WORCESTER – Worcester Academy junior Aliyah Boston’s season to remember – so far in her career, anyway – was topped off earlier this week when she was notified that she had again been selected as the Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year for Massachusetts.

The 6-foot-4 Boston, who helped lead the Hilltoppers to a 23-1 season and the New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class AA tournament championship, also won the award last year.

This season the 16-year-old Boston averaged 24.1 points, 14 rebounds, 6 blocks, 2 steals and 2.5 assists per game, and hit 66 percent of her field goals attempts, including 44 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

“It’s just a remarkable achievement,” Worcester Academy coach Sherry Levin said of Boston’s winning back-to-back Gatorade POY awards. “The challenge this year for Aliyah – and we talked about it after she received the award last year as a sophomore – was that she would have to work even harder going forward. I think that will be true again this year.”

With Boston leading the way, the Hilltoppers are 42-4 the last two seasons.

Aliyah Boston/photo courtesy of Worcester Academy

“I think the award is validation of her hard work as well as the support of her teammates and the Worcester Academy community. It is truly gratifying to have her receive this award again this year. She, and we, got everybody’s best shot. Aliyah was, I believe, truly deserving of this award.”

Boston recorded 23 double-doubles (double figures in points and rebounds) this past season and four of those games were triple-doubles.

In the second game of the year, in a 72-46 win over St. George’s on Dec. 6, Boston scored 33 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 11 shots. The next time out, Dec. 10 against Deerfield (a 69-46 win), Boston’s stat line featured 24 points, 20 rebounds and 11 blocked shots.

On Jan 20, in a 58-54 win over Nobles – the eventual NEPSAC Class A champion – Boston poured in 28 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and recorded 11 blocks. On the last day of January, in a 61-35 win over Suffield, Boston scored 11 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked 11 shots in limited playing time.

Boston managed to record such an impressive array of statistics despite almost always being double-teamed defensively by her opponents and often being triple team once she received the ball in the post.

“When your efforts are validated and you win these honors everybody knows how good you are,” Levin said. “There are no surprises.”

As a result of winning the Gatorade POY award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, Boston is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year award.

As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Boston will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program.

Boston, who is a native of the Virgin Islands and currently lives with her aunt in Worcester, has volunteered with hurricane relief efforts in her hometown of St. Thomas. In addition she has donated her time locally as a student ambassador at Worcester Academy and as a youth basketball coach.

Every Gatorade Player of the Year state winner receives a $1,000 grant to donate and will have the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by writing a brief essay explaining why their selected organization deserves additional support. 12 spotlight grants – one for each sport – will be announced throughout the year.

In May, Boston will again travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and tryout for a spot on the 17-and-Under U.S. National Team. When she was 14 Boston was one of the final two players to be eliminated from consideration for the team.

Last offseason, as a member of the USA Basketball Under-16 Women’s National Team, Boston was the tournament MVP as the U.S. won a gold medal at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Argentina.

Boston is currently ranked nationally by several publications as a top three recruit in the Class of 2019.

WORCESTER – The WPI football team was looking for another player for their roster and Keegan Concannon was looking for another team to be a part of.

Last month the Engineers and Keegan joined forces, WPI drafting the 13-year-old Hudson resident to be a member of its team for the next two years.

The school and Keegan were paired together through a program called Team IMPACT, IMPACT standing for Inspire, Motivate, and Play Against Challenges Together. Team IMPACT is a national nonprofit based in Quincy that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses to local college athletic teams.

Keegan suffers from a Primary Immunodeficiency disease called Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), which is a very rare genetic disorder that only affects two percent of the world population. CVID is characterized by repeated infections and low antibody levels.

“Keegan had had the disease since birth and has been in and out of the hospital ever since,” Laura Concannon, Keegan’s mother, said. “It took three years to find out what he had.”

Keegan, his mother said, has an insufficiency in three of the four major components of the immune system.

“Keegan receives immune cell transfusions every other week because his body is extremely susceptible to illness,” Laura Concannon said. “The last time Keegan was hospitalized we learned that part of the reason Keegan is having a hard time fighting off any illnesses he gets is because his body is rejecting the antibiotics used to treat the illness as well as the illness itself. We also recently learned that Keegan has several genetic mutations.

A genetic mutation is a permanent alteration of a person’s DNA so much so that the sequence differs from what is found in most people. Mutations range in size and can affect anywhere from a single strand of DNA to a large segment of a chromosome that can also include multiple genes.

The head of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Children’s Hospital is searching the international data base almost daily to try to find another genetic match like Keegan,” Laura Concannon said. They’re having a very difficult time treating Keegan because they don’t know what these genetic components are. Keegan is a very rare genetic mystery right now.

Because his body doesn’t have the capability of fighting off illness Keegan is unable to attend school on a daily basis. The illness level at Hudson Middle School has been so high this year Keegan has not been in the school in more than five months. Instead, he has a tutor who comes to the Concannon house three or four times a week and Keegan is able to view his classroom lessons via a robot called a VGo.

Keegan Concannon Address WPI Football Team on Draft Day/PHOTO CREDIT: Photos Courtesy WPI Athletics

“We’re lucky to have an incredible team of teachers in Hudson, as well as Dr. Marco Rodrigues, our new superintendent and Leslie Williams, Keegan’s private tutor who was his fifth-grade teacher, supporting Keegan and helping to ensure his education,” Laura Concannon said. “Keegan’s story prior to this year is that he – we – were fighting for classroom access by using the VGo. Now, with a new, supportive superintendent in place and the school supporting his use of the VGo Keegan can access school every day.

Leslie is an incredible, phenomenal tutor,” Laura Concannon said. She comes out here to the house and helps him with all of his studies.

Laura Concannon said she hopes Keegan can return to attending school on a limited basis during the last week of March or the first week of April.

“Illness at school is still at too high of a rate to risk sending him back,” Laura Concannon said. “We’re trying to keep him healthy. Despite his illness Keegan still has a desire to attend school and he is starting to feel well enough to get back to doing so. Plus, his stamina is still a question. Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’re going to start getting him back into school one class at a time. We’ll still have the VGo representing him in school and he’ll still have Leslie coming out to the house to help facilitate his education.”

Laura Concannon said she and her husband Robert learned about the Team IMPACT program through the family of another child in the area who also suffers from CVID.

“I reached out and talked to them and they said Keegan was a perfect candidate for Team IMPACT,” Laura Concannon said. “Once Keegan was accepted into the program Team IMPACT started reaching out to several different schools and teams.”

Team IMPACT offered to pair Keegan up with a few different teams in the area, but Keegan told his mother he wanted to wait until he could be matched up with a football team.

“Keegan plays football here in Hudson, although he only plays on a limited basis. Because of that Keegan wanted to be affiliated with a football team,” Laura Concannon said. “Because Keegan wanted to get paired up with a football team it took Team IMPACT several months longer to find him a team that it would have if he just chose to go with one of the other teams they had found for him.

After months of searching Elizabeth Higgins of Team IMPACT finally found a match – the WPI football team.

“Elizabeth said WPI was very excited when they found out they had a chance to be paired up with Keegan,” Laura Concannon said. “They immediately said yes. They immediately wanted Keegan to be part of their football team. They reached out, within a day or two after learning about Keegan’s story and took Keegan on to the team.

Unbeknownst to the Concannon family, at the same time Team IMPACT was looking for a team for Keegan, Scott Sperone, WPI’s defensive coordinator, was applying on behalf of the school to be part of the Team IMPACT program. Prior to coming to WPI, Sperone had been involved with Team IMPACT when he was a member of the football coaching staff at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“Just before I left Fairleigh Dickinson to come to WPI we had been matched up with a young man and we were in the stages of planning out his draft day,” Sperone said. “When I got here I asked head coach Chris Robertson if he would be interested in getting involved in this program. He said he was, so we put in an application.

Team IMPACT put Keegan and WPI together in the fall and Keegan was able to attend an Engineers’ practice and the team’s New England Bowl Series win over the State University of New York’s Maritime College.

On Feb. 28 WPI held its Draft Day for Keegan, selecting the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive lineman in the first round. After officially signing his “contract” with WPI, coach Robertson presented Keegan with a game jersey with the No. 1 on it. In the second round of their draft the Engineers selected Keegan’s two best friends, Ryan Yates and Ethan Bushey. Yates and Bushey received game jerseys with the No. 2 on them.

On hand at Keegan’s Draft Day was about 50 members of the WPI football team, the WPI cheerleaders and the WPI Pep Band.

Draft Day was our way of officially welcoming Keegan to the team,” said Sperone, who explained that the ceremony was similar to the one high school seniors participate in when they sign their NCAA National Letter of Intent to attend a specific school.

“Keegan had been with us since late in the season,” Sperone said. In addition to attending our New England Bowl win he came to the WPI basketball game with us when we were honored at halftime for that victory. He was out there with us at half-court holding up the trophy we received for winning the game.”

Sperone said the team decided to unofficially welcome Ryan and Ethan into the program as well because it seemed like the right thing to do for the two boys who have been constants in Keegan’s life for many years.

“Ryan and Ethan have been there for Keegan through all of his medical issues. So we welcomed them into the program as well. They will definitely be around,” Sperone said. “It was a nice night not only for Keegan, but for his parents as well, and Ryan and Ethan.

We held a second round of the draft, which is something that is not usually done, and drafted them both in the second round,” Sperone explained. “Technically they’re not part of the Team IMPACT program but we’re viewing them as being a part of us as well. We’ll be doing more with Keegan but we anticipate that Ryan and Ethan will be around a lot, too.

Keegan immediately perked up when he was asked about Draft Day.

“Draft Day was amazing; it was so much fun,” Keegan said. “I was not expecting that many people to be there. The auditorium was full. I was expecting 10 maybe 20 players to be there and so many more than that came. And I definitely did not expect the cheerleaders and the band to be there.”

During his Draft Day ceremony Keegan took to the microphone and addressed the crowd with some remarks he had prepared for the event.

