More than just records and honors: The story behind the Keene State Hall of Fame inductees
KEENE, N.H. 2/13/12 – The accomplishments and honors of this year’s inductees into the Keene State College Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame are well documented. Raymond “Lippy” De Rocher ’64 was a hard-hitting first basemen who could knock a ball into the next county, while Debbie Higgins ’76, a multiple team MVP, was a soft-spoken basketball player who had a talent for putting the ball in the net. A record-setting, two-sport athlete, Michelle Mason ’05 was just as good keeping the ball out of the net in soccer as she was putting it in the net in lacrosse. Cross country and track standout Wilson Perez ’03, an eight time All-American, liked to hit the roads, and softball pitcher Meghan McLoughlin ’05, a two-time Little East pitcher of the year, liked to throw no-hitters.
But being a hall of fame athlete is about more than just accomplishments and honors. Those in attendance at the induction dinner on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Alumni Center had the opportunity to hear from the presenters and inductees themselves about the dedication and perseverance that elevated them to hall of fame status.
The evening began with a special welcome from KSC Alumni Director Patty Farmer ’92 and remarks from President Helen Giles-Gee and Athletics Director John Ratliff.
“Tonight we celebrate the best of the best – those who by their actions on the field, track and trails, diamond, and court some years ago brought us together. They bring us together now to honor them as a community,” said Giles-Gee.
“Each of our inductee has brought great credit to Keene State through their performances and leadership on and off the courts, the field, and the trails,” said Ratliff. “It is with tremendous pride that we recognize and honor them tonight.”
De Rocher found himself in the unusual position of “batting” first in the hall of fame line-up. “I’m not used to batting lead-off because every team I ever played for I batted third or fourth,” said a smiling De Rocher.
Although they were unable to attend the ceremony, Arthur “Joe” Giovannangeli Jr. ’66 and former teammate Roger Simpson ’63 sent along their remembrances of De Rocher.
Giovannangeli recalled a late-season game against Salem State when De Rocher was being heckled by the opposing players. “They were getting on Lippy because he was on first base after going 3-for-3,” Giovannaneli’s message read. “They were calling him big boy, fat man, and so on. Listening to them chirp away ticked Lippy off. He proceeded to steal second, steal third, and score on a ground ball to the shortstop. Lippy slid into home, got up, dusted himself off, and looked over at the Salem State bench. He then walked back to our bench without so much as a sound from him or the opposing bench.”
Even though De Rocher supplanted him as the team’s first baseman, Simpson called De Rocher a gifted athlete who was also a terrific roommate. “You earned and owned your position, while the batter’s box was an amazing comfort zone for you, like a second helping of a banana split,” wrote Simpson about his robust teammate. “This award and you are very special. Enjoy this moment, enjoy the memories, and always protect the outside corner.”
Stepping to the podium, De Rocher said he was touched not only by his own induction, but the fact that he joins his wife, Bette, who was inducted into the Plymouth State Hall of Fame, as a hall of fame couple. Carrah Fisk '99, a softball and soccer player who was inducted in the KSC Hall of Fame in 2007 and her husband Tim Hennessey, a hall of fame baseball player at Plymouth State, also have the same distinction.
De Rocher gave his version of how he got the nickname “Lippy.” He later talked about two influential people in his life, KSC English professor Malcolm Keddy, who served as a teaching mentor, and his father Jim “Red” De Rocher, who instilled in him a love for the sport of baseball. His father, a Red Sox farmhand, once tossed batting practice to Babe Ruth. “He said he threw the Babe about 20 balls and never saw them again,” De Rocher said.
Humble about his own home run prowess, De Rocher is not only a hall of fame baseball player, but, as Giovannangeli pointed out, a hero. In 1966, he was given the Union Leaders’ highest heroic award for saving the life of a man who had fallen into the icy Merrimack River.
A two-sport athlete needs two presenters and Denise Lyons ’90, the head coach of the KSC women’s soccer team, and Natalie Kent ’04, a former lacrosse teammate, teamed up to make the presentation to Mason.
Lyons told how Mason took over as the team’s top goalie as a freshman and quickly assumed a leadership role. “Losing was not in her vocabulary. Her strong ethic and competitiveness was contagious and rubbed off on the teammates,” said Lyons, who was inducted into the KSC Hall of Fame in 2003. “She had an uncanny way of getting to her teammates and she also held them accountable. When she spoke, they listened, because they didn’t want to disappoint her.”
