Staying In The Game

Athletics have always played an important role at Saint Anselm. For most student athletes though, as senior year comes to a close, so too do their athletic careers. Yet there are a special few who found a path enabling them to continue (and thrive) in the sport they love. From a professional lacrosse player, a coach in the National Basketball Association, a New England sports broadcaster, a player turned coach in Minor League hockey, a Minor League Baseball VP, and service-oriented continuing athletes, here are some Anselmians who turned their love of the game into their lives’ work.

“Contrary to the age-old proverb, it’s not always fair weather when good fellows get together, for, whenever the Hawks tangle [with an opponent] dark battle clouds loom on the horizon, and when the smoke from the heavy artillery of the two clubs clears away, the fans are always agreed that the two opponents always gave the cash customers their money’s worth in thrills and color.” Bob Collins ’37

From “When Good Fellows Get Together” in a football game program of November 11, 1939 about Saint Anselm intercollegiate sports.

  Pat Delany ’02, assistant coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets HOOP DREAMS

Have you ever imagined defending Lebron James? Or schemed to outscore Stephen Curry? For Pat Delany ’02, assistant coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, that’s a workday reality.

Those who knew Delany at Saint Anselm College probably weren’t surprised to see basketball in his career path. “Pat is one of the best point guards in Saint Anselm history,” says Keith Dickson, men’s head basketball coach for Saint Anselm. “He was without a doubt the best and most creative passer that I have ever coached.”

Ironically, Delany almost didn’t make it to the Hilltop. “He was all set to go to Gettysburg College when we had him come up to campus for a visit,” says Dickson. “He played well against our guys so I offered him a partial scholarship.” Delany liked what he saw and accepted Dickson’s offer. “Probably one of the greatest recruiting decisions of my career,” says Dickson.

During his senior year, Delany earned a spot as a video intern for the Boston Celtics. His first year out of school, he interned with the Miami Heat and worked his way up to advance scout. Delany garnered three NBA Championship rings during his time with the Heat.

In 2013, after serving as an assistant coach for the Heat’s summer league, Delany became the head coach for the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Skyforce in the NBA Development League. In 2014, Pat accepted an assistant coaching position with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Saint Anselm connection runs deep in the Hornets organization, as Head Coach Steve Clifford served as an assistant under Dickson. “Steve Clifford was my first full time assistant and we have maintained a great friendship throughout the years,” says Dickson. “Pat is very fortunate to learn from a great coach in a very positive environment.”

Delany credits Father Jude Gray, O.S.B., for teaching him one of the most important skills in coaching: listening. “Father Jude was someone who would just listen and not necessarily say much but hear you out first,” says Delany. “I learned from him that talking is easy and sometimes just listening is hard.”

“Coaching and working with players at the NBA level is similar, as they all have their own story and path—communicating with them is crucial in building a relationship with them.” Listening, communicating, coaching are skills he can trace back to college. “The quality of support at Saint Anselm was noticeable both in and out of the classroom,” he says. “The Hilltop provided lessons I still use in my profession, along with everyday life.”

PLAYING IT FORWARD

Justine Lyons ’09 and Megan Howard ’12As (respectively) a teacher of nursing in Boston Public Schools and a registered nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, Justine Lyons ’09 and Megan Howard ’12 find their days plenty full. Somehow however, these friends who met playing for the Saint Anselm women’s basketball team find time to pass along their love of the game to the next generation. Lyons and Howard helped create “The Jenny Fund,” a Boston-based non-profit dedicated to teaching young girls about basketball, leadership, teamwork, perseverance and compassion.

“I love this program because it works with my two favorite populations: kids and basketball players,” says Howard. “We do skills and drills with them, along with enrichment outings, camps, clinics, and college visits. Our plan is to continue to build relationships and mentor these young girls through the game of basketball.”

