PAL celebrates outstanding youth and volunteers at annual dinner

Photo by Amy DeMien Youth and Service Award winners, from left to right, Reagan Brunet, Paul Balletto, Jhanelle Thomas, Jennifer Jordan, Adrianna Flores, and Pastor Dave Smith

NASHUA – On Thursday, the Nashua Police Athletic League held its Sports Dinner at the Conway Arena to celebrate the outstanding athleticism, strength and leadership of the organizations members, long-time supporters and volunteers.

The event honored eight exceptional young athletes with PAL Youth Awards, recognized three committed youth supporters with Service Awards and named one individual PAL of the Year for their contributions to the field of sports writing and for their commitment to serving youth and the community.

More than 400 people attended the event, including the honorees, friends, family, sponsors, organization staff and volunteers and members of the Nashua Police Department. Among the police officials in attendance were Dan Kinnon and Chris Lewis, advisers to the Police Explorers program, a program geared to youth members interested in law enforcement opportunities.

“The Police Explorers program gives youth a feel for law enforcement, what it’s like to give back to the community in that way and whether it would be something they’d like to pursue,” Lewis said.

The Police Explorer of the Year award was presented to Braedon Smith, who has been a member of the program since June 2014.

The award for Boxer of the Year went to recent high school graduate Mike Fontanez, who won the Ohio State Fair open amateur welterweight title in 2016. In 2017, he won the “USA vs. Canada BEST of the Best” title in Nova Scotia.

Reagan Brunet, a seventh-grader from Pennichuck Middle School, was named Football Player of the Year. He has played quarterback, tight end, tackle, defensive end, and linebacker, and has worked his way into a starting position.

The Cheerleader of the Year award was presented to Adrianna Milano, a fifth-grader at Dr. Crisp Elementary School in Nashua and a three-year veteran of Nashua PAL Force Football and Spirit Program.

Cross-Country Male Runner of the Yea was awarded to Paul Balletto, a sophomore at Alvirne High School in Hudson. Balletto placed 16th overall in a field of 172 runners at the New England Championships.

Cross-Country Female Runner of the Year went to a Jhanelle Thomas, a fifth-grader at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School and a two-year veteran of the PAL Gate City Striders Cross Country running.

The Basketball Player of the Year award was presented to Brian Montminy. A junior at Nashua North High School, Montminy played on PAL’s basketball squad (18 and under) in the Nashua YMCA’s Saturday afternoon league, which won the 2017-18 league championship.

Adriana Flores was named this year’s Junior PAL of the Year. She is an honor roll student at Elm Street Middle School where she participates in many extracurricular activities, including track and field and youth mentoring.

The Service Award winners included Jeff Kreick who won Coach of the Year, Jennifer Jordon who received the PAL Athletic Appreciation Award, and Pastor Dave Smith who was named PAL Volunteer of the Year.

Kreick is the head coach of the Gate City Thunder high school basketball team, which plays in the Nashua YMCA league. Under Coach Kreick’s leadership, the team only lost one regular season game, finishing 10-1 before embarking on an undefeated playoff run, culminating in PAL’s second straight league championship.

Jennifer Jordan has been a critical piece in the success of the Gate City Striders Junior Olympic cross-country program. Over the years, she’s handled necessary logistics, including but not limited to ensuring every runner in the program is duly registered with the U.S. Track and Field Association and entering every runner into the required database.

Finally, the most prestigious honor of the night was presented to ESPN television analyst Jackie MacMullan who was named this year’s PAL of the Year. MacMullan has worked at the Boston Globe for 19 years as a columnist, reporter and associate editor, and was the first full-time female sports columnist in the history of the paper. MacMullan also covered the NBA as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated from 1995-2000. She has won numerous national writing awards from the Associated Press, including first place for investigative reporting and feature writing. In 2010, the Basketball Hall of Fame honored MacMullan with the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award for “outstanding contributions to basketball.” MacMullan remains the first and only female recipient of that award.

“This job has been a wonderful chance to experience everything I love,” MacMullan said. “I’ve had a chance to sit down with people like Tom Brady and listen to their dreams and what sports has meant to them. Ninety percent of them started at organizations like PAL. This organization rings true with so many professional athletes. I am so pleased to be part of this.”

The organization offers a safe haven for more than 2,000 at-risk young adults around the city through it’s 16 sports and leadership programs as well as its community projects and partnerships. They hope to continue the growth of their organizations and extend their reach over the course of the year.

“This is becoming our signature event,” Executive Director Shaun Nelson said. “This event isn’t just an opportunity to highlight the great success of our kids and volunteers. It’s also an opportunity to educate the community about what we do and the important services we provide. Anyone who is interested in learning more is welcome to come down for a tour.”