• Nick Abramo

A Quick Look Back At Some Incredible 1970s Marlboro High Girls Athletes (And The 1977 Convention!!)

Patty Miller.

Say the name and just about anyone who went to Marlboro High School in the mid-1970s will remember a smiling, yet tough and imposing girl.

So tough, in fact, that she was a four-time team school MVP in softball and basketball. "She scored like 63 points in one game," said Charlotte (Juaire) Melanson, who also played three sports and was one of several writers for "Panther Tracks" -- articles about MHS sports that would run weekly in the Marlboro Enterprise. Bedrock Sports Marlboro contacted one of Miller's former coaches, Irene Mazmanian, who was also a physical education teacher for many years at MHS and a former Northeastern basketball player.

"Patty (now Patty Rutherford) was just one of those kids who learned to play in the streets," Mazmanian said during a recent phone conversation. "She was just out there playing on the playgrounds all the time. She was strong and quick. A lot of girls before Title IX learned like that. We didn't have Little League (for girls), our instruction was dance lessons or private gymnastics lessons. But not everybody could do that. "Patty was just gifted, a born athlete and she was really, really good under pressure. Nothing fazed her. I remember one time in a game that would get us into the postseason with a win, with 12 seconds left, we have the ball and it's 50-50 with a packed gym. I remember it like it was yesterday. In a timeout, we said, 'The ball gets into Patty's hands and she takes the last shot.' And sure enough, that's what happened and it just went in. Not everybody can do that. I knew she could do it under pressure." Mazmanian does not remember EVERY outstanding multi-sport MHS girls athlete from back then, but she remembers quite a few and is sorry if she left anyone out who is deserving of mention.

And she rattled off some names (in parentheses is Bedrock's educated guess at some of the sports they played; this can be corrected or added to if anyone remembers and wants to send an email to nickabramo7@gmail.com): >> Paula Hutch (track and field, field hockey, basketball)

>> Patty Delaney (field hockey basketball)

>> Pam Hanley (field hockey, basketball)

>> Debbie Litster >> Bernie Moffa (field hockey, basketball, softball) >> Allison Burke (basketball, track and field) >> Carleen Schavone (basketball) >> Chris Risotti

>> Mary Freitas

>> Laurie Gaynor (volleyball)

>> Eileen Blackney

>> Bitty Russo (field hockey, softball) >> Kim Detherage (basketball, track and field) >> Robin Lacouture >> Penny Miller (basketball, softball)

Three seniors on the 1977-78 Marlboro High girls basketball team with coach Irene Mazmanian were Kim Detherage, Penny Miller (Patty's younger sister) and Carleen Schavone. (Photo from 1978 MHS yearbook: "Follow Your Dreams"). "Kim Detherage was a natural in basketball and high jumping and she also ran sprints, I think," Mazmanian said. "She was gifted and she could just do it. Paula Hutch was like that, too."

From what I remember as an avid reader of the Enterprise back then (and eventually a sportswriter for the Enterprise-Sun from 1981 to 1986) was that girls sports coverage was not yet up to par with boys coverage, something that really began to get better in the 1980s. Speaking of the '80s, a few names of MHS female greats from that next decade also came into the conversation with who was known then as "Coach Maz" -- Sarah Day (cross country, track and field), Stephanie Tunnera (basketball), Tracy Giroux (basketball, soccer) and Katy Delaney (basketball, soccer). Those individuals and others from that time, perhaps, are a story for another day. Back to the '70s. Melanson recalls that she was in the front lines, fighting for more coverage with the Enterprise along her sister Beth (Juaire) and Bitty (Marybeth) Russo.

"I remember the Enterprise editors putting out their Christmas wish lists, probably in 1975 and one of them wished for 'a year without Bit, Beth and Chuck,' " Melanson told Bedrock Sports Marlboro. "Bit was Bitty and I was Chuck"

Bitty and Charlotte were on the mid-1970s Panthers' field hockey team.

"We were quite good," Melanson said. We went a few games into districts and lost to a team that had a foreign exhange student on the team, a boy. The Enterprise did cover the game and enjoyed the opportunity to let us know a boy beat us. Paula Hutch was on that team and has been a PE teacher in Marlboro for years. (Side note: Bernie Moffa was also a long-time PE teacher in Marlboro, and, Terry Riley, from Marlboro who graduated from Assabet Valley, became a long-time Assabet athletic director.)" Also on that field hockey team -- my neighbor Sandy Barry, who I would play street hockey against from time to time. On May 20, one day after this story originally ran, Carol (van Lingen) Droege wrote Bedrock Sports to mention one person she felt deserved mention: Linda Smith. Smith, Class of 1980, is someone I remember from youth hockey and public skating days. " Linda Smith lettered in three sports (soccer, ice hockey and softball) as an excellent goalie and catcher," Droege wrote. "Linda has been an ambassador for Marlboro women's sports her entire life and has gone on to coach generations of women in her time since Marlboro High."

Kim Detherage playing some textbook defense during Marlboro's 1977-78 season. (Photo from 1978 MHS yearbook: "Follow Your Dreams"). Melanson remembers the issue of not-so-great girls sports coverage coming up at a school committee meeting.

