BHS Student Athletes’ Roots Go ‘Way Back

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Bedford’s multigenerational sports culture continues to mature. This year is a real landmark, through three of the elite senior student-athletes at Bedford High School.

Beginning in the 1960s, Bobbie and Lou Ennis, Jack Mara, Betty Mulligan, and Joe Venuti were among the young parents who launched, coached, and fortified organized sports and advocacy groups—the Bedford Athletic Association and Bedford Babe Ruth baseball.

Their 16 children were Buccaneers, prominent through different sports, season after season, in the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. Among them were Tom Mulligan, Dave Venuti, Beth Mara, and Caroline Ennis.

And now the third generation is reflected through leadership and excellence in an unprecedented year of limitations. Shayla Fedele, Matt Mulligan, and Jack Venuti, all members of the Class of 2021, are navigating the obstacle course of the Covid-19 pandemic to finish their youth sports careers as role models.

Their stories have many similarities.

Jack said his earliest meaningful hockey memory is grade school and a year later he was part of a Lexington Bedford Youth Hockey team that traveled to an annual tournament in Lake Placid, NY.

Around that same age, Jack said, he and his cousin Chris pitched in the same Babe Ruth baseball game. Who were his early baseball coaches? “My dad and my uncle (Scott).”

Shayla thinks her introduction to soccer took place when she was in kindergarten. “My mom was the coach,” she said. “I loved it and I never wanted to stop playing.”

Not long after that, Shayla said, she discovered basketball.

Matt thinks his love affair with basketball began in second grade. “The whole rec league thing really got me excited,” he remembered. Coaches were his father and “Uncle Rick” – former Buccaneer starter Rick Proulx. Later his cousin John, playing for Concord-Carlisle, inspired Matt’s appreciation of the three-point shot.

As one would expect in a small community, the narratives intersect along the way. “Dave Venuti and I coached both Jack and Matt for a few summers on an all-star baseball team —it was a blast,” Tom Mulligan recalled.

After a couple of years of junior varsity soccer, Jack has focused on varsity hockey and baseball. But one soccer experience was especially meaningful—and he was on the bench. He was among freshmen called up to be on the sideline during state tournament games. “I watched how upperclassmen handled the states games and having that experience taught me how to handle big situations.”

He pitches and plays first base and outfield in the spring. The varsity season was wiped out by the virus junior year, but Jack still got to play summer ball with a team that had a wide range of players.

Shayla competes in soccer and basketball with AAU teams as well as at Bedford High. Her father, Rich Fedele, was a quarterback and pitcher who graduated from BHS in 1990; he also played baseball at UMass Amherst. (“I was Richie Fedele’s football coach when he was a freshman in high school,” noted Tom Mulligan, who played quarterback for BHS in 1979. “Man, I could go on with Bedford stories.”)

Matt also is a throwback three-season athlete: soccer in the fall season, then basketball, and baseball, scheduled for the spring. “Sports have always been a love of mine, and I played the three sports since I was a little kid.”

Matt’s basketball story is a classic. In ninth grade, he said, he stood around 5-9 and weighed less than 120 pounds. “Freshman year was pretty bad,” he laughed. Month after month in the weight room has delivered, as he is now six-feet, 155.

Still, as a junior he was at the end of the bench, playing only during the occasional “garbage time.” Halfway through the season he played half of a junior varsity game to stay sharp, and ended up making five three-point field goals. He duplicated that during the second half of the varsity game. “The coach trusted me after that,” he said.

pointers made on the team with 17 made. And he is second on the team in transition points with 12. This is a huge jump from last season where he averaged three points per game.”

This year has definitely been different, Shayla acknowledged. “The new rules completely changed the game of soccer. It was difficult running with a mask.” Jack’s experience with hockey was different. He said, “Once you get out there, it’s just like you’ve always been there.” Matt said that after getting accustomed to playing soccer with a mask, “it’s a bit easier playing basketball with a mask on. The rule changes have definitely been something to adapt to.”

All three agreed that practice and competition have served as a great release during the health crisis. Jack said that whether baseball or hockey, summer or winter, “we still got to go out there and have a sense of normalcy – a release valve just being able to go out there and play.” Shayla described “the feeling you get when you’re giving it your all – it’s one you can’t really find anywhere else.” Matt added that he feels “lucky just to have a season. It’s a distraction a way out.”

Shayla named a couple of role models for her athletic achievements. “Definitely my mom, for being there and showing me everything she knew, for coaching my travel soccer and club teams.” She also saluted her mother’s high school coach, Dave Wilson, who has mentored two generations of Bedford student-athletes and is still involved with high school soccer in Bedford. “He really helped me coming up” as a coach and a mentor throughout her career,” she said.

Matt said his parents and cousin John, as well as Rick Proulx, have served as role models over his athletic development. Jack also pointed to family members, starting with his cousin Chris, a three-sport athlete who graduated in 2020. Then there is “obviously my dad, a really good baseball coach who knows a lot about the game,” not to mention hockey as well. He added, “My mom (Beth Venuti) is very competitive and that gives me motivation. And my younger sisters are athletes as well.”

Shayla has committed to Keene State College, where she will play intercollegiate soccer in the fall while majoring in business with a minor in criminal justice. She noted that she received six collegiate offers. “I’m definitely excited about playing at Keene. I wanted to be somewhere far enough to feel independent but close enough so family and friends can come and see me.”

Jack has been accepted into the business program at Syracuse University. He plans to investigate the club hockey opportunities when he gets there. Matt’s college plans are still taking shape, but he said he hopes to major in elementary education and end up teaching second or third grade. That comes from three seasons as a counselor with the Recreation Department’s Summer Adventures. “I loved working with kids and seeing them grow,” he said. Matt added, “I would love to play on a club team. I would definitely try out as a walk-on at a Division 3 school.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763