There were times when it seemed like 2021 would be a year without sports. But coaches and athletes found ways to keep playing. I was glad for the chance to cover a more or less regular slate of high school games and to be inspired by the dedication of the students.
But as I look back on the year that was, I realize that the Outer Cape’s sports stories extend beyond the schools in unexpected ways.
I met Don Sack, an Eastham resident, at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans one morning in early November. He told me about his two trips to the Sankey Rodeo School, where he attempted to become a rodeo bullfighter. Don lasted a combined five days at two sessions, one in Georgia, the other in Tennessee. He also spent a total of 12 days in the hospital.
I’ll never forget the way Don described his first face-to-face encounter with a 900-pound bull.
“Boom! He comes at me,” Sack said. “I remember putting my hand on his head and trying to turn around his horn and get under his shoulder. The next thing I know, I must have been a good five or six feet in the air.
“My first thought,” he added, “was, ‘Oh, this is not so bad.’ ”
A lot of people know Nat Santoro, who also lives in Eastham — or think they do. They’ll tell you he’s a real estate broker associate with Kinlin Grover. But not many know he was a defensive standout for the Italian-American Stars, an amateur soccer team in New Britain, Conn.
Santoro learned to play soccer in his home country of Italy, where the kids in his neighborhood fashioned soccer balls out of old newspapers bound with rubber bands in order to play. They couldn’t afford a real ball. In 1967, Santoro helped lead the Stars to its first National Cup title over a team from St. Louis that had won multiple championships.
Maria Redo brought her sport from Italy as well. She has been hosting summer bocce tournaments in her Truro backyard for 31 years.
Maria turned 96 in 2021. We tossed a few bocce balls while I interviewed her. Let’s just say that, in the game of bocce, age does not matter.
The games she hosts are “for fun” but no doubt competitive. As Maria put it: “Italians take bocce very seriously.”
Then there was Wentzle Ruml. Before he became a Wellfleet commercial fisherman and carpenter he was one of the original members of the legendary Zephyr skateboarding team, a.k.a. the Z-Boys in the 1970s. Ruml had endless stories to tell as we sat on a couch at the Cape Cod Skate Shop in West Harwich, where he and his business partner, Tommy Wrenn, sell vintage boards collected over the years.
The shop also hosts a gallery of photos and ads from Ruml’s prime skating days, curated by artist Mike Page. It was truly old-school cool.
I had the chance to watch a few Sunday morning soccer games organized by local Jamaicans at Baker’s Field in Wellfleet.
One player, Burchelle Edwards, was particularly charismatic and a joy to watch. Some of the players are also members of the Wellfleet Breakers soccer team that competes in the Cape Cod Soccer League during the summer.
When I was in high school (I graduated from Nauset in 2013), Nick Minnerath was an almost mythical figure. I heard stories about how Minnerath had managed to make it from Truro into the world of professional basketball. And by 2021, he was playing professionally in Seoul, South Korea.
I reached out to him in February and was surprised when he agreed to a phone on the spot.
Minnerath told me his entire story — and not just the flattering parts. How he loved basketball but didn’t have much guidance during high school and got cut from the team twice. How he was working a construction job post-high school in the dead of winter in Truro and fell into some bad habits during that time. How a road trip with his dad in 2007 became a turning point for him.
The two were helping Minnerath’s sister with a move to Nebraska. While he was there, he decided to play some pickup ball in a gym. He was by far the best player in that gym, but when people asked where he played, he was embarrassed to say he didn’t play college ball.
That led to his transformation. Minnerath earned a spot on a junior college team in Jackson, Mich., where his mother’s family was from. He played his heart out, earned a scholarship to Division 1 University of Detroit, battled through injuries, and eventually made it to the pros.
His career has mostly been overseas, but in 2015 he signed a short contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and played some preseason games with LeBron James.
My takeaway: There are some amazing people here, with no shortage of stories to tell — including sports stories. I can’t wait to hear more of them in 2022.