Pat's Reporter Blog

Two area coaches retiring

Friday, February 27th, 2015
Patrick Newell

RETIREMENTS

I remember my first interaction with Paul DuVall. It was around 1996 or 1997 and DuVall was running the Unadilla Valley peewee wrestling program. He submitted a photo and caption information for publication in our sister paper, The Gazette. A few days after publishing the story, Paul gave me a call. He wasn’t happy with the “creative license” I took with the write-up. After a short conversation, I think I appeased Paul, and encouraged him to keep submitting information about his young wrestlers.
Perhaps it was the following year, Paul took over as head coach of the UV wrestling program. At the time, there were just a few kids on the team, and Jeremy Wetherbee was the lone standout. Wetherbee would advance to the sectional finals multiple times under DuVall’s tutelage. Although Wetherbee did not win a section title, he was the foundation of a wrestling program that grew and improved year after year. I took an inventory each season at the sectional wrestling tournament: Every year, Unadilla Valley had an increasing number of sectional tournament qualifiers, and the program reached its peak when Trevor Franklin won a state title. DuVall resurrected the Unadilla Valley wrestling program that remains solid to this day. A few years after Franklin’s state title, DuVall and his family moved into the Sherburne-Earlville school district – his alma mater – and soon, DuVall was assisting on the coaching staff under head coach Bim Palmer. Palmer has been an old friend of DuVall’s since the two wrestled together for S-E in the pee wee ranks. Palmer said earlier this week that DuVall would be retiring from coaching at the completion of his son’s high school wrestling career. I tip my cap to a dedicated man who has coached dozens and dozens of kids for nearly two decades, and has done it most of the time on a volunteer basis. Palmer said he’s keeping DuVall’s locker in the coaches’ room at the ready. You know, just in case DuVall gets the bug to coach again.

If ever there was a person who has defied time, it’s Bainbridge-Guilford’s Tim Mattingly. He’s one of those ageless wonders now in his mid-50s, and he looks almost exactly the same as when I met him 20 years ago. Mattingly, who has taught and coached at his alma mater for well over 30 years, will retire at the end of the school year.
I came to know Tim my first year on the job as the right-hand man to B-G girls varsity basketball coach Bob Conway. Conway has coached the Bobcats for 22 years, and Mattingly has been his junior varsity and assistant varsity coach every step of the way. Mattingly was also a junior varsity football coach, assistant varsity coach, and the past nine years, the varsity football coach at B-G. In recent years, Mattingly has led the varsity baseball program, and this spring will be his last as a varsity coach.
Tim has been friendly and accommodating from the day I met him, and I was happy to cover the athletic accomplishments of his two daughters Courtney and Ashley – the former perhaps the best local girls’ basketball player I have ever covered. Conway will certainly miss Mattingly’s presence on the bench. “He’s really been a co-coach,” Conway said. “We have the same mentality for the game and our expectations for the kids are the same.
“He’s just a great person, great with kids, and academically, he does a good job of teaching. He’s leaving a big hole to fill.”
Best wishes to Mattingly in retirement.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Feb. 19, 2015

