Remember when... Webster-Dudley sports sceneMar 10, 2021 10:28AM ● By Peter Coyle
1973 Starr Realty Senior Little League baseball team. Photo contributed by Jeff Stefanik
This space will forever be grateful to the great contributors over the past years, including John Mullen, for the History of Oxford High School Football celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2018 featuring head Coach Paul Brissette and his legacy. To Justin “Jut” Stockhaus, grandson of legendary football coach Rene Langevin, who took us through the fall of 2019 to help celebrate the 100th Thanksgiving Day game between Bartlett and Southbridge when the Indians were victors at Southbridge in 2019.
The past half year featured the French River Rivalry where former Shepherd Hill and Amherst College athlete Rusty Oleszewski took us through the separation of Webster and Dudley students and how the two towns used student athletes in the early 70s as a political forum to isolate only Webster residents to attend Bartlett while Dudley residents formed what is now Shepherd Hill High School with the town of Charlton. Little did the politicians of both Webster and Dudley realize that the present school choice rule would give all sides their cake and eat it at the same time.
Tip of the hat to these contributors as they reported on their stories with passion, hard work, and enthusiasm. Others have also helped this space in the past by dropping an email, text, or phone call to correct a fact or provide an idea. This space needs all the help it can get. Please keep your ideas coming. Always appreciated.
The cast of characters who have played a role at this address have been local giants regarding athletics and giving back to the community. The leader for this space will always be the “godfather,” Nichols College legendary football coach Mike Vendetti and his two loyal assistants Ed Kunkel and Rene Langevin. The Golden Era of Nichols Football in the 70s has never been duplicated by any measure.
Next is the best high school football game ever seen in these parts. Shepherd Hill at Bartlett in 1987, a Saturday night special when Shepherd Hill beat the Indians in overtime 18-10 as Kyle Kunkel of SH made a game saving tackle on the one-foot-line near the Ray Street ticket box end zone as Bartlett’s John Lamontagne was rambling in for a touchdown during the overtime. Lamontagne and Shepherd Hill’s Ron Springer headlined the anticipated clash that drew 6,000 fans in week five of the football season. The quarterbacks were Hall of Famer Dave Ceppetelli of Bartlett and Brian Ravenelle of Shepherd Hill. Langevin coached the Indians and John Hickman coached Shepherd Hill. The game was played as advertised and remains as a heavy weight toe-to-toe great high school football game.
Some other past memories are loyal readers John Hejwosz, George Kujawski, and Ringer keeping us on our toes. The induction of Bob Daigle into Bartlett’s Hall of Fame was a highlight in October 2018. And the legacies of Ziggy Strezlecki, John Stefanik, Paul Lamontagne, Tate Dion, Wiggs Deary, Kiki Kunkel, Charlie Pappas, Chet Starzec, Rocky Miller, and so many more have been a part of the local fiber.
Memory Lane includes the Intermediate School gym on Ray Street in Webster which was always the place to be on a week night any time of the year. Gerry Canty was the captain in call-your-own fouls league when tempers and competing went hand in hand. Jack Kelly, Kenny Moran, and Al Malkaisian tried to keep the natives in order despite a lot of bloodshed every night. But a lot of fun. Canty’s playground drew 30 customers a night with free admission.
Post 184 American Legion started a baseball team in 1970 and the coaches were Norman “Frenchy” Millette and Levi Brisbois. Two good guys who went on the ultra competitive Legion circuit with a brand new team. We held our own and those guys knew the game and taught us how to respect it and eventually handed the coaching reigns over to Francis X. Kasheta who went on to win many Zone 4 titles. Kasheta pitched for the San Francisco Giants with the great Juan Marichal. Millette, Brisbois, and Kasheta believed in fundamental baseball. The 1966 Webster Little League All Star team led by Paul Kujawski is still the town’s best Little League team after 55 years. The ‘66 team got into the state tournament and beat Boston Red Sox player and television commentator Jerry Remy of Somerset to advance to the quarterfinal game only to be beaten by Weymouth South. Kujawski was hitting home runs at a record pace and shared the pitching duties with left handed Mike Quigley. The big reason for the ‘66 team retaining its self- proclaimed best team ever is because they won district 5, 6, 7, and 8, by playing single elimination. One loss and it’s over. Wiggs Deary was the manager.
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Jeff Stefanik, longtime friend and Bartlett baseball captain, is going to help the memory lane cause going forward with pictures from the past and he submitted this photo circa 1973. Didn’t know Stefanik was ambidexterous. Look how he is holding his glove? How many of these players can you name? The coach is Tony Vegnone.The team is the Starr Realty Red Sox, 17-1 record four years in a row as well as league champions.
For all you AAU pay-to-play, everybody gets a trophy yahoos…. this 1973 team didn’t have to pay a dime to play. There are 14 players on the team ages 13-15.The team was part of the six team Webster Senior Little League circuit. Here is the math: six teams with 14 players per team equals 84 players playing baseball in a constructive environment for free. Vegnone did not get paid for coaching. His teams practiced twice a week and played two games per week. Only a championship trophy was given to Starr Realty.Times have changed.