Lyons and Howard founded The Jenny Fund in honor of Saint Anselm classmate, teammate, and dear friend Jen Gureckis ’11, who lost a courageous battle with brain cancer in 2017. “Even though Jen was two years younger than me, she was my lifting partner, basketball skills partner, and my best friend,” says Lyons. “We went through three coaches during my four years at Saint Anselm, and despite not have winning seasons, we developed the best friendships. Jen’s illness not only had an impact on me, but my teammates as well.” In fact, many members of Lyons and Howard’s college team (including Kate Connolly, Courtney May, Grace Harrington, Carleen Orawsky, and Erin Higgins—all members of the Class of 2010) also work with The Jenny Fund, which also encompasses “Core 24,” an intimate mentoring basketball program named in honor of Gureckis’ jersey number, 24.

Lyons and Howard share their love of the game locally and globally. In 2016, they spent two weeks in Rwanda as program directors for “G3” (Get Girls in the Game), a nonprofit program that also uses basketball to educate and empower young people. “It gives the kids a sense of purpose and something to feel important about,” says Lyons. “You didn’t even have to speak the language. Basketball was the language.” This humbling experience taught Lyons and Howard how their sport can bring people together regardless of age, what language is spoken, or where you’re from.

Lyons credits her time at Saint Anselm for shaping her passion for helping others. One of her biggest influences was Mary Ann French, a former Health Services nurse. “Mary Ann and her husband Dana came to every single basketball game (both men’s and women’s) no matter where it was.” According to Lyons, “MaryAnn inspired me to transition to my current job working with my main passion, which is kids.”

Howard also traces her time back to the Hilltop to where she is today. “Many things connect my college days to life now. I think the biggest thing I take day-to-day is the kindness I received on campus.” Howard remembers everyone always saying hello, waving, or holding a door for a stranger—whether it was a teacher, student, monk, or trainer. “The community-feel and the willingness to get to know one another made college an easier transition coming a long way from home (Minnesota). To this day, I
try to continue what I learned from Saint Anselm and pass it along to the people I meet.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Bill Wanless ’86 and Lauren '17Bill Wanless ’86 had two passions growing up: sports and writing. Today, he combines them as the Vice President of  Communications and Community Relations for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

With the PawSox, Wanless’s job changes with the time of year. “During the season, I’m compiling information about the team, players and events, and dispersing it to the media.” In the offseason, Wanless works on the game program, media guide and team newspaper, as well as interacting with the players, some who move up to the Boston Red Sox. “Over the years, players like Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, and so many others have come through Pawtucket on their way to Boston. It’s been so rewarding to get to know them and then watch them have so much success.”

Wanless is especially proud of how the PawSox draw more fans to games than many other teams in the country. “People have so much going on these days, and so many opportunities. We want to give them the chance to see the next Red Sox stars in a friendly environment and fall in love with baseball.”

Bill played varsity baseball for four years as a Hawk. “Although the team was fairly successful, the thing all of us will remember is being part of a special team,” he says. “The wins and losses fade away, but the memories of being part of a close-knit team stay forever.”

During the summer after junior year, Bill interned with the Pawtucket Red Sox. After returning to campus in the fall, the team called with a job offer for after graduation.

There’s no doubt in Wanless’ mind that spending four years at Saint Anselm provided the foundation to ultimately be successful in his job. He specifically credits classes, coaches, professors, and monks of Saint Anselm with that foundation.

“The late Father Jude and his public speaking course were tremendous—Father Jude, who also helped with the baseball team during that time, taught me several tricks of the trade that I still use to this day.” The late Professor Bill Farrell HD ’07 and Professor Matthew Dupre ’95 also had a profound impact. “They provided the platform to really get you to think about your goals in life,” he says. He also acknowledges baseball coaches Nick Gabardina, Joseph Catanese, and Don Menswar.

“I wasn’t a very good player, but they encouraged me to pursue a career in baseball. They were true lovers of the sport—and for many, many years now have come to visit me at McCoy Stadium.”

In 1985, Wanless was one of only two interns hired by the PawSox. Today, they hire 30 each summer. Bill urges all students to take advantage of the internship programs at Saint Anselm. “An internship gives you immediate experience in your job. It offers a chance to determine if that job is something you’d like to do full-time. It also opens the door to co-workers who become valuable contacts for future opportunities.”

