Archive for the ‘The World of Sport’ Category

Remembering Cathy Inglese, Boston College Women’s Basketball’s Greatest Coach

July 25, 2019

Cathy Inglese, age 60, died on July 24, 2019 after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a fall at her home. The following is her story that I wrote in 2014, when she was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame. She was one of the very best. May she rest in peace.

The coach with the most wins in the history of Boston College basketball had never planned to make coaching her career.

Cathy Inglese graduated from Southern Connecticut State on a Friday. She started teaching at Glastonbury High School the following Monday. She reapplied for a full-time position the following September. They told her that of course, since she’d been a star basketball player in college, she’d coach as well as teach.

“Southern was a good program when I played there, but coaching never entered my mind. I was planning to get a master’s degree in nutrition,” Cathy said.

A multi-sport star throughout high school, Cathy had turned down offers from BC, UConn and Providence to play basketball at her parents’ alma mater. She had been a good athlete since her childhood in the town of Wallingford.  “They were outside all day long,” her mother Nancy said about Cathy and her siblings. If it wasn’t baseball or basketball, they’d be climbing trees.”

In the fall of her third year of teaching, Cathy attended a Big East coaches’ clinic in Hartford and met up with Cecilia DeMarco, head coach at the University of New Hampshire. That spring, DeMarco called about an opening for an assistant basketball coach and assistant athletic director.

“My father had asked me if I’d ever like to try teaching in college, and I figured, ‘what have I got to lose.’ I was 26 at the time. I found that I liked working with student-athletes who were away from home for the first time. I got to travel, to teach, to recruit and to sell,” she explains.

Three years later, Cathy took over the University of Vermont basketball program, which had never had a winning season. Over seven years there, she transformed both Catamount basketball and herself. In her last two seasons, UVM went 29-1 and 28-1 and made the NCAA tournament.

Off the court, she conquered her fear of public speaking and hit the circuit. She addressed executives at IBM’s Vermont facility, among others, and discoursed on topics like leadership, motivation, and teamwork.

“I learned that it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of a company or a coach. You’ve got to have goals. You’ve got to believe in yourself. And it takes time. When you bring people from different backgrounds and with different outlooks, you can succeed as long you share the same vision.”

“I was lucky at Vermont,” she said. “I got to make all my mistakes early, in things like recruiting and in the systems I tried.”

Vermont was where Inglese learned to be a head coach. Boston College was where she put that all that knowledge to work. When Eagle athletic director Chet Gladchuk came calling, it didn’t take much convincing for him to bring her on board.

Again, it took time. Three losing seasons to start off. No fans at Conte Forum. But she made it clear to Gladchuk that there should be no more games in the adjoining Power Gym either. It was going to be a big-time program in a big-time facility.

“In our first game, it was so quiet you could hear the ball bouncing. It wasn’t a great environment, but it was something to build on,” she said.

Gradually, the talented athletes started to arrive. Cal Bouchard, who wasn’t widely known to college coaches, was a recruiting breakthrough. Cathy pursued Cal her after seeing a videotape of her being interviewed on television in Canada. Bouchard’s rookie year of 1996-97 was an 18-10 campaign and Inglese’s first winning one at the Heights.

Many more star athletes and successful seasons would follow. In her 15 years at the Heights, Cathy amassed a record of 273-179.  Among the highlights was the Big East championship in 2004. Inglese’s fifth-seeded Eagles won four games in four nights at the Hartford Civic Center, including a 51-48 semifinal conquest of nemesis Connecticut.

Cathy’s teams also had seven NCAA Tournament bids, and three advances to the national championship tourney’s Sweet 16. In 2005-06, the first year in the ACC, the Eagles lost their last five contests but still qualified for the NCAAs. At the Albuquerque Regional, they defeated Notre Dame and then top-seeded Ohio State, to once again make the round of 16.

Erik Johnson, now the head coach at BC, was Cathy’s assistant in her last three seasons. He marvels at the attention to detail and her meticulous planning that frequently brought victories over more talented opponents.

“I learned from her that that there’s no magic formula to winning at a high level. But every little thing matters. So we might not have players that are as big or as fast as North Carolina’s, but we could beat them because we made fewer mistakes. We moved the ball better, we were better prepared. Our fundamentals were better,” he said.

Clare Droesch was a free-wheeling shooter, a high school All-America when she arrived in 2001. For her, it was a struggle in adjusting to the Inglese way.

“She was an X and O coach who would look for five or six passes before the shot. It was hard, but it finally clicked for me in junior and senior years. When you bought into the system, it worked,” said Clare.

“We were one of the highest-percentage teams in the country. Coach did an amazing job of building offenses and defenses with the players she had.  When she saw potential, she’d push you to the limit of what you could be.”

Brooke Queenan, who played on all three of Inglese’s Sweet 16 squads, adds,

“I’ve never had a coach with her work ethic, and how goal-oriented she was. She demanded that from all of us.”

Interviewing Cathy at her home in Rhode Island in 2014

The team went 21-12 in 2007-08, Cathy’s final year at Boston College. After departing, she took a year off, then became head coach at the University of Rhode Island. Kingston wasn’t Chestnut Hill, though, and it didn’t happen for Cathy’s Rams. After five seasons, she moved on to explore other options including athletic administration, non-profit development, and leadership consulting.

The world hasn’t heard the last of Cathy Inglese, and it will be a long time before any coach in any sport at Boston College compiles a record of success like hers.

Learning from the Masters – and from the Love of My Life

December 21, 2018

On December 19, 2018, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston presented me with the John Baronian Award for Lifetime Contribution to Football. The following is my acceptance speech.

