And then there were two… softball players alive that is, from a team which represented North Walpole in the Brattleboro Softball League back in the 1960s.
There are some historical facts that are important to know before we tell you the other.
First, North Walpole was an overwhelming entity in itself back in those days. For sports fans, North Walpole and Bellows Falls were rivals. Although each community shared their high school days together, when competition in junior high school or community pick-up games occurred, these two communities were like the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Hatfields and the McCoys. Believe me, the rivalries were that fierce. Even sometimes while in high school, there would be self-organized pick-up games between the two small communities on one side of the river or the other.
Once again, North Walpole had enormous athletic pride. Their village was smaller than Bellows Falls, but even on high school teams North Walpole had more than their size and share of the talent and participants on Bellows Falls High School teams. I am not sure when the rivalry between the two communities began, but what I can tell you is that it lasted right up until Fall Mountain became a school in the fall of 1966.
Both sides of the river communities lost a legend recently. “Auntie” Jurkoic was a member at one time of both Bellows Falls and North Walpole and loved them both. Many persons, including myself, thought Auntie was North Walpole through and through. However, he actually grew up on Hyde Hill in Bellows Falls and loved and respected his roots. When Auntie passed recently, a huge tribute was shown by the sheer numbers from both sides of the river who turned out for the calling hours and funeral in remembrance.
The tributes concerning Auntie came from near and far. The family he raised, along with his wonderful wife Theresa, was one of several who made their mark on both sides of the river during the first couple of decades of Fall Mountain Regional High School.
Auntie was a standout athlete as a Terrier. Many remember his football exploits, but they were all accomplished in one season, his senior year. He had knee troubles, and his mother would not let him play football before then. He was a standout in both basketball and baseball throughout his high school years, “and he said he competed for Larry Hadley in Track, when it didn’t conflict with baseball,” his daughter, Toni McDougle, told me.
Thus Jurkoic stood out in four sports for Bellows Falls. My only memory of Jurkoic as an athlete was when he happened to take part in Alumni basketball games. His teammates loved to play with him because he was a wonderful passer. It was normal for him to find a cutting teammate away from the ball for a layup. He would draw the defense to him and then throw a no-look pass for an easy score.
Jurkoic had three children and they were all exceptional athletes. They were so exceptional that they all competed at the collegiate level. Legend has been served that Auntie himself received a number of attractive college offers but declined them for family reasons, including the fact that he lost his father during final exams his senior year in high school.
Auntie would continue his athletic play on town teams and other opportunities, including an exhibition game versus the Boston Celtics held in Springfield. That was a contest in which relatives rave about how he out-jumped Jim Luscotoff on a jump ball. Sometimes those relatives forget to tell the whole story though. He out-jumped Luscotoff because Auntie jumped early, and they had to redo the jump ball.
Toni was Auntie’s oldest child and she didn’t play a fall sport because of questionable knees, just like her father. Toni told me, “I wish I had played field hockey, but my dad didn’t want me to play because he feared, like his mother had, a knee injury.”
Toni lost a basketball season due to her knee but made the Fall Mountain varsity squad in both basketball and softball for three years each. Upon graduation, Toni Jurkoic spent a year playing basketball at Keene State, before transferring to Division II Slippery Rock where she completed her career. One of her highlights was competing against a strong team from Cheney State, coached by Vivian Stringer, one of the top DII teams in the nation at the time. Stringer went on to Division I coaching success at Rutgers in Women’s College Basketball.
Matt was Auntie and Theresa’s middle child and stood out in both track and field and football for four years at Fall Mountain. Matt went on to compete in both football and track and field at Dartmouth College. Although Matt was a stellar athlete in two sports, he pokes fun at his basketball heroics – and the ability to create humor for others at his expense is a positive trait I think he gained from his father. You hardly ever saw Auntie without a big smile on his face.
Matt was a member of the varsity basketball team his senior year and he jokes of how the team was undermanned one night and how Coach Steve Holmes gave him a big pep talk about how Greg Chaffee was so sick he wouldn’t be able to play and what he needed to produce. Matt did his flat level best to provide what was needed, “But I was so bad it took Greg less than three minutes to get better and check into the game.” Matt was the football captain and a tremendous leader.
Stan was the couple’s youngest son and he competed in all three main seasons of sport: football, basketball, and baseball. He was a varsity performer in each for three years in Langdon. Stan went on to play college baseball at the University of New Hampshire and was good enough to make the New England All-Star team and compete in the annual All-Star Game at Fenway Park. Stan pitched, as well as played most of the infield positions, for the Wildcats. He was a long time member of the Walpole/Keene Blue Jays baseball team and coached college baseball for years at both UMass and Franklin Pierce. He also served for a time as the athletic director at his alma mater Fall Mountain.
Stan pointed out to me that there was never any Bellows Falls versus Fall Mountain rivalry ever discussed in his household because “Dad loved Bellows Falls. That’s where he grew up in his early life, went to high school, and a place he loved. He brought up his family in North Walpole, but he did nothing but love Bellows Falls.”
One of his two living teammates on that North Walpole softball team mentioned at the outset, Junie Bousquet – Poody Walsh was the other – told me, “Auntie was a few years ahead of me in school, but what I can tell you about him is he was one of the greatest guys I ever knew, and one of the finest athletes to come out of Bellows Falls High School. The funny thing was that every little kid wanted to be Auntie Jurkoic. We all looked up to him. Everyone knew him and loved him. When you played ball in the backyard, everyone wanted to be Auntie Jurkoic.”
Could there be a greater tribute?