Bill’s daughter, Lauren Wanless ’17, inherited her father’s love of sports and communications. Lauren is an account executive for sports, political and full-service marketing company, Checkmate Consulting Group, in Rhode Island, and also worked in marketing for New England Sports Network (NESN).

Lauren was an athlete and Communication major on the Hilltop, with minors in Spanish and Sports Studies. “I [only] played field hockey my freshman year due to injury but I stayed on as the team’s manager for the next three years,” she says. “I had tried out as a walk-on and it was the best decision I ever made—I would not have had the same amazing experience at Saint Anselm as I did—I was also honored to follow in my Dad’s footsteps as a Hawk!”

Beyond sports and family, Lauren and her father shared something else: Brady Hall. Lauren knew her father lived there as a  student, but was astounded to see 310 Brady as the only room left to choose from during her sophomore housing lottery. That was her dad’s room.

As a junior, Lauren interned at WPRI 12 News in Providence, R.I. “My bosses were the station’s sportscasters, so I would see them go through the entire process of writing, producing, and editing a show firsthand and how much effort they put in for two minutes on air,” she says.

Lauren credits her internships and the alumni network with helping her get her start. Her advice for future graduates: “Take advantage of every opportunity you are given and go looking for those that are not handed to you,” she says.

SLAP SHOT

A three-sport athlete at Saint Anselm, Sam Ftorek ’98 found his livelihood on a skating rink.

After graduation, Ftorek turned pro in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), was twice a Team USA In-Line World Champion, and a Hungarian League Champion. His playing career spanned six professional teams in the ECHL and eight leagues total from California to Georgia—even Europe—with six final seasons with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Wings. There, he transitioned to coaching. Now, Ftorek is the firstever coach of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in Virginia.

“I told my wife when we met that I was going to play hockey for a living. She asked what I was going to do after that, and I told her I was going to be a coach,” he says. “So I played as long as I could, and things worked out that I could stay in Kalamazoo and jump on board as the assistant coach.”

As a player, Ftorek reinvented himself from forward to scoring defenseman. At 39, he led ECHL defensemen in points. In  Kalamazoo history, Ftorek has most games (402), most points (269), most assists (198); ranks second in penalty minutes (338) and third in goals (71); and holds the ECHL record for most games (837) in his 1,097-game career.

“Hockey is simply a passion,” says Ftorek. “I went to my first game at two weeks old, when my dad was playing.” His father,  Robbie Ftorek, was a standout pro player who also coached the Boston Bruins.

Morphing from player to coach, Ftorek says the biggest change is “No naps before games.” After a laugh, he clarifies “It is  probably the intensity level behind the bench. I have to keep my cool.”

Reflecting on Saint Anselm, Ftorek remembers skating at West Side Arena (before Sullivan was built), and fondly recalls Father Jude. “He was at every home game and was always there when I needed help.”

A Fine Arts major, Sam paints goalie masks, has illustrated a children’s book, and creates commissioned athletes’ portraits called “Shooting Stars,” where a puck, ball, etc. is represented by a shooting star.

“My advice for anyone would be ‘Love what you do’. I could have made more money in a different career, but I would never have experienced what I did in another line of work.”

RISING STORM

Caitlin Villareal ’16Caitlin Villareal ’16, known as “KK,” had never heard of Saint Anselm until an email from Holly Drown, head women’s lacrosse coach at the college. “Holly had seen me play in one of my summer lacrosse tournaments and invited me to visit Saint Anselm to meet her and see the school,” says Villareal. “When I stepped onto the campus I immediately felt at home, and after that I found myself comparing every other school to Saint Anselm, and I knew it was the school for me.”

