Tuesday, 21 May 2024


by: Tony Mussari

“He was difficult to play for…but in the end he knew what he was doing.”
- Mike Eruzione describing Coach Herb Brooks

It was an amazing experience… I will never forget it…. The past weekend was incredible…I will never forget this moment, the way I feel right now and all of the moments you've given me…The event was so much more than I ever expected… I'd like to thank you for this weekend and for giving my mom the moment you talked about all year…I was so moved by the emotions displayed in the auditorium and at the dinner. My parents enjoyed every minute of the weekend as did I… I especially love that you NEVER gave up on me…The first part of "Miracle at Placid" was incredible.

These words of accomplishment, gratitude and satisfaction filled my mailbox this week. They recorded the sentiments of students, consultants, and guests who participated in that magical day when the Miracle At Placid Project was presented to the public.

Saturday, May 7, 2005, was a beautiful day in Pennsylvania. The sun sat high in the heavens, and the sights, sounds and smells of spring were everywhere. It was a day when you were happy to be alive.

On the corner of North River and Union Streets in Wilkes-Barre, PA, across the street from the meandering Susquehanna River in a building named after a King’s College graduate, entrepreneur and dreamer who changed the telephone industry forever, William J. McGowan, a group of 100 plus parents and friends anxiously awaited the start of Senior Weekend.

At 11 a.m., the Burke Auditorium was buzzing with nervous energy. Then, the room fell silent. The voices of the Bee Gees filled the air. Six dancers carrying signs reading, Inflation, Energy Crisis, Afghanistan, Abscam, and Love Canal burst through the doors. They pointed, shimmied, bounced and did the familiar grind as the Aussies who gave the disco era its distinctive brand sang the theme song of “Saturday Night Fever.”

Angela Ponte dressed in a business suit and high heels joined the troupe. The senior from New Jersey couldn’t hold back her enthusiasm or the smile that lit up her face from ear to ear.

This high energy, cleverly choreographed summary of the history and culture of the 70s by disco dancers in period costumes started the day on a high note… a day that was 15 weeks in the making… a day that ran seamlessly into the darkness of the pre-midnight hour… a day that everyone will remember for years to come.

A Shortstop with a Message

Ponte was followed by a young woman dressed in a bright red uniform with black trim. Stacey Preambo, one of the stars of the Monarch softball team, was driven from a pre-game practice so that she could make her presentation and then rejoin her team for the divisional playoffs. It was a special moment, and everyone knew it.

Standing behind the podium was an athlete Herb Brooks would have enjoyed coaching. She did not take a bye. She made it her business to address her academic responsibilities with the same adeptness that she employed while patrolling her shortstop position. She talked about Brooks, his coaching philosophy and training strategy.

It was a dynamite presentation, because her behavior spoke to many of the values she learned from studying Coach Brooks and visiting Lake Placid.

Preambo did not have to say the words. Everyone in the room knew them instinctively. The fact that she was there spoke volumes about discipline, preparation, responsibility, teamwork and loyalty. Coach Herb Brooks would have been very pleased.

If ever there was a moment that defined the essence of The Miracle at Lake Placid Project, it was Stacey Preambo ending her talk with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat as she spoke these words: “This project meant the world to me. I learned so much about values, coaching and life. I will never forget it.”

Later that afternoon, Preambo won gold again, this time on a softball field in Kingston, PA.

Professor Are You There, The Captain Asked?

At noon, the speaker phone rang, and the familiar voice of the Captain of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team intoned, “Professor, are you there?” For the next 14 minutes, Mike Eruzione talked about his coach, his team, and the significance of the events in Lake Placid.

“I know the students worked hard and I am very proud of their work. If you believe in something, no matter what it is…if you are willing to work hard and you have passion anything is possible,” Eruzione said with authority
“Each and every student in this room is going to have an opportunity to do something,” he continued, “It’s what they do with the opportunity that counts. If you understand the value of work, at some point in your life you will be successful.”

“Herb Brooks was demanding. He pushed us hard. There were times when we did not like him because he pushed us so hard, but we always had respect for him because he was a man of honesty, passion and belief.”

“He was like your dad,” said Eruzione, “Sometimes you love your dad and sometime you hate your dad because he makes you do things you don’t want to do.”

The conversation ended with a lighthearted remark, and the audience responded with a thunderous round of applause. The rest of the day was an unending series of slap shots that scored big with everyone in the room.

Gold Medal Moments

One by one students made their way to the stage to share their discoveries and to tell their stories about Coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team.

