Alumni Athlete Category
Class of 1982, Basketball
Ted DiGrande grew up watching his two older brothers, Mark and John, participate in varsity Sports at Burnt Hills. Ted was fortunate to play three sports in high school: football, baseball, and basketball. He was the starting quarterback as a senior and also played defensive end, linebacker, and safety. He was a three year starter and a member of Coach Plimpton’s first Suburban Council co-championship basketball team in 1982. Ted was selected on the first team All Capital District, MVP of the Suburban Council, and Saratoga Tri-County player of the year. Ted completed his career as BH-BL’s second all-time leading scorer. He accepted a Division 1 scholarship at the University of New Hampshire.
During his freshman year, Ted was a spot-starter on UNH’s ECAC North Atlantic Conference Co-championship team. As a senior, he averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds per game, leading the team in blocks, steals, dunks, turnovers and personal fouls. He graduated with a BS degree in Hotel Administration. He had an opportunity to try out for a professional team in France but chose to accept a Hotel General Manager position with Ocean Properties in Boca Raton, Florida.
Ted is happily married to his wife Suki. They reside in Essex Junction, Vermont. He enjoys coaching his sons, Eli and Ben. He has worked in lodging, healthcare and campus services for 26 years. After joining Sodexo/Marriott in 1995 in Colorado, Ted transferred to Texas, then Vermont in 1999. He is an Area General Manager based at Champlain College in Burlington, and also oversees three off-site operations.
Ted is a member of the Burlington Rotary, serves on the Essex Junction Little League board of directors, and is a former trustee at Grace United Methodist Church. He has coached in the Northern Vermont Youth Football League for six years. He led his son Eli’s CYO basketball team, St. Francis Xavier of Winooski, to two state championships, and one New England Regional championship. His younger son Ben competed in the 2010 USASA national snowboarding competition in Colorado.
Michelle La Pointe
Class of 1996, Track & Field
Michelle La Pointe first realized her track potential running field day at Pashley Elementary school. In eighth grade, Michelle joined the Burnt Hills track and field team and spent the next five years training and racing under the guidance of coach Richard Stevens.
During her time with the Spartans, Michelle received five varsity letters in outdoor track and field, two varsity letters in indoor track and field, and was captain her senior year. Michelle was a basketball player for the Spartan basketball team, but gave up basketball her junior year to focus on track. During her tenure as a Spartan track athlete, Michelle won 7 Suburban Council Championships (6 individual, 1 relay) setting the Suburban Council record in the 600 meter dash; 15 Section 2 championships (9 individual, 6 relay), and even held a Section 2 record in the 300 meter dash; and missed the Section 2 800 meter run record by 3 tenths of a second. Michelle still holds six records in indoor track and field – the 200 meter dash, 300 meter dash, 400 meter dash, 600 meter run, 800 meter run, and the 1000 meter run and records in outdoor track and field – 100 meter dash, 400 meter dash, 800 meter run, and the 1500 meter run. Michelle was state champion her senior year in the 800 meter run and was also an All-American in the 800, placing fifth at nationals.
After graduating, Michelle attended Syracuse University on a track scholarship and earned two Bachelor degrees in history and television, radio, and film and a Masters degree in secondary social studies education. At Syracuse, Michelle ran four Division I seasons each in indoor track, outdoor track, and cross-country and was part of the school’s record-setting 4×400 meter relay team which also won the Penn Relays. Unfortunately injuries hampered Michelle’s college career.
After college, Michelle moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and began teaching world history and AP European history at Hopewell High School. She started out as an assistant track and field coach, but was promoted two years later as the head men’s track coach and head men’s and women’s cross-country coach, a position she has held for the last eight years. Five years ago she was also named the women’s head track coach. In her tenure as a cross-country coach, her team has won their conference championship three times and she was named coach of the year those same years. Her men’s track team won conference in 2010 and in 2011 her men’s track team took second place at the state championship. Michelle has had three state individual champions, three state runners up, a national champion triple jumper and a 4×200 relay that won nationals in 2010.
