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The year in sports from Boston and beyond

Jimmy Myers
The year in sports from Boston and beyond
Dorchester Elite Eagles raise the trophy. PHOTO: TERRY COUSINS

Banner Sports sponsored by Cruz Companies

As we approach a new year, it is time to look back in retrospect to the events of 2023. So many thoughts cascade through our minds.

I remember taking trips to New York City’s Times Square to see the ball and apple drop officially bringing in the new year. The freezing temperatures aside, the joy of being in a crowd of millions of people made me feel warm. Much of the scene has changed over the years, but the sentiment of excitement and joy remains as strong as ever.

I usually stay in my studio covering a late college football bowl game as one year turns into another. But I always try to pause and thank my God for another year of my life and for the lives of my family and loved ones. I also pray for all those who have left this life this year. This struggle is a joyous and sorrowful experience that we all go through in one way or another.

I think of my year at the Bay State Banner as a great enjoyment. Unless you have written for a newspaper or any publication, you will have difficulty thinking of all the work that the Banner staff do just to put out a weekly paper. I’ll take this moment to personally thank them for their work. I and so many others appreciate your efforts.

Encapsulating a year is one of the most challenging assignments for a writer. There is always the fear of leaving out a story or name of someone who deserves mention. I apologize in advance for any omission.

These are some of the stories that graced the sports section of the Banner in 2023.

Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics. PHOTO: Boston Celtics/NBA

I’ll start with one of the earliest stories — the Boston Celtics signing of all-star guard-forward Jaylen Brown to a maximum free agent contract. Brown signed a deal worth more than $300 million. It turned out to be a sound investment, as the Celtics are off to a 20-5 record following their disappointing loss to the Miami Heat in last year’s NBA playoffs. Brown has been a solid contributor to the team’s early season success. The team released guards Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon in a deal to get Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. Holiday kept his role as the “glue-type” player he was while leading the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA title a few years ago. Porzingis has been good when healthy but has missed several games thus far in the early season — a critical factor in the trade that brought him to Boston.

With Dorchester’s Bruce Brown playing a significant starring role, the Denver Nuggets captured the first NBA title in franchise history this year. Nikola Jokic was named Finals Most Valuable Player. The Las Vegas Aces, meanwhile, successfully defended their WNBA title, beating back the charge of the New York Liberty. A’ja Wilson was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Bruce Brown PHOTO: Kyle Terada/POOL PHOTO VIA AP

One of the most challenging stories to write about was the late basketball player Reggie Lewis. The headline reads, “Reggie Lewis, the lost captain of the Boston Celtics.” It has been 30 years since Reggie’s death, and the memory of him lives in me every day. A compelling sense of gratitude goes out to his mother, Peggy Ritch, and his brother, Mack, for their thoughts and memories of the man I nicknamed “His Regginess” for the regal presence with which he carried himself.

On the college basketball scene, the Lady Gamecocks of South Carolina, unbeaten going into the Women’s Final Four, were upset by the Lady Hawkeyes of Iowa, opening the door for The Lady Tigers of Louisiana State to win the national championship. But all has not been well down in Bayou country, as the team had to suspend All-American center Angel Reese — the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four — for multiple games this season due to her disruptive behavior. Reese has said all the right things since returning to action, but there is an undercurrent of tension surrounding this situation. Stay tuned.

The Connecticut Huskies dominated the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, trouncing the San Diego State Aztecs 76-59 in the championship game.

Adama Sanogo was named the Most Outstanding Player.

Coach Malcolm Wynn with team co-captain Christian Reed. PHOTO: MALCOLM WYNN

Our story on the Roxbury Community College men’s national championship team (1999-2000) received a positive response. Malcolm Wynn, the team’s head coach, is still searching for sponsors to purchase gold championship rings for the school’s first national champions 23 years later.

It was a banner year for Las Vegas as the Golden Knights captured their first Stanley Cup championship by a four games-to-two triumph over the Florida Panthers in their best of seven series.

There was a moment of satisfaction when I got to write my “Black Lips on the Stanley Cup” article. It brought back so many beautiful memories mixed with laughter.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats and Wisconsin Badgers won the NCAA men’s and women’s hockey titles.

The Texas Rangers captured top honors in Major League Baseball with a five games-to-one World Series triumph over the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks. Rangers shortstop Corey Seager was named the Series’ Most Valuable Player, becoming a two-time winner of the Willie Mays Award, joining Reggie Jackson as the only modern-day two-time World Series MVP.

Boston English Baseball team. PHOTO: Boston Public Schools

On the local scene, Boston English High’s baseball team put together an undefeated regular season before losing to Seekonk High School in the state playoffs.