“I would like to express my thanks to Team IMPACT and the coaches and players of the WPI football team,” Keegan said. “I am really excited to be welcomed into the WPI football program; the idea of being at the games and at some of the practices makes me feel so happy because I am part of this great team.

Keegan Signs with WPI Football Team/PHOTO CREDIT: Photos Courtesy WPI Athletics

“I have not always felt like I was part of a team until recently because my illness has set me apart from other kids and this has left me feeling isolated. And then I found football and my life changed,” Keegan continued. “With my parents and this great team behind me I now know there is nothing I cannot do. Onward and upward.”

Sperone said he was impressed with Keegan’s poise and confidence when he was addressing the crowd.

“Keegan did a great job speaking; I was really impressed with how composed he was when he addressed the team,” Sperone said.

Laura Keegan also spoke at the ceremony, and her remarks were pointed directly at the WPI football team.

“It’s simply amazing that Team Impact and you guys have all jumped in to help participate in Keegan’s future,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to hold back the tears that filled her eyes. “He just has a whole new look on life and we are so thankful.”

Sperone said the Engineers held a team meeting shortly after they found out they were being paired up with Keegan.

“The first thing we did was ask the team who wanted to be involved with this and we had a group of about 15 underclassmen, from juniors all the way down to freshmen, that stepped up and said they wanted to be a part of this,” said Sperone, who believes that being part of Team IMPACT will be beneficial not only to Keegan, but to the WPI players who participate in it as well.

“Team IMPACT is designed to not only help the young men and women who have been paired up with a team, but the team as well,” Sperone said. “What often happens is the team that is paired up with the young man or woman in need receive a lot of life lessons that they wouldn’t normally receive if they didn’t have that young man or woman around.”

Sperone said that in addition to hosting Keegan at practices and games the team will hold an outing for Keegan at least once a month. He said the team is looking into taking Keegan to a Worcester Railers hockey game and possibly a Worcester Pirates football game as well. WPI’s spring football practice begins this week and Sperone said he is hoping Keegan can make it up to at least one practice, if not more.

We have a couple of guys who are heading up the player portion of the program and hopefully they will come up with some ideas of other activities we can do with Keegan,” Sperone said.

One of those players is sophomore wide receiver/long snapper Billy Mitchell.

“Billy is the player who has taken the lead with organizing and coordinating the outings we have with Keegan,” Sperone said. Billy came forward as one of those 15 guys that wanted to be involved. Coach Chris Robertson asked him if he would be willing to take the lead on it and he said he would.

Sperone said the team has really embraced being a part of the Team IMPACT program.

“They absolutely have. Our team captains said they were proud to have Keegan on the team. They’re taking pride in the fact that they’re able to introduce Keegan to a college football program and have him out on the field with us,” Sperone said. “The day after we drafted Keegan I received a real nice email from Keegan’s mom and I forwarded that on to the team.

Mitchell, who is from Groton and played football at Groton-Dunstable High School, said being involved in the Team IMPACT program is one of the rewarding college experiences he didn’t expect to be involved in when he enrolled at WPI.

“From the first practice Keegan spent with us you could tell he really likes hanging out with the guys,” Mitchell said. “Keegan definitely looks forward to coming and seeing us whenever he can. It’s pretty cool to see him so excited about joining us. It’s awesome; He loves it.

“Being able to make a difference in his everyday life really puts everything in perspective for us,” Mitchell said. “It’s been tough for him, not being able to go to school. It’s really nice to see just how much he enjoys playing football with us and that we’re making a difference in his life.”

In addition to being rewarding Mitchell said the team’s experience with Keegan has been life=altering as well.

“It’s certainly eye-opening to see how a kid like Keegan is not as lucky as we are to be able to go to college and play football and be so involved with the sport,” said Mitchell, who is majoring in management engineering. “Even in the short time we’ve spent with him we’re seeing him really start to open up to us. You can see he is definitely enjoying being on the team with us. That’s been good to see.

Mitchells aid he was thrilled to be a part of Keegan’s Draft Day festivities.

“Draft night exceeded what I thought it was going to be. We had the help of the band and the cheerleaders. All the players were there and his family and his friends, Ethan and Ryan. There was just so much excitement among everyone involved,” said Mitchell who wasn’t surprised to see Laura Keegan get emotional during the event. It was nice to see her get somewhat emotional because you could tell that what we’re doing is making a big difference for Keegan.

“It’s a nice feeling to be a part of this,” Mitchell said. “We may be having a huge impact on his life by being involved in this program, but it goes equally both ways for sure. It is definitely a special program and I’m very glad they introduced it to us this year. It’s a pretty cool thing and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

Keegan said being with the WPI players, even on a limited basis has been fun.

Some of the guys are pretty funny. Getting to hear about what they’re working on in school is really cool, too,” Keegan said. One of the players is working on making an (remote control) plane and another one is growing hearts out of cabbages. That’s some pretty interesting stuff.

Keegan said practices with the Engineers are very different than the practices with his youth football team.

“Their practices are a lot more structured,” Keegan said. The offense runs drills with the offense; the defense runs drills with the defense; special teams run drills with special teams. At our practices everyone is all grouped together.”

Keegan said he likes playing defense.

Wherever my coach needs me to go along the defensive line, that’s where I go,” Keegan said. “I don’t really like playing offense because there are too may rules; you can’t do this and you can’t do that. You can’t throw them to the ground; you can’t grab their jerseys. On defense you can kind of do anything you need to do to get past them.

I’m having a great time being part of the WPI football team; I like hanging out with the guys,” Keegan said. I’m already looking forward to the football season.

Keegan said he is very much looking forward to attending a WPI football practice this week.

The coaches said I could bring my shoulder pads and cleats and helmet and run some drills with their defense,” Keegan said. I’m hoping to do that. I’m really looking forward to it; it’s going to be fun. They have those automatic tackling bags that move around on the field. They’re robots, kind of like the one I use in school. I can’t wait to try and tackle one of those things while it’s moving around on the field.”

It’s safe to say that Team IMPACT is already having an impact on the life of Keegan Concannon.

WORCESTER – The hockey coaching fraternity has a saying: Scoring cannot be taught. A player can either put the puck in the net or he can’t.

Worcester Wildcats right winger Peter Joseph “PJ” Sharry is one of those players whose ability to score goals was a gift presented to him at birth.

“PJ is a put the puck in the net guy, absolutely,” Wildcats’ coach Mike Vaughan said.

Exhibit A of Sharry’s ability to put the puck in the net occurred Feb. 5 when the senior scored five goals against Littleton in a 5-4 Wildcats win. That is not a typo. Five goals. Like after four and before six.

“PJ was amazing in that game,” Wildcats goalie Ethan Spaulding said. “On a couple of the goals he made their goalie look silly.”

The 17-year-old Sharry just laughed off Spaulding’s comment when asked about it.

“I just had the hot hand that night and I got a little bit of puck luck,” Sharry said, deflecting the compliment with the same skill that he uses to fire the puck past opposing netminders. “I had two breakaways and I capitalized on those. The rest of it was just my linemates Dave Brissette and, at the time, Ben Elkins. They put me in good positions to score.”

Sharry said the last goal of the night was the one that stands out the most to him.

“The game was tied, 4-4, and there were less than two minutes to play,” Sharry explained. “My teammate, Nick Jose and I came down on a 2-on-1 and Nick took the shot and I just buried the rebound.

PJ Sharry/Photo: Alex Flaminio

Vaughan said he didn’t really get caught up watching Sharry making the ice his own personal playground that night because he was coaching, but he knew the kid was having a game for himself.

“Even in the middle of coaching the game I knew PJ was having a special night,” Vaughan said. “By the time he scored the game-winner he already had a four-goal game. That was a night where his senior leadership really came out. He recognized he had to carry us in that game and he did.”

“It was special,” Sharry said of his five-goal game. “It was cool.”

The Wildcats are a co-operative hockey team whose roster includes players from all the Worcester public schools as well as Leicester High and Bay Path Regional. Sharry attends Doherty High.

With Sharry leading the way with 22 goals, 15 assists and 37 total points, the Wildcats finished the regular season 13-6-1 and qualified for the Central Mass. Division 3A Tournament for the second year in a row and third time in Sharry’s career.

PJ Sharry/Photo Alex Flaminio

Worcester, the No. 3 seed, will open the playoffs by hosting the Fitchburg/Monty Tech co-op team, the No. 6 seed, at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Buffone Rink on Lake Avenue. Fitchburg/Monty Tech finished the regular season with a 10-9-1 mark. The two teams played on Feb. 19, the Wildcats winning the game 5-0. Sharry had a goal and two assists in that game.

Sharry is one of four seniors on the team, along with Jose, Spaulding and Ryan McCarthy. Sharry and Spaulding serve as captains for the Wildcats.

“PJ knows how to keep things light for the boys in the room with his sense of humor and his personality,” Vaughan said, “but he’s very focused when it comes to the on-ice stuff. He is a terrific kid.”

Sharry, who has 90 career points (35 goals, 55 assists) has scored at least one goal in 11 of the Wildcats’ games this year. In addition to his five-goal game, he netted a hat trick against Gardner and had five two-goal games, completing the feat twice against Oakmont and once each against Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley, Assabet Valley and Belchertown. Sharry has either scored a goal or recorded an assist in every Wildcats’ game this season.

“PJ has just been an absolute pleasure to coach. The hockey sense that he has, that’s hard to teach. He just has so much understanding of the game and how to play it. He is just phenomenal,” Vaughan said. “He has so hyper-focused this year as a captain on what we need to do as a team. He has embraced his role as captain. He’s done an amazing job. He is always prepared. It was clear to me that he came into the season prepared to take on a leadership role on the team.”

Sharry learned that leadership his freshman year from Jimmy Sharry, his older brother who was a senior on the team, and Seamus O’Connor, another senior.

