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Dakota Antelman

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Nancy Tobin speaks in a Hudson High classroom

Nancy Tobin speaks in a Hudson High School classroom. | by Dakota Antelman

by Dakota Antelman

Nancy Tobin spoke to the friends her son Scott left behind as they all mourned his death at his funeral.

She held those teens and twenty-somethings close and promised to support them if they ever needed help with the disease that took her son — substance use disorder.

“Don’t let this happen to you,” she said. “If you need me, come find me. I really would be there. I would be the person who would go and pick you up and take you to a rehab.”

Roughly eight months later, she was speaking to teens again, not at a funeral, but as a guest speaker in a Hudson High School Wellness class. Indeed, Tobin has taken her story public, joining a growing community of people touched by substance use disorder working to prevent future addictions by describing their struggles.

Families Tell Their Stories after Their Loss

Tobin said she speaks both to process her grief and to help others avoid the trauma she experienced in losing her son.

“I can either sit in the corner of a room with a blanket over my head and cry and never want to move; I fight that feeling every single day of my life now,” she said. “Or, I can stand up and I can say, ‘I’m going to go on, and I’m going to go on because my love is that strong — because Scott’s love was that strong.”

Tobin struggled alongside her son for years. He was first exposed to opioid painkillers after a terrible car accident in his senior year left him with bone breaks in his ribs, feet and wrist, a bruised lung and a concussion among other things.

He still graduated from Hudson High School that spring and moved on to Franklin Pierce University in the fall. His addiction worsened, however, once he was at college.

Over the next five years until his overdose, Scott asked for help. Unfortunately, many of the treatment centers his mother sought for him turned Scott away, saying they had no open beds.

As her son struggled to get help, Nancy Tobin said Scott told few people about his addiction.

In speaking publicly, Tobin hopes she fights the stigma surrounding drug use that she said caused Scott to keep that pain quiet.

“It’s one more thing, that, if they let it out into the open, they’ll lose any bit of credibility that they once had,” she said about drug addiction. “That’s a very hard thing to be in a situation like that. Again, why do we do that to people?”

By Dakota Antelman

She continued, saying that stigma persists even though recently soaring drug overdose rates have included several young people killed in Hudson alone.

“It still makes people very uncomfortable, and that discomfort makes people want to sort of still turn their head and wink and whisper about it,” Tobin said. “[They say], ‘That happened because so-and-so was hanging around with the wrong people,’ or that it was bound to happen because of something that they have heard. There is a lot of rumoring and a lot of talking. That’s the piece that has to change.”

Despite the stigma, Tobin realized her story’s effectiveness even mere minutes after her presentation to Hudson High School students. She hugged students who, she said, trembled as they thanked her and told her they knew people who struggle with addiction just as Scott did.

“I will never forget looking around into those students’ eyes and seeing them looking right into mine and feeling as though they were as open to hearing me as I was open to telling them whatever I could that might be of help to them,” she said. “They don’t feel that it’s a joke. They don’t feel that it needs to stay in the shadows. They know it’s real, and that’s what they looked like. They were afraid.”

In addition to her presentation at Hudson High School, Tobin was involved with a recent vigil for overdose victims in Marlborough. Marlborough mother Kathy Leonard, who also lost her son to an overdose, organized that vigil and currently runs a support group that Tobin attends for families of overdose victims. She has also worked with the executive director of the Addiction Referral Center, Marie Cheetham, on fundraising and awareness events for the center, which provides care for recovering addicts.

After her presentation in Hudson though, Tobin said she wants to focus mainly on small-scale, person-to-person conversations going forward.

“I want to really bring this idea of getting rid of the stigma and getting people to realize that it’s everywhere,” she said.

Addicts Tell Their Stories during Recovery

While Tobin provides the perspective of a grieving parent, Dot Fuller speaks as a recovering addict.

Fuller, like Scott Tobin, was a member of the Hudson High School Class of 2012 who struggled with heroin addiction. She remembers getting high with him when the two were younger but had been clean for just over a year when Tobin overdosed.

Part of her recovery, Fuller said, has involved separating herself from the community and acquaintances that she knew while she was using. As a result of that separation, she did not immediately know her friend Scott had died.

Fuller followed in Nancy Tobin’s footsteps, also speaking to Hudson High School Wellness students just days after Tobin’s talk.

Reflecting on her own experience as a student in Hudson, Fuller noted the absence of similar drug use prevention education even just five years ago.

“People came in, but they were all old and no stories hit home,” she said. “Maybe it just wasn’t as relevant when I was in high school, so that’s good that they’re doing more stuff about it now.”

Fuller struggled with drug addiction earlier than many of her classmates. While Nancy Tobin said Scott did not use harder drugs such as heroin until college, Fuller vividly remembers feeling out of control before even starting her sophomore year.

