club. Now Boston is home to more registered players and teams than any city outside Ireland. A crowd of more than 10,000 came to Canton to watch all the Gaelic sports last fall—hurling, “Irish football” (which is like rugby), and camogie (women’s hurling).
Two years ago, O’Dwyer’s Tipperary Hurling Club won the North American title in both the senior and junior divisions, an unprecedented feat. O’Dwyer, then 20, played as if he’d spent a lifetime on the pitch. With his pestering defense and punishing offense, the Boston resident, then just a few months in this country, was named North American player of the year.
Tipperary didn’t fare as well at the nationals last season, but local teams won 7 of the 13 championships, lifting the Boston Irish above the fray.
Bobby Orr, a three-time NHL Hart Trophy winner as MVP, not only was the first defenseman to win the league scoring title, but also scored the winning goals in the Bruins’ 1970 and ’72 Stanley Cup victories. The first was once voted the most memorable goal in NHL history. Today, he lives downtown and is president/CEO of the Orr Hockey Group, a player-representation agency.
What was the best part about playing in Boston?
The city itself. I think if you look at the number of athletes who remain here after they retire, that says it better than I could.
What was the worst part?
I don’t know if there is a worst. The fans can be tough on players. That’s gotta be tough. I was a lucky guy.
What does it take to win over Boston fans?
Good efforts. Honest efforts.
Aside from your teammates, who was the greatest Boston athlete?
I don’t want to go to a game and be disappointed. Larry Bird never disappointed.
You always knew you were getting his all.
Is Boston the best sports town in America?
I think it is. The teams, the city—you’ve got it all.
In the Corporate Basketball League, everything but
the play is first-rate.
By Rebecca Delaney
Belmont Hill School’s gymnasium, which rivals that of any college, is steamy with the body heat of middle-aged men huffing and puffing their way up and down the gleaming court. The fans—two five-year-olds—are waiting for halftime so they can go out on the floor and, like their fathers, heave basketballs at the hoop.
Many of these players spend their days in the cutthroat world of Financial District competition. The competition on the court may be somewhat less fierce—though not for want of trying. But the gold-standard amenities of the Corporate Basketball League help make up for it.
“We get the best refs and the best facilities,” says Mitchell Podufaly, a software executive from Newton, who’s been playing for 15 years on a team that includes Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch.
Sam Zell, the league’s commissioner, paces the sideline. Zell, who runs the league as a hobby when he’s not working in real estate, customizes the calendar to fit players’ hectic work schedules. No small feat, considering those players come from such places as Nutter, McClennen & Fish, Harvard’s B-School, and the Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox front offices.
The league offers three competitive levels. Podufaly’s team plays in Division A, the most competitive, which, according to Zell, includes some ex–Division I college players. Zell tried to add a women’s division, but the response was minimal. “I’m surprised,” he says. “You would think with the advent of women’s sports that people would be interested, but it just
hasn’t translated.” Women who do want to play are placed on coed teams in the B or C division, where they play against all-male teams or other coed teams. Teams pay $1,250 per season, which covers jerseys, referees, scorekeepers, and upkeep of the league’s website (www.eteamz.com/corpbballleague).
David Ferrera, captain of the Nutter, McClennen & Fish team and a former high school player at Framingham South (not to be confused with Dave Farrer, shown above), says the customized schedules and top-notch facilities are why he keeps coming back. But his favorite court isn’t at one of the private schools whose gyms the league books. Instead, he says, it’s the gym at Newton’s Trinity Catholic High School. Why? “Because the court’s shorter,” Ferrera admits. “After a game we’re wiped out.”
[IT'S THE NUMBER-TWO SPORT IN THE WORLD. JUST DON'T CALL IT PING-PONG.]
You probably call it Ping-Pong, a trademarked name that makes professional players sneer. Ping-Pong is something you play in your basement, they’ll tell you; table tennis is an Olympic sport. In fact, by most accounts, it’s the second most popular sport in the world, after soccer. Whatever you call it, the game is on a roll here. Clubs have sprouted, and a training school is opening in Newton.
“Since I came to Boston in 1988, the popularity of the sport here has increased immensely,” says Qiumars Hedayatian, who is spearheading the Academy of Table Tennis in Newton.
Hedayatian started playing in Iran at age 10. Today he’s ranked first in New England and in the top 15 in America.
Alas, the popularity of table tennis still lags in this country. Why? “It is too quick and the ball is too small, so it’s very difficult to televise,” Hedayatian theorizes. “Plus, Americans seem to favor contact sports.”
—Margit Feury Ragland
In an Olympic year, these young athletes could prove a coach’s—or a television programmer’s—dream.
By Greg Lalas
Katie Brooks, soccer and lacrosse
All-everything Winchester senior Brooks finished the soccer season with 31 goals and 14 assists and continues her all-American lacrosse career this spring. In the fall, she’ll suit up for NCAA powerhouse North Carolina in both sports.
Nate Coolidge, field hockey
This Sandwich native’s only option in high school was to play with the girls. No problem. Now the 21-year-old plays for the U.S. national team.
Tiago Delboni, soccer
Medford’s Delboni capped an all-American high school career with one of the best seasons in state history: 31 goals and 21 assists.
