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Woodstock Hoop Pays Visit To CHaD

Members of the Woodstock High boys basketball team pay a visit to the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth on Jan. 7. Photograph courtesy Jeff Thomas

Members of the Woodstock High boys basketball team pay a visit to the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth on Jan. 7. Photograph courtesy Jeff Thomas

Woodstock — Woodstock Union High School boys basketball coach Jeff Thomas likes to make sure his players understand the concept of giving back. So he tries to schedule a trip to the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth every year.

Some years are easier than others.

Two winters back, the Wasps tried twice to visit the young patients at CHaD, only to be driven back by the weather both times. Last year’s trip was all set until the entire Woodstock roster came down with whooping cough, nixing the appointment.

Thomas and company finally put everything together on Jan. 7. That Tuesday afternoon at CHaD, they spent time handing out basketballs and T-shirts while playing with the children who were at the hospital. Only one Wasp, Chris Townley, had to bow out because of a cough, but he did his part by getting the T-shirts set and pumping up basketballs for his teammates to deliver.

“I read in Sports Illustrated about a team doing it at another hospital, and I thought how good it would be to give back to the community,” Thomas said this week. “We often think that, sometimes, our lives are very different. Going to visit these kids puts it in perspective.”

The trips have a personal origin for Thomas, who began taking teams to CHaD when he worked and coached at South Royalton School.

His daughter, Leah, required some intensive care treatment when she was born, which gave Thomas some insight into what ailing children and their families endure with hospital visits. Thomas sets up team trips with Holly Gaspar, the volunteer coordinator for CHaD’s Child Life Program.

Visitors aren’t permitted to talk about the reasons why a child is at CHaD; instead, discussions often veer toward “general things: the season, basketball,” Thomas said.

“Some of the parents will leave; it gives them a break as well,” Thomas added. “As a parent, I remember that was nice, too.”

The ultimate goal is to give some cheer in a situation that ordinarily doesn’t lend itself to that emotion. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

“I think it’s one of the nice things in life when people give back,” Thomas said. “It’s teaching them that, in their lives, giving back feels good. It’s a win-win situation.”

Good Sports of All Sorts: The NHIAA’s fall sportsmanship rankings are in — most of them, at least — and the boys soccer programs at Hanover and Lebanon find themselves where they usually are in their divisional won-loss standings: At the top of the heap.

In a program of the NHIAA’s sportsmanship committee, teams in all seasons are asked to rank opponents based on their experiences against that opponent, with the choice of a positive, neutral or negative opinion. Points calculated from those reviews determine the rankings, with certificates going to teams in the top three. Schools also become eligible for all-program sportsmanship banners at the end of the school year.

Hanover topped Division I boys soccer with eight positive rankings, eight neutral and none negative. Lebanon did the same in D-II, getting six positives, eight neutrals and no negatives.

Raiders coach Rob Johnstone found it noteworthy that his team, which won 13 games last fall, shared D-II’s top spot with Milford, a program that struggled to just one victory in 2013.

“For me, it’s why sports are an important part of the adolescent experience,” Johnstone said of the sportsmanship initiative. “You’re being competitive — and by that I mean you’re really trying your hardest to win — yet representing your school and community are not mutually exclusive endeavors. You have to try everything possible to win, but you also accept that you don’t win every time. When we do win … we want them to remember what it feels like to be the guy on the other side of the line.”

Other Upper Valley programs that did well in the fall NHIAA sportsmanship rankings: Stevens volleyball (second, D-III), Mascoma volleyball (fourth, D-III), Newport girls soccer (T-first, D-III), Stevens girls soccer (fourth, D-III) and Lebanon field hockey (fourth, D-II).

Polar Brrrs: A group of Woodsville High athletes and administrators are about to become human ice cubes to benefit Special Olympians.

The members of the school’s athletic leadership council are seeking sponsorship to participate in the Penguin Plunge on Feb. 1 in Hampton Beach, N.H. At noon on that day, the council members — Joe Abrahamsen, Julia Bowman, Nakita Duling, Maggie Kinder, Derek Maccini, Paige and Dee Martin, Ryan May, Jared Mitchell, Louisa Noble, Ryan Olsen, Jacob Pushee, Laura Rutherford and Samantha Thurston — will dive into the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean in a fundraiser that supports both Special Olympics New Hampshire as well as their school’s Special Olympics program.

“I get number as I get older,” joked Woodsville Athletic Director Mike Ackerman, who will be joining the council in the water for the third time. “They’ll have a costume parade; I think this year’s theme is school spirit, so we’ll be dressing in Woodsville colors. Then you get ready to go.

“They have a bunch of firemen in wetsuits in the water. They only let you go in waist-deep or so. Some of the kids sprint in and dive under, but they don’t let you go out very deep.”

Event organizers host a luncheon at the Hampton Beach Casino afterward. It’s the fourth time Woodsville has had a presence at the Plunge.

Each participant must raise a minimum of $175 to join the event; Ackerman hopes his group — which will include Woodsville assistant principal Donna Giangregorio and Shirley Ingerson, coordinator of the school’s Special Olympics program — will raise between $3,000 and $4,000 for its efforts.

Contact Ackerman at 603-747-2781 for more information on how to support the council’s cause.

Bits-n-Pieces: Congratulations to 20th-year Kimball Union Academy junior varsity boys hockey coach John Custer, who picked up his 250th career victory in a 4-1 victory over Lower Canada College on Jan. 9 at Akerstrom Arena. The school presented him with a special KUA jersey the next day as a keepsake. … Fans attending Thetford’s Jan. 25 girls-boys basketball doubleheader with Oxbow will have plenty of time to fuel up before tip-off. The TA athletic department will host a mac-and-cheese and ham-and-bean supper from noon-7 p.m. in the school café, at a cost of $3 for children, $6 for adults and $20 for a family of four, with proceeds going to the department. The hoop begins with the girls (in a potential Division III state title preview) at 5:30 p.m., with the boys to follow at 7. … Meanwhile, the NHIAA’s annual Hoops for Hunger program kicks off tonight for an eight-day run. Woodsville High will join in the initiative with its Jan. 25 home date against Blue Mountain at 2:30 p.m. Fans are asked to bring nonperishable food items in lieu of the usual admission. Cash donations will also be accepted, and all items will be donated to the New Hampshire Food Bank. Hoops for Hunger collected more than 31,000 pounds of food in its initial run last winter.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.