Thursday, February 19th, 2015
Patrick Newell

As much as I would like, I can’t fit every good comment from a coach into a game story. Some coaches waver a little off topic or linger on individual play – or players – that digress too far from a game story. I often hoard these words of wisdom as potential blog material, and I’ve dubbed this fodder “quotable leftovers.”
Following Norwich’s thrilling 44-43 win over Horseheads Wednesday night, head coach Tom Collier, understandably, had a lot to say. (Actually, he always has a lot to say.)
It’s enjoyable to hear Tom regal the play of each guy who contributed to a win, and no player’s contribution is overlooked. Tom preaches a team approach to offense and defense, and in his four years as head coach, no player on his team has averaged better than 14.2 points a game. This season, the state-ranked Tornado do not have a player averaging more than 12 points a game.
Yet, Norwich has consistently remained one of the area’s highest scoring teams. Wednesday night, Collier devoted a lot of time to the efforts of sophomore Tre Bonham and senior Chris Trevisani. If you watched the second half, you saw Bonham bury the game-winning points; however, Trevisani didn’t budge from his seat on the bench except to cheer his teammates on or stand for a timeout.
In the first half, Trevisani did see a few key minutes, this after taking a DNP (did not play) in last Thursday’s loss to Oneonta.
Trevisani was summoned by the Tornado staff in the second quarter when the offense was languishing. Trevisani is a deadly outside shooter, and he ignited the crowd in his two- or three-minute stint. He had an open three that was just off the mark, but on his second shot attempt in he right corner, he swished a jump shot that gave Norwich late first-half momentum.
“The reality is that everyone wants to be a hero, but Chris is a role player for us, and he played that to perfection,” Collier said. “That was a big shot for us because it energized our bench. Chris’ number was called, and he delivered for us. He’s a great team player who is beloved by his teammates. Chris epitomizes what we are as a team.”
As for Bonham, the grind of 5:30 a.m. workouts and making 300 jump shots before school each day paid off. “Tre Bonham made the shot of the game for us,” Collier said. “You know what, there were some people who didn’t think he deserved to be with us (on the varsity). Nobody deserved that shot more than Tre. He’s a dedicated player, and he does what it takes to be a winner.”

Other Collier musings:

* “At one point in the game, we had all sophomores and juniors on the floor (against Horseheads), and they had all seniors on the floor. Our juniors scrapped and got us back in the game.”
* “We gave a speech at halftime about getting bullied in the first half (by Horseheads). What’s the best thing to do against a bully? Bully them back, and we did that in the second half.”
* “After losing to Oneonta last week, there was doubt in my mind whether this team was mentally and physically tough enough. We weren’t sure (as a coaching staff). We challenged the guys all week in practice, and they responded. It was a test of our character, and I couldn’t be more proud of our players.”

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Curtis raised the bar

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
Patrick Newell

The first time I saw John Curtis, I didn’t know his name, but I thought, at the time, he bore a resemblance to one-time PGA Tour member Tom Weiskopf. Curtis was playing in his regular foursome at Canasawacta Country Club with Dave Clarke, Russ Lowe, and Joe Brillinger. Curtis didn’t hit it like Weiskopf, but he was a pretty good stick.
I came to know Curtis in my early years working at the newspaper as he succeeded Tony Abbott as varsity football coach. Abbott had a Hall of Fame career lifting Oxford to the top of the Susquenango Association several times. Curtis, an assistant under Abbott, served as the offensive coordinator for Abbott, and Curtis put his own stamp on the program when he took the reins in 1996.
“John was a little different than me,” Abbott said in a phone interview Monday. “I was a big option guy. Being a former high school quarterback, John liked to throw it more, and he did. That was probably our only difference.”
There was no difference with the results on the field, either. Abbott won 147 games during his 27 seasons, and Curtis tacked on 72 more victories during his tenure to give Oxford 219 football wins from 1970 to 2006. Looking over our records, that is the most wins for a Chenango County football team during that span.
Said Mike Chrystie, who played on three Section IV championship teams under Curtis, and is now head coach at Norwich: “John was definitely a model of consistency that I am striving for as a football coach, and I hope, one day, our program can reach the consistency he had at Oxford.”
When you’re in this business and building relationships within the many small communities, there aren’t many degrees of separation. My “Oracle of Bacon” number with John Curtis was one, and I didn’t even know it the first year I covered his teams.
As I got to know John a little better, I learned more about his family. His wife, Jean, was an elementary school teacher. At some point, I am sure I asked John if his wife ever taught school at St. Paul’s (now named Holy Family). John said she did at the start of her teaching career.
I remembered that my second grade teacher at St. Paul’s was Mrs. (Jean) Curtis, and my mom confirmed the football coach’s wife was an integral part of my childhood education.
I was on friendly terms with John throughout the 11 years we worked together, but I’ve learned more about him in the two days since his passing than I ever did during our professional relationship.
Don Cooper coached along side Curtis for 31 years, and was Curtis’ right-hand man as the defensive coordinator on the 1997, 1999, and 2000 Section IV Class D championship teams.
Cooper worked with a lot of great coaches on the Oxford staff, coached against some of the finest field generals in Section IV, and knew of perhaps every other good coach in Central New York. He pinpointed one characteristic about Curtis that made him unique.
As every coach knows, from time to time you deal with undisciplined and disrespectful athletes, and its well known that many parents can be just as unruly in their treatment of a coach.
“What made John stand out in my mind, and I wrote this in the dedication of the scoreboard (to John), is that he was the most professional guy,” Cooper said. “I spent thousands of hours with him, and never once did he bad-mouth a kid or a parent.”
Cooper said that one time a parent blew cigar smoke in Curtis’ face in an effort to provoke the head coach. Curtis was a robust, athletic man in his prime, and surely could have handled himself in any altercation. However, Curtis diffused the situation by remaining calm and professional.
While Maine-Endwell and Chenango Forks have set the bar in Section IV with their multiple sectional football championships and ensuing state titles, Curtis set the bar high in Chenango County with seven sectional title game appearances and three Section IV titles in four years.
Curtis raised the bar around these parts, and no has come close to reaching it.

