by Blake Krantz
Twelve former Tiger athletes were inducted into the Newton North Athletic Hall of Fame as the eleventh annual class Saturday, March 5 at the Needham Sheraton, an event that principal Mark Aronson said embodies a “rich, rich tradition of athletics at Newton North High School.”
The inductee class consisted of Bob Billings, Marguerite “Midge” Connolly, Stephen DiBenedetto, Kydani Dover, Mat Frankel, Anthony Gurley, Brandon Hehir, Paul Howley, Robert Kinsella, Magda Kornitzer-Schmalz, Jason Shen, and Robert “Beep” Calabro.
As current physical education teacher, Kirsten Tuohy said of the accomplishments of those at the Hall of Fame dinner, “it takes much more than winning or setting a record to be remembered,” explaining that you have to “make an impact” that is greater as well.
For previously-inducted Hall of Famer Manny Connerney of ‘58, “to join the elite athletes” is very special, and it is an honor “even to be nominated” in the first place. Connerney has many connections with the inductees, as he explained that “they either played ball for me, or they were my neighbor,” as the case was with Billings.
Billings, ‘81, was a varsity football and basketball player for the Tigers. He was named a First Team Suburban League All-Star in basketball as the third-highest scorer, only slightly behind Patrick Ewing. He attended Merrimack College and was a member of the All New England First Team as the tenth highest scorer in the country.
Six years ago, Billings’ brother Kenny was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Billings praised his own induction as an “absolute honor” to be “inducted into something that I have such great admiration for.”
“I learned early on at the Boys and Girls Club how important it is to be a part of a team,” Billings added. “I am so proud to join the ranks.”
Gurley, ‘06, was another successful basketball player inducted Saturday. In two seasons, Gurley led the Tigers to a combined 57-1 record and two State Championships. He received accolades that included Gatorade Player of the Year for Massachusetts, a nomination for McDonald’s All-American, and Massachusetts School Sports Player of the Year.
Basketball coach Connolly spoke for Gurley on Saturday, commending him as an “outstanding, outstanding man” and a “consummate threat” on the court. He is now playing professional basketball overseas.
A three sport athlete who saw success in football, basketball, and baseball, Brandon Hehir, ‘91, won the Dickinson Memorial Award as a senior captain in all three sports and went on to play football and baseball at Williams College.
His brother Jason said, “I never once heard Brandon boast, never once saw him look twice at his headlines, never once saw him put himself above any of his teammates.” Hehir credited Jason and his family for providing “support, discipline, and direction” during his time as a Tiger.
In what was perhaps the most entertaining speech of the evening, former Tiger Gary Semetelli spoke on the behalf of DiBenedetto, ‘75. A football and baseball player, DiBenedetto, or “Stevie D” as Semetelli called him, “played with more heart and soul, more grit and determination, and more tenacity than anyone I ever saw,” Semetelli explained.
“He was the show,” Semetelli added, “the ballfield was his stage, and we were his audience.”
DiBenedetto was an Honorable Mention All-Scholastic in football, and a First Team Suburban League All-Star as a junior and senior in baseball, and at Massachusetts Bay Community College he was named to the All-Regional First Team New England in baseball.
There were also several track and field stars inducted in the 2016 Hall of Fame class. Magna Kornitzer-Schmalz ran year round for cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field. She won All-States as a sophomore for cross country, and she won the mile at All-States as a junior in both indoor and outdoor track, among other accolades during her time at North.
Kornitzer-Schmalz said that she always loved “strategizing and competing at the highest level” as a Tiger, and that she is “forever indebted” to North for giving her so many great opportunities.
“When I reflect back to my four years of high school, I remember how truly fortunate I was,” she added.
Frankel, ‘04, was a football, indoor track, and outdoor track star, particularly as a shot-put star. Frankel was a Bay State All-Star as a junior and a senior in football, but he found the most remarkable success once he was introduced to shot-put.
Frankel explained that Tiger shot-put coach Michael Bower suggested that he try shot-put due to his large size as a lineman on the football field, an experience that led to subsequent success in both indoor and outdoor track that Frankel said “provided a base for my learning and development” as an athlete.
In shot-put as a senior, Frankel was named a Boston Globe All-Scholastic, and he was the New England Outdoor Track and Field Champion in the event. He then moved onto Brown University to compete in both football and shot-put. As Bower put it, Frankel’s “legendary work” is still “discussed at practices to this day.”