Kent described how Mason’s arrival shifted the Owls from mediocre to a competitive winning lacrosse program. Kent said Mason’s amazing ability as a player is overshadowed by her attributes as a teammate, and recounted how she almost single-handedly gave her teammates the greatest graduation present – an ECAC championship.
“From the first whistle to the very end, the fate of our team was in her hands,” said Kent about the 2005 ECAC championship game. “She was going to lead us to a championship title, the first ever for KSC women’s lacrosse. And we all knew it.”
Acknowledging the praise, Mason, now the head coach at Division I Iona (N.Y.) College, said Keene State allowed her the opportunity to fulfill a dream. “My coaches and teammates not only trusted my playing ability, but also pushed me to assume a leadership position,” Mason said. “This confidence actually shaped my college playing career as well as pushed me down the path that I ended up taking to become a college coach.”
It never hurts to get a helping hand when it comes to recruiting, and KSC cross country and track coach Peter Thomas ’77 recalls the circumstances that brought Perez to Keene State. Perez’s recruiting application to Trinity College was intercepted by Gary Gardner, a former Owl runner and grad assistant at the school, who sent it up to Thomas. “Fortunately for me, Wilson’s grades weren’t quite up to NESCAC standards, so Gary gave me a call and then I gave Wilson a call,” said Thomas.
Giving Thomas a warm handshake, Perez jokingly recalls his initial conversation with Ratliff, informing him of his impending induction. “When I got the call, I thought he was going to tell me that Pete was retiring and he wanted me to take over,” said a smiling Perez.
Perez spoke about the trials and tribulations that marked his Keene State running career. The occasion also allowed him the opportunity to thank Thomas and his teammates. “Thank you for pushing me to my limits and always being there,” said Perez. “We logged a lot of miles together and became a brotherhood. We knew our strengths and weaknesses and worked together to get faster.”
One of those teammates on hand for the ceremony, Matt Kocyba ‘88, told the story how Perez’s mother asked him to take Wilson under his wing and how he watched him develop his running talent. “Wilson was determined and willing to learn,” said Kocyba. “He wanted to improve every year.”
Ratliff spoke about Higgins, who was unable to attend the induction dinner. He noted that she still holds the record for the highest scoring average (22.0) and never saw a shot she didn’t like. Ratliff said the shy Higgins ended their brief conversation by telling him, “I love to shoot.”
McLoughlin’s induction drew the loudest response from the crowd. While touching on her superior talent, Keene State softball coach Charlie Beach introduced the audience to “Agnes” – McLoughlin’s alter ego. And Agnes, as Beach readily noted, “had no tolerance for failure.”
“I had to talk to the umpires before each game and tell them that she wasn’t evaluating their decision about balls and strikes, but delivering an evaluation of her own performance,” Beach said.
According to Beach, “Agnes got so entranced in the game, that she would lose track of the innings. Once I caught her exhorting her teammates to get her more runs after the game was over.”
McLoughlin began her acceptance speech by thanking her mother for pushing her to apply to Keene State. “I was glad you were able to change my mind,” she said.
So was Beach, who watched from the dugout as McLoughlin matured into a top-flight pitcher.
“I gained a tremendous amount of personal confidence from my experiences as a Keene State player as well as the opportunity to meet some of the most, honest, dedicated, hard-working fun-loving, and talented softball teammates and friends that I could ask for,” said McLoughlin.
Many teammates, past and present, were in attendance to honor McLoughlin, including Tiffany Underhill, who came from Transylvania (Ky.) University ,where she serves as the field hockey coach. “I told Meg I’d walk there if I have to,” said Underhill. “She’s one of a kind, for sure.”
Jenn Norman, who played alongside McLoughlin for four years as the Owls’ third baseman, was also on hand. “Meghan is very important to me and I am just really honored to be here with her and support her. I was right there beside her and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.
Keeping with a tradition he began when his first hall of fame player, Laura Mackay Daniels, was inducted in 1996, Beach pulled out McLoughlin’s No. 25 softball game jersey, telling the assembled crowd that her number will be retired.
As he’s done in the 12 previous induction ceremonies he’s presided over, Ratliff concluded the evening by reading the inscription that’s on the hall of fame plaque in Spaulding Gym: “To preserve the tradition of the past, to meet the challenge of the present, to enhance the quality of the future of Keene State athletics.”
Welcome to the KSC Hall of Fame: Raymond “Lippy” De Rocher, Debbie Higgins, Wilson Perez, Michelle Mason, and Meghan McLoughlin.