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Garcia, Rifanburg in twilight of their great careers

Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Patrick Newell

Wednesday, Jan. 28, I reported from Norwich High School. It was a significant day, at least if you’re a wrestling fan as defending state champions Tristan Rifanburg and Frank Garcia were among the four seniors honored before the team’s final home match. (Trey Muserallo and Stephen Kuhn were also recognized with their families.) Every school in every sport that I cover reserves a night near the end of the season to pause and appreciate the outgoing senior class. I miss the majority of those occasions, but I wanted to be on hand for this one if only to be on site for the final home appearance of what is likely the best one-two punch Norwich wrestling has had.
The Purple Tornado have a long and distinguished wrestling history, and one of the first great NHS wrestlers, Don Manley, is part of the 2015 Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame induction class. I don’t have Manley’s biography, but I believe he lost just one match his entire wrestling career.
Rifanburg and Garcia have each lost more than once, but neither one ever lost on the home mat. In fact, Rifanburg never lost a match in a dual meet with all of his defeats coming in tournament competition. I don’t have the same verifiable documentation for Garcia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was undefeated in dual meets. That’s six straight years, folks.
Norwich coach Terry Hagenbuch said it was nice to know that he had those two wrestlers in his pocket for dual meets. With perhaps a scant few exceptions, the phenomenal wrestling duo has wrestled in back-to-back matches in dual meets – one weight class apart – and quite often, in tournament finals. Each young man is in the twilight of his high school wrestling career, but the good news is that they aren’t going far, and they will be easy to track.
Rifanburg and Garcia each received wrestling scholarships to Binghamton University, and I’m sure each will write more exciting chapters to their athletics stories.
Note: I wrote the above piece on Friday, Jan. 30. Rifanburg and Garcia helped lead Norwich to its first STAC team title in 24 years. Rifanburg was also named the most outstanding wrestler after winning his fifth league championship. One more line added to the duo’s long wrestling resume.

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Sports Editor’s playbook, Jan. 8, 2015

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Patrick Newell

Athlete of the Week
Friday, we re-install our Athlete of the Week series for the remainder of the winter sports season. The criteria in selecting an athlete is based on either the prior week’s performance or an accumulation of performances throughout the season. While we take nominations from coaches, the decision is usually a subjective one from yours truly. Hope you enjoy the feature the next seven weeks.

Jones legacy
Jack Jones first gained prominence around the Southern Tier as a state championship-winning basketball coach at Sidney who amassed an incredible winning percentage. He went on to a distinguished career in athletics administration finishing up his tenure at Norwich High School.
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) claimed the life of the Hall of Fame coach and administrator, but his legacy continues on the basketball court. Jones’ grandsons, Sean and Ryan Jones, are key members of this year’s Bainbridge-Guilford varsity basketball team. Earlier this week, Sean Jones had one of his best performances of the season scoring eight points and pulling down 10 rebounds against Sidney. Ryan Jones is among the team’s leading scorers averaging 10.6 points per game for the Bobcats. Ryan Jones also scored a season-high 22 points in a win over Afton last month, and has two other 15-point games this year.

