HHS held its junior prom on Friday, May 11. Over the weekend, several dozen attendees submitted to the Big Red’s annual prom pics contest on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #HHSPromPics2018.
The staff of the Big Red reviewed those submissions on Monday and recognized winners in seven categories.
Senior Cam O’Connor’s sport of choice has him studying from a textbook steeped in sixteenth century blood.
In 1579, a German court hanged its author, aristocrat and sword fighting master Hector Mair, for embezzling the money to pay for its publication.
“The research is a very integral part of this because this sport is very well documented in certain cases [like in Mair’s book],” O’Conner said. “You can actually go online, and you can find plenty of books that are very similar to a sort of football playbook.”
Learning from Mair and others, O’Connor has spent the past three years rising within the sport of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Though he has participated in more well-known sports like track and field and soccer in the past, this one blends scholarship with athleticism in a way few others do.
The fights involve all forms of martial arts, allowing opponents to manually strike each other while also allowing them to use their swords. The fights vaguely resemble those in shows like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings with one key difference — they’re extremely short, often lasting less than 30 seconds before one competitor pushes the other out of the ring or sustains enough strikes on their opponent.
On it scholarly side, HEMA leans heavily on primary sources written centuries ago. As one community, it studies those primary sources with the goal of understanding and preserving the advanced fighting styles of medieval European noblemen. As competitors, athletes like O’Connor then take those studies to tournaments where they battle using actual medieval style weapons.
“You can find all of these plays as documented by masters from their time,” O’Connor said, later adding. “So you kind of go through a process of both learning and fighting.”
O’Connor’s interest in medieval combat began while watching TV shows like Game of Thrones and movies like Lord of the Rings.
Inspired by the depictions of fights in those programs, O’Connor first considered fencing.
“I started to realize it wasn’t really for me though,” he said. “It wasn’t really the kind of full contact Game of Thrones-esque stuff I wanted.”
That led him to HEMA, a sport he discovered and quickly fell in love with when he visited a local club.
“Lo and behold, it was exactly what I wanted,” he said.
Balancing the rest of his life with fighting, O’Conner said he still sometimes spends up to four hours a day practicing either at his HEMA club in Acton or in his backyard.
From there, he travels from time to time to tournaments, where the true physicality of his sport, he said, becomes clear.
“[Starting out] I thought, you know, it’s not that bad,” O’Connor said. “But then I really experienced getting clocked in the head, and I realized that even though the fights don’t last that long, it does take a lot of physical endurance.”
O’Connor said he regularly returns from tournaments with welts or dark bruises from the blunt metal swords he and fellow fighters use in fights. He has also seen more gruesome injuries, recalling a friend who took such a hard hit to his arm that he suffered a deep cut even through the canvas suit fighters wear.
“It is fun, but you certainly do get injured,” he said.
Even at the tournaments though, O’Connor said HEMA’s historical focus is hard to miss.
He said Axel Peterson, a Swedish fighter O’Connor described as “the Tom Brady of the HEMA community,” is, at times, offputting to people who first meet him.
“But that,” he said, “[is because] he’ll be talking about something in a language that was used four hundred years ago. You’ll be sitting there thinking, ‘What is this guy saying?’”
As Peterson is more than a decade into his fighting career, O’Connor is still just three years into his.
Seeing a future for himself, however, in a sport where age rarely puts a limit on a fighter’s potential, O’Connor hopes to spend many more years studying and practicing the skills of aristocratic fighters like Hector Mair who, either by the noose or other means, died hundreds of years ago.
“I’m doing this for as long as I can,” he said. “It’s really kind of become a huge part of my personality and identity and means a lot to me, and I think it means a lot to everyone who does it.”
Hudson police arrested resident Michael Driscoll for a “civil rights violation” mere moments after he spray painted a Nazi swastika on a jersey barrier on Pope St. in mid-November of 2017.