Class of 1992, Baseball, Basketball & Soccer
JJ Pearsall played three years of varsity soccer, two years of varsity basketball and three years of varsity baseball. He earned first team all area honors in baseball, and second team all area in soccer. He tossed a no hitter against Shenendehowa, striking out 14 during his senior year. JJ was selected to play on the Empire State Games baseball team for two years, and he won a bronze medal his first year. In 1991, while pitching in the Empire State Games, the University of South Carolina coach scouted J.J. and in early November of 1991 offered him a full scholarship. J.J. chose the Gamecocks.
At the end of his senior year in high school, JJ was asked to play over seas in a baseball tournament in Czechoslovakia. Going against (West) Germany he tossed a no hitter, striking out 17 in a 7 inning game.
J.J. played for three years at USC. After his freshman year, he was asked to play for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League, and at the end of his junior year he was the Gamecock’s number 1 pitcher and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 15th round of the 1995 Amateur baseball draft.
J.J. played professionally from 1995 till 2002 (8 years) for five different organizations; the LA Dodgers for 5 years, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins and the Detroit Tigers, making it all the way to AAA with the Dodgers and Marlins. J.J. also played for the Maui Stingrays of the Hawaiian winter league in 1996 and played for the Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League for two years during the 2000-2001 season. J.J. amassed over 600 innings and 49 victories in the pros, mostly out of the bullpen while striking out over 500 batters in his eight year career.
After his professional career, JJ returned to USC and completed his BA in Geography.
JJ is very active in the East Greenbush Little League, East Greenbush Girls Softball League and he continues to play baseball in Capital District men’s baseball leagues. He also gives professional pitching lessons in the Capital District.
Class of 1979, Track & Field
Hugh Willig grew up with a father who always seemed to be running and training for marathons. Hugh, not surprisingly, gravitated towards running as well. As a 6th grader he challenged himself to make the one-mile loop around the block without stopping. After successfully completing the challenge, the “around the block run” became a daily routine that, to this day, he still can’t shake.
Encouraged by parents, gym teachers, and coaches, Hugh began competing before junior high school in Colonie and continued through high school at BH-BL. Both winning and not winning races drove the desire to train harder and run faster. The training paid off, especially under Coach Stevens, as each high school season was better than the previous.
By the end of his senior year, Hugh had amassed a list of accomplishments including: Suburban Council Mile and Two Mile Relay Champion, Section 2 Mile and 1000 Yard Champion, New York State Indoor Mile Champion and third in the Outdoor Mile, and the Section 2 Record Holder in the Mile and 1000 Yard Runs. In addition, Hugh was ranked third in the United States for the 1000 Yard Run after placing third in the Eastern States Championships, and he was the first Section 2 Runner to compete in the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden and the Penn Relays High School Championship of America in the mile.
After graduating in 1979, Hugh competed for the University of Pennsylvania, running Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track all four years. During that time, Hugh set school records in the Indoor 1500m (3:46) and the Indoor 1000m (2:25) and anchored a 4 x 800 relay that made it to the Indoor NCAA Championships. His senior year, he served as Captain of the Track Team and won the Most Valuable Performer Award.
Today, Hugh lives outside Philadelphia near Valley Forge, PA with wife Sally (an All-American 400-meter hurdler) and four children: Ned (18), Matt (16), Anna (14), and Amy (11). He enjoys watching all four compete in running competitions, grimacing as the boys far surpass his high school marks and giving thanks that he does not have to defend any times from the girls. As a boastful father he can proudly claim Ned as the current PA State Record Holder in the Indoor 800m (1:51.2), two- time All American and PA State Indoor Mile Champion (4:15), and All-State for PA Cross Country. Matt and Ned teamed up to win the PA State Indoor Championship in the Distance Medley Relay. Anna remains undefeated this season in the middle school mile and 800m. Amy mostly runs on the soccer field at this point with track a distinct possibility in the future. Hugh still considers any day that he can get out and run a good day. And anytime that he can run with the kids is an even better day.