“It turned into a job — like a career — just getting high, not wanting to be sick anymore but not being able to do anything, even to take a shower without getting off E,” she said, using an expression used by many addicts to describe the feeling of emptiness and lethargy when sober. “I was well into that stage by the summer before sophomore year.”

With a pervading feeling that she would be punished by administrators or guidance counselors if she asked for help, and without dialogue about drug use in her school, Fuller remembers feeling disconnected from her school community.

“It was very isolating because Hudson High School was a school where everybody did sports,” she said. “Everybody was so focused on what college they were going to, so I was in Worcester a lot. I related a lot more with the inner city schools. Worcester was the closest.”

Fuller dropped out of Hudson High School before her senior year. In the ensuing years, she managed to get sober and hold a job at Tufts Medical Center. She frequented Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous meetings for support, but she once relapsed after nearly a year sober when she visited Hudson and felt a sudden urge to use again.

Now with close to two years of sobriety, Fuller feels like she has regained some of the control she lost as a teen. Still, she told students during her presentation that relapse remains a very real threat.

As she continues to push back against that threat, Fuller has made appearances like the one at Hudson High School a regular part of her life. She finds them healing.

“When I tell my story to people, I’m practicing honesty,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things to me, to be honest with myself and be like, ‘This happened, and this is where I don’t want to go back to.’ Hearing myself say it out loud is like a reminder.”

Fuller said dishonesty was a major part of her addiction, in school and outside of it. She explained, “If you asked me what I had for breakfast, I would say a bagel even when I had cereal. It was just a habit to lie.”

In addition to her presentation at Hudson High School, Fuller has spoken at rehab centers she herself attended and visited the MCI Framingham Women’s Prison to make a similar appearance. She has also spoken at other Massachusetts high schools, including Bridgewater High School.

Though she insists these presentations help her far more than they help students, Fuller has seen her story’s impact on teens and addicts.

At one point, a group of people recognized her at a coffee shop after her presentation and thanked her. One said her brother was an addict. Fuller was able to connect that person with treatment opportunities.

“It feels good,” she said. “I’ll go back and visit programs that I’ve been to and speak as an alumnus of the program. When I then go to an AA meeting or something a year later and I see them, they say, ‘Yeah, I’m still doing good.’ That feels wicked good.”

Educators Hope Speakers Change Minds

Fuller and Tobin both found their presentations to Hudson High School students to be beneficial. They only made those presentations, however, because of the willingness of the Hudson High School Wellness Department to bring guest speakers into classrooms.

Wellness teacher Dee Grassey and Curriculum Director Jeannie Graffeo agreed, however, that those recent presentations were not the result of any major changes to the Wellness department’s approach to guest speakers. Rather, they said, simple scheduling issues often decide whether speakers come to Hudson High School.

Hudson’s rotating block schedule does make it difficult for guests to speak to all of a teacher’s classes, which often do not all meet on a given day.

Still, Grassey said the staff’s attitude toward such guest speakers has changed as substance use disorder has affected former Hudson students.

“We couldn’t just be [saying], ‘No, no, no,’” she said. “Kids have to hear real life experiences in order to connect. You have to be able to put yourself in that person’s situation and go, ‘I’ve done that. I’ve been there.’”

Having taught in Hudson since 1994, Grassey said the current wellness curriculum is much better now than it was years ago.

Nevertheless, she and other wellness educators agree that the schools need to devote more energy towards improving student health. Otherwise, Grassey fears, student drug use will only continue.

“I get it,” she said. “If it’s reading, writing and arithmetic over health education, health education is going to get cut. But I think the schools over the years have to take some of this responsibility that, when they’re not consistent, this is the stuff that happens.”

For Tobin, an educator herself, schools also need to change the atmosphere surrounding conversations about drug use.

“[Students] come here, and they can breathe when they come here because we don’t always know what goes on in their lives outside of here,” she said. “Let’s also make it a place where, if they need that kind of help, they can ask for it here and not be afraid of the repercussions.”

She proposed expanding drug use prevention education into Hudson’s middle school curriculum and bringing in public speakers to address staff in an effort to change faculty biases about drug use.

For Graffeo, health is crucial to the success of a student body. As drug use persists and continues to kill many young people nationwide, she wants to bring a better awareness of student health into education.

“What’s the first thing we ask about children when they’re born — are you healthy?” she said. “As we go through education, one common piece is that sometimes we forget that and we focus on test scores. We focus on all these other things, and we forget the fundamental building block, which is health.”

As Crisis Continues, Those Left behind Speak to Save Lives

The Hudson Public Schools has said it will not release hard data on student drug use collected by last year’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, meaning it is difficult to determine the immediate local impact of addicts and their families telling their stories. Still, Superintendent Marco Rodrigues said in a presentation on the data that drug use rates among Hudson students are trending downward.

