The magic ride has finally come to an end. On Saturday June 4 just hours before Senior Prom I stood in the press box for the last time calling Staples High School sports. My broadcasting attire of a tuxedo should tell you just how important being a broadcaster has been to me over the past four years. The opportunities present in the Media Department have transformed me from an undersized middle linebacker into a nationally award-winning broadcaster.
I have been to Chicago and New York, interviewed famous athletes and sportscasters and watched SportsCenter live in Bristol from ESPN headquarters all because of WWPT Wrecker Radio and the Staples Television Network. I even sang the National Anthem at the state playoff boys’ basketball game against Amity High School.
As I get set to take the next step in my broadcasting career at Fordham University, I thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the best moments I witnessed while on the air. There are too many classic games to count and that is why I will never forget how fortunate I was to be the main storyteller for the past four years.
10. FCIAC Baseball Championship at Harbor Yard: Staples 5 Westhill 3
As just a sophomore this was the first FCIAC championship game that I had the pleasure of calling. Live from the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, I will never forget walking into the larger than life press box and thinking to myself that I could get use to calling games in a venue like this. The action of the game lived up to the thrill of the environment as Jack Hennessy ’10 went 3-4 with three runs and Jimmy Sikorski pitched a complete game to give Staples its second straight FCIAC championship in a row.
9: Staples Basketball vs. Ridgefield 2010 February 22nd 2010
Let me start off by saying that nobody expected the Staples boys’ basketball team to do much during the 2009-2010 season. The Wreckers quickly proved otherwise. With just two games remaining in the season, Staples was just one game back of Ridgefield for the 8th and final spot in the FCIAC playoffs. This critical matchup in Westport went back and forth all night long. It looked like Staples was going to cruise to an easy victory with a nine-point lead and only five minutes remaining. Ridgefield’s Doug Delbene had other ideas.
The senior was unconscious hitting five three pointers in the fourth quarter including one to tie the game with just 20 seconds left. Delbene’s heroics were enough to force overtime, however in the end the Wreckers were too much to handle as the home team squeaked out a hard-fought 79-74 victory.
8. Staples Boys Lacrosse vs. Fairfield Prep Jesuits: State Semi Final June 8 2010
This was the first year that I called lacrosse games and boy did I pick a good year to start. Behind the leadership of Kip Orban ’11 and Nate Greenberg ’10, the Staples Wreckers finished the regular season undefeated and within one game of playing for a state championship. With a 7-5 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, chances were looking good for Staples to appear in its first ever championship game.
That is when one of the town’s own wearing Prep red took over the game. Westport resident and Jesuit star Brandon Rotanz scored four goals in the fourth period including three in the span of 93 seconds to help Fairfield Prep advance to the state championship for the fifth straight year. It looked like Orban tied up the game with 15 seconds left, however another Westport resident in goalie Gil Long just got a piece of the ball to deflect it away from the net. To this day I have never seen a dominating performance that compares to the one Rotanz put on display for the fans at Brien McMahon High School. Let’s just say by game’s end I along with the rest of the Staples Wreckers squad understood why he was going to play D1 lax at Dartmouth.
7. FCIAC Baseball Semi-Final: Staples vs. St. Joes May 26 2011
After being upset as the number one seed in the 2010 FCIAC playoffs by Westhill, the Wreckers returned to Harbor Yard this year to play St. Joseph High School. Just two weeks before, Staples had beaten the best team in the FCIAC in Westport by a count of 5-4. The rematch between these two squads did not disappoint. After scoring three runs in the sixth inning, the Wreckers took a 7-3 lead into the final inning, just three outs away from a trip back to the FCIAC championship.
With two outs and two strikes, Jimmy Kopack ’12 was just one pitch away from ending the game but the Cadets began an improbable comeback. St. Joes scored three runs with two outs to make it a 7-6 game. With the tying run on second base, skipper Jack McFarland called on the youngest Wrecker to finish it off. In the biggest spot of his young Varsity career, sophomore Bryan Terzian got Alex Carboni to ground out to shortstop Tyler Jacobs and by the skin of its teeth the Wreckers advanced to the FCIAC championship.
6. Staples Volleyball vs. Darien FCIAC Championship May 28 2010
The reigning champs against the newcomers. That was the storyline heading into this FCIAC championship tilt between Staples and Darien. The Wreckers had won seven straight conference titles under Bruce Betts while the Blue Wave had never won. The most storied program in Connecticut high school volleyball history once again got the job in front of a packed house at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. I will never forget how appreciative Coach Betts was after the game while doing a post game interview on the radio. He looked me in the eye and said “what you guys are doing with your coverage is one of the greatest things to ever happen to this program”. For someone as successful as Betts to say that really demonstrated the impact that the school’s sports coverage was having on the athletic department and more important the community.