Three months later, a Big Red investigation has documented the existence of at least four similar symbols in Hudson High School (HHS) bathrooms. Those, however, have gone unreported to administration, joining a larger list of hate speech issues facing the school after the political and cultural upheaval of the 2016 election.
“That makes me worry that if this is happening more regularly,” Principal Brian Reagan said after seeing the Big Red’s reporting. “If this is in more bathrooms and being seen by more students, is somebody not saying something?”
Over the course of four weeks in January and February of this year, the Big Red surveyed every bathroom in the high school and found two complete swastikas etched into stalls walls. In addition to those symbols, the Big Red documented at least one racial slur, one homophobic slur, and two partially erased swastikas also scratched or drawn in bathrooms.
Reagan said the school has a clear procedure in place for documenting and removing these instances of vandalism. If a student or staff member reports the sign or slur, administrators themselves take photographs of it before asking custodians to remove it. If a custodian finds such a sign or slur first, Reagan said he expects them to take a photo or notify administration before taking further action.
“If we see that, then we want to memorialize that in some way…before [the custodians] get rid of it,” Reagan said. “But they do that pretty quickly because they want to get that off the wall.”
That process, however, Reagan said, had only taken place once as of February 15, leaving the four complete swastikas or slurs clearly written on bathroom walls.
While Reagan raised the concern that custodians are not seeing or reporting vandalism, custodian Kevin Blanchard echoed Reagan’s description of the procedure for dealing with such problems. Likewise, he expressed similar frustration with the presence of graffiti on walls.
“I don’t know why people do stuff like that,” he said. “It’s defacing the school, and the swastikas and stuff like that are a part of history that we want to move past.”
Beyond the hate symbols and hate speech documented by the Big Red, however, Reagan said such problems crept out of bathrooms and into classrooms especially in the wake of the 2016 election.
He said he and fellow administrators addressed two cases of students drawing swastikas in their classes. In one, a student “doodled” the symbol on the corner of their paper, prompting a discussion between administrators, the student, and their parents.
“[It was] sort of an education piece for that student and the parent about the power of that and the ramifications of doing such a thing,” Reagan said.
The other case, which Reagan described as much less discrete, prompted a suspension.
“[It was] done in a way that other kids saw it, and [the student] was sort of making a big deal out of it so in that case there was discipline,” he said, later adding, “You would be hard pressed to find a young person in the building who doesn’t understand that that symbol in particular is problematic, but I think we have a lot of younger students who don’t understand exactly how that can impact people.”
Lack of understanding, Reagan said, extends beyond students, even prompting arguments between administrators and parents from time to time.
“We have very heated arguments with parents who disagree with putting a student out of school for two weeks for making a comment like that,” he said. “Our position has always been very firm on that. They can disagree with us, but we’re really trying to set a strong message to students and their families that this behavior is completely unacceptable and that, while it leads to a suspension when you’re 13 or 14 years old in school, it has even bigger consequences when you’re an adult out in the world.”
Within the even larger context of classroom discussion, Reagan said, teachers have observed students emboldened by the current political climate saying once taboo things.
“Whether it be anti-semitic or homophobic or misogynistic, I hear from history teachers all the time that they’re in awe that this might come out of the mouth of a student,” he said. “Two years ago they would not have heard a student say something like that.”
In response to those comments, Reagan said Humanities Curriculum Director Todd Wallingford led multiple meetings with social studies teachers to plan responses to offensive speech in class discussions.
“How do you turn it into an academic moment?” Reagan said of the meetings’ focuses. “You don’t want to overreact, but you turn it into a moment where we all learn from the comment that was just made?”
He said the problem has improved slightly in recent months but added that he feels the presence of eighth graders in HHS made it particularly severe here. He noted that both cases of students drawing swastikas in classes that rose to administrators’ attention occurred in eighth or ninth grade classes.
“There are a lot more immature 13 year olds that are here,” he said.