Though school committee members and teachers agree that is a positive sign, the school committee also agreed during that same presentation that the Hudson Public Schools must keep working until those rates reach zero.

According to national data, that goal is a distant one. Last year, 64,000 people died from drug overdoses according to the New York Times, an increase of roughly 12,000 from just the year before.

by Dakota Antelman

Scott Tobin’s death earlier this year, unfortunately, made him the 13th Hudson resident since 2012 included in that year-end data, according to a Massachusetts Department of Health report. Thus, as she grieved, Nancy Tobin found a group of Hudson and Marlborough parents already grieving similar recent losses.

Kathy Leonard in Marlborough has spoken publicly about her loss as she planned the vigil Tobin helped with this year. Cheryl Juaire of Marlborough, who lost her son in 2011, actually formed an online support group of which Tobin is a member. And Erin Holmes, who lost her son in 2016, has also spoken publicly. She works with the Hudson Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition to run events educating the community on the dangers of drug use.

Those are just a handful of the people affected personally by the opioid epidemic. In fact, the national community of grieving families and friends grows regularly as an overdose claims a new life every eight minutes, according to the 2016 data mentioned by the New York Times.

Though that is a community which, Tobin said, no one wants to join, it is also a community of people now eager to push through their grief and save lives by reaching into schools and other aspects of society.

“Something completely unfathomable has happened, and no matter how much I wish it to go away, it won’t,” Tobin said. “I just don’t want others to feel this. I just want to do something to help someone else with that big laugh that Scott had. I want that person to live.”

***

UPDATED: December 4, 2017 – 2:18 p.m.

There are programs and advocates available for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.

MetroWest Hope meets on the second Wednesday of each month from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at First Church of Marlborough.

Addiction Referral Center (ARC) in Marlborough offers daily meetings and a drop-in center “to enjoy fellowship and a healing, healthy environment, where one can spend time with their peers.” They also offer referrals for treatment to those struggling with addiction or their families.

ARC also maintains a 24-hour emergency hotline (1-800-640-5432).

Learn to Cope meets weekly at 7:00 p.m. at the Hudson Senior Center. It provides support and education to families of those struggling with addiction. It also offers trainings in the use of Narcan, a drug that, when administered quickly, can reverse an opioid overdose.

Students struggling with addiction can also speak to their guidance counselor for support. Guidance Director Angie Flynn said that, while guidance would inform school nurses, administration and a student’s parents in such a case, a student would not be disciplined unless they violate Hudson’s substance use policy by carrying drugs on school grounds or attending school while high.

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Superintendent Marco Rodrigues talks during a meeting of the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee. (Photo submitted)

by Dakota Antelman

Marco Rodrigues, in one of his first acts as superintendent, offered 12 students a seat on a new Superintendent Advisory Committee that encourages and facilitates student involvement in the district’s decision-making processes.

Meeting monthly at Hudson High School, the committee includes representatives from grades 7-12 and has already addressed issues ranging from the quality of cafeteria food to the possibility of a study hall for all grades.

“We want them to be part of the solution and perhaps better understand the process,” Rodrigues said of the group and the motivations behind its formation. “Sometimes, if there’s a problem, people will say nothing is being done. But, sometimes, nothing is being done because we can’t fix something now, but we can fix it in January, or it is something that we’re already talking about in the budget process.”

After discussing the idea during public interviews with the School Committee in March, Rodrigues solidified plans for the committee over the summer. He asked principals to select students for his committee who would not otherwise be involved in such a program.

From there, Hudson High School Principal Brian Reagan said he consulted with the school’s guidance counselors to identify students within each grade that fit that profile.

By Dakota Antelman

“[We were looking for] different types of students who may have an interest in leadership but maybe wouldn’t have run for student government or did run and showed interest but didn’t get elected,” he said. “There are a number of kids who, we think, maybe if we tap them, they might be good in that setting.”

In addition to the superintendent and the students chosen to advise him, HHS Assistant Principal Dan McAnespie has attended the committee’s first two meetings to potentially allow HHS administration to solve issues.

“Issues are raised, and we’re able to hear them first hand and see if we can’t address some of those issues or move them on to the Community Council,” Reagan said.

Already two meetings into their schedule, the committee will meet six more times before the end of the school year. As student representatives approach those meetings, Rodrigues said, they decide which issues get discussed.

“They need to go out and talk to other students about things,” he said. “Then whatever issues they want to bring to the table, they bring that and populate the agenda.”

Before the committee can gather those student concerns, however, Rodrigues and members agreed, it must focus on informing students that it exists.