“As a freshman I joined a team with great leadership and they showed me the ropes,” Sharry said. “My sophomore year was a tough year but we continued to grow despite not making the playoffs that year. It feels like my high school career has been building to this point and we’ve yet to peak. Hopefully I’ve got four more games left. If we win all four I’ll skate off the ice a state champion.”

Sharry and his Worcester Wildcats Teammates/Photo: Alex Flaminio

Vaughan said Sharry is much more than just the leading scorer of his team.

“Because of his hockey sense he does so many things on the ice so well. He excels in every aspect of the game. He is my best penalty killer. He understands the concept so well,” Vaughan said. “The hockey sense he has is something you can’t teach. His father definitely taught him the right way to play hockey. His father is an outstanding hockey man.”

His father is Donny Sharry, who starred on the ice at St. Peter-Marian High School and Salem State College. Donny Sharry and his wife, the former Meighan McGlynn, have four children – Jimmy, Jacqueline, Donny and Natalie. Jacqueline, who is graduating from Union College this spring, ran track and played softball at Doherty. Natalie is currently at Doherty, where she plays soccer, basketball and lacrosse at the varsity level.

PJ Sharry was asked if he got his athletic ability from his mother. He laughed. “No. She was a cheerleader in high school.”

Sharry’s first time on the ice was as a 2-1/2-year-old participating in the Learn to Stake program at Buffone Rink. He then played with the Bay State Sharks until the third grade when his father formed the Worcester Crusaders, a travel hockey team. Sharry played with the Crusaders through his eighth-grade year.

“I’ve always enjoyed hockey. Winter is the funnest time of the year,” Sharry said. “Everyone’s mad about it being cold out and you just come to the rink and skate. It’s the funnest time, being out here with the guys.”

Sharry said he is excited for the playoffs to get started.

“I feel good. We’re going to be facing Fitchburg, a team we just beat 5-0. So, I feel pretty confident going into that game. I don’t feel like there is any team to beat us. Grafton seems like they’re the front runners, the team to beat, but I think we could have beaten them all three times we played them. I would love to play them a fourth time. The Grafton rivalry is big for us, playing all our home games in the same rink with them. We see the same familiar faces every day. I want to beat them so bad.

Sharry said he probably won’t play hockey in college, opting instead to focus on his studies.

I want to major in history and education,” Sharry said. “I hope to go on to teach and maybe coach high school hockey one day.

Make no mistake; the Wildcats are more than just Sharry, although he is a big piece of the puzzle.

Other goal-scorers fort the Wildcats include freshman David Brissette (11 goals, 18 assists, 29 points), Jose (10-12—22), sophomore Daniel Sheeran (3-18—21), Ryan Vigeant (10-9—19), Ben Bombard (3-14—17), Matt Mahan (8-8—16) and Elkins (3-10—13).

Vaughan alternates his goalies from game to game, using Spaulding and Jake Grampietro regularly. Grampietro has given up 18 goals and has a 1.50 goals-against average and a 0.933 save percentage. Spaulding has allowed 24 goals and has a 3.45 goals-against average and a 0.829 save percentage.

“We’re a pretty balanced team,” Vaughan said.

Sharry and Sheeran were recently named to the Central Mass. 3A All-Star team as well as the Coughlin Conference All-Star team. For Sharry it’s the second straight year he has been named a Division 3A and Conference All-Star. Brissette was named to the Central Mass. 3A All-Star team and Mahan was an honorable mention Conference selection.

WORCESTER – In the end Steve Bucciaglia’s decision on where to continue his academic and athletic careers did not come down to anything tangible. His choice was not based on academic programs, the recent success of the football team or where the school was located. It didn’t come down to anything he read in a brochure or that was pitched to him by the admissions office.

“I chose Assumption College because it just felt like it was the right fit for me,” Bucciaglia, St. John’s record-setting quarterback, said. “I went on a recruiting trip there and spent the night and I really liked it. I could picture myself there.”

Steve Bucciaglia/Photo: St. John’s High School

Bucciaglia, who led the Pioneers to an undefeated season and the Division 3 state championship in December, signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Assumption College on an athletic scholarship on Wednesday. He said the other schools he was seriously considering attending were fellow Northeast-10 schools Bentley and Merrimack.

Bucciaglia finished his senior season for St. John’s (13-0) by helping to defeat North Attleboro, 35-33, Dec. 1 at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium. In the Pioneers’ victory over the Red Rocketeers Bucciaglia completed 16-of-18 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring strike to Jay Brunelle on a third-and-12 play that pushed the St. John’s lead to 35-20.

For the season the 6-foot-1 Bucciaglia completed 207-of-285 pass attempts for 3,591 yards and 45 touchdowns.

Complicating Bucciaglia’s college decision-making process was the fact that Bob Chesney, Assumption’s wildly successful head football coach departed the Salisbury Street campus in December to become the Holy Cross head football coach. Chesney was 44-16 in five seasons leading the Greyhounds, who captured two Northeast-10 championships and appeared in the NCAA Division 2 playoffs three times while he was there.

“I knew I wanted to go to Assumption but I was waiting to see who they named as coach,” Bucciaglia said. “I wanted to meet the guy before I made my decision.”

Assumption hired former Holy Cross offensive coordinator Andy McKenzie on Thursday, Feb. 1, and two days later Bucciaglia and McKenzie had a face-to-face meeting. Just hours after the two met Bucciaglia announced on Twitter that he would be attending Assumption College.

“He’s a really nice guy and I would love to play for him. I made my decision right after I met him,” Bucciaglia said. “He’s a quarterback-oriented guy. He said he saw me on film and he said I’d be a good fit at Assumption. I was really happy when I heard that.”

Most recently the 45-year-old McKenzie served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Holy Cross, from 2008-2015. Prior to that, from 2002-2007, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Allegheny College, from where he graduated in 1996.

From 2000-2001 McKenzie was the quarterbacks coach at Williams College. Before that, from 1996-1999 he was the wide receivers and secondary coach at Northeastern University. McKenzie got his start in coaching before he graduated from Allegheny, serving as the Gators’ wide receivers coach during the 1995 season.

“Coach McKenzie was excited when I told him I had decided to attend Assumption,” Bucciaglia said. “So were the other coaches who have been recruiting me since the summer (quarterbacks coach Jensen Gebhardt and linebackers coach Nick Kessel). They really liked me and I really liked them. I’m excited for August.”

McKenzie declined to comment on Bucciaglia’s college decision although the Assumption College football twitter account welcomed him to the family on Wednesday.

“I’m going to let Steve speak to that. I’m not sure I can comment on kids yet,” McKenzie said. “There are some recruiting rules about commenting on prospects and kids so I’m just going to take Steve’s word for what’s going on. I can’t comment because there is some documentation that has to be completed before we’re allowed to comment on such things.”

Bucciaglia said he was pleased and relieved that he has made his decision.

“Yeah I am,” said Bucciaglia, whose father Steven and mother Lauren (Lumsden) are both Assumption graduates. “The process is kind of stressful so I was wicked excited just to get it over with.”

Bucciaglia said the St. John’s community has been reaching out to him since Saturday congratulating him on his decision.

“Everybody at St. John’s has been wicked supportive and are very excited for me,” Bucciaglia said. “They wished me the best of luck. It’s cool because I think my teammates will be able to see a couple of my games in the next four years.”

Bucciaglia, who grew up in Worcester but now lives in Shrewsbury, said he considered schools from all the college divisions.

“I was looking at some NESCAC, NE-10 and smaller Division 1 schools,” Bucciaglia said. “In the end, though, I saw myself as a Division 2 player so I went after those schools. I went to the camps during the summer and sent my highlight tape from my junior year to them. I’ve been talking to a lot of NE-10 schools since the summer.”

McKenzie left his job as athletic director at Gardner High School to accept the Assumption College position. This was McKenzie’s third year overseeing the Wildcats’ athletic programs.

“The administration in Gardner, Mark Pellegrino (superintendent of schools) and Paula Bolger (Gardner High principal) were phenomenal to me,” McKenzie said. “I’m so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity they gave me at Gardner. Hopefully they feel like I worked hard for them and did the right things there, which I think they do. After a good conversation with them they were more than willing to let me move on to Assumption College and be the head football coach.”

McKenzie said when the Assumption job opened up he simply had to throw his hat in the ring.

“I’m a football guy. I love football and I love the value that a sport brings to a community and what it does for the growth and development of the kids that participate in it,” McKenzie said. “It’s always been an important part of my life. When the opportunity came about at Assumption it was an opportunity I could resist looking into.”

McKenzie has had to hit the ground running, getting the Assumption position right in the middle of recruiting season. Wednesday was National Signing Day for Division 1 and 2 college football programs.

“I’m walked into the position on Friday with just a weekend and a couple days to try and put a recruiting class together,” McKenzie said. “Fortunately coach Chesney laid a great foundation here. There are a lot of positive things happening on campus and Assumption’s reputation right now is trending really high.

“There were a couple of assistant coaches on staff here (Gebhardt and Kessel) who held the fort together and did a great job of recruiting while the school was looking for a coach,” McKenzie continued. “We’re in good shape but this is just the beginning. We’ve still got more work to do.”

Although it’s still early, McKenzie said the transition from Chesney to himself has been smooth.

“The transition has been awesome,” McKenzie said. “As crazy as this time of year is for college football coaches the people at Assumption College, from the administration, to the athletic department, to the students on campus, to the players, they have all been totally supportive. “They’ve been totally into getting a new coach in here and moving forward and getting ready for next year. I’m really excited about how important the football team is to Assumption College right now.”

Leading the Greyhounds marks the first time in his coaching career of 20 years that McKenzie has been a head coach. He’s already come to the conclusion that it’s much different than being a position coach or a coordinator.

“When you’re a position coach or a coordinator you’re totally focused on coaching your position and taking care of your specific duties to the best of you ability,” McKenzie said. “When you’re in the head coach’s chair you’re responsible for the full program. You’ve got to think about the offense and the defense and the special teams and the budgets and the scheduling.