Jesse Jantzen, wrestling
The Harvard senior, ranked first all season in the 149-pound weight class, is favored at this month’s NCAA championships and hopes to pin down a spot on the Olympic team in May.
Jennifer Kirk, figure skating
The 19-year-old Newton native, who finished third at this year’s U.S. championships, previously danced for four years in the Boston
Ballet’s The Nutcracker.
Jason Lawrence, ice hockey
The Saugus native has been traveling the world with the U.S. National Development Program under-17 team, tallying 16 goals through the beginning of last month. He’ll play next year at Boston University.
Ashley McLaughlin, basketball
Andover’s 6-foot-2 forward, who heads next to Holy Cross, is averaging more than 16 points per game for the defending state champs.
Matt Nuzzo, football
In his three years as starting quarterback for perennial Division 1 contender Everett, Nuzzo has a 34–1 record.
Dina Rizzo, field hockey
The 23-year-old Walpole native has scored three goals in just 19 games with the U.S. national team, which this month heads to the Olympic qualifier in New Zealand.
Alicia Sacramone, gymnastics
This is the Winchester 10th grader’s first year on the U.S. national team, so she has only an outside shot at making the Olympics, but tumblers in the know say she has a chance to move up.
Keara Thomas, cross-country
Still only a freshman at Governor Dummer, the Haverhill native has won both the Independent School League and the New England
[BASKETBALL, VOLLEYBALL, THE WORLD SERIES-THEY ALL STARTED HERE.]
November 7, 1863: The first documented game of American football is played on Boston Common.
1881: Candlepin bowling is played for the first time at a billiards hall in Worcester.
November 30, 1882: Needham plays Wellesley in what is now the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving Day football rivalry.
December 1891: Physical education teacher James Naismith invents the game of basketball in
Springfield. 1895: In Holyoke, William Morgan invents the game of volleyball.
April 19, 1897: Fifteen runners compete in the first Boston Marathon, now the world’s oldest in continuous operation.
October 1, 1903: The first World Series begins at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. Boston defeats Pittsburgh in the game (4–2) and the Series (5–3).
November 14, 1903: Harvard Stadium, now the nation’s oldest permanent football stadium, opens.
June 3, 1927: The Ryder Cup is played for the first time,
at the Worcester Country Club.
March 2, 1951: The Boston Garden hosts the first NBA
January 18, 1958: The Boston Bruins call up Willie O’Ree, the first black player to sign with an NHL team.
Life in the Fast Lane
Candlepin bowlers get out their aggression in a sport
that is unique to New England.
By Sarah Adams
Many states have a pastime that offers a glimpse into the true nature of their residents. Florida’s is shuffleboard. Wisconsin’s is ice fishing. Massachusetts has a more obscure diversion: candlepin bowling. This offshoot of tenpin got rolling in Worcester 125 years ago, when founder Justin White first lobbed a grapefruit-sized ball at a bunch of one-inch-diameter pins in his Pearl Street billiards hall. Tougher than tenpin because the ball and pins are smaller, candlepin has been discomfiting its devotees—and they are very loyal to the game—ever since.
Today there are hundreds of candlepin leagues in Massachusetts. Still, candlepin hasn’t caught on outside the Northeast. “We took it to Las Vegas and California,” says Ralph Semb, president of the International Candlepin Bowling Association and owner of a candlepin house in Erving, “but they don’t know how to play it.”
This may be because candlepin is not as simple as it looks. “It’s like throwing an orange down at a bunch of broomsticks,” explains last year’s world champion, 21-year-old Jeff Surette of Tewksbury. To discern what separates the winners from the also-rans, I ask him if there’s anything special about his equipment. “How many . . . um . . . balls do you have?” I ask. “Four,” Surette answers, unfazed.
His composure belies the aggressive nature of the game. “Things can get out of hand,” longtime player John Kennedy shouts over the racket of clattering pins at South Boston Candlepin. That may explain why Massachusetts residents are so fond of the game. “[Candlepin] represents the typical New Englander—not laid-back, not afraid to scream in competition,” says Semb. In other words, it’s right up our alley.
Already one of the greatest centers ever before he played for the Celtics from 1985 to 1987, Bill Walton helped the team win the NBA championship in 1986, earning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
What’s the best part about playing in Boston?
I loved riding my bike through Harvard Square. I loved having lunch in Chinatown with Red Auerbach and Larry Bird. But most of all, I loved the fans.
What was the worst part?
The only negative about my tenure in Boston was that it was too brief.
What does it take to win over a Boston fan? Boston fans embrace any player who is determined to find a way to win.
Other than your teammates, who was the greatest Boston athlete?
Bill Russell, who absolutely revolutionized the game.
Is Boston the best sports town in America?
It’s sad that the younger generation of Celtic fans has no idea of what the glory days were really about. But I believe in what Danny Ainge is doing, and I believe that one of my duties is to keep the flame of Celtic greatness still burning.
[THE STATS: ANSWERS] 1) A. In his last season, in 1935, Ruth hit six home runs for the Braves.
2) B. Benoit won twice, in 1979 and 1983. 3) C. Fryar’s TD catch from Steve Grogan made the score 44–10. 4) A. Cousy coached the Eagles between 1963 and 1969, taking them to the NCAA regionals twice. 5) Celtics, .598; Red Sox, .513; Bruins, .479; Patriots, .468.