Coach, Faculty, Administration Category
Varsity Wrestling Coach
Tim Koch grew up in Islip on Long Island and took up wrestling in 9th grade at the urging of Coach Sal Beninati (a graduate of Ballston Spa HS), mainly to fill the 98 lb. weight class. Over the next four years Tim never achieved personal success, but 1964 – his senior year – was marked by two significant events: Coach Beninati took the team to his home town to wrestle the Scotties (a match officiated as it turns out by Art Cardi – father of Jon Cardi – small world), and that Islip team won their very first league championship. During those four years Tim developed a love and understanding for a sport which challenged the individual while it nurtured and encouraged close friendships and team success. He also relished the unbridled joy of that team championship, an experience that would one day lead him back to a sport that ultimately defined a significant segment of his life. In 1982 when Jon Cardi won his second NYS Championship, Tim invited Coach Beninati to sit ‘mat-side’ with him during the championship match, an experience he will treasure forever.
At Oneonta State, Tim wrestled for a year while working on his BA in English, then turned his spare time toward his second love, the theater, performing in a half dozen plays and musicals. After graduation in June, 1968 he and his soon-to-be bride Karen accepted teaching positions at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools, and they moved to a furnished apartment on Pashley Road knowing almost no one. Their daughter Kristin graduated from BH in 1998. Tim and Karen didn’t just work in Burnt Hills, they believed in Burnt Hills.
While teaching at the (then) junior high school, and while performing in a local production of West Side Story, Tim volunteered to help Ron Kibbey, the junior high wrestling coach. Within two years Tim became the junior high coach – ably assisted by his good buddy Phil Pekar — when Kibbey moved to the JV position, then took the JV position behind Kibbey’s transition to varsity. Following a year off (1975) from coaching as he explored the possibility of focusing on school administration, Tim sensed that his greater interest lay in coaching wrestling (he watched practices almost every day), and when the opportunity to take the helm of the Burnt Hills program presented itself (1976), he took it and never looked back.
Over the 28 years of Tim’s varsity coaching career he had the support of many important individuals, greatest among them his wife Karen and later his daughter Kristin who in addition to her own athletic accomplishments served as a wrestling team manager for 4 years and accompanied the team and other managers to many weekend tournaments including the States. Those times together are life-treasures. No program of the caliber BH enjoyed can exist without great assistant coaches, and Tim remains indebted to them all: Sev Popolizio, Scott Winters, Phil Wright (7 yrs), Terry Tryon (3 yrs), John Parisella (3 yrs), Todd Passer, Mike Robyck, Bill Rue, Peter Mesh, Bill Martin, and his long-time friend Phil Pekar, who shared Tim’s final season with him. For a number of years after he graduated from North Carolina, Jon Cardi also served as a volunteer coach and confidant, contributing his high level of expertise and motivation in extending the Tradition of Excellence.
Tim also attributes much of the program’s success to a remarkable group of Jr. Spartan (PeeWee) coaches who took the reins and responsibility of the feeder program Tim had begun, and built it into a state powerhouse of its own, providing a steady stream of well-skilled and highly-experienced wrestlers ready for top level competition: leading the way with the help of others were Don Marrone, Warren Crow, and John Cintula, all of whom built the foundation of the 1989 team and more.
When Karen and Tim retired to Tucson, Arizona in 2003, Tim joined the Southern Arizona Wrestling Officials Assoc., and spent the next 7 wrestling seasons officiating from Bisbee (near NM), to Nogales (near Mexican border), to Cottonwood (near Sedona), and throughout the greater Tucson area. He served as President of the SAWOA for two years, and enjoyed officiating the individual state championships (2X), the State 5A dual meet championship match, and at Arizona’s premier tournament, the Flowing Wells Invitational.
Tim is indebted to the late Harold VanEarden and the many members of the PE department who offered support and advice over the years and to Bob McGuire for his continued support of our program and for facilitating the expansion of the wrestling room. The Burnt Hills program also benefitted from the immeasurable contributions of so many parents and our Booster Club; it is impossible to imagine our success without them. Seeing Coach Steve Jones – a product of the Burnt Hills program and one of Tim’s former athletes — continue and enlarge the legacy of excellence completes the circle for Coach Koch.
Varsity Basketball Coach
Gary Plimpton moved to Burnt Hills with his family in 1949 as a third grader. It was then that his involvement with Burnt Hills sports began, an involvement that lasted for fifty years until his retirement in 1999. When in high school, which is now Stevens Elementary School, Gary played football, baseball and basketball, earning many awards and seven varsity letters. When the time came to decide on a career, Gary was influenced by his respect and admiration for his coach and physical education teacher, Murray O’Neil.