“It does open up a lot of managerial situations that you have to take care of and I think that’s where my time at Gardner as the athletic director has truly benefitted me,” McKenzie said. “I’m now able to handle all the different tasks that come across the desk.”

McKenzie said he hopes to have his coaching staff finalized by the end of this weekend.

“I’m working on it right now,” McKenzie said. “I anticipate having most of the guys on board by the end of this weekend or early next week. Right now I’ve got to hire a couple of coordinators and a couple of graduate assistants.”

McKenzie said he will be retaining Gebhardt, Kessel and running backs coach Mike Vulcano.

“They all did a nice job in the transition and they deserve to be here,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie and his wife, Salwa, live in Holden with their children, 13-year-old Braeden and 10-year-old Yasmine.

WORCESTER – It’s fitting that Burncoat High senior Maire Gallagher scored her 1,000 career point on a three-pointer last week against Fitchburg High. When you think Maire Gallagher you think three-pointer. When you think three-pointer you think Maire Gallagher.

Maire Gallagher/Photo Courtesy the Gallagher Family.

Of the 1,025 points that Gallagher has scored so far in her career, almost 500 – 498 to be exact – have come from behind the three-point line.

“I’m a three-point shooter,” Gallagher said quickly when asked what her basketball “specialty” was. “I just love to shoot the three. Once I hit a few they keep coming and I keep on shooting them. I know I’m on fire so I just keep on going.”

Her teammates know it, too.

“Maire (pronounced Mare, the Gaelic word for Mary) has a look when she gets going,” fellow senior Katie Pasquale said. “She gets really serious. Her eyes narrow and she gets really focused. You look at her after she’s hit a couple of threes and you know she is in that zone she gets in. As a teammate you just want to keep feeding her the ball and have her keep shooting.”



The 17-year-old Gallagher has always had the gift of being to drain a three-pointer from anywhere on the court – she hit 45 of them as a freshman and sophomore – but her three-point accuracy has exploded the last two seasons.

Through 14 games this season she has made 113 field goals, a Central Mass.-leading 59 coming from beyond the three-point arc. Of the 104 field goals she hit as a junior, 62 were three-pointers, also the highest total in Central Mass.

So far this season Gallagher has had games where she has hit nine three-pointers (once, against Blackstone-Millville), eight three-pointers (once, against South), six three-pointers (twice, against South and Westborough) five three-pointers (once, against Fitchburg), fourth three-pointers (four times, against Notre Dame Academy, South, Douglas and Worcester Tech), three three-pointers (twice, against North and Abby Kelley) and one three-pointer (three times, against St. Peter-Marian, Bartlett and Doherty).

Gallagher has had at least one three-pointer in every game this year.

Maire Gallagher with Family after scoring 1,000th point/Credit: Burncoat High School

“Watching her against Blackstone-Millville was just amazing,” said Paul Keenan, in his third years as Burncoat’s varsity coach. “There was a point where I was turning to my assistant coaches and I really didn’t know what to say to them. Blackstone-Millville was throwing all kinds of defenses at her but it just didn’t matter. She just took the game over.”

Gallagher is averaging 23.9 points per game – second-best in Central Mass. – this year for the 10-4 Patriots, who qualified for the Central Mass. Division 2 tournament for the first time in her career with Burncoat’s win over Fitchburg. As a junior she averaged 16.3 points per game.

“Maire has come a long way as a basketball player in the last three years,” Keenan said. “She’s always working on her game during the offseason. She’s always going to clinics and camps and she plays AAU basketball as well.

“Basketball is a high priority to her,” Keenan said. “She’s always going after it; she’s always trying to get better. Each year she works hard over the summer and comes to practice on that first day having added something new to her game.”

Maire Gallagher with student section of fans/Photo: Burncoat High Shcool

Gallagher credits an offseason program she has participated in the last two years as making her not only a better three-point shooter, but also a better all-around basketball player.

“Andy Sears, my AAU coach with the Central Mass. Lightning runs a six-week program during the summer that focuses on shooting and ball-handling and lifting weights,” Gallagher said. “We work for an hour on shooting the ball and an hour on our ball-handling. Then we go into the weight room and we lift for an hour.”

Gallagher has also played AAU basketball for Diago McClain, Ryan Connor and Adrian Machado, three well-known coaches in Central Mass. basketball circles. Over the last few years, when she wasn’t playing in AAU tournaments for Sears and the Central Mass. Lightning she would play for another AAU club, Team United, which is coached by Machado.

Last summer the 5-foot-4 Gallagher played for the Central Mass. team in the Bay State Games. She plans to play in the Bay State Games again this summer. She has also played with her Burncoat High teammates the past few summers in the Shrewsbury Girls’ Summer Basketball League.

“I mainly played for the Central Mass. Lightning, but if the Lightning didn’t have a tournament on a particular weekend I would go and play with Team United,” Gallagher said, referring to her AAU experience. “I probably play 100 AAU games a year, maybe more.”

Keenan said Gallagher often provides scouting reports on some of the players Burncoat will be facing during the season.

“She knows all the kids we face during the season from her AAU days, so she’s always providing information on this girl or that girls,” Keenan said. “And when she doesn’t know someone, I usually recognize them because my daughter, Julia, plays AAU and I go to a lot of AAU games in the summer.”

Maire Gallagher/Photo Courtesy of Gallagher Family

Gallagher, who played quarterback and wide receiver in the Worcester Youth Flag Football League when she was younger, started playing basketball when she was 10.

“When I was in the sixth grade at Clark Street Elementary School they had a Biddy Basketball Program. I was looking to play a sport and that’s all they had, basketball, so I joined the program,” Gallagher said. “At about the same time one of my teammates in the Biddy Basketball Program, her mom worked at St. Peter’s Parish. She was involved with the Rec League they run there and she was able to get me on a team.”

After playing at Clark Street Elementary School, Gallagher graduated to the basketball program at Burncoat Middle School. That’s where she met Pasquale.

“We’ve been playing together since our middle school days,” said Pasquale who has had a front-row seat to Gallaher’s development as a basketball player and a person. “We hit it off on the first day we met and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Gallagher said the idea of being a 1,000-point scorer for Burncoat originally began when she was an eighth-grader, on the first day of practice as a member of the junior varsity team. On that day she walked into the Patriots’ gymnasium, affectionately known as “the Green Graveyard” and “The Pit” and saw the banner on the wall of all the 1,000-point scorers in school history.

A year later she was part of a team that tried valiantly to get a teammate, Khadijah Hames, on that 1,000-point banner.

“Khadijah was so close to scoring a 1,000,” Gallagher said. “I think she ended up about 25 points away from scoring 1,000. Being involved in helping her try to score her 1,000 really motivated me to try and do it. Last year and this year I’ve tried to really step it up to make it happen.”

Despite keeping busy with all her basketball exploits, Gallagher has found time during her high school career to become a standout field hockey and softball player for the Patriots. She also participates in the dance magnet at Burncoat. As part of the Burncoat dance magnet Gallagher is enrolled in advanced level classes in classical ballet, modern jazz and modern dance.

While Gallagher isn’t sure yet where she will continue her education, she is sure about three things: she wants to play basketball in college, she wants to major in psychology and she wants to become a high school guidance counselor.

Gallagher has received interest from about 20 colleges and universities that would like her to continue her athletic and academic careers with them, including WPI, Anna Maria, Emmanuel, Rhode Island College and Bridgewater State University.

“Right now I’m considering a few schools,” Gallagher said. I don’t really have a top choice. It’s so hard to decide.”

Gallagher said she wants to be a high school guidance counselor because of the impact Connor – her guidance counselor at Burncoat – has had on her.

“I see the way he helps kids and gives them direction and that’s something I want to do, too,” Gallaher said.

There will be time for all that down the road. Right now there are still many three-pointers to take – and make.

Cover Photo by Ken Powers: Maire Gallagher (right) with teammate and co-captain, Katie Pasquale.

WORCESTER – Holy Name boys’ basketball coach Jason Chavoor issued what is considered in the lexicon of sports as the ultimate compliment when asked about the play so far this season of Naps’ point guard Tommy Dunn.

“He just knows how to play the game,” Chavoor said matter-of-factly.

Indeed he does. The oldest of Matt and Rose Dunn’s two sons, the freshman is averaging a team-leading 15 points per game for Chavoor and Holy Name (4-9) while delivering an armload of assists and collecting a handful of steals each game.

Tommy Dunn takes the ball down the court versus St. Peter-Marian

Just 11 games into his high school career Dunn has already scored 20 or more points in four games. In the third game of the season he scored 22 against North, and three games later tossed in 21 against Barrington High of Rhode Island. On Jan. 2 he poured in 25 – currently his career high — against St. Bernard’s. The next time out Dunn scored 21 against St. John’s.

Holy Name’s game Friday night against Burncoat was suspended at halftime due to condensation on the floor that was causing players to slip and fall. At the half, the Naps were leading the Patriots, 45-25, and Dunn has already scored 22 points. The Naps would hold on to win 77-61 and Dunn would finish with a team-high 28 points.

“Tommy has been a blessing; we graduated most of our ball handlers last year,” Chavoor said. “He’s learning on the run this year and I think it will be great for him as time goes on. He’s been excellent. He works real hard; he never takes any plays off; he never takes any practices off. He’s very skilled. In my opinion he’s the best freshman in the area, hands down.”

The quiet and soft-spoken Dunn said he is pleased with how things have worked out so far this season.

“I think it’s going pretty well overall. We’re struggling as a team to get wins but I feel like I’m working hard and doing everything I can to help my team win because that’s all that matters,” said Dunn who said Chavoor has been very encouraging and quick to offer suggestions and feedback. “Coach has been great, supporting me and helping me through this first year. He knows I’m seeing a lot of stuff I haven’t seen before so if I don’t understand something he’ll explain it to me and tell me what to do.”

