My Pitch

Looking back on the 2019 year

By ALEX SPONSELLER
Posted 1/2/20

Happy New Year to all of our readers. It's been another great year for sports in Rhode Island, with plenty of great teams, athletes, coaches, fans and stories. This time of year always reminds you of how fast time flies and how much can change over the

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My Pitch

Looking back on the 2019 year

Posted

Happy New Year to all of our readers.

It’s been another great year for sports in Rhode Island, with plenty of great teams, athletes, coaches, fans and stories. This time of year always reminds you of how fast time flies and how much can change over the course of 365 days.

Here is a look at some of my favorite stories of 2019.

Of course, it’s hard not to start with the Warwick School Committee voting to cut sports in June and then the following response by the community.

As I have said time and time again, and about 100 times during the summer, interscholastic sports are vital to every community in the country.

These sports give kids opportunities unlike any other and to suggest removing them, in my opinion, is ridiculous.

After school athletics keep kids off the street, give them an opportunity to socialize, learn a sport, work together as a team, and most importantly, provide an opportunity for kids to continue their studies at the college level. Even if these athletes do not earn a scholarship, having sports on their high school resumes is huge.

It would have been easy for the community to accept the ruling and to feel victimized, but it didn’t, and it fought throughout the entire summer until the decision was overturned. It made the city even closer, stronger, and hopefully put this discussion to bed for the long term.

In terms of my favorite teams, there are too many to name, but the first one that jumps out is the Pilgrim football team.

The Pats endured multiple down years and hit the reset button prior to 2018, hiring a new coaching staff and relying on a large group of relatively unproven players to lead the way.

Pilgrim reached the Super Bowl that year but lost … which to this day is the last game the Pats have dropped. Pilgrim went on an epic tear this past season, went undefeated, and rolled to its first football championship since 1975.

There is so much credit to give to this group. Head coach Blake Simpson completely established a new culture and set the bar high from the start … he never allowed the team accept being a bottom dweller.

The 2018 and 2019 seniors also deserve a ton of credit. They bought in immediately with no questions asked, answered the bell time and time again, and also set an example for the younger kids that will be taking the reigns next season.

It will be interesting to see how Pilgrim responds now that it is the top dog in Division III, but the Pats have been nothing short of excellent over the past two years, so I expect them to be right back in the hunt.

Which leads to the girls sports teams in Warwick. When looking back at some of the teams from Pilgrim and Toll Gate, Warwick boasts some of the most underrated female sports in the state in my opinion, especially at the public school level.

The Pilgrim field hockey team was the best club from start to finish and wrapped up a title in the fall, the Pilgrim girls soccer team made another deep run, the Pilgrim girls basketball team almost won the Division III title back in March, Toll Gate’s lacrosse team reached the state final, the Titans shined in the swimming state championship.

It seemed like every girls team from Pilgrim and Toll Gate made noise in their respective sports, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that there is something special here that is often overlooked.

For middle school, the Vets softball team deserves a big shout out for going undefeated and winning the state championship. The Hurricanes dominated the entire state from start to finish and should keep Pilgrim on top for years to come. The rest of the state should be put on notice, as the Lady Pats will likely have a few freshman next year that will be able contribute.

Forgive me for being a little erratic … it’s been a wild year.

Now, let me touch on a few things that I hope to see in 2020.

First off, I hope to see unified sports continue to grow in numbers and popularity.

In all the states that I have covered sports, unified sports have been on the incline and the numbers have skyrocketed … as they should, since unified athletics represent everything that is right about sports. It gives kids with disabilities the chance to interact with classmates that they would not always have the opportunity to hang with otherwise, and helps bring them together to compete as a unit. I am a big believer in this, and am glad to see these sports continue to catch on.

Also, I hope to see the Warwick public schools continue to excel athletically. I know that it all comes down to money, but if these teams continue to shine and win, it will make it that much harder for the committee to cut sports should they need to trim the fat from the budget.

Unfortunately, it does not look like the school department will be able to pull itself out of the hole that it is currently in anytime soon, so it is vital that these teams and athletes keep their foot on the gas.

Lastly, I hope to see Bishop Hendricken continue to be a hot spot for Division I athletes. Of course, I would love too see our public school athletes get Division I shine, there are plenty of worthy players, but Hendricken has had an extraordinary amount of kids move on to the DI level over the course of the past year or two.

Hendricken is now, finally, starting to attract these colleges without struggle, or at least with little struggle, and the more notice that the Hawks get, the better it will be for everyone in the area.

Thank you to all of our teams, athletes, coaches and fans for a great 2019. Here’s to 2020.

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John Stark

Pilgrim's 1975 team won the Class A championship, beating Hendricken in the process. The current title in Division III, while noteworthy, is not at all comparable. Hendricken is not "...finally, starting to attract" D1 schools. Hendricken alums have had great careers at D1 schools since at least the mid- 70's, including a Cotton Bowl MVP. Love your enthusiasm, Alex!

Wednesday, January 8