At Berkshire All Stars gala, sweat equity by athletes, coaches pays dividends

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PITTSFIELD — Many routes lead to the Boys & Girls Club in downtown Pittsfield. But just one shared path brought a select group of athletes and their coaches there Wednesday: hard work.

"The secret behind success is hard work," Heidi Voelker, former Olympic Alpine skier and Pittsfield native, told 80 athletes and coaches representing 16 sports at the inaugural Berkshire All Stars gala, presented by The Berkshire Eagle.

"You've all heard this before," Voelker said. "But has anyone really broken it down?"

Voelker proceeded to do that, as Berkshire County's most determined and successful young athletes listened at 57 tables in the club's sprawling gym, a place tricked out for the occasion with drapes, lights and TV monitors.

For bodies normally in motion, the night offered two hours to reflect on a year's achievements, as scores of exemplary athletes came across a stage as members of The Eagle's sports department recapped their prowess.

While those recaps spoke of undefeated seasons and seemingly impossible physical skills, participants left with thoughts as well about the role sports can play in molding leaders.

Lori Gazzillo, a senior vice president for Berkshire Bank, the event's title sponsor, and director of its foundation, told the crowd of over 300 that, as an employer, the bank seeks to hire people who share its values, many of which are learned through sports.

She later wrote those values on the back of her business card, in this order: rights, respect, integrity, guts, having fun, teamwork.

Kevin Moran, executive editor of The Eagle, said the newspaper decided to host the All Stars gala to celebrate the culture of sport in the region — and the people who live it.

"It's really an opportunity for us to showcase The Berkshire Eagle's relationship to all high school sports in the county, which has always been massively important to the paper," Moran said. "It's really nice to have a big event like this to make it special."

Warren Dews Jr., the paper's chief consumer sales/events officer, and Gary Lavariere, consumer sales manager, led a team of Eagle employees in mounting the event, which was streamed live on the newspaper's Facebook page by a crew from Pittsfield Community Television.

A little before 6 p.m., Cedric Rose, there to be honored as offensive player of the year with the Taconic High School baseball team, arrived with his parents, Carl and Michelle, and his grandmother, Rozena Rose. "It means a lot," Cedric Rose said of the event, after adding his name to a poster near the entrance.

Over at the family's table near the stage, spirits were high. "He's a good defensive player, too," Carl Rose said of his son. "He's got all of it. I can brag."

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Downstairs, guests visited a VIP room, where they snacked, met sponsors and took photos with Voelker.

Seventeen-year-old Alie Mendel of Adams, before being called to the stage twice for awards, said from her table that her first love is basketball, because of its intensity.

"It's competitive," said Mendel, a shooting guard for Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire who averaged 17.9 points per game. "It's competitive because we're so good and we don't want to lose."

Also at the table was Molly Meczywor, Hoosac Valley's athletic director. "It's nice to recognize the kids' hard work. They commit a lot," Meczywor said.

With the program underway on stage, A.J. Enchill, a staffer for State Sen. Adam Hinds, commended the athletes for helping to lift community morale through the excitement of competition. It's not always glamorous, he said, recalling early mornings and bumpy bus rides in his days as a student-athlete.

Geoff Smith, sports editor for The Eagle, shared emcee duties when it came time to present awards with reporters Akeem Glaspie and Mike Walsh.

But Smith returned to the podium to present several special honors, including the "Courage" award to Jill Svirida, girls coach of the year for Monument Mountain Regional High School, who led her team despite a breast cancer diagnosis.

"There was nothing that was going to keep her from returning to the pool deck," Smith said.

Howard Herman, a veteran sportswriter, introduced Voelker and ticked off her achievements, which include six Top 10 World Cup finishes and 12 years on the U.S. Ski Team with appearances at three Olympics.

Voelker joked that the athletes in the gym were too young to know of her ski career. But the ingredients of athletic success remain the same, Voelker suggested. They include personal discipline and crucial habits such as time management and organization.

"Hard work isn't showing up to training on time, it's getting there early," Voelker said. "Hard work isn't taking five runs like the coach said. It's taking four more than that. Hard work isn't being happy for your result, it's congratulating your teammate. Hard work isn't taking that shot, it's passing the ball to set up a better play. Hard work isn't saying thank you. It's saying I need to improve. Hard work isn't giving 100 percent. It's giving 120."

Voelker said all athletes have challenges to overcome. Not all of them are physical, she said.

"That grit, that determination to win, to be the best don't get me wrong, you'll need that," she said. "That edge will often get you across the finish line when you're running on fumes.


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