The Negro League Baseball Exhibition opened to solid reviews in downtown Boston. The show ran for nine weeks at 118 Boylston St. We also want to give special thanks to Frank R. Jordan of the Boston Red Sox and a special mention to Luis Tiant and Tommy Harper, Emerson College, the city of Boston, and Meet Boston for their hard work in making the exhibition a significant success.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles turned in an exciting Super Bowl, with the Chiefs squeaking out a 38-35 win. It was the second Super Bowl title for the Chiefs under head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

The University of Georgia Bulldogs claimed the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship with a decisive 65-7 drubbing of the No. 3 Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. It was a back-to-back run for the Red and Black. They also beat the previous champion, Alabama Crimson Tide, the year before. The same Tuscaloosa squad snapped their 29-game winning streak in a thrilling 27-24 contest in Atlanta.

This year marked the coaching debut of “Neon” Deion Sanders as the new coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Now known as “Coach Prime,” Sanders brought in a highly touted transfer class to Boulder. He then shocked skeptics by upsetting the then 17th ranked and College Football Playoff runner up Texas Christian Horned Frogs on their home field. The team struggled after a hot start ending up at 4-8, but Coach Sanders again has one of the highest ranked transfer classes coming to Colorado. It should be a very exciting 2024.

With the New England Patriots (3-11 as of this writing) too embarrassing to talk about, I praised the Dorchester Elite Eagles and Mattapan Patriots for their historic seasons that brought national attention to Massachusetts. The Elite Eagles won the first national championship in Boston history with a 20-0 shutout of the Darby Monarchs of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, completing a perfect 14-0 season at the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The Mattapan Patriots 14-and-under team also gained national attention, finishing their season ranked No. 3 nationally, the highest ranking ever for the program.   

The O’Bryant Tigers won the city football championship after coming back from a losing season the year before.

Coco Gauff PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Nineteen-year-old tennis sensation Coco Gauff stepped to the top of the tennis world with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Aryna Sabalenka in the U.S. Open Final. It is the first major tennis title for Gauff.

On the men’s side of the net, Novak Djokovic continued his domination in major competition, whipping Daniil Medvedev to capture the record-setting 24th major tennis title of his illustrious career. He has now equaled Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam victories.

Other events that touched our hearts: The Passing of Cleveland Brown’s great Jim Brown, and Harry Wilson, the father of Pop Warner Football in Roxbury.

The paper wrote a tribute to Mae Lang, World Middleweight Champion mama of “Marvelous Marvin Hagler.”

The Banner also featured the legacy of Dorchester’s Calvin Davis, a track and football star at Dorchester High School and Olympic bronze medal winner in 400-meter hurdles at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He scored a game-winning touchdown in Dorchester High’s Super Bowl victory over Bristol-Plymouth at Boston University in 1989.

We also saw some disturbing trends in 2023. We saw a Black athlete’s unholy fascination with guns, with special mention to the ongoing saga of NBA star Ja Morant.

Another blemish on the college scene was the sign-stealing scandal involving the Michigan University football team.

We saw some athletes resort to throat-slashing gestures as a form of intimidation and revenge.

And we focused on the mess surrounding the College Football Playoffs.

There were many positive moments in 2023 that the Banner reported on. Olympian Phil Reavis Sr. was honored in his hometown of Somerville with the commissioning of its new athletic field in his name.

Harvard head basketball coach Tommy Amaker is also the recipient of a school honor. Harvard will name the men’s basketball locker room after the former Duke University guard, also an executive fellow at the Harvard Business School.

Fred Richard PHOTO: USA GYMNASTICS

Stoughton’s Fred Richard, a University of Michigan student athlete, became the youngest medal winner (19) at the World Championships. He is also the reigning Men’s NCAA gymnastics champion. Simone Biles returned to the victory podium gold balance beam and floor exercise medals. She further increased her medal total with a silver medal for vault.

Speaking of champions, Boston’s Lady Raiders cheerleading team are now Pop Warner Champions after a decisive victory in Florida. We can also include the Lady Cardinals of Madison Park High School on our champions list. They won the city volleyball prize, the second title in the school’s history.

Lady Raiders champion cheerleading team. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX

There were issue-driven stories on gambling in sports and what parents should expect when their child becomes a scholar-athlete in college. We also discussed the Massachusetts legislation that would keep 18- to 20-year-olds in the juvenile system rather than the harsher adult criminal system. The Boston Celtics have been at the forefront of this initiative.

The Banner featured family sports stories in addition to our other coverage. The Forbes family has two generations of athletes competing in two different sports: Trent, the father, played at Providence College, and his daughter, Tatum, plays at St. Anselm College. And we saw how the Mitjans brothers coached 14 players into the National Football League.

We focused on the legacy of the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League, the oldest neighborhood basketball league in the United States. 

We wrote personal profiles of Catholic Memorial star Jacob Cofield and New Hampton School hockey star Taylor Settles. We saw coach Edmar Varela win City Coach of the Year for the second time now for leading the boys’ soccer squad at the Boston International School. The coach previously won the honor as the coach of the girls’ team.

As I mentioned earlier, I offer my sincere apology for anything that I may have missed.

I close here by saying Happy New Year to all with the hope of 2024 being a spectacular year.