Dunn Shoots a jumper versus Doherty High

Dunn, 15, began playing basketball when he was five years old, participating in local legend Bobby Berman’s youth program at the Jewish Community Center. At six he was sitting on the end of the bench of a local AAU team – the Worcester Sting – playing occasionally. Dunn played for the Sting until three years ago, when he joined the Central Mass. Shamrocks. He played his middle school basketball at Venerini Academy.

When it came time to pick a high school Dunn immediately chose Holy Name, even though his father and other family members are St. John’s graduates.

“I don’t know why, exactly, but I knew since the beginning of eighth grade that I was going to Holy Name,” said Dunn a Worcester resident. “I just wanted to go there; I could see myself there and I had a lot of friends that were already at Holy Name. I participated in the school’s Shadow Program last year, too, and that went great. I really liked the school, I liked the basketball program. So, to me, it was a no-brainer.”

Dunn’s first interaction with his current teammates was last summer at Crompton Park when he played on Holy Name’s entry in the high school boys’ basketball summer league.

“By playing with them in the summer league I got to know the guys,” Dunn said. “We’re a good group, we all get along well.”

Chavoor said he liked what he saw in Dunn when he attended some of the summer league games.

“I knew just by watching him in the summer league that he was going to be able to play,” Chavoor said. “You don’t get kids like Tommy very often.

“In 2003 I started three freshmen – Dominique Price, Ryan Brown and Mike Balderelli – and you knew right from the get-go that those kids were going to be good,” Chavoor continued. “To be honest, though, Tommy has the chance to be even better than those guys. As a freshman, maybe one of the three had a 20-point game. Tommy has already had four.”

The jump from Venerini Academy to Holy Name in terms of the level of competition a player is facing and the time commitment that’s expected is, well, huge.

“Going from a small school like Venerini Academy to playing on the varsity team at Holy Name as a freshman was a big adjustment,” Dunn said. “At Holy Name we have practice every day; we didn’t have that at Venerini. At Venerini basketball wasn’t as time consuming. The competition and intensity level of the games, you can’t even compare the two. Despite all the differences I’m getting used to it; I’m adapting and liking it.”

Chavoor agreed with Dunn about how different basketball is at Holy Name as compared to Venerini Academy.

“It’s night and day,” Chavoor said. “Who he played against last year and who he’s playing against this year, it couldn’t be any more night and day. From that catholic middle school league with Venerini Academy and Worcester Central Catholic to what he’s playing against this year, it’s night and day. That’s the only way to explain it.”

Dunn has frequently found this season that he is guarding, and is being guarded by, a player older, quicker and more athletic. More often than not, he holds his own.

“You just have to outsmart them. You have to know where the picks are going to be,” Dunn said. “If I’m guarding someone a lot faster and a lot quicker than I am, I play off him a little bit. If he hits the shot, he hits the shot. There’s nothing I can do because if I get up on him he might go right around me.

“Coach always says, ‘give up jump shots rather than layups,’” Dunn continued. “I’m almost always guarding the other team’s point guard. If he comes up court and hits a three without passing off to a teammate, hey props to him, good shot. My focus, at that point, is to keep him out of the paint and I have to do everything I can to keep him out of the paint. On offense I use my body coming of picks to protect the ball and get a little separation so I can get the shot off.”

Chavoor said Dunn has adapted and adjusted to playing against guys, quicker, faster and more experienced than he is.

“Tommy is a bit of a throwback player; nothing really bothers him,” Chavoor said. “He’s crafty, he cuts to the hoop well and he moves well without the ball. He does some things already that I can’t teach. There are certain things that you can’t teach and he has those things already, even though he’s only a freshman.

“He just knows how to play the game and he’s tough and competitive,” Chavoor said. “You don’t run into too many kids these days that have no baggage, but Tommy brings no baggage with him to our program. He shows up every day and he has nothing to say; he’s never complained once; he’s never questioned anything. He doesn’t feel like he’s better than anybody.”

The bottom line is Dunn hangs with everyone he’s guarding, even though he doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to hang with them.

“When it comes to Tommy out there on the court, playing defense, I’m reminded of that saying we learned as kids – you can’t judge a book by its cover,” Chavoor said. “He doesn’t look like he can play. Friends of mine come to games and I say to them, ‘wait until to you see this kid play’ pointing to Tommy and they say, ‘that kid?’ And I tell them what I tell everybody – the kid just knows how to play the game.

“When you watch him you can tell he has put in his time in the gym. He’s fundamental. He doesn’t make a lot of stupid mistakes; he doesn’t make a lot of bad passes,” Chavoor continued. “You might expect a freshman not to handle certain moments but he does. Against South he handled their pressure. Against North they put two guys on him and he was able to dribble through the press and find somebody to make a layup. He was able to make shots against St. John’s, when other guys struggled, to keep us in the game and give us a chance.”

One thing Dunn has made a seamless transition to is providing a one-two, inside-outside scoring punch for Holy Name with DeVandre Edmonds, the Naps’ senior center, who is averaging 14 points per game.

“I like to feed it to DeVandre in the post and he will either take it to the hoop or kick it back out,” Dunn said. “I’m a three-point shooter and sometimes I’ll take the three when he kicks it back out, but a lot of times I get it to DeVandre in the post and make cuts off that entry pass. Other times, when the pass back is not there, we’ll work a pick and roll at the top of the key.”

Chavoor said he’s been very happy with how well Dunn and Edmonds work together.

“DeVandre will post and Tommy will get him the ball and then Tommy will cut and DeVandre will give the ball back to Tommy,” Chavoor said. “DeVandre is a very unselfish player; we want him to be more selfish but his game is a pass-first game. DeVandre is very cerebral. When he gets the ball in the post he is able to hit the cutter, whether it’s to the left or the right. A lot of Tommy’s baskets come off assists from DeVandre.”

Dunn said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make this year – and it’s an ongoing adjustment – is with the pressure that comes with being the starting point guard as a freshman for a rich-in-tradition basketball program like Holy Name.

“There is a lot of pressure knowing that I’m the starting point guard even though I’m just a freshman,” he said. “There’s pressure to distribute the ball, to get my teammates the shots they need, to get the shots I need to keep the defense honest, to do what coach wants. And, just overall, to do the right thing every trip down the floor.”

Chavoor isn’t worried about the pressure Dunn may be feeling because he already knows something Dunn hasn’t quite figured out yet – whatever the situation, his freshman will figure it out.

“He’s just been a real pleasant surprise for us,” Chavoor said. “When I saw him play over the summer for the summer league team I knew he was going to be good, but he’s overachieved for us already. We’re hoping Tommy is going to be a mainstay up here for the next four years, score a ton of points for us, and then go on and play really competitive college basketball when he’s done.”

WORCESTER – Perspective is a funny thing.

Back in May of 2016, Worcester Academy basketball player Aliyah (pronounced Ah-Lee-Yah) Boston, just 14 years old at the time, traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo. – on her own dime — to try out for USA Basketball Women’s U17 team. Boston did well, becoming the youngest player ever to make the cut to 14. When the team was cut to 12 however, Boston was not on the final roster.

That didn’t seem to matter in the girls’ and women’s basketball world. Folks were too busy marveling at how the outgoing and always smiling 6-foot-3 prep school freshman — who didn’t even make her league all-star team — hung with the older girls. Division 1 college coaches at the tryouts were frantically Goggling Worcester, which they undoubtedly spelled, and pronounced, “Worchester” or “Worsester” to download the Hilltoppers’ schedule.

Aliyah Boston may not have made the U17 team, but she had arrived.

Not in her mind, however.

“I felt really said after the tryout that I didn’t make the team,” said Boston, who is now 6-4. “I never wanted to feel that way again. I told myself to keep working hard so that next time I tried out – because I knew I was coming back to try out again – I made it.

“I told myself after the U17 tryout, ‘I never again want to not make a team I try out for,’” Boston continued.

Make no mistake however, Boston had most definitely arrived. She was just beginning to receive the exposure as a basketball player that she – and her family – sought when she and her older sister Lexi moved to Worcester from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands back in 2014.

Aliyah Boston/photo courtesy of Worcester Academy

Lexi and Aliyah Boston relocated to Worcester without parents Cleone and Al, moving in with Cleone’s sister – their aunt – Jenaire Hodge, who lives in Worcester.

“I started playing basketball when I was nine,” Boston said. “My sister was just starting to get into sports and she started playing basketball. Since she was my big sister I wanted to do anything that she was doing, so I started playing basketball, too.”

The competition back in the Virgin Islands was limited, to say the least.

“When we lived in St. Thomas they weren’t many basketball teams. My sister and I played in a league where we were the only girls on our team. We might have been the only girls in the league,” Boston said. “I was excited that I was playing against the guys and doing OK, holding my own. I used to be in the paper all the time in St. Thomas; that was a really big deal to me. My mom, though, she used to tell me, ‘until you make the papers in the states, you haven’t really made it. So, don’t get too high.’”

Boston said the attention given to local players in the U.S. Virgin Islands has improved since she and her sister moved to Worcester, primarily because lots of folks from the states have moved there; folks who know how popular and how widely followed girls’ and women’s basketball is ‘in the states.’

“Those people, who went to college in the states, are transferring their kids to schools here in the states because they recognize the exposure that’s available,” Boston said. “By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to play basketball at the highest level and I knew that was in the states.”

So, while the Boston sisters were contemplating just how to propose to their parents a move to the states, her parents came to them and suggested a move to Worcester, where they could live with Hodge and play basketball here.

The sisters moved to Worcester in 2014 and enrolled at Holy Name. Lexi was in the 10th grade, Aliyah the eighth grade. Lexi Boston stayed at Holy Name, graduating in June, while Aliyah Boston transferred to Worcester Academy at the beginning of her freshman year.

“Initially (we came to Worcester) for basketball, but it became about academics for me,” Boston said. “Maybe it was because I was young, but in the eighth grade I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough, academically.  Coach (Dan) Nagle was the coach at Worcester Academy at the time and saw me play and he invited me to visit the campus.