Another former Tiger athlete who achieved similar accomplishments for all three seasons was Howley, ‘82. Howley played for the Tigers’ football, hockey, and baseball teams. With Howley as their tight end, the football team came within one point of the Super Bowl in his senior year. Howley was a three-year starter on the ice hockey team, and on the baseball diamond he was a star pitcher for baseball, leading the Tigers over eventual State Champion, Brockton as a junior and receiving recognition as a Suburban League All-Star as a senior with an ERA of under 2.00.
As Howley explained on the Hall of Fame honor, “I have walked by the Hall of Fame plaque many times,” and “there are some impressive names on that list” that he is so fortunate to join. One source of motivation for Howley was his brother, who once told him before a hockey tryout that “just when you think you reach 100%, you haven’t, you have another 5% or 10%.”
Howley went on to Bowdoin College to play baseball, and eventually the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played hockey.
Kinsella, ‘75, played football, basketball, and baseball for the Tigers. He excelled as a quarterback, guard, shortstop, and catcher, and he was awarded League MVP in his junior year on the baseball team. Kinsella was also honored as a Suburban League All-Star his junior and senior years on the diamond, and he received the Dickinson Memorial Award as one of the Tigers’ best athletes at commencement.
Kinsella’s sister Jackie is already in the Hall of Fame, and upon his own induction Kinsella acknowledged many teammates and coaches from his days at Newton North.
“I thank these people for the friendships and great memories that they gave me,” Kinsella said up on the stage. Nowadays, Kinsella spends lots of time with his son Robert Joseph, a “ferocious 10-year-old athlete,” as Kinsella put it.
Connolly, ‘84, also competed in all three seasons for the Tigers, as a track, volleyball, and basketball player. Connolly was an elite high jump and javelin athlete, and she played point guard, shooting guard, and small forward for the basketball team.
Her most accomplished sport, however, was volleyball. Connolly started as a sophomore on the Tigers Suburban League Championship team, and she was selected for the Massachusetts Junior Olympic team in volleyball. She then moved onto the University of Rhode Island with a volleyball scholarship.
Connolly grew up in a house with seven children, a constant athletic competition that she said was “all I would need, both physically and mentally, for high school sports.” Connolly also explained her connection with sports at North. “It was athletics where I found the adults to guide me through the ins and outs of high school,” she said.
Dover, ‘00, was another female inductee in the 2016 Hall of Fame class. Dover was a top-tier swimmer in the state during her time as a Tiger, breaking school records in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, and 200-yard individual medley as a freshman. Dover was named a Bay State Conference All-Star, and a Boston Herald All-Scholastic her junior year.
“It was an experience that developed my confidence and shaped my character,” Dover said of her years as a Tiger swimmer, “I am now more aware of how my love for the water turned into a love for sports, a love for helping others.”
Dover also emphasized her appreciation for her family and their support throughout her years as a Tiger that would eventually earn her a spot in the Hall of Fame.
A nationally ranked gymnast, Shen, ‘04, was also honored on Saturday night. Shen said, on the honor, that “being here tonight underscores how amazing of an athletic program there is at Newton North High School.” He still retains his “competitive spirit” to this day.
Shen was selected as a member of the U.S. National Junior Olympics Team in his junior year in gymnastics, he led the Tigers to second place at the State Championship as a senior, and he was voted as Gymnast of the Year by The Boston Globe for three consecutive seasons.
As he explained of his time as a star on the gymnastics team, “I learned what the satisfaction of winning as a unit felt like” after some “really long days” of practice.
Finally, legendary Tigers coach Robert “Beep” Calabro was awarded the “Doc” Thompson Award Saturday, for his “outstanding service to Newton North and Newton High School Athletics.” Calabro’s three daughters Lisa, Linda, and Sandy spoke on his behalf at the induction ceremony, as Calabro passed away in 2009.
His daughters explained that longtime football coach Peter Capodilupo saw Calabro as a “father on the field,” and they went on to explain that Calabro “became a regular face on the football field” at North. Current Athletic Director Tom Giusti also added that he remembered that Calabro always carried around pockets filled with hard candy, a routine that the players greatly appreciated from the longtime coach. Calabro was the final inductee to be honored on Saturday night.
Jim Leonard, a member of the Hall of Fame Committee who coordinates the induction event every year, said that the inductees are all “phenomenal athletes,” and that there were many choices to make as the committee read through all of the nominees and picked out a select few to be honored on Saturday, although there easily could have been many more former Tiger inductees.