TOWNSEND -- Few things excite an athletic director more than his school being recognized for its portrayal of class on the field.

North Middlesex picked up the District E Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association honor for Sportsmanship, which was presented at Gillette Stadium.

"If your school pops up on a list, you get to submit a form saying this is why I think we should receive the District E Sportsmanship Award," Bunnell said. "I received a phone call from Rick Reilly who works with the MIAA and he said 'James, I think you should apply and see what happens.' I put together a resume about what they did last year and all the community service the school was involved in."

First-year athletic director James Bunnel could not be prouder of the student-athletes at North Middlesex for the way they carried themselves on the field and the example they provided for others in the community.

"Out of 72 schools, we were the ones selected out of District E," he said. "District E is essentially all of Central Mass. I sent an e-mail out to all of my coaches to please let me know if they did any community service or special activities last year. It is for last season, so I have to give credit to the three-headed-monster of Sandy Ruggles, Tom Murray and Mike Dawson who were here last year to promote that good sportsmanship in the athletic program. I was just the fortunate one to be in the receiving end to submit the application so we could get recognized."

When Bunnell first received the invite from the MIAA to attend the Sportsmanship Summit conference at Gillette Stadium, he was not aware that his school was even being considered for the District E Sportsmanship Award. North Middlesex head field hockey coach Kelly Marciano asked if she could tag along with Bunnell to the conference, and of course, he wasn't going to say no.

Marciano's field hockey team won the Midland Wachusett League Sportsmanship Award at the end of the season for the free clinics it held during the season for youth in the area.

Bunnell chose to bring three underclassmen with him to the summit in the hope that they would come back and share the knowledge they gained with their teammates.

After scanning the fall sports practices and talking to coaches, Bunnell selected sophomore wide receiver Ryan MacDonald from the football team as one of his representitives.

"Some schools brought busloads of kids, others brought two or three like I did," he said. "I didn't want to bring seniors or freshmen. I felt like sophomores and juniors who were going to be here for two or three years would benefit a lot from it. What they learned there will help to build their leadership and pass it on to their classmates. MacDonald is one of those kids who goes out of his way to make people feel comfortable and involved. He is overall just a great kid."

Bunnell also brought along Julia Sheehan from the girls soccer team.

"Julia is an up-and-coming leader on the field," the athletic director said. "You can see how she relates and interacts with her peers, not only on the soccer field but in the classroom as well. Jordan O'Brien, the third invitee, was a captain this year as a junior and the coach had nothing but positive things to say about the girl."

When the North Middlesex contingent arrived at Gillette Stadium, it was greeted with VIP seating and got to listen to Patriots owner Bob Kraft and former Patriots players Andre Tippett and Joe Andruzzi. CBS Boston sports anchor Steve Burton also spoke to the students about the values they took out of sports.

"Next to winning a championship, I think winning the sportsmanship award out of all 72 schools is huge." Bunnell said.