“I really liked the academic offerings here at Worcester Academy. It was the academics here that made me ultimately decide to transfer to Worcester Academy,” Aliyah Boston said, “and I do feel like I’m being pushed more, academically, here.”

Boston said it was hard leaving St. Thomas for Worcester.

“It was very hard,” she said. “Even though I came here with my sister, my parents are still down there, as well as all my family and all my friends. So that’s hard. But I’m adjusting. It gets a little easier every day.”

Boston said she’s undecided what she’ll study when she gets to college but she is interested in the fields of law and communications.

“I know they’re very different but I love both,” she said.

A communications degree would help Boston get into a field like media relations, where she could work in athletics at a college or university or even in the front office of a professional sports team. Boston said she might like to give sports announcing a try, too.

Upon arriving in Worcester Boston hooked on with the Worcester Sting, an AAU team coached by former Holy Name standout Diago McClain. Looking for a more national AAU tournament schedule Boston soon joined the AAU team iExcel, which operates out of the New York/New Jersey area and is coached by Walter Welsh. The iExcel team plays a national schedule, often attending tournaments located in Las Vegas, Florida, Atlanta and Texas.

Boston’s stock has done nothing but rise since she crashed the party that was the U17 National Team tryouts in the spring of her freshman year. Last year, in helping lead Worcester Academy to a 19-3 mark she averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals a game.

For her efforts as a sophomore Boston, who wasn’t even a league all-star as a freshman, was named the Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

This year, in helping the Hilltoppers start the season 11-0, Boston is averaging 24 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assists per game. She is among the top recruits in the nation among girls who will graduate in 2019. Some publications have her ranked as high as the fourth overall recruit, while others rank her as the No. 1 recruit among post players.

“Aliyah is an extraordinary person. I always say that first because it’s rare when you have someone whose character matches their talent level. Aliyah is one of those rare people,” said Sherry Levin, now in the second year of her second stint as Worcester Academy’s girls’ basketball coach. “Her talent level is through the roof but she is not only one of the most talented players, but she truly is a genuine human being and a quality person.

“She is a great teammate. She is very coachable; she is always looking to learn,” Levin continued. “She gives solid input on what’s going on out on the floor during games. She is very mature for her age. She is going to make some college program really happy.”

Levin said the Hilltoppers’ offense runs through Boston.

“She is very unselfish when she needs to be,” Levin said. “She understands her role as being one of the top players. I can’t say enough about her character and her skills.”

In Worcester Academy’s most recent victory, 61-57, over St. Andrew’s School of Barrington, R.I., Boston had another impressive stat line – 25 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists – but it was the effortless way in which she played that was impressive.

With the score tied, 57-57, with less than a minute left to play, Boston gathered in an entry pass on the left block and wheeled into the lane and calmly swished a 6-foot, turn-around jumper that gave Worcester Academy the lead for good, 59-57. On St. Andrew’s School’s ensuing possession Boston grabbed a key rebound to limit St. Andrew’s to one shot. Back in the offensive end she pulled down an offensive rebound and passed it out to a teammate, who canned a jumper to account for the 61-57 final.

Aliyah has a tremendous ability to make her teammates better,” Levin said. “When she gets the ball and she’s double-teamed she does a great job of finding her open teammate; it’s a drill we work on every day in practice. She sees the floor very well, she’s really unselfish and she embraces the role of being a leader on the team.”

During the entire final minute of Saturday’s game, and the 31 that came before it, Boston’s demeanor never changed. There was no way to tell if she was having a good game or a bad game. No way to tell if she had scored 5 points or 25 points.

Boston said she enjoys playing for coach Levin.

“I love it. She’s a great coach as far as Xs and Os go, but she’s a great coach off the court, too,” Boston said. “If I have any questions, if I need anything, I can always go to her.”

Boston’s play, starting at the U17 tryouts two years ago, had gotten the attention of every major Division 1 college and most of the mid-majors as well. Some lower-level Division 1 schools have shown interest as well, no doubt playing the “come to a smaller, quieter place to get a high-level education and Division 1 basketball experience in an intimate bucolic college setting.

Beginning with the first game of her sophomore year there has been at least one college coach at all of her games. Jeff Walz, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville, attended Saturday’s game against St. Andrew’s, sitting in the front row of the bleachers, right at half court.

When asked about the college recruiting wars that are going on to procure her services, Boston just smiled.

“I’m just enjoying the process right now,” she said. “I have a list of 10 schools that I’m considering.”

Boston, who had made unofficial visits to both Louisville and the University of Connecticut, said she plans to take her official visits after this season ends. She declined to reveal the schools on her list, saying she preferred to keep it in the family for now.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of the big Division 1 schools; a lot of them have shown interest in recruiting me,” said Boston, who was surprised to hear that many people believe that she is headed to UConn. “All I can tell you is nothing has been decided yet.”

Boston said she hopes to decide on where she will continue her education by the early signing period next year. She doesn’t know if she will verbally commit to a school before the early signing period.

“Right now I’m not sure about that,” she said. “Right now I just want to go through the process and take my time because wherever I decide to go, I’m going to spend the next four years. So, I want to make sure I make the right decision.”

She said her college decision will be based on athletics as well as academics.

“Basketball is going to end at some point so I do want to have a strong academic base to fall back on,” Boston said. “That will be a very important component to it.”

As far as going from just another freshman one year to the Gatorade Player of the Year the following season, Boston had a simple explanation.

“I just worked hard,” she said. “After the U17 tryouts I knew I could play at (the national) level, but I knew I needed to keep working hard. I started working on a whole lot of things – my outside game, my mid-range game, my dribbling.”


In June Boston played for USA Basketball in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, earning MVP honors for the tournament while helping her team to the gold medal. The tournament was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The USA team won each of its games in the tournament by at least 50 points. The coach of the team was former Oxford High and UConn standout Carla Berube.

Boston couldn’t decide when asked which part of the game of basketball she liked best.

“I love it all. I love blocking shots, but I also love scoring the basketball, and I love playing defense, too,” Boston said. “I also love getting offensive rebounds because I work really hard on the offensive end to get in position. A rebound is like a reward for working hard.”

While she’s known across the Worcester Academy campus as Aliyah, in St. Thomas she is better known as “Peaches” a nickname her father, Al, gave her at the time of her birth.

“I was born two weeks early and when I was born, I was really red,” Boston explained. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘she looks like a peach.’ And ever since then my dad has called me Peaches. I’ll call home and my mom will answer the phone, ‘hi Peaches.’ Some people call me Aliyah, some people call me Peaches. I’m good with either.”

WORCESTER – The Worcester Tech boys’ basketball team has picked up in the 2017-18 season right where it left off in the 2016-17 season, winning its first five games – several in convincing fashion.

The Eagles (15-8 in 2016-17) closed last season with a flurry, winning three straight at the end of the season before losing to Maynard High, the eventual Division 4 Central Mass. and state champion, 45-42, in the semifinal round of the Central Mass. Division 4 Tournament.

“We gave Maynard its best game in its run to the state championship last year,” Eagles’ coach Sean Lynch said.

Worcester Tech (5-0, 3-0 in the Colonial Athletic League Large Division) faces its toughest test of the young season at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when it hosts also undefeated Assabet Valley (6-0, 4-0).

The teams split their regular season games last year, the Eagles winning at Assabet (60-47) and losing at home (72-60). Worcester Tech then beat Aztecs, 60-54, in the quarterfinal round of the Central Mass. Division 4 Tournament in a game played at Assabet Valley.

Assabet enters the game with a high-octane offense that’s averaging 81 points a game and a stingy defense that’s only allowing 40. The Aztecs have already cracked the 100-point barrier this year, beating Keefe Tech 116-48 back on Dec. 21. They’ve scored 86 points twice.

“Every time I pick up the paper it seems like they’re hanging 90 on somebody,” said Lynch, now in his 10th year as the Eagles’ head coach. “If we hope to win we’re going to have to keep them off the three-point line. They all shoot the ball very well. Taking away the three-pointers, especially the uncontested ones, that’s going to be our focal point.”

Assabet is led in scoring by Jeff Hunter, who is averaging 16.8 points-per-game, Gerry McManus (14.5) and Daisjaughn Bass (10).

Worcester Tech is pretty much the same team this year as it was last year, its only significant loss being Ian Mwalago, who averaged 19 ppg last year.

“He’s been tough to replace,” said Lynch who is the head of the math department at Worcester Tech.

The Eagles have five seniors, eight juniors and two sophomores on the roster. The seniors on the team are Jacob Adams, Josh Falero, Victor Florentino, Steven Rivera and Daniel Rodriguez. Juniors on the team are John Bab, Jose Bonilla, Ceasar Flores, Malcolm Gaines, Brendan Hamilton, Innocent Morte, Cooper Nyuane and Zaire Peart. Andrew Enlow and Deron Kumah are the sophomores on the team.

We’re definitely junior heavy,” Lynch said.

Florentino and Peart serve as team captains.

Florentino (13 ppg) leads the team in scoring, followed by Hamilton (11 ppg) and Enlow (8 ppg). Peart, Bonilla and Falero all average 6 ppg.

“Andrew Enlow, he’s our little sparkplug off the bench,” Lynch said. “He is instant offense and defense. He plays with a ton of energy. He’s a bulldog. We had his brother, Adrell, on the team a couple of years ago. He was the same way; it must be genetic. They both really get after it.”

Lynch, who said Worcester Tech’s regular lineup is Florentino, Peart, Hamilton, Falero and Bonilla, is not overly surprised at his team’s 5-0 start.

“I thought we would have a decent start,” Lynch said. “Our league (the Colonial Athletic League Large Division), I think, is pretty underrated. It keeps getting better and better each year.”

As of Jan. 7, five of the six teams in the CAL Large Division (Assabet, Worcester Tech, Abby Kelley Foster, Bay Path and Monty Tech) had a better than .500 record and the sixth, Main South was 2-3.

