Tri Valley League Celebrates Its 50th Birthday

Ken Hamwey, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
July, 2016
Article Body: 

Happy birthday to the Tri Valley League (TVL) as it celebrates turning 50.
The league, which was formalized in 1966, underwent some changes in its infancy but has evolved into one of the most respected conferences in Massachusetts. Its history and the way all the pieces of the puzzle meshed is a tribute to the high school principals who decided to form the league and the man who served as its commissioner for 23 years—Alfred “Hap’’ Mazukina.
Mazukina, now 92 and living in retirement in East Dennis, resided in Medfield during his days as the league’s first commissioner. His primary employment was as a guidance counselor at Wellesley High but his devotion to the league is what made it an immediate success. “I offered many recommendations to the principals over the years, and I’m proud of how well the league has done,’’ he said. “The coaches, players and athletic directors have played such a positive role.’’
Most of the schools that joined the TVL 50 years ago were playing independent schedules. The circuit began with 12 members—six schools formed an Eastern Division and six more comprised the Western Division. The six Eastern schools were Millis, Medway, Medfield, Dover-Sherborn, Holliston and Hopkinton. The six from the west included Bellingham, Norton, Hopedale, Nipmuc, Norfolk Agricultural and Blackstone (merger with Millville came in 1967).
Only seven of the original dozen schools played football. They were Millis, Medway, Medfield, Dover-Sherborn, Holliston, Hopkinton and Norton. Bellingham started its varsity program a year later in 1967.
The only boys sports that Mazukina scheduled in 1966 were football, basketball, baseball, outdoor track and tennis. Eventually, new sports for boys were added and they included ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse, indoor track and wrestling. When the TVL was formed, no girls sports were scheduled. But, Title IX began changing the athletic landscape at college campuses, and that move spurred girls’ sports to become a fixture in the TVL.
Not everything was smooth sailing for the TVL in its early days. Some of the smaller schools weren’t able to compete with those with larger enrollments, so defections started to occur. Norton left for another league and the principals welcomed Blackstone Valley Tech to replace Norton. Norfolk Agricultural also left but the formation of the Dual Valley Conference (DVC) caused a major tremor in the TVL. Hopedale, Nipmuc, Blackstone-Millville and Valley Tech exited for the DVC, leaving the TVL with only seven members. Ashland and Westwood, however, wanted out of the Dual County League (not to be confused with the Dual Valley Conference) and that duo gained TVL membership in the early 1970s. In 2002, Norton decided to return and was re-admitted, giving the TVL its current 10 members.
The 10 schools that currently comprise the league are Ashland, Bellingham, Dover-Sherborn, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norton and Westwood.
“The principals had several suggestions for the league’s name,’’ Mazukina said. “They settled on Tri Valley, because three river valleys were located in the towns. The Charles River, Blackstone River and Taunton River are the trio that led to naming the league. It was a logical, geographic decision.’’
During Mazukina’s 23-year tenure as the league’s chief, his tasks dealt with scheduling, assigning officials, administering a TVL basketball tournament and cheerleading competitions, and handling complaints (protests). When Mazukina left in 1988, he was replaced by seven different commissioners. Individual sports had separate commissioners.
“Hap deserves lots of credit for the league’s success,’’ said Dennis Baker, who served as Bellingham High’s athletic director for 15 years and played three sports at Ashland when it was a Dual County League member. “He had excellent organizational skills and knew how to maintain cohesion within the league. Hap’s vision on how a league should operate was superb.’’
Baker’s son, Matt, is now the A.D. at Holliston and he’s the youngest athletic director in the league in terms of service. He’s now heading into his second year as the Panthers’ sports chief. “I feel like everything has come full circle with me being a three-sport athlete in the TVL at Ashland and now working at Holliston running the athletic department,’’ he said. “It’s a top-notch league, as evidenced by the success our teams have in their respective state tournaments. The league has grown since I was an athlete and it’s exciting to see what the future holds. It’s rewarding to be a former TVL athlete and now current A.D. and be able to help shape the future of this excellent league.’’
Mazukina, who still keeps tabs on how TVL schools are performing, admires the way various programs have dominated a particular sport. “Holliston has done well in football,’’ he said. “And, Hopkinton is a power in track while Medway has been a soccer power. Westwood had a phenomenal run in girls’ basketball and seems traditionally strong in ice hockey.’’
Dennis Baker, who’s been a field hockey referee in the league, has also coached baseball and softball in the TVL. An athletic director in the circuit at two different junctures, he was the dean of the league’s A.D.s. Baker gives the league a pat on the back in its anniversary year with this comment: “There’s no doubt that the TVL is one of the most respected and admired leagues in the state. And, it’s still going strong at age 50.’’