Gary attended Springfield College where he earned a B.S. in physical education in 1963. After graduation he was offered a teaching and coaching position at a prestigious private school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where he taught and coached for three years. In 1966, he received a call from another of his mentors, Burnt Hills Athletic Director Jack Rentz, who urged him to apply for a physical education position that had opened. After being offered the job, Gary moved back to Burnt Hills to begin his career in the district where he had been a student, teaching alongside Coach O’Neil, with Jack Rentz as his A.D. Over the years, he taught P.E. in every school in the district.
Gary became the varsity basketball coach his first year back to BH-BL in 1966, and had a respectable first season record of 8-8, the best record in 20 years. That team was the first to qualify for sectionals in 20 years as well. The next year, BH-BL entered the Suburban Council with a showing of 1-17. With nowhere to go but up, the program progressed steadily, and with the formation of Spartan Junior Basketball, became a consistent, well-respected program. In 1982, under the leadership of Ted DiGrande, BH-BL won its first Suburban Council championship. In the 1985-86 season, the team achieved the most wins in BH-BL history with a 21-2 record, participated in the Sectional Final Four, and received its first Class A state ranking.
At the end of the 1986-87 season, Gary made the very difficult decision to retire from coaching. Although it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, he missed coaching terribly. When the varsity girls basketball position became available, he applied and was hired.
The girls program began slowly, but steadily improved. Beginning with the 1993-94 season, the girls won three straight sectional championships, two regional championships, and advanced to the State Final Four, losing in the semi-finals both times. In the 1993-94 season, BH-BL won 20 games for the first time in school history, and broke Shenendehowa’s 112 game league winning streak. The team was ranked third in New York State, and Jenn Miklic was the driving force behind this successful stretch. She was named to the All-Area First Team two consecutive years, and was the first recipient of a full-athletic scholarship to a Division I school. That same year, Gary was named Coach of the Year, a highlight of his coaching career. In 1999, after 33 years, Gary retired from teaching and coaching.
Gary and his wife, Joan, now live in South Glens Falls and spend their winters in South Florida. Their daughter, Julie, lives in Ballston Spa with her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Emily. Pam lives in Davie, Florida, with her husband, Bruce, and their daughter, Iyanna. Jeff lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, with his wife, Jenn, and their sons, Tucker and Carter. Natalie lives in Rotterdam with her husband, Greg, and their son, Jesse.
Gary has an enduring respect and fond connection to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District and community where he spent the best fifty years of his life!
Jack Rentz graduated from Stillwater High School in 1941, where he excelled in soccer, basketball, and baseball, leading his teams to several championships under the leadership of Coach Walter Reid. He earned an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University to play basketball.
His college career was interrupted by his enlistment in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946. He was a pilot, participating in the China-Burma-India theaters, earning two Bronze Stars and the WW II Victory Medal, until his discharge as a first lieutenant.
Following his service, Jack returned to his education, attending Siena and earning his degree from Ithaca College, while continuing to play basketball. He later received his masters from Siena and was a doctoral candidate at Springfield College.
Jack joined the staff of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake CSD in 1949 as a physical education teacher. In 1957 he became chairman of the department and Athletic Director, when Walt Reid moved up to superintendent of schools. During his career, Jack coached four different sports, including soccer for 17 years and baseball for 18, earning league titles and a sectional title in each.
As the athletic director, Jack was instrumental in hiring Murray O’Neil to begin football, wrestling and track. He began the summer recreation program, and managed the district’s tremendous PE and athletic growth from a one building school with one-room school houses, through the expansion to four elementary buildings, a junior high and a new high school. One of his favorite accomplishments was the planning of the indoor and outdoor PE and athletic facilities at the high school, including the swimming pool and new fields at the high school.
Through the 1950’s and 60’s Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, under Jack Rentz’s leadership, was widely recognized as having the top PE and athletic program in the entire area. He was incredibly proud of the PE staff and the other teachers that were willing to coach, the training given to coaches, and the facilities of the district.