“We don’t have the means yet to focus on getting the word out,” said senior representative Garet Mildish. “The thought was to use social media and, more importantly, to use posters which would have all of our emails so that you could contact members about an issue that you have. But we’re working on that.”

After just over one quarter of the school year, members and administrators are excited about the committee’s potential. As it continues to take shape, however, students say they are eager to see results, and administrators say they are looking forward to the new perspective students can provide on aspects of the Hudson Public Schools’ operation.

“When they have ideas, how can those ideas be incorporated into something that maybe the adults didn’t think of but the kids thought about,” Rodrigues said. “That is the kind of input that I want to see happening.”

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Senior Tony Francolini drives into the end zone for the Hawks' second touchdown of the night. This play makes the score 14-0. | by Siobhan Richards

by Dakota Antelman

Senior Tony Francolini said he expects to cry regardless of the results of Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Football game.

He is one of several seniors on the Hudson roster now looking back on five years spent in a program that has experienced notable ups and downs.

He cemented a spot as Hudson’s number one running back after the graduation of Jesse Nemerowicz. Francolini had a standout senior season, leading the Hawks in rushing with more than 1,000 yards.

Teammate and lineman Conner Nemerowicz made a name for himself in Hudson football even after his brother’s high school and college success. Nemerowicz’s defensive performance as a senior recently earned him all star recognition.

Senior quarterback Cory Clemons stepped into his starting role this year after the graduation of Stephen Miranda in the spring. He was Hudson’s third starting quarterback in three years, and, at times, promised to bring new dimension to his offense. Describing himself before the season as a “pass first quarterback” he frequently targeted senior receivers Spencer Cullen and Austin Berry.

All three recently spoke with the Big Red about the season so far and the upcoming 2017 Thanksgiving Day game against Marlborough.

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Superintendent Marco Rodrigues discusses the 2016 MetroWest Health Survey with the school committee. | Photo via HudTV

by Dakota Antelman

Superintendent Marco Rodrigues touted Hudson’s success in lowering drug use and bullying rates, but he acknowledged the persistent problem of stress in Hudson students as he presented the results of last year’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey to the school committee last Tuesday.

The data released is just some of the information the survey collected. Still, it serves as a measuring stick for the district and the success of its efforts to improve student health in Hudson. Administered every other year, the release of the 2016 data comes almost exactly two years after data from the 2014 survey sparked concern and some action over mental health and drug abuse in the district.

by Dakota Antelman

“We look at all those indicators to understand the landscape of a school. When we look at those indicators now, they’re trending down,” Rodrigues said. “That’s encouraging. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we see a decrease in the number of incidences that we are being able to capture through the survey.”

Indeed, recent electronic cigarette use among high school students fell 12% in 2016, continuing a downward trend from a peak of 39% in 2008, the first year the survey was administered. Cigarette smoking also decreased among middle school students while rates of electronic cigarette use fell as well.

Lifetime alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drug use all continued downward trends in both middle and high school categories.

Bullying and cyberbullying rates also decreased, according to Rodrigues’s presentation.

Director of Nursing Lee Waingortin, who prepared the presentation, attributed those decreases both to improvements in wellness education and to the efforts of the Hudson Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. The Coalition grew between the 2014 and 2016 surveys and has helped organize a variety of public awareness campaigns about drug abuse, ranging from a 5k last fall, to a demonstration to parents about how to identify possible signs of drug use in teens.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Waingortin said. “But things are trending down because of efforts in the community and in the district.”

The mental health portion of the survey results, however, showed smaller gains by the district.

While Rodriguez noted a decrease in depressive symptoms and self-injury among high school students, he said stress levels remained unchanged after they spiked from 25% in 2012 to 35% in 2014.

“You don’t have easy solutions for that,” Rodrigues said. “You can council a person. You can help a person maybe manage time better or be able to do things different, but, in the end, I cannot control somebody’s personal life. I cannot control somebody’s attitude, or caseload, or job issues, or family issues, or household situation.”

In addition to high school data, stress rates among middle school students continued to increase from 11% in 2012 to 19%.

That increase persists even after the district took action to mitigate middle school students’ stress after the 2014 survey. They, specifically, implemented a three-year grant they won in 2016 allowing them to hire additional staff to help students transition into the middle school after elementary school or extended absences. Though the district has worked to address these issues, Rodrigues noted that they remain at the core of the ongoing stress issue among middle school students.

“Everything changes,” he said. “You’re in a larger environment where you rotate from class to class. I think all those things impact [middle school stress]. I don’t think it’s all of it, but it is part of it.”

While Rodrigues did address data on depressive symptoms, self-injury, and suicidal behavior, his presentation did not include the actual numbers behind those statements. It simply said that there was a “decrease in depressive symptoms and self-injury while there was no notable change in suicide attempts since 2008.”