Matt Farrell’s Miracle or Myth was an analysis of the movies about the miracle at Lake Placid. In a quiet but confident voice, Farrell presented his findings about the ways Hollywood used artistic liberty and a number of techniques to effectively tell the story. Using movie reviews, internet sites, books, articles and notes he had taken during conference calls with Wayne Coffey, Ross Bernstein, Patti Brooks and Kelly Brooks, Farrell won the moment with a compelling story.

Richard R. Rickard talked about his journey. Rickard was the first member of the class to travel to Lake Placid. It was a bitter cold day in January. The purpose was an exploratory mission. We needed to introduce ourselves and our project to the people at ORDA. It was a challenging assignment, and Rickard was very taken with all the things he learned on that trip. He called his project Reflection of Perfection. His treasure was a stylized poster, that captivated the audience.

Ryan Doyle, whose performance evaluation in December ‘04 was a catalyst for the project, outlined his trips to Cheshire, Connecticut, for a day of shooting with the Marvel Family. It was a day of high adventure and marvelous connections. One week later, Doyle was off to Lake Placid. He spoke about both trips with great enthusiasm. His presentation, The Miracle in Words, Images and Art, ended with the unveiling of his original painting.

Kristy O. Saccone, a young woman with true grit, talked about her trip to Lake Placid. Olympic Unity: Stronger Than Steel was an examination of the symbolism of the Olympic movement. Watching Saccone present was like watching an Olympian perform. She smiled throughout her 15 minutes on stage, and her explanations and illustrations reinforced by her beautiful pictures gave her a moment of sheer joy. You could see it in her eyes. You could feel it when she spoke. You just felt very good for this young woman who worked so hard for this moment.

Matthew C. Harm, one of the natural born leaders of the senior class, introduced his listeners to the music of the Miracle At Placid Project. Harm has a commanding presence, and his story was effectively told. The music was created by local anchor and songwriter, Mike Lewis, and produced by Gene Cotton. Six Strings and a Bridge resonated with the audience, and Harm ended his senior experience on a high note. Later that day his leadership would be recognized with a special award.

The next person to take center stage was Christopher Boos, the bibliographer of the project. With the precision of a research librarian, he outlined A Bibliography of the Miracle in a way that fascinated everyone in the room. Watching Boos, an earnest, industrious young man, brought great joy. He made his mark by completing a challenging assignment that few would dare to undertake.

Brent H. Stewart, the oldest member of the class and an assistant soccer coach, talked about Coaching From the Inside Out. He shared the insights he learned from his study of Coach Brooks. To Stewart, Brooks was a giant, and the young coach assured his listeners that he intended to model his coaching style in all the ways that would help his players on and off the field. It was a day of great progress and important discovery for this former athlete.

The next presenter, Brian Pagel, won the audience with his insightful assessment entitled Learning About Life from a Miracle Maker. In what would become one of the most memorable moments of the day, Pagel walked to the middle of the stage and carefully folded back an American flag that was draped over his ingenious creation A Puck of Values.

The Oohs and Ahs were palpable.

Wherever Coach Brooks was at this moment, he must have smiled.

Cara DiEnno’s, trivia board game Miracle in a Box was a show stopper. Assisted by Matt Harm and D.J. Pizzani who demonstrated the game for the audience, DiEnno captivated everyone with her upbeat story of discovery and creativity. The style, tone and execution of her presentation were just right. People responded to her questions. The Miracle in the Box gave DiEnno a magical moment.

Michael Marzen took us to the movies. His assessment of the HBO Special, Miracle, Disney’s box office hit and ABC’s made for television movie, The Miracle on Ice, was compelling. Marzen carefully packaged and explained similarities, differences and myths. The Miracle at the Movies captured the magic of the moment when Lake Placid, NY, and the US Olympic Hockey Team became the center of the universe.

Robert Anderson’s The Miracle Behind the Miracle took us to a place that people seldom, if ever visit, inside the mind of a student graphic artist. After carefully outlining his journey, Anderson thought for a moment, smiled, and said; “It was a great learning experience.”

Lindsay P. Pross, a student of grace and charm, recounted the marvelous adventure she shared with six other students, affectionately know as the Sensational Seven. Capturing the Miracle is Pross’s account of her three day adventure in Lake Placid, NY. Her face glowed as she reconstructed An Evening of Miracles, Memories and Magic and the rededication of the 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena.