In 1970, Jack left BH-BL to become an Associate in the New York State Education Department, where he continued to work with PE and athletic programs around the state. Following his retirement in 1983, he remained involved, teaching coaching certification courses at Adirondack Community College for several years. Throughout the years, Jack continued to closely follow the fortunes of the Burnt Hills teams.
Upon his death in 2009, Jack was survived by his wife of 63 years Florence, his six children, all BH-BL grads, 10 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
1989 Wrestling Team
The 1989 Wrestling Team, with a 16-0 record, was the #1 ranked wrestling team in New York State in all classifications. The team was the Gold Division, Suburban Council and Section II Champions, and also won the prestigious Union-Endicott Tournament. In addition, the team also won the North-South Classic, Burnt Hills Invitational, and the Vestal Tournament.
Under the leadership of Head Coach Tim Koch, the team of coaches also included Terry Tryon (JV), Bill Martin (Modified), and volunteer coaches Mike Robyck and BH-BL Hall of Fame Inductee Jon Cardi. Seniors Scott Hughes, Jamie Passer and Mike Sullivan served as captains, and provided guidance and leadership to a strong group of underclassmen.
The team was comprised of several Section Champions during their High School career, including Scott Hughes, Doug Groncki, Chad Groncki, and Karl Ruud. This foursome also placed in the New York State Championship meet, with Scott Hughes winning in 1988, Doug placing second in 1990 and 1991, Chad placing second and third in 1990 and 1991, respectively, and Karl placing fifth and sixth in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
The team from 1989 also benefited greatly from the 1988 team, which included State runner-up TJ Wright, and Phil Wright, who gave guidance and support to the wrestlers. In addition, the youth wrestlers learned fundamental skills and technique from the Pee Wee Wrestling Program, under the leadership at the time of Dom Marrone.
The following athletes were part of the 1989 Wrestling Team:
Scott Hughes (Captain), Jamie Passer (Captain), Mike Sullivan (Captain)
Doug Bikowicz, Chris Delano, Anthony Fantauzzi, Jason Fitzpatrick, Bill Forlano, Chad Groncki, Doug Groncki, Jeff Groncki, Chris Hopkins, Alex Kahn, Erik Katz, Greg Mango, Shawn Morrow, Karl Ruud, Chris Ryan, and Lee Van Slyke.
Sheryl Lauria started her service to the school district in 1991 as an elementary school mother who was active in the Pashley School PTA, eventually becoming the Pashley PTA co-president, vice-president, committee chair of several different committees and a home-room mother. Sheryl also committed her time to being PTA President, vice-president and planning council representative for the BH-BL High School for many years. All three of Sheryl’s children became BH-BL graduates.
In 2007 the BH-BL High School PTA honored Sheryl with a Founder’s Day Award in recognition of her continued volunteer time to all of the children of the BH-BL community. This is the highest award given by the BH-BL PTAs.
During these years she continued attending PTA meetings, volunteering to serve on district committees, and serving her community in many different aspects, including supporting the BH-BL sports programs through volunteer time as a board member on the BH-BL Field Hockey Booster Club, the BH-BL Football Booster Club and starting the BH-BL Lacrosse Booster Club and BH-BL Jr. Spartan Youth Lacrosse program.
Sheryl started working with the lacrosse program in Burnt Hills in 2003. She lobbied the school board for a high school program in 2004 and was successful as the boys program began its first junior varsity team. The girls followed in 2005 and both programs became varsity teams in 2006. Sheryl recently lobbied the school board to include a self-funded modified lacrosse program for the Spring of 2013.
Sheryl started the process of building the BH-BL Jr. Spartan Lacrosse program in 2004 with its first youth fall clinic held in September 2005. A full season of 200 youth lacrosse players established the program’s first spring schedule in 2006.
Sheryl also has committed her time to all of the youth lacrosse players in the entire Capital District by serving on the CDYLL board (Capital District Youth Lacrosse League) for the past five years. The CDYLL serves over 1200 youth lacrosse players in third through eighth grade.
Sheryl was honored with an “Outstanding Service Award” for her service to the lacrosse community by the Adirondack Chapter of US Lacrosse in 2008.