David Bartels, left, a member of state championship Nordic teams at Mount Greylock, finished well ahead of his brother, Philip, but jumped back on the course to cross the finish line with the former Alpine specialist. Nre
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Ten years ago, the western Massachusetts Nordic skiing community came together to honor the passing of Mount Greylock Regional School junior Mathias Bartels.
Ten years later, Mathias' memory is still bringing that community together.
On Sunday morning, under a cloudless sky, more participants than ever took part in the sixth Mathias Jessup Bartels benefit cross country ski race and tour on the school grounds.
The event benefits the school's Nordic team and a scholarship in Bartels' name.
"It's overwhelming," Philip Bartels said as he prepared to participate in the race that honors his brother. "It's a big year. It's the 10th anniversary [of Mathias' death]. It's hard to think it's been 10 years. You tend to think people go on with their lives.
"But it's wonderful that this community, which has so much love, can really get together and celebrate the life of my brother, which was cut short, and do something that he absolutely loved to do."
On Jan. 31, 2004, Mathias Bartels died in his sleep from sudden cardiac arrest on the night before he was to join his teammates on the Mount Greylock Nordic team for a competition.
"Among the throngs in Chapin were sports teams from other high schools, including the Lenox cross-country ski team in gold and black jackets and Hoosac Valley in red," the article reads. "Many other students wore sports jackets in tribute to the sports they had enjoyed together — soccer balls, cross country skis and photographs were arrayed at the front of the stage as mementos of Mathias' enthusiasms."
Sunday's event featured high school athletes from Lenox, Hoosac Valley, Wahconah, Northfield Mount Hermon and Mohawk Trail Regional among others and, of course, a strong contingent of Mount Greylock Mounties — including the current crop who know Mathias by reputation or, perhaps, stories told by older siblings and coaches.
"We were worried this tradition would fizzle out," Philip Bartels said. "But there are all these new kids. I don't know them. I don't know their families. So I have to try to introduce myself to them.
"It's great to see so many people not just from the Mount Greylock program. The entire community is making this a wonderful event where people come together and almost an institution. It feels like an institution."
Mathias' mother expressed the family's appreciation to the organizers who make that institution happen each winter.
"It's an incredible community effort," Elizabeth "Libby" Bartels said. "We have to thank a lot of people, but [Mount Greylock coaches] Hilary and Hiram Greene have been fabulous. Nancy Nyland and David Dethier ... so many people.
"It's great because our old friends come out, and we're continually meeting new people. That goes on year after year and it raises money for the scholarship program and the ski team. It's amazing."
Participants were asked to make a $15 donation to help support the Mathias Jessup Bartels Memorial Scholarship and the Mount Greylock Nordic program. Based on last year's turnout of about 60 skiers, organizers brought 100 registration forms on Sunday morning but were caught short when demand exceeded supply.
Skiers participated in one of three races at one of three distances: 6-kilometer, 3-kilometer or a 400-meter "lollipop" race for the youngest participants, who made one loop around the high school's track.
Unlike some years past — including one when the race was not held — snow was not an issue on Sunday, and the course was expertly groomed to provide perfect conditions for skiers of all abilities.
Tom Bartels took a break from helping to get the the 6-K race started to talk about what an emotional day it was for him and his family.
"People, by being here, are expressing that they haven't forgotten him, that they still love him," he said. "And that is something which has given us a lot of support.
"We're entering our 11th year without him. And knowing that everybody is here makes our journey a little easier."