The presentation’s summary of that data for middle school students was even more vague.

“After increasing from 2010-2014, reports of mental health problems are somewhat lower in 2016,” it said.

In the past, Hudson has released hard data on those categories. According to Waingortin, however, the district will not release that data this year.

The superintendent of each district surveyed decides what data get released publicly. Two years ago, Rodrigues’s predecessor, Jodi Fortuna, released raw data on several “key indicators,” such as suicide attempts or recent depressive symptoms. This year, however, Rodrigues decided to publish only his presentation, not the data it analyzed, according to Waingortin. As a result, the only trends publicly available are the ones specifically mentioned in the presentation.

“It’s not that anyone is trying to hide anything, but it can be misconstrued or misread by individuals who may not know the backstory and what is being done,” Waingortin said of the decision, noting that each of the 25 other districts surveyed publish varying amounts of their district-specific data.

Regardless, the Hudson Public Schools and their students are already considering possible paths forward from this year’s data.

Sophomore and student representative on the school committee, Ben Carme, said he feels little has changed since the 2014 survey, even though Hudson did emphasize mental health education in its wellness curriculum in recent years.

He hopes that, with the 2016 data, the district, among other things, solicits students’ feedback about possible remedies to student stress.

“We all know that we have to get these perfect scores for college,” said sophomore Ben Carme. “That leads to stress from eighth grade all the way up until when you’re a senior. There is no specific group to help deal with that. That’s the biggest problem.”

Waingortin, however, said Hudson’s efforts are having a positive effect on key categories. Going forward, she hopes the district can increase the community’s involvement in continuing downward trends in such areas as drug use, bullying, and some mental health categories.

“We’re certainly not letting down the efforts at all,” she said. “If anything, we need to keep on track with what the data is. So far, it’s showing good response to what we are doing. We need to continue those efforts.”

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Emily White rushes past Assabet defenders with the ball early in the first half. | by Dakota Antelman

by Dakota Antelman

Field Hockey notched their fourth win of the season on senior night on Monday night against Assabet. The win, however, came in an unfamiliar setting for the Hawks — the Morgan Bowl.

The game, which Hudson won in comeback fashion by a score of 2-1, was the first such game in six years to take place in Hudson’s sports stadium. As the Hawks walked out with the win, coaches and players agreed the setting made the game special.

“This is the best game I’ve ever played in,” said senior goalie Buffy Cautela. “I had people watching me. It was crazy. My name was announced under the lights. This was unbelievable. I couldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was amazing.”

Things started off on what Cautela called a “sour” note, however, for Hudson. Despite dominating possession of the ball for much of the first half, Hudson conceded the first goal of the game to Assabet’s Sefora Mejia with just under 15 minutes remaining in the first half.

Mejia was able to get behind Hudson’s defense and redirect a rebound off Cautela and into the net.

Though Hudson threatened to tie the game once just moments after the shot, and again in a flurry of activity in the final seconds of the half, they entered halftime trailing 1-0.

“I think we could have played better in the first half than we did,” said Coach Jennifer Wallingford. “I think there might have been some jitters.”

Wallingford’s goalie, Cautela, added that she worked during halftime to warm herself back up after a first half where she faced few shots aside from Mejia’s goal-scoring shot.

“I had a little bit of an easy goal go in at the beginning,” she said. “I’m not used to not having shots. So I had a slow start, but I got back in. We warmed up during halftime, and I was good to go after halftime.”

Cautela regularly faced upwards of 30 shots in games earlier in the season. She saw just 12 come her way Monday, however, as her defense largely stifled an Aztec offense that had only scored twice all season prior to their game against Hudson.

In addition to the defense, the Hudson offense finally broke through with just over 10 minutes left in the game when Lydia Beatty scored for the Hawks. Hudson struck again less than four minutes later, taking the lead on a goal by Shannon Bonner.

In beating Assabet, Wallingford noted that Hudson beat a much larger team than themselves. Thanks partially to recent injuries, and, more so, to a small roster to begin with, Hudson played the game with just one substitute. Assabet, meanwhile, had a much larger bench allowing them to rotate players in and out of the game while Wallingford was often forced to simply rotate her players through different positions.

“A lot of times we have to make do,” she said. “That’s what we did tonight. I’m glad Hudson got pumped up enough to come back in the second half.”

With the game behind her, Wallingford sees a potential for field hockey both in the Morgan Bowl and on possible future athletic facilities on the HHS campus.

“I maintain that we’re the only team in the school that should be playing on turf,” she said. “When we get turf, if we get turf, I want field hockey to have priority because the ball moves the way it’s supposed to when the field is as flat as possible.”