Norwich grad gets new coaching appointment
Joe Casamento, a 1965 Norwich High School graduate, recently accepted a position associate head football coach at St. John’s College High School, a prestigious private school in Washington D.C. Casamento has coached Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy the past 17 seasons compiling a 143-27 mark including a Class AA state championship win in 2004. Casamento was on the sidelines in 1999 when the Brothers beat Casamento’s alma mater, 55-20, in the Class B regional finals, the last time Norwich qualified for the state playoffs.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Dec. 8, 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Sports stories can come at any place, any time. This one isn’t so much a story, but a welcomed experience. Since I was a little kid, I followed boxing closely. Remember the days when boxing’s biggest stars appeared on “cable television?” I do, although it was so long ago, this generation completely missed out on that free experience. This past Saturday night, I traveled down to Oxford to cover the Clyde Cole Wrestling Tournament finals. The schedule said the tournament dedication was slated at 5 p.m., with introductions and matches to follow. Let’s just say, the schedule was off a good 90 minutes or so, but that extra time allowed me to mix with some old friends…and meet one of boxing’s greats from the 1990s.
About 10 minutes after I arrived, Sun staff photographer, Frank Speziale, found me sitting near the head table, and he was smiling ear to ear. He told about a picture he had just taken of Ray “Merciless” Mercer. I thought to myself, you mean “Merciless” Ray Mercer. I didn’t correct Frank, he was beyond excited.
First question I ask Frank: “Why is Ray Mercer in Oxford?” Frank didn’t have all of the details, but he hurried back to his contact person to grab more information. I learned that Mercer was working with Eddy Pezzino (a Greene High grad and former athlete). Pezzino owns American Sports Equity, and part of the company’s message is to deliver the anti-bullying message to schools in the Southern Tier. Oxford was the latest stop, and Mercer was the special guest helping deliver that message.
Pezzino, who was well aware of the Clyde Cole tourney as a former wrestler, had Mercer stay on until Saturday, and Mercer helped present medals to the weight class winners. Mercer was seated matside, and I took the seat right next to him prior to the opening bout. I got to chat with Mercer for a good 30 minutes (during breaks in the wrestling action), and was able to pick his brain a little bit. Mercer is an avid outdoorsman, and particularly enjoys fishing. I talked up the great outdoors opportunities in Chenango County, so maybe we’ll see Mercer back here some day. Mercer hails from Jacksonville, Fla., although I’m not sure he lives there now. He remarked about the quiet, safe atmosphere during his stay in Oxford. “I’ve been here a day and a half, and I haven’t heard a siren,” he said. If I had the right platform, I would have asked him all about his career, one that took off after he won the heavyweight gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Mercer was already in his late 20s when he won the gold medal, so his window was fairly short. He captured a world title in 1991, and during that era, fought nearly all of the great heavyweights during that era including Larry Holmes, Tommy Morrison, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, and many others. Turns out, his career as a fighter lasted until he was 48 years old when he took an MMA fight against former UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia in 200.
Mercer gave away seven inches in height and about 50 pounds, but recorded one of the fastest knockouts ever recorded – a one-punch knockout in nine seconds. That was a great way to end a career, and Mercer agreed. “I knew if I caught him on the chin, I would knock him out,” Mercer said. Mercer’s obligations ended after he handed out the first series of awards up to the 125-pound weight class before slipping out for the evening. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but I was certainly pleased to share some time with a boxing legend.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Nov. 4, 2014

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
Patrick Newell

I have a column running in the Wednesday, Nov. 5 edition, and below is a portion of the piece. Check out the full version in tomorrow’s online and print editions:


