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McGair: Lincoln unveils new coaches in baseball, softball; Clippers' Skurka to serve as head coach for R.I. entry in Governor's Cup

March 29, 2012

Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka has been appointed the head coach of the Rhode Island squad that will face Connecticut in the Governor's Cup in June.

A little of this, a little of that as the spring season for high school sports draws near …
Spring is a time devoted to rebirth, renewal and revitalization. At Lincoln High School, the ushering in of the season immediately on the heels of winter’s wicked and sometimes disruptive nature has been greeted by winds of wholesale change.
Two new varsity head coaches have appeared on the scene with Andy Hallam replacing Ed Hunt on the Lions’ baseball front while Richard Ryan takes the reins from previous softball mentor Jon Bruckner. Ryan’s appointment was made official at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Lincoln School Committee with the minutes revealing that Bruckner’s resignation took effect Jan. 9.
Ryan played baseball for four seasons at Providence College’s now defunct baseball program. His daughter Kelly is a senior softball player at Bryant University after spending her freshman through junior campaigns at Division III Caldwell (N.J.) College. Kelly is a graduate of Mount St. Charles.
Speaking about the new head of the softball program and what he brings to the table, Lincoln High principal Kevin McNamara said, “Richard has been a volunteer assistant coach at Woonsocket and Mount St. Charles. He’s coached some travel teams.”
As for the background story surrounding the varsity baseball gig, Lincoln officials were forced to scramble to find a replacement for Hunt shortly after the commencement of preseason workouts. McNamara wished to refrain from the particulars surrounding Hunt’s departure, citing “a matter of personnel.”
Regarding the timing of the hire in reference to next Monday’s startup date of the regular season, McNamara mentioned, “this is a critical position that we had to move quickly to fill.”
Hunt’s eight-year run saw the Lions achieve unprecedented success under his watch, starting with 93 regular-season wins against 51 defeats. With Hunt calling the shots, Lincoln teams went on to capture three Division I-North titles (’07, ’08, ’11) while placing second on three occasions. His only losing season was an 8-10 mark in 2004, his initial season in the dugout after succeeding John Rekos.
There’s also the high volume of Division I prospects that came out of Lincoln with Hunt at the helm, an amount typically not seen at a R.I. public high school. At URI alone, the pipeline includes Dan Rhault, Tom Coulombe, Kyle Borden, Chris Pickering and Ryan O’Dell. Kyle Lister was on Hunt’s first Lincoln squad before going off to Holy Cross. Luke Abraham played one season at South Florida before transferring to Bridgewater State.
Another Lincoln baseball alum, Zach Trenteseaux, appeared in 13 games for Bryant University in 2011. This past winter saw Lions junior Nick Zammarelli verbally commit to Elon University with Hunt playing an integral role in the player’s recruiting.
Regarding Hallam, McNamara expressed confidence that the right person is in place. A teacher at the high school, Hallam guided the Lincoln girls’ basketball team to the Division I playoffs in his first season at the helm after a two-year postseason absence. He’s also served as Jim Dawber’s right-hand man on Hurd Post 14.
“I expect Andy will do very well,” was the endorsement McNamara offered. “Under his leadership, I’m confident that we won’t miss a beat.”
Hallam’s appointment will become official at the town’s next school committee meeting on April 9. The process of finding an assistant coach is moving along with whispers of Joe Conti, the softball player agent for Lincoln Little League, emerging as the leading candidate.
– A meeting to discuss the proposed merger of several area American Legion baseball clubs and the potential ramifications that could result is on the docket for next week. Representatives from Upper Deck Post 86, Hurd Post 14 and Blackstone Valley Spinners/Post 33 will be present with members of the state board.
Among the hot-button issues that figure to get cleared up at this important meeting include a). Setting a course of action that will allow youngsters who don’t make the senior or junior teams to have the opportunity to explore the possibility of playing with neighboring Legion teams, b). Agreeing upon the high school that will serve as the team’s home base, be it Cumberland or Lincoln, and c). Squaring away sponsorship issues.
“We expect that any confusion which may have surfaced will be alleviated,” remarked Legion chairman John Parente. “We’ll do whatever is right.”
– In other Legion news, the use of wooden bats is here to stay after going through a trial-and-error process last summer. In addition, Ray Ventura has been installed as the permanent head coach for Collette Vacations/Post 79 with Matt Bergeron continuing his role as the overseer of the Pawtucket-based outfit. Bergeron is also an assistant baseball coach at Rhode Island College.
Lastly, congratulations to Pawtucket sports icon George Patrick Duffy, who in February was inducted into the R.I. Legion Hall of Fame. Mr. Duffy was a onetime head honcho of the operations for Collette.
– The high school football schedule for the 2012 season is nearing completion and with it comes news that Tolman and St. Raphael will not renew acquaintances on the gridiron. The game would have been a non-leaguer, requiring some finagling and compromise after the Tigers were bumped up to Division I while the Saints remain in Division II.
One would think the two schools would take a hard look at the success stemming from the three games staged over the past two seasons – attracting crowds that are rarely seen at today’s high school sporting events. Perhaps the powers-that-be could have cut through whatever red tape is in place and settle upon a contest taking place the week between the Injury Fund and the kickoff of league play.
Tolman-St. Raphael represented a bright light for Pawtucket, rekindling the fire that existed when the pair were Thanksgiving rivals while introducing the true meaning of “rivalry” to a new generation of followers. Instead of Tolman-SRA, local football fans are left with Tolman-Mt. Hope and Hendricken-St. Raphael as the warmup acts for divisional play. Neither one of those games will come close to replicating the buzz that would be felt had the Tigers and Saints reached some sort of common ground.
– Cumberland football head coach Chris Skurka has been empowered as the lead mentor of the Rhode Island faction in the annual Governor’s Cup football clash against Connecticut with St. Raphael head coach Mike Sassi on the staff to oversee the secondary. The all-star game is set for Saturday, June 30 at Rentschler Field, home to UConn football.
– As much as the 2012 Baseball Prospectus handbook offers fantastic insight into how players may fare, the eyebrows of this scribe were raised upon viewing the player comparables for recently retired shortstop Craig Counsell. To reference Counsell, a lifetime .255 hitter in 16 MLB seasons, in the same class as Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Barry Larkin seems a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?
– The news of Austin Rivers leaving after one season at Duke for the NBA is a head-scratcher in this sense: Whenever an underclassman forgoes any remaining collegiate eligibility to pursue pro basketball glory, usually you hear accompanying stories pertaining to how Player X is looking to provide a better life for his family. That’s not the case with Rivers, who was not brought up under the strain of financial hardship that many of his peers seemingly encounter and desire to escape.
His father, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, made it clear Wednesday that he supports his son’s decision, yet the question remains why. Upon getting drafted, Austin Rivers will not assume the role as the family’s chief breadwinner. Facing absolutely no pressure to take care of anyone, the youngster would have been better served to put off his NBA dreams for at least a couple of years and remain a student-athlete.

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