When this semester began, Lauren Barrett knew that Herb Brooks and The 1980 US Olympic Team were icons of sports culture, but she knew very little about quilting. When she walked to the blue fabric hanging virtually unnoticed under the projection screen there was an air of confidence in her gait. With a broad smile on her face she turned and unveiled A Quilt of Miracles. No words were needed to make her point. She had her moment.

Stephen Alfano is the most philosophical member of our team of miracle workers. His is a world of thought, reading and analysis. With meticulous attention to detail that Herb Brooks would have complimented, he told his story about Coaching Greatness. It was an informative analysis of three coaches who defined greatness, Herb Brooks, Knute Rockne, and Mike Krzyzewski

Stephanie A. Youngs, a member of a group affectionately named The Sensational Seven, survived the bitter cold temperatures of Lake Placid in February. She even managed to organize a side trip to the top of Whiteface Mountain. With the aura of a seasoned executive she shared the details of the Miracles Along Our Journey. Watching her present you just knew that she has what it takes to be a success in life.

Katie Gross overcame many obstacles to make her way to Lake Placid, NY, for the rededication of the 1980 Rink. While there she interviewed virtually every person she met. With an air of confidence that made everyone who watched a believer, she told the audience what it was like to stand Between Smoke and Fire and learn about Herb Brooks at the 80 Minute Party on Mirror Lake. Later in the day, Gross would return to the podium to introduce one of the most prominent and revered jurists in the federal judicial system, The Honorable Max Rosenn.

When D.J. Pizzani walked to the podium, everyone in the room knew it was a very special moment. Pizzani was the designer for the practicum project and the Senior Weekend. What made this so special? D.J. was not enrolled in the course, and yet, he created seven items for the project. With the discipline and confidence of a seasoned professional, he described his journey, The Miracle on Ice: A Visual Interpretation. Before the day ended, Pizzani received the Kenneth F. Mussari Award for Outstanding Service and leadership.

Karlina Zikor had been waiting since 2001 for her moment. She, too, was a natural leader of the class. A member of the Sensational Seven, her project 48 Hours in Lake Placid Perspective in Warp Speed was told with dignity and class. Her willingness to serve as the photojournalist for the final trip to Lake Placid in February resulted in several breathtaking photos of Whiteface Mountain and a number of other Olympic venues. Later in the day, Karlina would receive the leadership award for her numerous contributions throughout the year to the senior experience and the Miracle at Placid Project.

Katie Chandler, perhaps the most left brained member of our team, agreed to take on two challenging assignments: the construction of the navigation bar for our website and a summary of all of the major events of the semester. With discipline and artistry she told her story, The Miracle in Bites and Bytes. At the end of her presentation she showed her grace and charm as she shared the stage with Mark Bailey another member of the class of ‘05 who created the Miracle At Placid

When Chandler finished the room slipped into an eerie silence, and then it happened. Parents began to express their thoughts about the Expo. Their comments were heartfelt, joyful and celebratory. They liked what they saw and they felt very good about what they heard. It was an experience they would remember forever.

And then it was over. The students and their parents made their way to the exits and across the campus to the next event, Senior Banquet.

As I watched them leaving the auditorium, they seemed different. They were standing straight. They were laughing a laugh of satisfaction. They seemed more confident. And yes, they seemed older and wiser than when we first met in January.

It was obvious to me that each student knew something inside of them had changed. They had their moment. A moment that was not meant to be, but a moment they worked for…a moment their teachers dreamed about…a moment that would be etched in their minds and hearts for the rest of their lives.

In a very real way this was a gold medal moment for 22 students and three consultants who were ready and anxious to tell the world what they learned about the very special time in 1980, when the world stood still in admiration and respect for that accomplishment of 20 students in red white and blue uniforms and a determined coach who was very demanding…very difficult to play for…and very much a dreamer.

As I turned off the lights my heart was filled with gratitude and joy. It was a special feeling that embraced and energized my soul. It was a therapeutic feeling of accomplishment. It was a very peaceful feeling of fulfillment. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had as a teacher. It was the last class I would ever teach, and I was more at peace with myself than I had ever been.

In that moment I experienced a kind of freedom and empowerment I had never felt before, and I doubt I will ever feel again. I ended a 40 year teaching career with my daughter, my wife, 22 students and three consultants who experienced a kind of success that words will never be able to accurately describe. It was a moment of sheer beauty.

And all I wanted to say was thank you Coach Brooks and the members of The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team. You gave us our moment. You made our dream come true. You made us proud to be students, teachers, consultants and parents. You made us proud to be Americans.