14 Mar 2006
SPECIAL NIGHT FOR SPECIAL COACH
The tears flowed freely as Oliver Ames girls basketball coach Laney Clement-Holbrook spoke in the pressroom after her team's 50-47 victory over Melrose in a Division 2 state semifinal contest last night.
This game had a special feeling for the longtime Tigers coach. Exactly six years ago to the day, Oliver Ames was on center stage at the FleetCenter with this same Melrose team as an opponent. That game wasn't about wins and losses on the court for Clement-Holbrook. In the midst of leading the Tigers through the sectional tournament, she had to deal with the fact that her father, Wendell (Wendy) Clement, was nearing death, cancer having eaten away at his body.
As someone who was very fortunate to have met Wendy as a reporter for the Daily Transcript in Dedham, I can say that Wendy was one of the classiest people I've met in this business. Every town has a revered figure, someone everyone looks up to. In Dedham, that person was Wendy Clement, probably the only tax collector in the world without an enemy. If you had a problem with him, look in the mirror because that's where you would find the source of discontent - Wendy was that good a human being.
What made Wendy special wasn't just his devotion to Dedham (he was a star baseball and track star and later was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame), you better believe he bled the maroon colors of Dedham High. Rather, he was the type of person who wasn't above walking up to a visiting player or coach after a good game and patting them on the back - a trait seldom seen in this dog-eat-dog world in which we live in.
In the last days in the winter of 2000, cancer had limited Clement's appearances at his daughter's games. The last time was a quarterfinal contest against Whitman-Hanson, a 51-45 upset win for Oliver Ames. The Tigers would capture their first sectional title with a 62-35 win over Franklin before falling to Melrose in the state semifinal, 54-44.
Wendy wasn't there but he provided his daughter with one final lesson, the essence of it was don't be satisfied with just getting there, go out and win.
The recent years had been tough on Laney. After a narrow loss to North Attleboro in a 2001 Division 2 South sectional semifinal game, it took the Tigers three years to get back there. That trip ended in a painful 41-37 loss to nemesis Walpole. Add in last year's stunning early round loss to Mansfield and that was enough to get the backstabbers whispering.
Laney heard the barbs and it bothered her, but not enough to affect the way she went and coached the team this year. Oh sure, the nabobs of negativity had their day in the sun when OA lost a close contest in Walpole in the finals of the Rebels Roundup, its first loss of the year.
But this time, the wily coach got the last laugh.
Start with the semifinal against a Walpole team which had won the last five meetings between the schools. OA befuddled Walpole so much that the Rebels made one final field goal in 10 minutes en route to a 48-30 win. A rout of Hopkinton in the sectional final paved the way for last night's win against Melrose, exorcising yet another demon.
No matter what happens in the state final on Saturday, Laney Clement-Holbrook will be on the sideline coaching her rear end off and Wendy Clement will be looking down smiling.
Talk back to Dan Ventura