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Vin Sylvia: Lundholm Award recipient does more than seems possible

Stephanie Riotto had known Eric Mommsen for more than 20 years, since the older of her two boys enrolled in a Mommsen-run baseball program at the age of 4. She'd seen both sons grow up in Somersworth youth-sports programs in which Mommsen volunteered, and, as vice chair of the city's school board and a substitute teacher, she'd also worked with Mommsen, who teaches third grade at Somersworth's Maple Wood School.

Suffice to say, Riotto thought she had a pretty good idea of how much Mommsen had done for the kids of her small city near the Seacoast.

Then she saw the list.

Two weeks from today, the New Hampshire Union Leader will host its annual sports banquet, The Leaders: A Celebration of New Hampshire Sports Champions. One of the highlights of the event will be the presentation of the Carl Lundholm Memorial Award to a volunteer dedicated to youth in athletics.

When she learned of the award, Riotto thought, "Who could be more deserving than Eric?"

She began typing a nomination and asked Mommsen to provide her with a list of his volunteer activities to accompany her letter to the Union Leader's Board of Judges. Mommsen had never compiled such a list, Riotto said, but he's extraordinarily organized, so it wasn't hard for him to go through his records and put together an informal resume.

I've since read the list. It took a while.

"I'm the parent of grown children who participated in programs Eric has worked on, but I didn't fully realize how much he'd actually done," Riotto said. "I don't see how there's anyone who could do more than he has. And what's amazing is, after all those years and all he's done, he's still involved."

What began with working to restore basketball courts at city playgrounds in 1988 - Mommsen's first year at Maple Wood - soon became a second, volunteer career as a multi-sport multi-tasker at multiple levels.

Baseball, basketball, field hockey, golf, hockey, hopscotch, horseshoes, lacrosse, tennis, tetherball, track and field, Wiffle Ball - if there's a youth-sports activity worth supporting in Somersworth, Mommsen has done something to support it.

Coach, construction worker, equipment manager, fundraiser, groundskeeper, logo designer, master of ceremonies, museum curator, PA announcer, painter of court and field designs, scoreboard operator, videographer, writer of league by-laws - if there's a role in a youth-sports program that's needed filling, Mommsen has filled it.

Tee-ball, Babe Ruth League, Special Olympics, high school - if there's a level, a league, a program involving youth sports, Mommsen has been a part of it.

Mommsen, Riotto wrote in her letter of nomination, "continues his 25-year relationship with Somersworth Little League as the equipment manager. He announces Little League Opening Day ceremonies, Somersworth High School hockey games, starting lineups at Somersworth High School football games (after which he is in charge of filming the game) and more. He is also managing the equipment for the Lions Club Learn to Skate program at the community outdoor rink. Behind the scenes, he fixes or installs new backstops, burned-out bulbs on scoreboards ... things that are often overlooked but matter."

What motivates Mommsen to do all this? He loves his community.

Raised in a military family, he moved to Somersworth as a high school freshman and, except for two years at Springfield College and two more at Plymouth State, he never left. Most of his adult life has been spent giving back to the place that first made him feel at home.

Mommsen - who, Riotto said, reluctantly agreed to help her with the nominating process only after she convinced him it would shine a positive light on the city - said he's never been more proud of Somersworth than he was on the night earlier this month when the high school hosted its first basketball game in the NHIAA's Unified Sports program, which partners fully able students with physically or developmentally challenged peers.

"It was amazing to see," he said. "The crowd that came out for the game, the high-fiving between teammates, the sportsmanship displayed by both teams ... Nights like that exemplify what great young people we have in our community - and really in every community in New Hampshire."

And that's really what our banquet is all about: a celebration of New Hampshire's sports community.

Along with Mommsen, we'll honor Plaistow native and current Laconia resident Cameron Lyle, the former University of New Hampshire track and field standout who sacrificed the end of his collegiate throwing career and the chance at a conference championship so that he could donate bone marrow in an effort to save the life of another young man he'd never met. (That effort, by the way, was successful, and Lyle - who now devotes a good deal of time getting others to register as donors - looks forward to meeting the man this spring.)

We'll honor men and women who have had long careers as coaches and officials, putting in long hours and lots of work so that they, too, could be positive influences on young people. And we'll honor our Union Leader Athletes of the Month, including two, biathlete Sean Doherty of Conway and ski jumper Nick Fairall of Andover, who will represent the United States next month at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

It should be a great event. Hope to see you there.

Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at

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