“Main South, they’ve played some tough teams already, including Acton-Boxboro,” Lynch said. “We played them the other night and it was a battle. It was the first time they were at full strength and it was a battle. It’s always a grind when we play them; it’s a good rivalry for us because all the kids know each other and the game is, essentially, for bragging rights in the neighborhood.”

Worcester Tech defeated Main South, 60-56, on Jan. 3. Lynch said prior to the Eagles’ game with Main South two of the team’s key players has missed playing time due to the injuries and its coach, Luis Ojeda Sr., had missed time on the bench as well.

A lot of high school basketball teams these days focus on offense, especially shooting the three-pointer. Lynch said the Eagles are not one of those teams.

“We’ve never been a high flying offense; we’re kind of a grind it out team,” Lynch said. “We like to run; we’re not the best half-court offensive team. We tend to grind a lot of games out. Our focus is on defense.”

Peart, who starts at point guard for Worcester Tech, is the lifeblood of the team.

“He’s probably the key to getting us going in the offensive end,” Lynch said. “He loves to push the tempo. On the defensive end they key for us is definitely Brendan Hamilton, our center. He’s the anchor to our defense. Brendan’s not that big (6-foot-3) compared to other centers, but he is quick and very athletic. Just his presence out there in the middle alters a lot of shots. And, he blocks shots and he’s a great rebounder, too.

“Victor does it on both ends for us,” Lynch continued. “He’s 6-2 but he can handle the ball, and he is one of our better shooters, too. On defense he’ll cover whoever we ask him to. He does it all. He’s a quiet kid; he leads by example.”

Lynch said Falero is a physical guard who is very good at pressuring the ball.

“For us it’s definitely a team concept, both on offense and defense,” Lynch said. “It’s not just one guy out there doing it for us.”

On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, ThisWeekinWorcester.com launched after a summer-long promotional period and over the past four months the staff has worked diligently to bring its readers breaking news stories, profiles of Worcester residents and leaders, leading election coverage and relevant sports, entertainment and restaurant that impact the Worcester area.

To say the response has been overwhelming would be an understatement. Since early September, our stories have been read nearly 500,000 times and roughly 150,000 people have visited our site (as of 12/28/17).

Below are the 17 most read stories we’ve published in our early existence in the final four months of 2017. We have listed them 17 to 1 and the list is dominated by several breaking news stories — including the introduction of Worcester’s newest arena football team, the Massachusetts Pirates, and the ongoing negotiations between Worcester and the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Also, our readers marveled over the series authored by Charles Longeway and his hunt for the reason behind the catacombs below downtown Worcester, warmed up to to a pair of stories by Ken Powers on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and celebrated the introduction of two new restaurants in the city.

Thank you for your continued support and we ask our readers to continue to stick with us in 2018 as we constantly strive to improve and grow. Happy New Year!





















OXFORD – Contrary to widespread public opinion outside of town, Oxford High varsity football coach Jeff Clarkson did not open his home to Niko Murray as a thinly-veiled attempt to keep the Pirates’ star player in the fold and away from other teams.

Clarkson, born and raised and still living in Oxford, may not realize it, but he saw part of his own past in Murray’s future and he didn’t want any member of his team – star player or seldom-used reserved – to go through the unhappiness he went through many years ago.

“I think for Jeff it’s tied to his upbringing,” his wife, Dawn Clarkson said matter-of-factly. “It’s a totally different set of circumstances, but for his freshman year in high school Jeff went to St. John’s. He told me he missed his friends so much that it was one of the more difficult years of his life. ‘It’s a great school but I missed my friends,’ he told me one night. Jeff’s roots were, and are, here in Oxford.

“So Jeff understood when Niko said he wanted to stay in Oxford and at Oxford High because all his friends were here now,” Dawn Clarkson continued,” Jeff realized from talking with him that Niko’s roots were now here in Oxford, too.”

Murray, who grew up in Fitchburg, came to Oxford in 2014. The Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) classified Murray as a ward of the state and placed him in the George Bernardin Oxford House, a long-term residential group home for boys ages 11-18. The facility is run by YOU, Inc.

Murray and the Clarkson Family

Upon arriving in Oxford, Murray was enrolled in the eighth grade. The Oxford School Department applied for, and received, a waiver so he could play football at the high school and he joined the football team that fall. The first day of practice he met Joel Erickson and Ryan Walsh, two classmates and teammates he now refers to as his best friends.

“Some of the kids (at the Oxford House) were talking about going to Oxford High and playing football and I was interested in that because I played football in Fitchburg growing up,” said the outgoing and always smiling Murray. “I didn’t know anybody when I got here and started the eighth grade, but my first day here I made a bunch of friends. Joel was the first guy I met and he introduced me to Ryan. Joel and Ryan became my best friends.”

Murray played on the varsity team as an eighth-grader, splitting time between quarterback and running back. He started about half the games that year. Murray was the starting quarterback when the Pirates’ faced Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in the Thanksgiving Day game between the teams. Murray was a member of the varsity football team as a freshman as well.

Statistical records from those two years are spotty at best. As an eighth-grader Murray appears to have rushed for 52 yards and four touchdowns, including a 12-yard touchdown against Ayer-Shirley, and a two-point conversion. As a freshman Murray gained 198 yards and scored two touchdowns on 41 carries, had three pass receptions for 86 yards and another TD, returned four kicks for 57 yards and kicked two extra points. The team was 1-9 in 2014 and 0-11 in 2015.

Murray has come into his own on the gridiron the last two seasons. As a sophomore he gained 1,265 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 162 carries. He also returned a pair of kicks for scores. Last year was Murray’s breakout season as he rushed for 2,040 yards and 30 touchdowns on 160 carries. He also caught five passes for 88 yards and three more scores. Murray finished the year with 34 touchdowns and 204 points.

Jeff Clarkson and Nike Murray

Jeff Clarkson remembers meeting Murray – sort of – when Murray was an eighth-grader.

“I went over to the middle school to watch the middle school basketball teams play – my daughter Olivia was on the girls’ team. In middle school the boys’ and girls’ teams would play back-to-back,” Clarkson explained. “After one of Olivia’s games I see Niko waiting around but I don’t know who he’s waiting for or what he’s waiting for because I don’t know anything about the kid other than the fact he had played varsity football and he had started at quarterback in the Thanksgiving Day game.”

At this time Clarkson had no connection to the Oxford High football program – he was a youth football coach in town.

“I had just seen him play middle school basketball and I could see what an athlete he was even though he was only in the eighth grade,” Clarkson continued. “So, I went over to him that day at the middle school, after the games, and I said to him, ‘hey, you’re a good athlete, I’ve seen you on the basketball court and I’ve heard good things about you. I saw you play on Thanksgiving. Stay out of trouble. One of the keys to being a great athlete is staying out of trouble.

“Then, and I have no idea why I did this, I said to Niko, ‘Just remember, you never know, down the road, who your coach will be,’” Clarkson said. “I just threw that out there. There was nothing even on the radar about my becoming coach at that time. I mean, I had always thought about it, but the position wasn’t even open at the time (Mike Adams was the coach for Niko’s eighth-grade season). Then we shook hands and he told me he had to go, that his ride was here, and I see the gray van that is famous for being the Oxford House van, pull up and Niko gets in and off he goes.”

As fate would have it, the Oxford High varsity football job opened up later that year and Clarkson applied for the job – and he didn’t get it.

“I got passed over,” Clarkson said. “Ross Thibault, the principal at the time, calls me and tells me he is going to go with Brian Cain, an assistant coach at the time at Westfield State. Is he a better coach than me, Xs and Os? Probably 10 times better. No doubt about it. Does he know defense better than me? Probably 10 times better. I said to Ross, ‘I think you’re stepping over me.’”

Thibault, however, had a plan. He wanted Clarkson to work with Cain and help coach the Pirates.

“Ross said to me, ‘you bleed orange and black. I know you’re going to stay and help this kid,’” Clarkson recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m not going to. I got my hands full with the youth program.’ Then I said to him, ‘can I talk to you freely? Like I talk to one of my friends?’ And he said, ‘go right ahead.’

“So I said, ‘do you know what you’re doing? This whole town is going to be in an uproar over this thing. I’ve been involved in the youth program since Day One. Everyone in town knows me. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but this is what I’m supposed to do. This job has been waiting for me. This job came up now for a reason.’” Clarkson remembers telling Thibault.

Clarkson said that on paper Cain was a coach. He was coaching at the college level and had coached at the high school level before that.

“I told Ross, ‘from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is going to work out,’” Clarkson said.

And it didn’t, because it became apparent that Cain wanted a teaching job at Oxford High to go along with the coaching job, even though the administration had made it clear during the interview process that a teaching job did not come along as part of the coaching position.

Cain, who was hired in May, resigned on July 8.

“He called me that day and said, ‘Jeff, I just want you to hear it from me before all the craziness starts – I’ve resigned,’” Clarkson said. “He told me he had just clicked send on the email and sent it off to the superintendent and the principal. He said, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t hire you. You should have the job. I hope you get it. Good luck. Goodbye.’”

Clarkson acted quickly.

“I immediately sent an email to Ross that said, ‘you have one day to make a decision. If not, good luck. It’s July. I don’t have time to play games with this,’” Clarkson said. “Ross called me as soon as he got the email and said, ‘the job is yours. Let’s move forward.’ So, I kind of got the job by default, which was not the way I wanted to get it, but what are you going to do? I didn’t have time to cry over not being the first choice.”

The more Clarkson got to know Murray – now that he was his coach and interacting with him on a daily basis – the more he liked about him.

“Right from the get-go I realize this kid is a good kid,” Clarkson said. “It made me think, ‘what is he doing at The Oxford House?’ In mid-September I get a call from a DCF worker out of the blue and he says to me, ‘don’t get too attached to this kid. He’s a good kid. He’s progressed out of the Oxford House and we want to get him into a home with a family. He doesn’t belong here.’”