Although Oxford fans may not fully agree, the Blackhawks’ 40-39 loss to Deposit-Hancock Thursday, Oct. 30, is a perfect example of why I love sports.
You never know what is going to happen.
CBS television staple, “Survivor,” has spawned dozens upon dozens of so-called reality shows where real people are placed in real-life situations. Alas, nearly every one of those real-life situations is contrived or manufactured, and ultimately hours and hours of footage is edited into a drama-inducing one-hour weekly show.
The protagonists, real men and women like you and me, are complicit in these farces.
With sports, what you see is what you get. You may not see a cliffhanger where you curse the program because you have to wait until next week’s show to find out how Jimmy or Susie resolved their conflict.
But you will often see a nail-biter that has you screaming at the top of your lungs…and there will be a resolution.
Back to Oxford’s football game.
I often wonder why teams with nothing to play for, other than pride, schedule a meaningless week nine game. Deposit-Hancock lost the previous week in the Class D playoffs – badly to Tioga – and had about five starters out of the lineup.
Oxford, meanwhile, was coming off its first victory in four games. With a .500 record, it could have packed up the jerseys and pads, and called the first season under head coach Jeff Newton a success.
The Blackhawks won just a single game in nine offerings in 2013, and in most of those games, it wasn’t close to competitive. The 2014 Oxford version was much improved, that despite a number of young players seeing starting minutes, and rampant injuries on the offensive and defensive lines.
The game was scheduled for a Thursday evening, instead of Friday, and the only explanation I heard for that was a potential conflict with Halloween trick-or-treaters on the ensuing night.
Two other local teams, Bainbridge-Guilford and Unadilla Valley, had games scheduled on Thursday as well, but the game times and sites of those football games conflicted with my schedule. (My stepson had his final Norwich modified football game of the season, and I couldn’t miss that!).
I knew I would be cutting it close with the modified game ending around 6:30 p.m. I rushed (within the speed limit, of course) down Route 12 to Tony Abbott Field (née Blackhawks Stadium), and made it just as the teams were lining up for the opening kickoff.
Oxford scored on its opening drive, but there was nothing good about the rest of the half for the hometown Blackhawks. The first two quarters reminded me of my most recent viewing of Oxford two weeks earlier – the bad parts.

The past three seasons, I’ve had an able fill-in photographer, Missy Hayes, who regularly attends home and away Norwich football games. She had a vested interest in previous years with her son Ryan, who was a member of the Tornado until graduating last year. She has continued to take pictures (quite well) this season, and her photos are available for viewing and free to download at http://s1158.photobucket.com/user/purpletornadofootball/library/2014-2015%20Football%20Season. It’s a site started by Cindy Ashton, who also supplied our paper with many good photos. Missy has kept the site alive and full of great Norwich photos.


Norwich football coach, Mike Chrystie, gave me a great idea for a future column. He suggested a column about the superstitions of coaches. One look at Mike, and I surmised his superstition was growing out his beard (like hockey players), until his team lost. After six-plus weeks, Mike is about one-quarter of the way to James Harden’s beard.

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Numbers do tell the occasional white lie

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Patrick Newell

ESPN has a daily show titled, “Numbers Don’t Lie.” I’m a numbers guy, and I noticed a bit of anomaly to that truism when it comes to football statistics. Of late, Norwich football has lied smack in the face of stat geeks.
The percentages may vary from season to season, but it is a fair bet in high school football that the team that gains the most yards will win the majority of games. Without any empirical data, I guessed that the winning team won the total yardage battle at least 80 percent of the time.
I decided to put that estimate to the test with the 45 games involving local clubs this season. Of those contests, the winning team outgained the losing team 38 out of 45 times, or 84.4 percent.
Oxford and Bainbridge-Guilford won games with less yards, but also lost games with more yards. Actually Bainbridge-Guilford won a second game with less yards – one yard, in fact – earlier this season against Unadilla Valley.
In all cases involving those two ballclubs, the total yardage difference was less than 75 yards, either way.
Then there is Norwich.
Two weeks ago, Norwich stunned Susquehanna Valley in overtime, 20-17. The Sabers outgained Norwich by 119 yards, although the margin was much wider at halftime.
Sometimes you have to look deeper to find insights, but still, nothing stood out. Turnovers were even, and the field position battle, often dictated by punts, was about equal. Sus Valley did have more penalty yards, but over four quarters and overtime, that proved insignificant.
Really, the only conclusion to draw is that Sus Valley moved the ball well and didn’t finish drives, while Norwich took advantage of its fewer opportunities to score.
If you happened to catch a glimpse of Norwich’s victory at Oneonta last week, there was a good chance you saw Oneonta in possession of the ball – and moving it well.
Norwich won the game comfortably, 38-12, but was outgained by 159 yards. Unlike the Sus Valley game, the final score is easily explained.
The Yellowjackets turned it over five times, often leaving Norwich with a short path to the endzone. Oneonta also committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, again shortening the Norwich field on multiple occasions.
Norwich was outgained by an average of 139 yards over the last two games, and came away winners each time.
Yes, numbers usually give you the truth, but they also tell a few white lies.