Melanson, who was the face behind the Panther mascot outfit on the Navin Rink ice to skate during warmups for the boys hockey team's games, was also a member of the first MHS girls ice hockey team under coach Ed Clancy in 1976-77.

"A true sign that female sports were being taken seriously was when Navin Rink tore down a wall to create a separate entrance for a girls locker room," she said. "They tore down a wall before Reagan made the request. Who knew Navin rink was so ahead of the times."

Another former MHS girls athlete deserving mention, according to Melanson, is Connie Richer, who went on to play hockey at Providence College. "Connie was a pretty good athlete and played field hockey, ice hockey and softball with me," she said. "And she got a nice PC scholarship and I think did pretty well there." A 2011 article on Friars.com mentions Richer as one of the first scholarship women players at Providence College and refers to her as a "former Friars great."

Russo went on to play field hockey at Syracuse, where she was also the coxswain for the women's crew team.

Of course, girls at that time were just beginning to get the benefits guaranteed by 1972's Title IX -- the law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. "When I was in college, Title IX came into view and it made a difference," said Mazmanian, who was in her early 20s when she started teaching and coaching in Marlboro. "It made a huge difference for me in college. It was almost immediate, but we (at Northeastern) were ahead of the curve. They (college administrators) knew it was coming. Maybe our weight room wasn't as good (as the men's), but they were beginning to make it that way. It was coming."

Mazmanian did not have a problem with newspaper coverage back then.

"Rich Plante would take my calls after every game (for a story)," she said. "A lot of times, we didn't get many fans. I would tell my PE classes that they should go and see their classmates. And, more often than not, the ones who went would say that they were so glad that they did and that they didn't know the players were that good." Mazmanian also mentioned that the Marlboro administration was very fair about gym time. "It was equitable," she said. "There were five teams -- freshman boys, JV boys and girls and varsity boys and girls. Sometimes we would have practice from 6 to 7:30 in the morning, but the boys had that time slot sometimes too."

One thing that was different in that era was that girls teams only had one set of uniforms, unlike the boys' home and away sets, but that was eventually corrected.

"Title IX was huge in all of this," Mazmanian said.

National Student Council Convention In 1977 Was A Big Deal

I remember walking through a shortcut to get from my home on Grace Circle to the pretty-much brand new Marlboro High School one early evening in the early summer of 1977. I was with neighborhood friend Wesley Wall and we were bored, but the school year had just ended so we wanted to make the best of our summer relaxation.

In three months, I would be a senior in high school. So, what better way to get the summer vibes going than to go check out the national student council convention that we were hearing a lot about. We knew lots of people from all across the nation were going to be there. Um, probably some girls and stuff, too, right? Well, we went into the foyer and saw hundreds of well-dressed kids. Really impressive. All of these obviously bright people were doing what looked like really important stuff and I was doing my best not to appear like a total imposter. We didn't stay long, but I'll never forget being there and at least a little bit wishing that I was one of those important, scholastic-type dudes, too. Melanson also remembers the event well. After graduating a few months earlier, she was involved in the planning and execution of it. "It was a huge event," she said. "I believe we had 1,600 kids come in from all over the country for about five days."

A soon-to-be senior in June 1976, Melanson and a large group of others on the MHS student council traveled to the student council convention in Oregon. "We went so we could learn from the hosts on how to host the event," she added. "We had applied to host and won it in, I think, 1975. It was a long process, kind of like hosting the Olympics. There were 25 or so of us with Mr. (Dennis) Lordan, Ms. (Ann) Williams, Mr. (Tom) Lane and Mr. (Don) Landers). We all stayed in different family homes."

Marlboro High student council members in June 1976 on a trip to Oregon. Front row, left to right: Michelle Vento, Debbie Schwenk, Mary Beth (Bitty) Russo, Diane Frey, Michael Hogan, Charlotte (Juaire) Melanson, Karen Sheehan, Michele Duffy. Second row: Donna Blackney, Danny Bane, Mark Corner, Ken Salinger, Denise (Dzwonczyk) Cohen, Lisa Valianti, Beth Cafarella, Cathy Lepore. Third row: Brian Snow, Patty Duffy, Martha Frey, Mr. Landers, Mr. Lane, Mr. Lordan, Jimmy Lee, Rick Comeau. I don't think I knew this at the time, but two of my Class of 1978 classmates -- Michael Hogan and Diane Frey -- were co-chairs of the 1977 convention. Hogan later became Marlboro's mayor.

"I think the thing that is so amazing to me about the entire convention is that we canvassed the city of Marlboro and asked families to host students from around the country," Melanson said. " We went door to door, literally, asking people to take in strangers for five days. And we were successful in finding homes for 1,600 students. People that had absolutely no affiliation to MHS were asked and they responded. These days, the students who attend the national convention stay in hotels.

"We provided transportation from every home to the high school every day, and we provided all meals and planned many events, including taking 1,600-plus students into Boston for a tour of the city, walk on the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, etc."

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