5. Staples Basketball vs. Greenwich February 12 2010
Just a few days before Valentine’s Day, there was no love lost between the Staples Wreckers and Greenwich Cardinals. While the bitter rivals are better known for their matchups on the gridiron, this FCIAC basketball matchup marked a new chapter in the rivalry. Besides let’s face it, this top 10 would be nothing without the greatest fight I have ever seen in a high school sports game. It all started with a Mike Leffelbine fast break lay-up.
Just as the Greenwich QB and starting point guard was going up to the cup, Frankie Bergonzi ’11 fouled Leffelbine hard and drove him straight to the ground. Pushing and shoving ensued and that is when Greenwich’s seven-foot center Al Alzulphar decided to take a shot Jake Felman ’11 and his 5’11 stature. A melee quickly ensued featuring appearances on the floor from Coach Colin Devine, who came sliding on with his newly polished black dress shoes, a police officer, Staples AD Marty Lisevick and Wrecker fanatic Kenny Lametta. Alzulphar was tossed from the game but that did not help the Wreckers as the Cardinals outlasted the home team 51-48. I will never forget the sight of the seven foot Alzulphar being escorted out of the Staples gym with a red back pack that looked small enough for my eight-year-old cousin to use.
4. Staples vs. Glastonbury Class LL Football State Quarterfinals November 30 2010
Number four begins the football portion of the top 10 as gridiron produced not only some of the best games during my broadcasting careers, but also some of the most memorable moments in Connecticut high school football history. The game was a defensive struggle all night long after Glastonbury scored on an early touchdown in the second quarter. It was an absolutely horrible Tuesday night with heavy rain and cold wind. I got to experience first hand just how bad it was while my partner Eric Gallanty and I broadcasted the game through the drops outside. Staples behind its freshman quarterback Jack Massie ’14 could not muster anything offensively for the first three and a half quarters.
With just under four minutes left on their own 35-yard line, the Wreckers put together a drive for the ages. An 18 yard strike to Robbie Herman ’11, a pass interference on Glastonbury and two passes to Nick Kelly ‘13 put Staples on the nine yard line with a 1st and goal situation. Just a few moments later WR Jason Mawicke, who had touched the ball more with his feet than with his hands, caught a 10 yard TD pass in the back of the end zone to make it a 7-6 with under a minute left. Instead of electing to play for the tie, head coach Marce Petroccio decided to roll the dice and go for the win with the two-point conversion. I am tagging this choice by Coach P as the most controversial decision in Staples football history because of the fact that it is still being talked about today.
Everyone forgets that the Wreckers initially brought the offense out onto the field and then called time out. It appeared that Staples was just bluffing, however as the two teams took the field, it was once again Tyler Jacobs’ 11 who was in the Wildcat formation. With the ball his hands it looked like Jacobs was going to get into the end zone on the conversion and that is when Malcolm Crosson made the biggest play of his high school career. Coming from the other side of the field, Crosson cut out Jacobs’ legs and flipped him just inches short of the goal line, securing the victory for the Tomahawks. I could not have asked for a more exciting affair in the final Staples football game that I would call.
As I stepped away from the gridiron for the final time, I glanced at the field and noticed there was just one light still lit on the field. Irony was clearly represented in this scenario with the powerful light casting a shadow on the left corner of the end zone where the Wreckers’ season ended.
3. Staples v. Bridgeport Central FCIAC Football Championship November 20 2009
Redemption. How quickly a game can change in the matter of seconds. With just over two minutes to go and Staples down 10-7, quarterback Keith Gelman ’10 threw a perfect pass to Brendan Rankowitz ’10 with nothing but green pastures ahead and he dropped the ball. The potential game winning touchdown gone just like that. With Central getting the ball back and under two minutes remaining, it looked all but over for Staples especially because of the fact that Hilltopper QB Christian Gill had been having his way with the state’s best defense.
But the Staples defense prevailed and gave the offense the ball back with 1:35 left on the 34-yard-line. Gelman began the drive with a pass to Rankowitz on the right side for a short gain and that is when Central coach Dave Cadelina called time out. I still wonder to this day why he called time out considering Staples had no timeouts and no momentum. Cadelina’s decision would quickly cost him as Gelman hit Rankowitz on the left side and the rest is history. Ranko scampered into the end zone for a 66 yard TD to give Staples a 14-10 lead. On the following possession the Staples captain intercepted a pass to give Staples its first FCIAC championship since 2003. Broadcasting from the wooden bleachers at Trumbulll High School I will never forget how violently the rickety stands shook when Rankowitz made his improbable score. Ranko’s redemptive touchdown is by far the greatest play I ever witnessed while broadcasting Staples sports.