Little did Villareal know that her decision would set her on the path of a professional athlete. As her senior year and final season of lacrosse was coming to a close, Villareal figured her days on the lacrosse field were finished. Then her father, Bill Villareal (Salve Regina University’s head women’s lacrosse coach), told her of the newly formed United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX), the first professional women’s sports league, launched by United Women’s Sports, LLC in partnership with the Play It Forward Sport Foundation. United Women’s Sports is a female owned and operated company whose mission is to establish and govern operations of professional leagues and create opportunities for women to work in professional sports for a variety of women’s sports.

Villareal tried out and was picked up by the Boston Storm of the UWLX, playing her first pro game in May.

“I knew I wasn’t ready to be done [with lacrosse].” After graduating from Saint Anselm, Villareal was hopeful she could get into a women’s summer league. “The best I thought was that I could play in college, so I was really excited.”

According to Abbey Capobianco, Storm coach, Villareal’s time on the Saint Anselm lacrosse field helped her get noticed for professional play. Capobianco watched Villareal in action as a Hawk. “KK was a four-year impact player who played an integral role in sending Saint Anselm to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history,” says Capobianco. “She’s a great addition to the Boston Storm roster.”

When not on the lacrosse field, Villareal teaches Spanish at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island. A business major with a minor in Spanish, she is excited to make a difference in student’s lives, and be a role model for young lacrosse players.

“Playing for the Boston Storm is rewarding [since we can] inspire younger players to follow their dreams,” she says. “After games, we hold autograph sessions; meeting girls who hope to one day compete at this level is one of the best parts.”

Villareal wants all young girls to know they can make their dreams a reality “Now, they have the opportunity to look up to us as players, dream of being on our field and make their dreams come true.”

THE NETWORKER

Tom E. Curran '89Tom E. Curran ’89, has been a leading voice on the Patriots and the NFL since 1997. The NFL Insider for NBC Sports Boston, Tom hosts Quick Slants, a weekly program on the New England Patriots, and is a host of Boston Sports Tonight.

Curran has also co-authored Relentless: A Memoir with Julian Edelman, New England Patriots two-time Super Bowl Champion. With humor and leading-edge analysis, Curran has become one of most renowned broadcast authorities in football.

However, Curran’s professional life hasn’t always been filled with streams of confetti and duck boat parades. “The light took a while to go on for me. When it did, I was 24 and spraying lawns for a lawn care company.”

Curran felt his strength was writing and during his senior year earned an internship with WMUR in Manchester, N.H.

After graduation, Curran leveraged his English degree and internship experience into a newspaper job covering sports in Barnstable, Mass.

“My salary didn’t match my age until I was about 35,” he says. “My wife Erica, an elementary school teacher, carried us and our three sons while I worked really late nights and brought home little dough.”

Curran worked on Cape Cod, in New Hampshire, and finally in Massachusetts, where he landed at the MetroWest Daily News covering the Patriots. Then, “I worked extremely hard and got a job at the Providence Journal, staying there until 2006 when I went to NBCSports.com as their NFL writer. I was lucky to cover the Patriots during their rise to prominence, and incredibly lucky to have a front-row seat and to have built relationships with people who are going to be remembered forever as some of the most important figures in league history.”

Relating to others is something Curran describes as helping him get to this point, and he too credits his time on the Hilltop. “To have a sense of humor about things, to think critically, to trust my judgments, to be friendly to people,” he says. “Even now, when I walk into my office or a locker room, I say hello to every person as they pass.” For Curran, this practice started when passing people on campus. “Even if you didn’t know someone—if you make eye contact, it meant saying hello, nodding hello or smiling.”

His Saint Anselm friends essentially became his first network. “Think that has nothing to do with sports writing or television?” he says. “It actually has everything to do with it, in my opinion—relate to people, hear them, let your guard down and let them know you.”

Curran’s advice for young alumni and soon-to-be graduates? “Be prepared to be resourceful. Read. Read. Read. Do your own research. Have a plan. Make a list of what you’ll do tomorrow before you go to bed. Everybody else is just as scared as you are. Trust your gut. Annihilate your ego. Bet on yourself.”

By John J. O’Leary IV ’00