Berkshire County's best shine bright at The Berkshire Eagle All Stars Gala

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STEPHANIE ZOLLSHAN AND BEN GARVER – THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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PITTSFIELD — Jack Racette had to think a minute when he was asked about being named the boys' basketball coach of the year at the second annual The Berkshire Eagle All Stars Gala. After all, Racette did get to share the stage with his son Reece, the basketball player of the year.

"It's been a long journey. Not just [Racette and Scott McGuire], but all the seniors, they've really worked over the last four years," the Drury coach said. "It's nice having your son a part of it. I've been coaching a long time, so to get the first one with him and the other guys, that's pretty special."

Jack and Reece Racette were among the winners of 90 different awards given out at the Gala Wednesday night at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Berkshires. Reece Racette was named the basketball player of the year, while Scott McGuire, Jr., was named the offensive player of the year. The Drury trio were honored, in part, for their individual and team success that included Jack Racette's first Western Massachusetts championship as a coach.

The Racettes were honored in the same sport, but they weren't the only parent-child award winners.

Brian Gill of Mount Greylock was again named the girls track coach of the year, while his daughter Brandi, became a two-time Nordic Skiing skier of the year award winner.

"I think having [the award] last year and this year has been a really cool experience," Brandi Gill said. "This is incredible, this event. I've been to other banquets and none of them compare."

Brian Gill was asked what was better, his daughter winning, or them winning together — again.

"I would say Brandi winning one," he said. "Obviously, it's great to be here together. It's the second year we've both been here. Let's go for three. It's just so much fun. It's a great event and it's a great recognition. That we've worked for so many of these things too, she's made me a better coach and I've pushed her.

"It's a wonderful partnership."

More than 300 people filled the gym at the Boys & Girls Club to watch the awards handed out. Gwendolyn Carpenter of Mount Everett was the girls athlete of the year while Pittsfield's Carter Matthews was the boys athlete of the year. Jack Racette and Hoosac Valley girls basketball coach Ron Wojcik were the coaches of the year. The Taconic wrestling team that won the first state wrestling championship in school history was the boys team of the year, and the Hoosac Valley girls hoopers took home the girls team of the year honors.

Carpenter was the co-player of the year in girls basketball and the defensive player of the year in softball. That all led to her being named the top girls athlete. Last year, she was the player of the year in girls basketball and the offensive player of the year in softball.

"It's cool to be able to be a part of all of these, but definitely, this one I think I'll be able to enjoy a little more than the others," Carpenter said after picking up her softball honor. "I don't have to think about the next game and the next game. I'm definitely enjoying this a little more."

She said she sets her own bar and tries to clear it.

"I'm highly motivated and I'm probably my toughest critic," she said. "I know what my teammates and my coaches are capable of. I'm definitely that person to push it a little bit."

The boys athlete of the year played three sports, soccer, basketball and baseball. Matthews was the boys soccer player of the year and the offensive player of the year in baseball.

"It's a great feeling" to be the athlete of the year, he said. "I have so many people to thank — my teammates especially. Half of this award goes to them. Without them I wouldn't have received this award. It's a great honor.

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"Whatever season I'm in, I focus on that one. I love them all."

After the awards were handed out, the awardees, their families and friends got to listen to former NFL player Keith Willis, who gave the keynote address. Willis was a former two-sport athlete and high school All-American in football, went on to play football and basketball at Virginia Tech, before spending time with five different NFL teams.

It isn't often that an All Stars Gala also breaks some news. But moments after Mount Greylock boys cross-country coach Scott Burdick received his award, he mentioned to a reporter that he was hanging up the whistle and the clipboard.

"It means a lot, especially this year, because I don't know if people know but this is my last year. I'm not going to be coaching any more," Burdick who wrapped up his 35th year of coaching in a career that included time at Taconic and at Oliver Ames in North Easton. "It really means a lot. This group of seniors, they were just great. They just made me look good year after year.

"It's very nice, this year, especially."

The first awardee of the night was Lee golfer Thomas Fraser, who was also the first awardee in 2018. Fraser was the medalist at last fall's Western Massachusetts Division III tournament, shooting even-par 71.

Fraser was one of several repeat winners, so he actually knew the drill.

"This is definitely cool to be back," said Fraser, who is going to play golf next year at RPI. "It was cool to be here for the first one and to be here for the second one is really nice."

Two Eagle All-Star Awards and an individual championship are in Fraser's golf bag. He was asked if he could sum up his Lee career.

"Awesome, unbelievable, picture-perfect," he said after receiving his award from Willis and coming down from the stage. "Starting from freshman year, all the way to being a senior and growing as an individual and a player. This season was great."

Last year's top girls' athlete, Hoosac Valley's Alie Mendel, was the co-player of the year in girls basketball, the player of the year in girls lacrosse, and won the Courage Award for battling back from a bout with thyroid cancer.

Watching her on the court or the field, one might never have known about her battle. In fact, nobody but her family knew what was in the immediate future.

"Last year was shocking, because I was going through a lot mentally," she said. "Winning something like that last year meant a lot to me."

This year, bouncing back from the surgery to getting on the soccer pitch, helping her team win a state basketball championship and have a successful lacrosse season, Mendel said her goal was to get back.

"It was definitely a goal. My teams, my coaches, helped me work to where I needed to be," she said. "Everything went very well."

Hoosac Valley's Justin Meczywor was the defensive player of the year for football. He was as happy as anyone.

"To close out a senior year and to win this," he said, "it means everything. It's what I dreamed of as a kid."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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