After a long night of broadcasting in the cold, the event that was the FCIAC championship ended with a little humor. Connecticut high school sports writer Sean Patrick Bowley tripped and bashed his face into the wooden bleachers right in front of us. I have never laughed harder on the air and that is why this moment along with the action on the field was the reason why this game was one of the most memorable I ever had the pleasure of calling.
2. Staples vs. Cheshire Class LL State Football Championship December 6 2009
Friends fighting for a state championship. Staples coach Marce Petroccio and Cheshire headman Mark Ecke had coached together for years at West Conn and Cheshire and now they were slated against each other on the biggest stage. This game marked the first state championship that I had the chance to call and let’s just say it did not go the way I thought it would in terms of the set up. Instead of being inside the beautiful two level press box at Ken Strong Stadium, the site manager came up to the press box and yelled “Staples Radio your outside, that is where your athletic director wanted you to be.” I highly doubt Marty Lisevick explicitly gave these directions but I threw my heavy winter coat over my suit and headed outside. Standing at the top of the packed bleachers, I danced around in the 25-degree weather trying to stay warm.
Anyone who was watching Eric Gallanty and I broadcast the game must have thought we were insane. Imagine the sight of me wearing a winter coat over a suit with a headset on top of my blue Northface hat. I looked more like a clown than a broadcaster. The game between the Wreckers and the Rams lived up to the hype of the state championship but it was Cheshire who dominated early taking a 21-7 lead into the locker room. Staples remained down by two touchdowns until Brendan Rankowitz and Matt Kelly finally awoke the sleeping Wrecker offense.
If you thought Ranko’s TD in the FCIAC championship was incredible, the play he made was nearly as good when he slithered between three Ram defenders into the right corner of the end zone to tie up the game and send it to overtime. Cheshire struck first in the extra session and Staples had to respond starting with the ball on the 10 yard line. Just a few plays later the Wreckers would have their hearts broken when Matt Kelly fumbled the ball at the 3-yard line.
After watching the replay of the deciding play there is no doubt in my mind that Kelly’s knee was down before the ball was stripped. The state championship for Cheshire was the school’s first in 10 years and the images of this devastating loss are still plastered in my mind. When thinking about this game the first pictures that come to mind are Chris Coyne ‘11 crying on the front of the Norwalk Hour and Ryan Burke’11 walking off the field starting back at the Rams celebrating.
- Staples vs. Greenwich Thanksgiving Football November 26, 2009
We have finally reached number one on the list and man have I got a good one for all of you here in the top spot. This matchup between Staples and Greenwich had everything you could ask for- thrilling action, a raucous crowd, a bitter rivalry and of course turkey being eaten on the field. The Thanksgiving Day game between the Wreckers and the Cardinals was an important one for the hometown Wreckers who needed a win to advance to the state playoffs. With MSG Varsity coming to call the game, my broadcasting team and I were relegated to the far left corner of the press box, jammed between Dee Hitchko and Greenwich’s radio station WGCH. The first half belonged to the Wreckers as Matt Kelly rushed for three touchdowns, including an unreal 76-yard score to give Staples a 21-7 halftime lead.
However this game was far from over as the Cardinals came storming back and took a 22-21 lead in the fourth quarter. That is when Keith Gelman went to the all-reliable Brendan Rankowitz for a 60-yard bomb to give Staples the lead back at 27-22. Greenwich would score once more but miss the extra point, which set up the scene for the greatest kick in Staples football history. In just his first year on the team, Santiago Cuartas needed one kick to tie the Connecticut state record for most field goals in a single season. Cuartas banged a 31 yarder to not only tie the record but also more importantly give his team a 30-28 lead with under a minute remaining. While most remember the finish of the game, many forget the Wreckers nearly gave the lead right back when Greenwich running back Colin Dunster took the squib kick from Cuartas all the way to the Staples 29-yard line.
Quarterback Mike Leffelbine completed a quick strike out-of-bounds as the clock ran out, however the officials put two seconds back on and that set up a 33-yard field goal for the win from kicker Raphael Bussy. The Cardinals kicking game had struggled all season long but head coach Rich Albonizio gave Bussy the nod. As the low line drive kick went up in the air, I thought to myself there was no way that this ball was going to get through the uprights.
My prediction was correct as the Wreckers blocked the kick and marched on to the state playoffs. There were many after the game who claimed to have blocked the kick and to this day I still cannot tell you for sure who it was. This was by far the craziest game I had ever witnessed as a broadcaster and that is why it sits number one in the greatest games during my broadcasting career. The combination of a blocked field goal for the win and victory turkey does not compete with any of the other nine games.