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Professional Hockey an Opportunity for North Adams

By Andy McKeever
Sports Column

There are too many factors that go into any venture to say something will or will not succeed even before it's begun.

A recent Berkshire Eagle column suggests that there is little chance an independent pro hockey league would survive in North Adams. But I say it can and here's why.

It hasn't been tried.

The column suggests the No. 1 reason why the team will fail is because of population numbers. It cites that Pittsfield and South County as being too far away to supplement ticket sales. I question why that is so vital.

Pittsfield has a historic baseball field and in 10 years saw five teams start up — only to strike out. During that period, the North Adams SteepleCats have continued to outlast nearly every other team in the NECBL, becoming second to the longest tenured team in the league. They've outlasted cities with much larger populations. And they didn't build their fan base over time as suggested — the fan base was there from the start.

Oddly, the column cites Hoosac Valley championship teams as reasons why local sports fans are more interested in high school instead. While I agree high school sports are well followed around here, that doesn't mean fans wouldn't be interested in others.

To explain why I prefaced that with "oddly" is because Hoosac's success is the town of Adams' success - not the entire county's. One should never underestimate Adams when it comes hometown support.

While Pittsfield has basketball programs struggling to keep the doors open, Adams' Dana Labbee Youth Basketball League continues to grow and the town continues to pay for infrastructure to support it. Thousands of people go to Adams for a ski race — that's only been run once in three years. The town is supporting growth of PAL leagues, the Youth Center and has a die-hard football program. Sports are so important to Adams that town officials are branding Adams as a center of recreation.

How can they do this without a teeming population? (By the way, they are the third largest population in the county.) They do this because it is who the people of Adams are. There is a huge sports base in Adams. They will be more dedicated to a local team than almost any other town in the Berkshires.

Plus, what about Bennington, Vt.? Might they want to take a trip to see a hockey game before dinner at the Freight Yard Pub? What about students at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who do not have a hockey team of their own?

What an independent team poses for North Adams is more than a show: It is an opportunity.

The Northern Berkshire Black Bears Youth Hockey has been a thriving organization and the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink is a hotbed of activity — from adult and youth leagues to open skates. And the city has continually supported that facility.

The league is an opportunity for North Adams and North County to continue to build a name for themselves.

North Adams is sick of seeing things being taken from them. There was outcry when the North Adams State College changed names. There was outcry when the North Adams Transcript was merged with a larger paper.

Every time the city's name has been pulled off a nameplate or business card, it is a pang to the heart of everyone who lives there. Now, there is a chance that their city can boast a professional hockey team.

There will be exceptional players on the same ice that the residents themselves have skated on trying to achieve greatness. And if I know anything at all about North Adams, they'll be damned if they don't try their hardest to make that succeed.

It isn't just an opportunity for a city. It is an opportunity for the youth hockey program as well.

Massachusetts pumps out a lot of talented players. But, sadly, the Berkshires have been left out of that for too long. That can change. The semi-professional team can add to that program.

There is a smaller pool of players drafted and playing in minor leagues in the professional hockey so many of our players go off to college and return undrafted. They may be very talented. One option would be to stay in junior hockey leagues but many of those leagues are far away. A local team and a chance for those players to come back and continue to pursue their love.

Meanwhile, any players reaching higher level success will have the Berkshires attached to their resumes and brings excitement to the local youth hockey programs.

I won't say it is going to be easy to succeed. Hockey is an expensive sport, attendance is hard to drive and there are other options (Springfield Falcons are only an hour away, Albany Devils even closer). But it can work with the right business model. There is no reason why the city wouldn't support them.

It is easy to say something will fail. It is difficult to say it will succeed. That's human nature. But if you don't try it, it never has a chance.

Somewhere in a long faded memory some of the best bare-knuckle boxers in the world traveled to North Adams for matches and training. For years, the city supported boxing and that was their sport. Now, let it be hockey.

Andy McKeever is the Pittsfield bureau chief and occasional sports writer for iBerkshires.

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Pittsfield Suns To Host All Star Game

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wahconah Park will host the Futures Collegiate Baseball League all star game.

The Pittsfield Suns released their 2013 schedule last week that features 27 home games and the all star game. The All star game will be held on July 25 and the season opens on June 6.

 "As we look to build on the success of our first year, we have many exciting ideas and promotions for our fans that we will roll out in the near future. Rest assured the sights and sounds, excitement and energy that you experienced in Wahconah Park last year will only get better in 2013. June 6th can’t come soon enough," said General Manager Kevin McGuire said in a prepared statement. "We are thrilled to be hosting the 2013 FCBL All-Star Game. We pushed very hard to bring the All-Star Game to Pittsfield in our continued efforts to deliver consistent high quality baseball to the Berkshires. With all of the leagues top talent descending on Pittsfield for the game and surrounding activities, I’m confident this will be one of this summer’s signature events."

After both opening night and the all star game there will be fireworks. Beyond that there will be firework displays on June 14, July 4, July 10 and Aug. 8.