Overall, Reagan said he fears the current political environment helped foster the rise in hate speech, particularly in young students. As he and his fellow administrators navigated classroom hate speech, however, he noticed the same political climate also prompted an urge to speak up that he had not seen before in his work with students.
“If there’s a plus to what we see happening in Washington, what I’ve seen as a person working with teenagers is that there is this drive among so many of them to be much more socially aware,” he said. “As a result, they say, ‘Feeling like, as a citizen, I need to tell you that this is happening, and it’s not right.’”
Elizabeth Cautela contributed additional reporting.
Katherine Neff remembers attending meetings at the UN.
She remembers her awareness of the bureaucracy of it all.
She remembers the scheduling conflicts which that bureaucracy beget.
And she remembers that, while those conflicts played out, bloody ones raged a world away.
“To know that there are children being abducted by Al Qaeda while we are trying to have a meeting…that part was frustrating,” she said.
Now a Hudson High School social studies teacher, Neff traveled around the world during and after college, holding jobs at four different organizations all loosely unified around the principle of helping war or poverty stricken communities advance. Her work acquainted her with Haitians recovering from the earthquake that devastated their country in 2011. It introduced her remotely to the plight of laborers in Zambian and El Salvadorian sugar fields and to humanitarians in Malawi opening opportunities for girls to go to school. Then, her work sent her to war torn Ugandan communities where she helped plan access to clean water.
She also landed behind desks in Washington, D.C., and New York and specifically, in meetings at the UN and supporting attendees of meetings at the US Capitol Building among other places.
Neff left international aid after years spent both stateside and abroad. But, before she did, she learned lessons that she applies to her new career as a Hudson High School history teacher.
Much of Neff’s international work focused on helping communities and their members see beyond their often restrictive circumstances to get educations or to improve their health.
In Hudson, she continues to employ that philosophy, now helping her community of students see beyond the circumstance and stereotypes that life in a free and comparatively affluent society gives them.
Early in her career, Neff collaborated with schools in Malawi working to break cycles of child marriages to get young girls into schools and careers.
These communities had, for generations, effectively sold their young daughters into those marriages. Few girls went to school. Many simply stepped from childhood into the homebound lifestyle deemed traditional for women.
Neff’s organization, Advancing Girls Education in Malawi, wanted to change that. In doing so, they set a goal to get 14 year old girls into school and, within five years, see 80% of those girls graduate and/or enter careers.
“They had good numbers of girls who were able to go to school, stay in school and go into some sort of career beyond the traditional roles that women play in Malawi,” she said. “There was enough buy in on the ground from people.”
But, she added, in seeing generations of tradition challenged, some in those communities pushed back.
“There can be backlash where people have these entrenched roles,” she said. “That is a big topic of discussion in the field of international development.”
Changing those entrenched roles proved to be a line running through much of Neff’s time in Africa.
Later in her career, while working with the Clearwater Initiative, a Ugandan NGO, Neff and her colleagues served as educators, pushing a local community to practice better hygiene with their water usage.
Waterborne illnesses ran rampant in at least one community. The stream from which they were drinking was to blame. But the community members would not stop drinking from it. It was the same stream from which their ancestors drank.
Knowing that, Neff, her organization, and the community sought solutions that kept the community drinking out of the same stream without getting sick.
In other places, Neff and her organization taught communities to keep their animals away from clean water supplies and wash their hands before using wells among other things.
“Clean water is great, but if you do not have the hygiene and sanitation and education parts down, too, clean water is ridiculous to have,” she said.
All through her international aid career, Neff taught people to look beyond the traditions and lifestyles with which they were familiar.
In Uganda and Malawi, those were generations-old traditions of drinking from the same stream. They were habits of letting livestock walk right up to riverbanks. They included an expectation that girls would skip education, marry young and never work.
