2013-06-07 / Front Page

‘Hell’ of a year

‘Ted’ is force that rallies team
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

In April, the Sentry featured an article about Ted Hellier, a youth lacrosse coach in South Portland who was diagnosed with cancer last summer. Thursday, the Red Riots finished their regular season 10-2 with a win over Biddeford, to earn the second seed in the Western Maine Class A tournament. Players and coaches said the team’s improvement is in large part thanks to Hellier.

SOUTH PORTLAND – There is a tangible reason the South Portland boys’ varsity lacrosse team improved from a team barely on the fringe of the playoffs in 2012 to a state title contender in 2013 – and then there is an intangible reason.

Fans, coaches and players on the team will tell you a year of experience playing together did wonders for the young Red Riots between last season and this year.

“These guys have been playing together since they were little kids. It just took a year for it to come together at the varsity level,” said head coach Tom Fiorini after a 21-3 victory over Biddeford at the University of New England Thursday, May 30.


South Portland varsity lacrosse coach Tom Fiorini talks to his team in the huddle during the last game of the regular season. Fiorini and players on the team say Ted Hellier, a youth lacrosse coach fighting cancer, has motivated their success this season. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland varsity lacrosse coach Tom Fiorini talks to his team in the huddle during the last game of the regular season. Fiorini and players on the team say Ted Hellier, a youth lacrosse coach fighting cancer, has motivated their success this season. (Jack Flagler photo) Junior midfielder Duncan Preston said the team clicked from the start of this season and every key player found a role to fit to make the team better.

“We know exactly what we’re going to do when each other has the ball,” Preston said.

A young team improving quickly between seasons is not uncommon, especially at the high school level. But according to Fiorini, Preston and others, there’s another reason for South Portland’s improvement this year.


South Portland varsity lacrosse players celebrate a 21-3 win over Biddeford, securing the number two seed in the Western Maine Class A tournament. After a win over Gorham Tuesday, South Portland will move on to host the Western Maine semifinals Saturday, June 8. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland varsity lacrosse players celebrate a 21-3 win over Biddeford, securing the number two seed in the Western Maine Class A tournament. After a win over Gorham Tuesday, South Portland will move on to host the Western Maine semifinals Saturday, June 8. (Jack Flagler photo) During South Portland’s 8-7, double overtime win over Kennebunk on May 22, the Riots punctuated each huddle with a single word, “Ted.” From the sidelines, youth coach Ted Hellier looked on from a wheelchair, as he has done for any game this season.

Hellier coached youth lacrosse in South Portland for more than 10 years since his son, Edward Marley Hellier, or T-Moe, now the starting goaltender for the Red Riots as a sophomore, was in fourth grade. Doctors aren’t sure where Hellier’s cancer started, but the disease has spread in the year since his diagnosis.


Ted Hellier Ted Hellier Despite his illness, Hellier has attended every single South Portland regular season game, home or away, and he plans to continue that streak through the playoffs.

“It’s what I set out to do,” he said as he watched the Riots rout Biddeford at UNE Thursday.

T-Moe said his father’s presence at the games has provided an additional motivation for an already talented team.

“It means a lot to all of us. He’ll give us pre-game speeches before big games. I don’t think there’s a dry eye in that huddle. Everyone’s got tears,” he said.

Preston said Hellier’s presence has helped the team through rough patches, such as theApril 22 6-0 defi cit the team faced at Scarborough High School. South Portland ultimately lost that game 9-8, but the players said they proved to themselves they could compete with the defending state champions.

“We think about giving up, some of us, and we think of him and we just can’t because he’s not giving up. He never has,” Preston said Thursday.

Hellier said he expected South Portland to improve from last season to this one, but not to the degree he’s seen. He said the team’s ability to respond to setbacks has been especially impressive.

“It was so unexpected. It was shocking in many ways. Nobody expected this,” he said. “They won games this year they would not have won last year.”

Two days after the rout over Biddeford, the South Portland players arrived at the Wainwright Field Athletic Complex at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, June 1, to volunteer at the a middle school and junior varsity lacrosse tournament hosted by the South Portland Lacrosse Boosters.

The tournament brings 60 teams from around New England to South Portland, with hundreds of girls and boys from sixth grade through high school for an all-day event. Until this year, it was called the South Portland Lacrosse Tournament. When the boosters took over this year, they decided to rename it the Ted Hellier Lacrosse Festival.

Susan Lloyd-Rees, a member of the boosters and mother to sophomore long stick midfielder Trenton Lloyd-Rees, said the boosters chose to rename the festival to recognize a coach whose love for the sport of lacrosse “emanates from him all the time.”

“As far as I’m concerned, he is lacrosse,” Lloyd-Rees said Saturday.

The varsity players set up the fields for the game Saturday morning. Two who were certified volunteered to referee, while the rest watched the event wearing red and white uniforms from a tournament this fall with the SP logo on the front and “Team Hellier” inscribed on the back.

Although South Portland will graduate some important players next season, most notably senior defenseman and co-captain Cody Munson, the Red Riots will bring back most of their key contributors. Among that group are a number of freshmen and sophomores who have already established themselves as varsity players.

“We’re still young,” Fiorini said.

Although Hellier won’t accept praise for his role in cultivating that young talent in South Portland, he is excited about the prospects for the future of South Portland lacrosse, noting that the middle school team this year finished 7-1.

“The pipeline is open,” he said.

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