Season tickets are already on sale. The full schedule is below.

Pittsfield Suns 2013 Schedule by

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Mayor Bianchi Commends Pittsfield Babe Ruth Team

By Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Correspondent

Mayor Daniel Bianchi congratulates the coaches of the All-Star Babe Ruth team for the team's efforts in the World Series.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Daniel Bianchi hailed the city's 15-year-old Babe Ruth All Stars Tuesday on their performance in the World Series in Van Buren, Ark., two weeks ago. 

At the first City Council meeting following the team's return, the mayor presented certificates from the city in recognition of their achievements.

"We are so proud of you as a community," said Bianchi. "You guys have done a great job, and you've represented the city of Pittsfield beautifully through great sportsmanship, and great sports."

The team swept five games in the series before finally being eliminated in the opening game of the single elimination tournament by El Segundo, Calif.  The team represented all New England after bringing home both the Massachusetts and New England regional titles.

The team was also honored for its participation in the World Series at a ceremony held Sunday at Fenway Park, where they received an ovation from a crowd of more than 37,000 people.

"You inspire us all to do our very best, guys" said Bianchi. "Thank you so much for representing the city of Pittsfield. We're proud of you."
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'Growing Pains' For County Gridders

By Stephen Dravis
Special to iBerkshires

McCann Tech is the only football program in the county not being coached by a school alumnus. Coach Bob LeClair went to Drury.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The last two autumns, the Mount Greylock Regional High School football program has been a constant.

This year, the Mounties are experiencing change.

When Greylock puts its 26-game winning streak on the line Friday night against Pittsfield, coach Shawn Flaherty's squad will do so with a lot of new faces wearing red and white.

"From last year, we basically lost our entire line," Flaherty said at Tuesday's inaugural Berkshire County football "media day."

And that does not even count three-year starting quarterback Kent Hanson.

Still, Flaherty was optimistic in a room full of players and coaches just itching to be the first to end the streak.

Despite fielding a 31-player roster that includes 15 players who are either freshmen or new to football, the Mounties' coach said, "We're looking pretty good in some respects, and we expect to be competitive."

The last team to have a shot at the Mounties was Lee, which fell to Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Super Bowl.

And like the Mounties — and most programs — the Wildcats have some holes to fill because of graduation.

Lee just has a few more holes than most.

Lee graduated 18 seniors — and returns just three starters — from a team that went 10-3 in 2011.

The good news, according to Lee coach Keith Thomson, is that while the Wildcats are relatively inexperienced, they are not completely without seasoning at the varsity level.

"Some of those games, we were able to get those guys valuable experience, but nothing is going to prepare them for actually getting out there when it matters, with the score close," he said. "So that remains to be seen. But we feel like the kids we have got some valuable experience last year. We've got talent in the right places. There's just going to be some growing pains."

McCann coach Bob LeClair is expecting similar pains for the Hornets, who went all the way to the Division 4 Super Bowl last year before dropping a 14-8 decision to Pioneer Valley to finish 10-2.

LeClair said Tuesday that McCann graduated 14 seniors off that team, including 11 boys who played together for four years. Just three starters are back on offense, and four return on defense. LeClair said he will be starting four or five sophomores on both sides of the ball and a freshman at linebacker when the Hornets host Ware on Saturday.

All of that said, LeClair remained positive.

"We've got a lot of learning to do over the next few days," he said with three practices left until the season opener. "We've got a lot of work to do, but I think we're going to be OK."

OLD HANDS: There are exceptions to the trend of roster turnover.

One is in Great Barrington, where coach Todd Tinker brings back eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 2-7.

"Obviously, we were young last year," Tinker said. "A lot of young guys will see time, but a lot of young guys have been seeing time."

Another exception is St. Joseph's (5-5 in 2011), where veteran coach Gary Bianchi returns as veteran a squad as you'll find.

"We've got 17 seniors, so I can't say I'm young," Bianchi said. "A lot of these kids have been playing together since they were (in youth football's) Pittsfield Saints."

Despite all that experience, Bianchi was uncertain as preseason wound down who will be under center for Friday night's opener against Wahconah at Wahconah Park.

QB QUESTION MARK: Speaking of signal-callers, Drury coach Bill Bryce has a decision to make going into Friday night's game at Athol.

And he planned to take all the time he needed.

"We moved Jose Melendez, who was our quarterback last year, away from the quarterback position, and right now we have two seniors fighting for the position," Bryce said on Tuesday evening. "One is Nolan Bird, and the other is Jake DiLego. Jake started the last two games of the year last year because of Melendez getting hurt, so he has more experience.

"Right now, it's kind of a toss-up. ... We'll pick a starter probably Wednesday night or Thursday."

Bryce said each potential quarterback has different strengths, and the trick is figuring out which is a better fit for a Drury team looking to improve on last year's 5-4 record.

Bryce said ultimately, he wants to find a regular, every-down quarterback, but in the first couple of weeks, there could be some in-game changes.