In Hudson, meanwhile, most girls not only go to school, but attend college. Clean water runs from a tap. And food comes from the supermarket, rather than from a live animal by the local river. Traditions and lifestyles here clearly differ from those Ugandan ones. Their strength in shaping perceptions of the outside world, however, is just as strong.
Many she met in Uganda, Neff remembers, believed stereotypes about the outside world.
“They think the U.S is a bunch of fat people eating McDonald’s, which is not the case as all,” she said. “It’s much more complex and different than people think.”
Likewise, some of Neff’s current students hold stereotypes about the corners of the world they’ve never seen.
“Isn’t Africa just desert?” one student once asked Neff.
Using moments like those, Neff now hopes to, with her lessons, break those stereotypes American students have about the very countries she saw first-hand.
“It is just misconceptions because those are the stories we are fed growing up,” she said.
She shares pictures of Africa’s sprawling cities to show students the differences of culture, lifestyle and geography even within the continent. From time to time, she shares stories of her time there.
“I think at 14 years old, you are thinking that a lot of places are strange and far away,” she said. “They don’t have exposure to it.”
Near the end of Neff’s career abroad, tensions in South Sudan ignited into armed conflict. Roughly an hour’s travel away from such active violence, Neff began reevaluating her career path from a personal perspective.
“We were a little nervous while we were there,” she said. “Thinking about it long term, what was my career going to look like? What was my life going to look like?”
The answers to that final question continue to unfold. Neff met and married a man who, like her, saw the impact of human tragedy first hand — he is a veteran of conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
She then left Africa and came to Hudson. Neff is teaching now, her life contextualized not by systemic violence, subjugation, and inaccessible education, but by the hallmarks of suburban America.
6,500 miles removed from her informal classrooms in Uganda, however, Neff still teaches with the same mindset about broadening students’ worldviews. She finds the same joy in doing that she did in Africa.
“Being in the classroom, I am getting that same sort of feeling that I had on the ground in Uganda — the one on one, working with kids is amazing,” she said, later adding, “I love it.”
3.1.18 – 7:33 A.M – An earlier version of this article incorrectly represented Neff’s work at the UN and the US Capitol. She attended meetings at the UN and supported people who attended meetings at the US Capitol but did not technically work at either location.
Both teams celebrated when time expired on Saturday’s hockey matchup between the Hawks and Marlborough Panthers.
With a 1-1 tie, Hudson punched its ticket to the playoffs by clinching the second seed in the Quinn Conference. Marlborough, meanwhile, kept its own playoff hopes alive with their late comeback in an at times tense rivalry matchup between the teams.
“It’s unreal [to qualify for the playoffs],” said Hudson junior and forward Jameson Fecteau. “I’ve been there before, and the atmosphere is just crazy. I’m just happy that the team gets to experience it for once and actually realize that it’s not all talk and that it actually lives up to what we say it’s like.”
Hudson jumped out to an early lead when sophomore Anthony Carlman jammed a puck past Marlborough’s Owen O’Brien just over eight minutes into the game.
From there, however, O’Brien ignited frustration on the Hudson bench and in the stands when officials called off what would have been a second goal for Hudson early in the second period. As senior Kyle Lally rifled a shot past him, the Marlborough goalie kicked the net slightly off the goal line.
Officials blew the play dead against Hudson’s argument that O’Brien intentionally dislodged the net. Adding insult to injury, Hudson Head Coach Mike Nanartowich said he remembered the net coming loose at least eight times during his team’s last meeting with O’Brien and the Panthers.
“I had already spoken to the official and said, ‘Hey, in the past, he uses the post to push off, so he kicks the net off,’” Nanartowich said. “I think [the officials] were being a little too technical on that, but the call is the call. I made my point.”
Moving on from the reversed goal, Hudson held its lead through the rest of the second period and the first half of the third period before Marlborough’s Tino Pizzarella scored to tie the game.
