By Coach J. Barry Dwyer
It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. That was a very fitting old adage often used by coaches to inspire athletes throughout the years. It never applied more to any of the runners I mentored than it did to an outstanding young man that I had the privilege of coaching for three seasons of Chelsea High School Cross Country. His name was Kenny Botticelli and the year was 1972. When he first came out for my team, Kenny was about 5 foot 4 inches tall. By the time he graduated in 1974, he was still about the same height but had sprouted up in terms of maturity and leadership. Kenny was "small" as compared to the average distance runner, but his work ethic was as big as anyone on my hardworking cross country teams.
For most newcomers, their initial workout was a simple but daunting 5 mile run. The only message I gave the kids was that I did not care how long it took to them to finish as long as they "ran" the entire distance. If you are not used to running and you start off with two or three days of 5 or 6 mile runs, you are going to feel a little fatigued and sore after a few days. Kenny was no exception and literally dragged himself up his homes staircase after practice. His mother noticed this and became concerned. She told Kenny she was going to talk to me about what was I trying to do to her son. Kenny begged her not to interfere and assured his Mom that he would be fine. Mrs. Botticelli told me this story a few weeks after Kenny had been on the team but she also pointed out how Kenny took to the hard work like a "duck" does to water. She told me that over time, she noticed him "flying" up the stairs. I laughed and told her it was called "getting in shape."
When I first volunteered to take over coaching Chelsea’s cross country program after the sudden resignation of my old coach Bernard Berenson, there were not too many hold over athletes from the previous year. I knew the upcoming challenges would be large. I remember one of the signs I made up to try to "recruit" kids to come out for the team which read as follows: "You don’t have to be big or fast, all you have to be is someone who believes in the system, is willing to do the work and you will be successful." Kenny could have been the "poster boy" for that sign. In addition, Kenny was living proof that in the sport of cross country, regardless of your build, hard work and determination is always the great equalizer.
Kenny’s debut as a cross country runner was on the junior varsity team. He ran four non-league races, and won them all. In Kenny’s first race against Medford in Greater Boston League competition, he came in first place and established a new Chelsea J.V. record of fourteen minutes and seventeen seconds for the 2.4 mile distance at Medford’s Playstead Park. He became the top J.V. runner on our team that won all but one of their meets in the tough and talented Greater Boston Cross Country League. Kenny came in first place in 10 of the 11 races he ran in his first year. The hard work was clearly "paying off", and people were taking notice.
In the very last meet of his initial season, Kenny made his varsity debut. He finished 7th for the "Devils" and 8th overall. The team’s record that season (10-3) was the most successful in the history of Chelsea High cross country. In Kenny’s junior year, he became a consistent scorer for the "Devils." He scored in every meet but two as the "Red and Black" finished the season with a 14-2 record. Kenny’s consistency, so crucial in cross country, had a lot to do with the team’s success. Kenny’s exemplary work ethic got him elected by his teammates to be Co-Captain of team for 1974. Also elected with him were Dino Delyani and Ed McFayden. In a pre-season interview with the Chelsea Record, I was quoted as saying this about Kenny Botticelli "he is one of the finest examples of what dedication and determination can do in cross country regardless of size. Kenny should be among the best this season." My forecast proved to be prophetic as Kenny went on to have a terrific season.
In the sport of cross country, summing up the places or your first five finishers make up your teams score. Kenny scored in every meet but two and scored as high as 2nd (against Arlington) and 3rd three times. This was more impressive than it might sound considering that two of his teammates who always ran first and second in front of him were the dynamic duo of Bobby Goss and Eddie Richard. Kenny was the all important "fifth man" for much of his varsity career. The fifth and final scorer in any cross country race was as important as any of the other four. The higher up he finished in the race, the better your chances were of winning. Kenny became our teams "closer." If Kenny came in fifth for us and 6th or 7th overall, as he did in almost every race, we enjoyed a convincing "victory." His times were typically very consistent, running under 14 minutes in all but one of his seven "Playstead Park" G.B.L races. He registered an impressive 13:33 clocking against Malden for a "personal best."
The 1974 Chelsea High School cross country team finished the season with an incredible record of 17 wins and 0 losses, and for the first time in Chelsea High School modern sports history, Chelsea had an undefeated league championship. And little Co-Captain Kenny Botticelli was a BIG part of it.