Richard “Rick” Scherza was once considered one of Rhode Island’s top educators. His most recent title was Superintendent of Schools in the City of Cranston.
Scherza has since retired, and he now spends much of his time helping the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society restore and preserve the 51-year-history of the former American Hockey League franchise.
On Sunday, Scherza – who is a member of the Reds Heritage Society’s Board of Directors – performed perhaps his favorite duty ever. He assisted President Buster Clegg and Andre Mayer in presenting the society’s second annual “Unsung Hero Awards” to three high school girls’ hockey players.
Scherza, in fact, proudly presented the Chuck Scherza Award, named in honor of his father, a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame who played 11 seasons with the Reds – including the 1949 Calder Cup Champions – before skating for both the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers of the NHL.
The Chuck Scherza Award is one of three “Unsung Hero” honors the Reds Heritage Society bestows upon Rhode Island high school hockey players who have demonstrated acts of sportsmanship, leadership and community involvement, academic performance, talent and ability and coping with personal obstacles and hardships.
The other two “Unsung Hero Awards” are named in honor of former Reds greats, goaltender Gil Mayer and defenseman Ferny Flaman. Mayer, who is an AHL Hall of Fame, is one of only three goalies to record 300 career wins. Flaman played for the Reds and Bruins and also coached at the professional and collegiate levels.
“We’re excited to present our second group of Unsung Hero Awards,” Scherza said Sunday at Providence College’s Schneider Arena prior to the ceremony. “We, the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society, want to preserve those great memories and to also promote the game of hockey at the high school level.”
Clegg, the one-time Reds’ general manager said, “Our award recipients are not necessarily All-Staters or super stars, but more importantly, a different approach to honor a silent MVP.”
This year’s Gil Mayer Award for goaltending went to Marissa Golda, who didn’t even make her Bay View Academy team as a freshman. She didn’t receive much playing time as a sophomore and junior, either. As a senior, she volunteered to change position to goaltending to help the Bengals.
“She helped stabilize Bay View as a consistent performer,” Andre Mayer, Gil Mayer’s son said Sunday after presenting his dad’s award. “Besides her hockey and classroom accomplishments, Marissa works part-time and volunteers regularly at the St. John the Baptist Soup Kitchen.”
The second annual Ferny Flaman Award went to La Salle Academy’s Jenna Pari, who has been best described as a “throwback” defenseman who plays with a great deal of intensity and physical play.
“Despite employing her aggressive approach, Jenna plays within the rules and is well-respected by her teammates, competitors and opposing coaches,” Clegg said of Pari. “She is also a co-captain and role model who leads by example.”
Pari also participates in a number of community services venues such as youth hockey, Little League Baseball and the La Salle Chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). She has earned high honors with distinction all four years at La Salle. She’s currently working towards landing an appointment to one of the United States Service academies.
The Chuck Scherza Award for a forward went to North Smithfield’s Hannah Decelles.
“She personifies the characteristics of sportsmanship and dedication,” said Rick Scherza. “She has endured and overcome the agonies of a painfully serious spinal condition.”
Decelles, in fact, said, “Enduring pain is worth playing the game of hockey.”
Because North Smithfield had a small squad, Decelles was on the ice for 75 to 80 percent of the time and as veteran Lady Northmen’s coach Bill Nangle said, “She’s the backbone of this team in every way.”
Decelles is an officer in the North Smithfield High Lettermen’s Club and spends a lot of her personal time on community projects such as distributing Thanksgiving Dinners to the poor. She also spearheaded a coat and clothing drive for the homeless. She’s currently coordinating a team service project to support Special Olympics and has done all those things while taking a rigorous advanced placement and honor class schedule.
Each of the “Unsung Hero Award” winners received a special plaque that features the Rhode Island Reds logo. Their names will soon be added to the Heritage Society’s archives.
The “Unsung Hero Award” presentation will conclude Saturday when three RIIL boys’ hockey players will be honored during the state hockey finals at PC’s Schneider Arena.