Both teams locked down defensively in what became a highly physical conclusion to the game as the Panthers and Hawks both battled to preserve at least a tie. Nanartowich noted that he pulled at least one forward back into a defensive position on the majority of shifts in the game’s final minutes.
Marlborough’s players matched that, pushing play to the corners as time ran out.
“We didn’t want to press as much and put ourselves in a bad situation,” he said. “So we just had to shorten our bench and play three defenders down the stretch. We just wanted to be smart and manage the puck well.”
As time expired, both teams stormed the ice with Hudson’s players excitedly celebrating with goalie Ryan Gonzalez despite settling for a tie in a game they led moments earlier. After all, the team was headed back to the playoffs with many of its players now set to make their postseason debuts there.
Hudson missed the playoffs a year ago, last seeing postseason ice in a 2016 loss to Algonquin. That year’s team featured a sampling of this year’s leaders, including Fecteau, who saw considerable playing time in what was a promising freshman season.
Though excited to make that return, Fecteau said he and his team are focused on their remaining games as they work to ensure they finish the regular season in the best position possible.
“We want to get better seeding, so we’re going to just keep treating these like they’re every other game,” he said. “[We will be] trying our best, trying to win these games and pull out some more points.”
Cori Hansen scored her first goal of the 2017-2018 season less than 30 minutes into her first game of the season. Hansen hopes the goal will be one of many she scores after rising in the ranks of a girl’s hockey team changed by two major offseason departures.
Early in the season, however, she offered few words on her new role — “I like it.”
The team includes student-athletes from Hudson, Marlborough, Nashoba and Algonquin high schools but has undergone a period of transition dating back to last winter. Longtime coach Jay Monfreda left the team for a job at St. Peter Marian High School during the offseason. Perennial all-star and then Hudson junior Kayla Currin transferred out of Hudson High School before the team hit the ice again last month.
Monfreda spent eight years coaching the Tomahawks and helped build the junior varsity program that many current players used to climb onto the varsity roster. Currin, meanwhile, earned all star recognition in her freshman through junior years.
As their first season without their old head coach and their former star continues, however, coaches and players agree the team has compensated well.
“We coach who is here,” said head coach Mike Hodge, who earned a promotion from the assistant coach position with Monfreda’s departure. “We’ve got some great incoming freshman and new talent.”
Hansen has been central in that growing talent pool. After scoring just one goal a year ago, she was on pace to score at least seven times in 2017, already with a goal and an assist in her first three games.
The team meanwhile, has outscored opponents 17-9 on their way to a 5-2 record to start the year.
As Hansen has been integral in the team’s offense, fellow Hudson athlete Maggie O’Brien has joined the rotation as one of the team’s young defensemen.
O’Brien jumped straight to the varsity team this year after gaining experience on a club team prior to high school.
Though she said the transition to the co-op team has been difficult, O’Brien added that she is feeling better especially after she and her fellow defenders helped shut out King Philip High School in their season opener.
“It’s a lot more comfortable now,” O’Brien said. “It’s not as awkward as it was in the beginning. I talk to more people now, so it’s easier to communicate with each other on the ice.”
As the team continues to coalesce under its new coach and new leaders, it does so with the added challenge of being a co-op program. Hansen and Hodge, however, said the structure still allows for team unity, O’Brien said the split program made difficult the process of getting to know her teammates earlier in the year.
“It’s weird because when you’re here at school, you can talk about the practice or talk about the game, but I really can’t do that with anyone,” she said.
She added that this persists even with her Hudson teammates, as she is the school’s only freshman in the varsity lineup.
Nevertheless, after missing last year’s playoffs by just one point, this year’s Tomahawk team began this winter with the goal of uniting their 11 underclassmen under their new head coach and the group of four upperclassmen left on the team.
Despite losing leaders behind the bench and on the ice before the season began, Hodge and Hansen agree that process has been quick.
“We have a good infrastructure,” Hodge said. “[We’ve got] good assistant coaches and good leadership on this team. It’s been very seamless.”