The playing surface was, in fact, one of the reasons she did not push for a field hockey return to the Morgan Bowl sooner. Prior to Monday’s game, Wallingford said, she feared the grass would inhibit her players’ ability to move the ball cleanly.

But, after the game, one which drew fans to field hockey in numbers players like Cautela had not seen before, Wallingford said she might be warming to the idea of the Morgan Bowl as a field hockey venue.

“We made it happen,” she said. “Everybody seems to be pretty happy about the way the ball moved on this field, so maybe we’ll play more here next year.”

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Senior Tony Francolini drives into the end zone for the Hawks' second touchdown of the night. This play makes the score 14-0. | by Siobhan Richards

by Dakota Antelman

Senior running back Tony Francolini came out of a conversation with his team’s athletic trainer with an ear-to-ear grin.

Despite his slight limp and the small cut above his eye, Francolini was excited. With their 22-14 victory over Quabbin, his team had just notched their first win in a regular season home game in nearly two years.

“It was homecoming night,” Francolini said. “I’m a senior. I just wanted to get this win. I think our whole team did.”

The Hawks jumped out to an early lead when Francolini scored on a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Hudson shut down the Quabbin offense before marching back down the field in the second quarter. Quarterback Corey Clemons ended that drive with a touchdown of his own, scoring on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.

Quabbin closed the deficit with Hudson as they scored once at the end of the second quarter, and again early in the fourth quarter.

Thanks to two successful Hudson two-point conversions earlier in the game, and a failed Quabbin two-point conversion on their first touchdown, the Hawks maintained the lead. They then cemented it when Francolini ran in his second touchdown of the game late in the fourth quarter.

“We were able to run the ball,” said Coach Dan McAnespie. “That’s who we are right now. Run the ball, let our offensive line play, and don’t try to trick [Quabbin].”

In focusing their offense on the run game, the Hawks specifically focused on Francolini. He amassed 29 carries, rushing for 148 yards in addition to his two touchdowns.

“That’s what we wanted to do,” McAnespie said. “We won the Clinton game by giving it to [Francolini] all the time. We won this game by giving it to him all the time.”

Francolini’s big day and the win it helped secure came two days shy of the two-year anniversary of Hudson’s last home victory in the regular season. They beat North Middlesex on October 23, 2015, but they did not win at home again until last year’s non-playoff consolation game against Burncoat, after that year’s regular season ended.

The streak-breaking victory also came both at the end of Homecoming week in Hudson and a week after the Hawks suffered a 38-6 loss to Oakmont on the road. After the HHS student section stormed the field following the game, Francolini noted the role that fans had in the game.

“For Oakmont, no one was there, but that just hurts the pride,” Francolini said. “When we had the whole Red Sea out here screaming for us, we had to get that win for them.”

McAnespie echoed that statement.

“When you feel like you’ve got your student body behind you, a lot of good things can happen,” he said. “We had a great week of school. We had an awesome pep rally. Our kids were feeding off of that for sure.”

Nearing the end of their season, the Hawks will play at least one more home game next week against Tyngsboro. They will then play two non-playoff games before hosting the Turkey Day game against Marlborough next month.

Aware of that limited slate of games left for them, seniors like Francolini walked off the field Friday with a crowd of classmates celebrating nearby and at least one American Flag emblazoned dollar store bucket hat sitting in the end zone, torn off the head of a fan by the wild celebrations that followed the win.

“I’m super proud of my kids,” McAnespie said. “They worked really hard tonight. I’m really proud of our defense. I’m proud of the way our kids played. They played with a lot of excitement. We had a great week of school. It was a great night.”

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Danica Johnston works at her desk. | by Dakota Antelman

by Dakota Antelman

When Danica Johnston entered the University of Southern Maine (USM), she knew she wanted to do one thing — play varsity sports at the college level. Forced to pick a major, she chose business.

Fourteen years later, Johnston sits as Hudson High School’s new assistant principal, a position vastly different from any of business jobs she sought fresh out of college less than a decade ago.

Johnston was a star high school athlete growing up in Bridgton, Maine. Her play attracted the attention of college scouts, eventually earning her a spot on the Stonehill College soccer and softball teams. Though she was a talented athlete, Johnston struggled to decide on a major, and, by extension, a career to enter after college.

“Out of high school, all that I knew was that I wanted to play soccer or basketball in college,” she said. “That was really my motivation. I picked Stonehill first to play soccer there. My father is a businessman. He majored in business and engineering, so he got to travel a lot with his job. I thought that was interesting, so that’s what I majored in.”

After transferring from Stonehill to USM to avoid excessive student loan debt, Johnston graduated with a degree in business. That degree quickly helped her land a job in sales and trading. After starting work, however, she found herself feeling unfulfilled.

