All-Star athletes honored at gala

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NORTH BENNINGTON — In the busy lives of athletes, there's not much time to pause.

But pause some did Tuesday night, as local student athletes and their families gathered at the third annual Regional All-Stars Gala, hosted by the Bennington Banner and the Manchester Journal. The event celebrated the best coaches and student athletes from across the region. About 82 students and coaches were recognized in over 20 sports, representing Arlington Memorial High School, Burr and Burton Academy, Cambridge High School, Hoosick Falls High School and Mount Anthony Union High School. For the third consecutive year, the gala was held at Bennington College's Greenwall Auditorium.

A crowd of students and their guests chatted and milled about the entranceway before the ceremony, which was lined with newspaper pages with headlines like "A Double Championship" and "Next Stop: UVM."

"We have a chance to celebrate," said Fredric Rutberg, president and publisher of New England Newspapers Inc., of the event. "We chronicle a lot of failure in life. It's such a wonderful opportunity to celebrate."

"You smile all night long," he said.

The keynote speaker was former NFL player Keith Willis, who played with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He is the founder and CEO of MOSS Movement, to assist athletes in character development and equip them with strategies and tools to cope with adverse circumstances, according to the program's website. He also runs a fitness company, Untapped fitness, and helps young men transition into collegiate student athletes.

"I'm speaking on excellence, and going through adversity, and competing for excellence in every area of your life," Willis said of his remarks.

It's always good to recognize people for hard work they put into sports, said Willis, who was a multi-sport athlete in both high school and college.

"It's important for their teammates to see what hard work does," Willis said of the award winners.

Willis handed the athletes their awards as they walked across the stage and master of ceremonies Andrea Malinowski detailed their individual accomplishments.

Malinowski is program manager of RiseVT in Bennington County, supporting communities in embracing healthy lifestyles. She has lived with her family in Bennington since 1997, and is also a certified health coach, triathlete and marathon runner.

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Malinowski connected RiseVT's mission to help Vermonters embrace healthy lifestyles with the student athletes' accomplishments.

"The honorees tonight are living examples of healthy choices," she said. "Most importantly, they are now role models I'd like to thank them for being shining examples of healthy living."

Lillian Hickey was honored for her athletic achievements as a senior this year at Hoosick Falls High School. Her uncle was also set to receive a coaching award.

"I think it's special, because I get to see all the other athletes too," she said of the event. "We can all be together."

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Evan Page was honored for his athletic achievements as a senior at MAUHS this year. He plans to attend Gordon College in Massachusetts in the fall, participating in both cross-country and track.

It's nice to be recognized, he said, as participating in sports demands a lot of time, and it's physically "consuming."

"I think they appreciate it," Evan Page's father, Mark Page, said of the gala. "When I was an athlete, I think I would have appreciated it."

"It also motivates them to do [even] better, " added Susan Page, Evan Page's mother.

In addition to the athletic awards, the winner of the second Sandy Casey Memorial Scholarship was announced, in honor of the East Dorset native who died in the mass shooting that occurred October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Cassie Pearce, of Danby, was selected for the $2,500 award. The scholarship committee consisted of Rutberg; Steve Casey, father of Sandy Casey; Bennington Banner News Editor David LaChance; Tom Jacobs, a lawyer and former chairman of the Bennington Select Board; and Leslie Keefe, vice president of corporate development at Southwestern Vermont Healthcare.

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Pearce plans to attend Fairfield University in Connecticut this fall, studying special education.

"I'm really excited and honored and proud," Pearce said before the ceremony. "Just everything that [Casey] stood for I guess honor is the word I feel for it."

Pearce graduated from Burr and Burton Academy this year. Casey's mother and father were both present at the ceremony.

Several special awards were also presented to specific athletes and coaches.

The Female Athlete of the Year was Catherine Worthington, who as a senior at MAUHS this year was captain and a midfielder in girls soccer, a guard in basketball and a shortstop in softball. In softball, she was the best hitter in their batting lineup.

The Male Athlete of the Year was Joey McCoy, who as a junior at Burr and Burton Academy this year, played quarterback in football and led the school to a Division II state championship. He played three sports — football, hockey and baseball.

The boys team of the year award went to Arlington boys soccer team, and their coach, Todd Wilkins, was named the best boys coach. The team won their first state championship since 1995 and won the state title 1-0 in a game against West Rutland that went into overtime. They finished with an 11-6 record.

The girls team of the year award also went to Cambridge girls basketball, and their coach, Bob Phillips, was named the best girls coach. The team won their first state championship in program history, beating Watkins Glen, N.Y. to win the title. They outscored opponents by more than 22 points per game, and finished with a 25-1 record.

The event was sponsored by Bennington College, Bennington Subaru, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians, and included a catered, buffet-style dinner before the ceremony.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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