One thing is for sure: Much of the question should be settled before the home fans get to see the Blue Devils. Drury plays its first three games on the road before hosting St. Joe's on Sept. 29.

The good news for the Devils is they host their last three games, including the finale against rival Hoosac on Nov. 3.

HOMECOMING WEEK: While it certainly is not unusual for men and women to coach athletic teams at their alma maters, the Berkshire County league has the distinction of fielding nine programs each coached by an alumnus.

St. Joe's Bianchi noted that fact on Tuesday in introducing Poirot as a first-year coach at Hoosac and Gary Campbell as the returning coach at Wahconah after winning 46 games in six years at Pennsylvania's Berwick Area High School. Campbell won 85 games in 10 years at his alma mater in his first stint as coach.

The lone Berkshire County football team not coached by an alumnus is McCann, which plays in the Tri-County League.

McCann's LeClair went to high school right up the road at Drury.

MAN ON A MISSION: Campbell was the driving force behind the league's first media night, an idea he brought back with him from Pennsylvania.

And he did it not only for the convenience of coaches and scribes but also as a way to build camaraderie among the county's student-athletes.

Each of the 10 coaches brought along at least a couple of co-captains, and Campbell used his time at the podium to fire up those youngsters, who he said need to work together to build the sport in the area.

"I'm excited to see you guys here," he told them. "There's nothing like football. ... Football draws something out of us that I don't think any other sport does."

Campbell said one lesson he learned in his time in the football hotbed of Pennsylvania is that "kids are kids" and the football players in Berkshire County have talent.

One thing the area lacks, however, is big rosters with dozens of boys at each school vying for playing time.

"Please get more kids involved," Campbell told the players.

"You guys are part of a brotherhood. You play the game of football.

Correction: There was a typo in the headline that was fixed on Monday, Sept. 10.

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Pittsfield Knocked Out Of Babe Ruth World Series

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
UPDATED: Thursday, August 23 at 8:45 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - The city's team was eliminated from the Babe Ruth World Series Thursday night.

The team lost in the opening game of the  single elimination tournament to El Segundo, Calif. by a score of 5-4.

El Segundo scored two runs in the top of the seventh to take their first lead of the game and closed out Pittsfield in the bottom of the inning to move on in the tournament.

Pittsfield led most of game and went into the final inning with a 4-3 lead.

The city's 15-year-olds were the New England representative in the tournament and cruised through the pool play round, which eliminated four of the 10 teams, by going 3-1. The single elimination tournament began with Thursday's game at 6:30 p.m.

El Segundo now moved on to play South Eastern Lexington, Ky.

UPDATED: Thursday, August 23 at 11:30 a.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - The city's Babe Ruth team ended pool play Wednesday night at 3-1 after shutting out Kelso, Wash.

The city held Kelso to just one hit in the  4-0 shutout. Pittsfield has already clinched a spot in the single elimination tournament that starts Thursday night and the win secures second place in the National division.

Pittsfield will kick off the single elimination tournament at 6:30 p.m. Pittsfield will play El Segundo, Calif., who earned the third spot with a 2-2 record after a Wednesday night win over Harrison, Ark.

The winner will move on to play the American division winner South Eastern Lexington, Ky.

UPDATED: Tuesday, August 21 at 6:13 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - The city's Babe Ruth All Star team defeated Lumber River, N.C. Tuesday afternoon to move to 2-1 in World Series pool play and clinching a spot in the single elimination tournament.

Pittsfield defeated Lumber River by a score of 7-4. The team plays again on Wednesday against Kelso, Wash. to finish up pool play. The single elimination tournament starts on Thursday.

With the win, the city's team clinches a top three spot in their division.

Niskayuna, N.Y. is currently 3-0 after defeating Pittsfield Tuesday morning, Pittsfield is 2-1, Kelso is 1-1, Van Buren, Ark. is 1-2 with one of those losses to Pittsfield, and Lumber River is now 0-3.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Niskayuna defeated Pittsfield Tuesday morning in pool play of the Babe Ruth 15-year-old World Series after two days of play.

Niskayuna had a walkoff hit in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the game 10-9. Niskayuna is now undefeated, 3-0, in pool play and Pittsfield is 1-1.

Pittsfield's second game finished Tuesday after the tie game, 9-9, was called off at the end of the eighth inning on Monday. The teams had to attend a banquet that night. The game resumed Tuesday morning and Niskayuna walked away with victory.

Pittsfield returns to the field Tuesday afternoon when they take on Lumber City, N.C. They wrap up pool play on Wednesday against Kelso, Wash.

The tournament has 10 teams that are broken into two divisions. The top three teams from each division move on to a single elimination tournament.

In Pittsfield's division, Niskayuna is in first, Pittsfield and Kelso are tied at 1-1, Van Buren, Ark. is 1-2 and Lumber City is 0-2.

Pittsfield won their first game against Van Buren, 4-1.
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