“I absolutely hated it,” she said. “It was a horrible world to be in. I shouldn’t say horrible, but nothing made me happy about going to work. I made a lot of money, but it wasn’t worth it.”

So, after her brief stint in the working world, Johnston went back to school. She obtained a masters degree in secondary education from Worcester State. Two years later, in 2016, she started work on a second masters degree, in educational leadership and administration, at Endicott College.

For Johnston, administration was a happy marriage of her business experience and her passion for education.

“I really always wanted to do the administrative piece because it’s kind of the business management piece where you have an impact on what goes on behind the scenes, but then you also get to work with kids and students,” she explained.

Johnston climbed quickly through the education world. She coached two junior varsity sports and taught math for a year in Lunenburg. She then secured a job as a math teacher in Littleton and rose to the rank of math curriculum director for grades five through 12 before she left the district this spring.

She left Littleton after Hudson announced in early June that longtime Assistant Principal Josh Otlin would be leaving the district. Otlin, a Milford native, became an assistant principal in his own town but only did so in late May, leaving Hudson with little time to find his successor.

Before hiring Johnston, the Hudson Public Schools impaneled committees of students, teachers and parents to interview finalists in the final weeks of the 2016-2017 school year.

Doing so was no easy task according to Principal Brian Reagan.

“For an assistant principal, I want to get as many professionals in the building to interact with the candidates as possible,” he said. “That’s why when the process is truncated like it was, you need to work hard to get it all to happen in that short period of time.”

The district announced they had chosen Johnston on June 23. She started work in Hudson eight days later, on July 1.

For Reagan, Johnston’s comfort with students in her conversations during the student panel discussion set her apart from other contenders for the position.

“When she was in the room with 25 or so students, there was a table that she could have sat at but she stood; she walked over [to the students]; she engaged with the students who were asking questions; she asked good questions back,” he said. “It seemed to be more of a dialogue than an interview, which I found to be a positive strength.”

He added that, since starting in Hudson, Johnston has continued to display this strength.

“She’s interacting very well with kids,” Reagan said. “She seems to have a nice rapport with them.”

Though she has not spent her entire career working with students, Johnston has spent it adapting.

As she works at her desk in Hudson, a plaque from her days on the USM soccer team hangs over her shoulder in her office. That plaque serves as a reminder of a different time in her career. Indeed, Johnston celebrates her ability to adapt as her career progresses.

She first adapted to work in the business world after years of success as an athlete. Then she adapted from business jobs to education jobs. Now, she’s adapting again — from her former jobs in Lunenburg and Littleton to her current one in Hudson.

“I learn several new things every single day; the most difficult piece is that things are run very differently at every different school,” she said. “At Littleton it was very different. At Hudson it’s very different. So every circumstance is a new experience for me.”

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Senior Alec Dalton solemnly watches as the clock winds down. The score remains 14-6. | by Siobhan Richards

by Dakota Antelman

A Hudson football player slapped his hands against his pads and screamed, “It’s over!” as quarterback Corey Clemons trotted to the sideline after throwing an interception late in Friday’s 14-6 loss to Nipmuc.

Moments later, it was over. The Warriors, who entered the game ranked ninth in Central Massachusetts by the Worcester Telegram, avoided an upset loss on the road that Hudson nearly executed.

“We played great,” Clemons said. “We fought [throughout] the whole game. But, just at the end, we made a few little mistakes. We’ve just got to get better next week.”

Hudson started the game by marching down the field and scoring on an Andrew Di Battista touchdown on their first possession of the game. Though the Hawks failed to score on their two-point conversion attempt, they followed that drive up by shutting down the Nipmuc offense for the remainder of the first quarter.

The Warriors broke through in the second quarter when George Morrice ran in an 8-yard touchdown. They then took the lead on a successful extra point kick.

After trading punts with Hudson for most of the second half, Nipmuc got its next break when they pinned Hudson against their own goal line with less than four minutes left in the game. With Hudson trailing 7-6 at the time, the Warriors intercepted Clemons’ pass and sent their offense to work deep in Hudson territory.

Nipmuc coaches soon put the ball back in the hands of Morrice, who solidified the Warrior lead with a 24-yard touchdown run with 2:21 remaining in the game.

A week after the Hawks beat Clinton on the road to notch their first win of the season, head coach Dan McAnespie noted the successes and failures of his offense that ran through both games.

“I think our offense clicked better in the Clinton and in this game at times [than it did earlier in the season],” he said. “But, at times, it totally just couldn’t do it.”

Looking back on the game, both he and Clemons saw opportunities where Hudson could have changed the contest’s outcome.

Primarily, the Hawks got within at least 20 yards of the Nipmuc end zone twice after their first touchdown. Snapping issues marred both drives, however, as high snaps either left Clemons with little time to pass, or sent him scrambling to retrieve the ball as it bounced yards behind him.