Clarkson went home that night and shared his “news” with his wife.

“I brought it home and put it right on the kitchen table. I said to Dawn, ‘what do you think? Can we try to find someone to take him? Do we take him ourselves?’” Clarkson said. “My oldest daughter, Gabrielle, was at UMass at the time so I knew we had a room if we needed it. I said to Dawn, ‘I don’t think she’ll be heartbroken to lose her room if she knows what we’re doing, bringing a kid in to live with us. Can we do it?’”

As he tells this part of the story Clarkson sounds a lot like a little boy who brings home a stray dog and asks his mother if they can keep it.

“I had actually already met Niko at this point,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He was one of the boys from the Oxford House that had volunteered to work the football camp that we hold every year for the youth program. I saw him playing out on the field and I thought it was very nice that he was out there volunteering his time.

“A couple of weeks later, Jeff said to me, ‘I think Niko is going to be leaving us.’ And I said, ‘what do you mean he’s going to be leaving?’” Dawn Clarkson remembered. “So, Jeff tells me that Niko’s social worker told him that Niko is going back to Fitchburg. Then Jeff says, ‘what do you think about him coming to live with us?’ and I was like, ‘let me talk to the kids first. I’m OK with it, but let me talk to them.’”

Dawn Clarkson said her boys – Quinn, who is now 12, and Kellen, who is 10 – were immediately on board with adding Murray to the family.

“They were excited about the idea of Niko coming to live with us,” Dawn Clarkson said. “There was no trepidation at all. There were no worries about getting along because they had met him and seen him and interacted with him during the football camp. They like him a lot. And they knew him from town playing with the other kids.

“I think my boys were just happy Niko was going to be living with us,” Dawn Clarkson said. “They were happy that he was going to be like a big brother to them. They looked up to him automatically. All the younger kids in town are like ‘Niko, Niko, Niko.’ They love him and he is wonderful with the kids.”

Dawn Clarkson said the decision to open her home to Murray was, in the end, a very easy one to make.

“Niko had built a life here in Oxford and had made friends and he wanted to stay. I think in the end we wanted to give him that opportunity,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He’d been in Oxford for two years. I didn’t want to see him pulled out of here, a place where he had made friends for two years. Jeff and I believed Niko’s roots were now in Oxford so we decided to open our home to him and give him a chance because he’s a good kid.”

With his wife and family firmly on board with the plan, Clarkson met with Mike Roy, Murray’s caseworker to discuss the possibility of having Niko become a part of the Clarkson family.

“Mike told me he would look into it and put a game plan together,” Clarkson said. “So we had a CORI check done and we started in mid-October having Niko come over for dinner on the weekends. He had Thanksgiving Dinner with us, too.

In December Murray began spending his weekends at the Clarksons.

“First it was one night, then two and then it was Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we were bringing him to school on Mondays,” Clarkson said. “Mike told us DCF was still waiting to see if he got processed out to a family looking to foster a kid, but he knew, with Niko being 16, that probably wasn’t going to happen.”

During the winter months Murray began struggling a little with his schoolwork. He was still eligible to play under Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) guidelines, but his DCF worker required him to have a grade average of 70 or higher and Murray had slipped below that.

Murray was a member of the Oxford boys’ varsity basketball team at this point, and the Pirates had advanced all the way to the Division 3 state championship game. But, because his grade average wasn’t at least a 70, his DCF worker didn’t allow Murray to participate in the game.

“Niko’s grades went even further south after that happened,” Clarkson said. “At that point I said to Mike, ‘look something has got happen here. We want to take him. What if something like this happens again during baseball season, or next year during football season, or basketball season? Sports are Niko’s life; if you take that away from him he’s not going to be receptive to anything that you are trying to throw at him.’

“It was really an effort for us to get them to let us take him home to live with us,” Clarkson said, shaking his head at the memory.

With his family on board and DCF seemingly on board, Clarkson decided he better ask Murray if he actually wanted to come live at his coach’s house.

“One day, toward the end of my freshman year, coach Clarkson was talking to me and he just asked me out of the blue if I wanted to come live with him and his family so I didn’t have to leave Oxford because my time at the Oxford House was up,” Murray said. “I had made friends here and I wanted to stay, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do that. The more it looked like I was headed back to Fitchburg the more I was saying to myself, ‘I wish I could figure out a way to stay in Oxford. I’m comfortable here; I know a lot of people here.’

“Coach picked up on that and asked me about living with him and his family,” Murray explained. “I wasn’t expecting that, but I was happy he asked. I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to do it. I felt like I didn’t really know him that well for him to do that, and I didn’t know if I wanted to live with my coach. But, I said yes because I really wanted to stay in Oxford.”

Murray officially moved in with the Clarksons on June 6, 2016.

“It was the last day of school his freshman year. The Oxford House packed him a bag and he came to live with us,” Clarkson said. “When I tell you it took hundreds and hundreds of emails to make this happen, it took hundreds and hundreds of emails. I feel like if I hadn’t pushed, he probably would have fallen through the cracks.”

Clarkson smiles when told that folks believe he only went to all this trouble because of Murray’s athletic ability and how important a piece of the Oxford High football puzzle that he is.

“Of course I knew people were saying that, are saying that. I don’t think it was folks here in town. But I heard the talk that was going around. People were telling me what other people were saying,” Clarkson said. “My reaction to all that is this: When the kid was a freshman, if you put a hand on him he went down. His freshman year he was good, he was not great. He was a freshman. Did I see potential down the road? Yes.

“I remember saying to Niko freshman year, ‘I talked to your DCF worker and he said to not get too attached to you. Do you know what’s going on?’” Clarkson said. “Niko said, ‘yes coach, I know what’s going on.’ So I asked him, coach to player, friend to friend, ‘what do you want?’ He said, ‘I’ve been going here since the eighth grade, I have friends, I have a girlfriend. I’ve had a lot of support here. I really enjoy being here. I’d like to stay here in Oxford. Hearing that, I wanted to help. And I’d want to do it for any kid in his situation whether they played sports or not.”

Dawn Clarkson dismissed the notion that her husband went to all this trouble just because Murray is a good football player.

“That had nothing to do with it,” Dawn Clarkson said. “When you get to know Niko, really know him at his core – his beliefs, his values – he’s a kid you want to help.”

Murray said no one has mentioned to him at any point that his getting to live with the Clarksons is some kind of star player treatment.

“No one has, and even if they did it wouldn’t bother me because I know it’s not true,” Murray said. “I think I’m bright enough to know we have a connection. Right from the beginning he told me this isn’t about football. He told me ‘if you get an offer from a better school and have a better opportunity, I want you to take it. I want you to go.’ It’s all good. I plan on being with the Clarksons until I graduate.”

None of the Clarksons – not Jeff, not Dawn, not Olivia – were worried that there would be any backlash about an African-American kid from The Oxford House going to live with an all-white family in town.

“I wasn’t worried about any of that. It’s Niko, after all,” Olivia Clarkson said with a laugh. “He’s pretty well known in Oxford; because of football, sure, but also because he’s an all-around nice person. He knows everybody in town and everybody knows him.”

Murray didn’t think twice about the fact he was moving in with an all-white family.

“I never even thought about that for one second; this is Oxford,” Murray said. “I never heard any gossip about that, either. I never feel like anyone is looking at me when we were all out together. Again, this is Oxford.”

Olivia Clarkson, who turns 14 next month, was a fifth-grader when Murray started attending family dinners at the Clarksons.

“When my mom first asked me about Niko I didn’t know who she was talking about,” Olivia Clarkson said. “But then my dad started having the football team dinners at our house and I met Niko through those dinners. We talked a little and I got to know him and he seemed like a nice guy.”

Dawn Clarkson said when she asked Olivia how she would feel if Niko came to live with them, Olivia whole-heartedly endorsed the idea.

“By then, after the team dinners and after he came over for dinner with the family a few times and after he stayed over for a few weekends, I had gotten to know him by then so I knew he was a good guy,” said Olivia Clarkson, who looks at Niko as her big brother. “We had nice talks together and we made each other laugh. I thought, at that point, it would be fun to have him around.”

Dawn Clarkson said having Murray join the family dynamic has been an adjustment for both parties.

“Niko’s had a totally different lifestyle than we’ve had,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He has boundaries and rules, and there are expectations on him around the house probably for the first time in his life. We’re very structured while he is coming from a totally different upbringing which is much less structured – if at all. So the process of ironing things out and making it very clear what’s expected and what is not OK, has taken some time.

“He’s very receptive to what I say to him when I need to say something to him and he is very respectful of me,” Dawn Clarkson said. “It’s been a big adjustment for both of us. As you would expect when having a kid who is almost 16 come to live at your house. There’s definitely been a defining of roles.”

Jeff Clarkson said there have been growing pains in his relationship with Murray – as he knew there would be – since the player came to live with the coach.

“We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs, to be sure. It’s been trying and challenging at times. I’ve had him out on the front steps a couple of nights waiting for a ride because I’m not dealing with the nonsense,” Jeff Clarkson said. “But, it’s mostly typical kid stuff that everybody probably deals with. But I do hold him to a higher standard.

“Niko is a good kid that got derailed a little bit,” Clarkson said. “But he’s not a bad kid. Sometimes you deal with bad kids and you have to walk away. Niko isn’t one of those kids. My mother, my sister, my nephew, he calls them his brother and sisters. He calls my wife mom, he calls me coach. Everybody gets along.

Through all the trials and tribulations, all the peaks and valleys, Jeff Clarkson said ft he had it to do all over again, he would.

“Just to see how well he fits in with this community I would do it again,” Jeff Clarkson said. “Just to see the friends he’s made. He wanted to be closer to them. Being at the Oxford House he had to put up a wall. But now, since he’s been living with us, I’ve seen him open up and become a responsible young man with his friends and his teammates. I would definitely do it again.”