Waterford folks team up to keep their Hoelck Tournament alive

Waterford – It would have been some scene, punctuating all the kids bouncing basketballs over the weekend, to have witnessed Tevye off in the corner singing.

Tevye? Yeah. You know. The guy from Fiddler On The Roof, who begins the musical with the song “Tradition.” Actually, he yells it six times before embarking on the rest of the lyrics.

How fitting (if odd) it would have been. Because what happened in two gyms at Waterford High for the last two weekends was homage to tradition. And why it’s important, even if the general point is something so modest as to give the kids somewhere to play.

Yes, the 40th rendition of the Neil Hoelck Memorial Tournament hit every note at the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse and the auxiliary gym up the hallway. Sixty-four teams, boys and girls of all ages and from surrounding towns, back to honor tradition.

And somewhere, the late Mr. Hoelck, an administrator in Waterford who was always of the kids, for the kids and by the kids, smiled.

All hail five dads who are selfless enough to keep this breathing: Lance Coderre, Greg Bakken, Frank Mangual, Jay Pacheco and Mark Herter. Put it this way: It was 45 and sunny on Saturday. They could have been elsewhere besides the gym in which many had spent Friday night, too, watching the high school team — and Hoelck Tournament alumni — make the state semifinals.

“We have a good thing going,” said Coderre, not long after coaching his son Remy’s team. “We probably start in December trying to coordinate this.”

This is the fifth year for the five dads who deserve a high five or two for what became a rescue mission.

“This was going to go under, so we all got together so the kids could play,” Mangual said. “It’s important for the kids. My kids (Jake and Lexi) played in this. We don’t have a lot of local tournaments run like this. And for the price. The kids look forward to it. If we don’t have this, the kids today wouldn’t have the same experience as ours did. It gave Jake the experience to see other teams and more competition. It made him a better player.”

Neil Hoelck would enjoy watching the kids play, now 40 years later. But maybe what he’d like more is watching some of the alumni as volunteers. Waterford High students Liam Spellman, Owen Coderre, Ryan Bakken, Olivia Pacheco and Lexi Mangual were among several in and around the gym this weekend.

“They do a lot of leg work to get student volunteers,” Coderre said. “They get Learning Through Service credits. That’s kind of nice.”

All proceeds from the tournament benefit a scholarship fund for Waterford High seniors. Hoelck scholarships are $1,000 apiece and go to kids who, as Coderre said, “show character, sportsmanship, volunteerism and also have gone through the rec system.”

The 2019 tournament had one notable absence: Jim Epps, who had been a fixture over the previous 39 years, manning the admissions table. Jim Epps, whose son, Pat, was a former Waterford great and has returned as a town police officer, was unable to attend this year because of health issues. The committee gave the family a plaque in Jim’s name.

“A great man,” Mangual said. “He'd sit there from beginning to end.”

Epps, and others like him, are the best examples yet of how Waterford’s athletic success belies the town’s size. Sure, people care about local sports in all our towns. It just seems as though Waterford leads the league.

“The commitment of the adults is at a high level here,” Coderre said. “Waterford keeps handing sports down through generations. That continuity is huge.”

Not to mention helps to honor Neil Hoelck’s name.

“I never knew him personally,” Coderre said. I knew he was in favor of starting the tournament but passed away before it ever began. So they honored him by naming it after him. We try to keep the tradition going.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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