Likewise, at least one major penalty stymied Hudson’s final attempt at a comeback after Nipmuc’s second touchdown. Officials assessed Di Battista a 15-yard penalty midway through the drive. The penalty pushed the Hawks back towards their goal line and quickly snuffed out Hudson’s hopes of the first down they needed to extend the drive.

“We both were able to move the ball, but then we stalled and we did dumb things like snaps over the head, the penalty [and a] third and three where we have it but then we don’t have it because we’re running backward,” McAnespie said.

The Hawks now head back on the road to face Maynard next week. Both McAnespie and Clemons noted that their team has work to do in practice this week to improve before that game. Shortly, before walking off the field, however, Clemons said he was proud of what his team put forth despite being one of many Hawks disappointed by the outcome of the game.

“We could run all over them,” he said. “We made good blocks. We ran hard. They thought they were coming to blow us out, but we gave them a fight. The end wasn’t what we wanted, but we came out, punched them in the mouth, and fought.”

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Freshman Ellie Calandra sprints to beat Gardner's Avery Kavanaugh to the ball as the rest of the Hudson defense rushes to stifle the Wildcat attack. | by Dakota Antelman

by Dakota Antelman

A 3-0 lead at halftime was not comfortable enough for the girls soccer team in their game against Gardner on Wednesday. That’s because almost a year ago, against the same team, in a nearly identical situation, three goals were not enough to seal the victory.

Hudson let a 3-0 lead at halftime slip away against Gardner last year, settling for a 3-3 tie. With memories of that comeback fresh in their minds, the Hawks returned to the field in the second half and promptly beat the Wildcats 4-1.

“I think with last year, how we were ahead, we ended up tying, we were much more motivated to not let that happen again,” said senior Beverly Calandra. “Everyone was much more focused on the game, and we weren’t cocky thinking we already had it in the bag. It was nice to keep the lead while we had it.”

As they did last fall when Sophia DiPlacido notched a hat trick in the first half of her team’s eventual tie with Gardner, the Hawks got off to a good start.

Grace Starner scored early in the game off a corner kick by Calandra deep into the goalie box. After dominating possession of the ball for the first 20 minutes of the game, Gardner nearly tied the game. Hawk goalie Erin Campbell, however, recovered after charging at the Gardner striker and preserved the lead.

Brooke Bohn regained the momentum for Hudson later in the half when she headed Hudson’s second goal past Gardner goalie Courtney Richard. The goal was the second Hudson scored off a corner kick in the game.

“Since I have such a long kick, I like to aim it for the back post mostly on the six-yard line because the goalie is typically not that far out,” said Calandra, who took both corner kicks.”This team tonight wasn’t marking up our players well, so we were able to get the space to score some goals.”

The Hawks added another goal before the end of the half when Maggie Baker hammered home a rebound generated by Brooke Bohn. Though the flurry of first half scoring energized the Hudson crowd, Hudson coaches were wary of keeping their players engaged in the game as they entered the second half. For Fortwengler, the memory of last year’s 3-0 halftime lead that melted away remained fresh.

“[I was] trying to bring up the rumors of last year and how it ended and how I didn’t want it to happen again,” Fortwengler said. “I was really trying to keep their enthusiasm going and their energy high.”

In many ways, the team did just as their coach asked. Alex Sousa scored midway through the second half, expanding Hudson’s lead to 4-0. On the other end of the field, goalie Erin Campbell and the defense in front of her held onto the shutout until Gardner finally scored with less than six minutes left.

Things then heated up in the game’s final minutes. Officials awarded both teams free kicks as fouls piled up late in the game. Tensions between the teams reached a boiling point with just under three minutes left when a Gardner player earned a yellow card for punching Hudson’s Carley Devlin.

For Fortwengler, the physical conclusion to the game was a display of his team’s strengths.

“Good fouls are good fouls, and sometimes the fans and the people feed off of a good foul and it starts to get a little crazy,” he said. “I try not to let the referees dictate the game, but we play hard and sometimes schools can’t handle that.

Hudson now moves on to face Concord-Carlisle on Saturday. Before they left the field on Wednesday, however, Fortwengler relished his team’s ability to face an eerily similar situation to last year’s game and produce a different result.

“When you play a team before and it’s 3-0 and they come back and score goals, that haunts you,” he said. “But you just have to focus on what you want to do to get better. We did that tonight.”

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Danilo Ambrosio celebrates after accepting his diploma. | by Dakota Antelman

by Big Red Hawk Staff

HHS honored the more than 100 members of the senior class on June 4 at graduation. The ceremony featured student speeches, performances, and speeches by Principal Brian Reagan and Superintendent Jodi Fortuna.