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I don’t mind getting it wrong

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
Patrick Newell

More so than any of my previous 19 seasons covering local football, unpredictability has reared its head. By the second or third week, the games typically play out according to script. This season, the scripts have seen a number of re-writes.
Every local team has surprised me at some point this season beating a team I thought – on paper – had the upper hand. Yeah, yeah, games aren’t won on paper, they’re won on the football field. Still, after two or three weeks of football, you know where each team stands. This isn’t the NFL or high-level college football where upsets are commonplace on an week-by-week basis
To my chagrin, I’ve been called out by players and supporters of teams that I picked against after said team pulled out the victory. Truthfully, I couldn’t be any happier getting it wrong.
Creditability in this business comes from objectivity, so you make your honest analysis, and declare a prediction based on that analysis. We get it wrong – I get it wrong – a lot.
The games that have stood out the most were Sherburne-Earlville’s victory over Section III’s defending Class C champion, General Brown. I’m not sure many people outside of Sherburne-Earlville predicted that one. My second most significant prognosticating faux pas was Norwich’s 20-17 upset win over Susquehanna Valley last Friday. Again, outside of the die-hard Norwich faithful, players, and coaches, who had the confidence the Purple Tornado would pull out the win?
Not many.
In terms of upset victories for Norwich, it’s among my top three in two decades covering local football. The other two standouts came in 2000 when Norwich knocked off state-ranked Corning East, then in 2011 when Norwich beat Johnson City in the Class B playoffs, 35-0.
I’ve covered about 180 Norwich football games, and I remember those three upset victories the most.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Sept. 25, 2014

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Patrick Newell

So I guess my plug of an athlete is not the kiss of death for an athlete’s upcoming game. Sherburne-Earlville’s Matt Hull, touted in last week’s blog, rushed for over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 56-6 victory over Sauquoit Valley. The Marauders were the 13th-ranked Class C team in the state in a poll released by the New York Sports Writers Association last week. In the Sept. 24 release, the Marauders moved up a spot to number 12, while this week’s opponent, Utica Notre Dame, is ranked number eight.

Unadilla Valley’s football team is 0-3 overall, but two of its three losses have come to unbeaten Class D state-ranked teams. The Storm lost on the last play of the game to number 15 Moravia, 24-18, and last week, UV gave up a late touchdown to number eight-ranked Walton in a 36-32 defeat. Both results came as a result of big-play passing, and a nonexistent running game. UV looks to break into the win column this week against fellow winless club, Sidney.

High school tennis is not known as one of the marquee sports, but in terms of sheer consistency and contending for division and sectional championships each year, Norwich is among the best. For about as long as I’ve worked at the newspaper, NHS head coach John Stewart has produced teams with winning records, and nearly every year he has a doubles team in the mix for a bid at the state qualifier. Wednesday, Norwich won its eighth straight match to improve to 9-1, and is just about assured of another division title. Hat’s off to the Tornado girls, who will gain entry into the STAC team tournament next month.

Shifting away from sports for a moment and to the recently-completed murder trial of Ganesh Remy Ramsaran. I knew the defendant for many years prior to his arrest and eventual conviction of second-degree murder. The following link is a summary of my recollections from those interactions: http://patricklnewell.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/remy-ramsaran-recollections-my-3-12-year-former-friendship-with-a-convicted-murderer/

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