All of the great religions of the world teach their faithful some version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Okay, so now that we’ve got that one down, what else should we do? What’s the next step?

I’d like to tell you about a few people in my sports life who took that next step. Because if there’s anything I’ve done to merit this honor, I did it in part because I learned from them.

Eddie Miller, my first boss at Boston College. He hired me as a student assistant in his sports information office 50 years ago. That began a string of my service to BC athletics that continues to today. It was Eddie who first showed me how to deal with people in the real world, especially the world of sports.

Eddie’s successor, Reid Oslin was both a colleague in the office and later a pro to be emulated. He rose to the challenge as BC’s major sports grew more and more successful. Reid was the one who asked me if I’d like to fill in for a year as public address announcer for football, after Professor Malcolm McLoud retired. Reid also gave me the chance to be co-author of a history of BC hockey.

Bill Flynn

Their boss was athletic director Bill Flynn. He combined class and dignity with a fierce competitiveness and desire for fair play. His office door was always open and he answered his own phone. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the Big East and Hockey East. Bill was so well respected that he was the first man ever to be president of the NCAA who was not himself a college president.

Then there was the man who first received this award, back in 1999. Jack Grinold of Northeastern University. I worked with him on many projects and events down through the years. He was the second person ever hired by the Boston Patriots. But for 50 years he was Mr. Northeastern. He was also Mr. Beanpot, Mr. New England Hockey Writers and Mr. New England Football Writers. Jack was so dedicated to football that they named the Eastern Massachusetts Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame for him.

Each of these gentlemen was intensely loyal to his own school and his teams. But they knew as well that it was bigger than that. It was the game itself, the athletes who played the game, the sportsmanship and the glory of the game, that really mattered. Each left his own corner of the world a much better place than it was when he arrived.

Jack Grinold

That’s the next step, beyond the Golden Rule. Make your part of the world a better place. They all took it. I was fortunate to know them and to learn from them.

But I also had family to inspire me. Let me tell you about my grandfather George Brown and my uncle Walter Brown.

From 1905, when George was appointed athletic director of the BAA, until 1964, when Walter passed away after a heart attack at age 59, these two gentlemen did more to influence and shape sports in Boston than just about anyone else. They were men for all seasons. While they weren’t known for what they did in football, I think they should be.

George ran the Boston Arena and the Boston Garden. He coached or officiated track with the American delegation at every Olympics from 1908 to 1936. He brought hockey to Boston University, American hockey to the Olympic games, Sonja Henie and world-class women’s figure skating to America, and the starting line of the Marathon to the town of Hopkinton. His statue, The Starter, is on Hopkinton Common.

George Brown at 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he was a finish line judge.

But George was first a track guy. And it was in track – probably at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, that he met a man who would later be a Canton Bulldogs teammate of five founding members of the Gridiron Club. The man’s name was Jim Thorpe. They became fast friends.

Thorpe was a student at the Carlisle Indian School when won the gold medal in both the pentathlon and decathlon at Stockholm.

On the medal stand at the closing ceremonies, King Gustav V of Sweden said to him, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Jim replied “Thanks, King.”

Jim Thorpe played many other sports including football. He also competed in ballroom dancing. In 1912 he was the National Collegiate champion.

But I digress. About a month after the Stockholm Olympics, Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians football coach, were guests of my grandparents at the family farm in Hopkinton. They were also guests of honor at a parade in Milford, the next town over. I’m told that somewhere in the family archives is a picture of Thorpe riding one of the Brown family’s horses. I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure it exists.

These three gentlemen had other encounters, on the football field.

Enroute to 1936 Olympics on deck of SS Manhattan. Center, in white sweater is marathoner Johnny Kelley. To Kelley’s left are Jesse Owens and George Brown.

George Brown also happened to be one of the best college football officials of his day. I know that from reading the newspaper articles that followed his death in 1937. But I also know if from the flyleaf of the family bible.

In that flyleaf are the names of all the colleges whose games my grandfather officiated. They included: nine years of BC-Holy Cross; also Dartmouth-Princeton, Harvard-Yale, Bates-Bowdoin, Amherst-Williams.  Yes, he was on the crew in all of the best games. Including the bitterest rivalry of all: West Point and the Carlisle Indians.

The teams played football twice – in 1905 and in 1912.  The first one was only 29 years after another encounter between Army and the Indians, at a place called Little Big Horn. The second one was just 21 years after a massacre at a place called Wounded Knee. Thorpe played in the 1912 game at West Point.  Here’s what Pop Warner said to his team before the game:

“Your fathers and grandfathers are the ones who fought their fathers and grandfathers. Remember it was their fathers and grandfathers who killed your fathers and grandfathers. Remember it was their fathers and grandfathers who destroyed your way of life. Remember Wounded Knee. These men playing against you today are soldiers. You are the Long Knives. You are Indians. Tonight, we will know if you are warriors.”

Can you imagine what it must have been like for my grandfather, to officiate at those games?

And in case you’re wondering, the Indians kept their win streak alive. They romped over Army 27-6. Thorpe ran wild.  Dwight Eisenhower played halfback for Army. He blew out a knee when he and a teammate tried to gang-tackle Thorpe and injure him. Thorpe faked them out, they crashed together, and that was the end of Dwight Eisenhower’s football career.

George’s son, my uncle Walter, was in my humble opinion the greatest of all American sportsmen. Some here will remember him as the Boston Celtics owner who hired Red Auerbach, picked Bob Cousy’s name out of a hat, brought in Bill Russell and started a dynasty. He also broke the color line in professional basketball by defying his fellow owners and drafting Chuck Cooper in 1950. When they pointed out Cooper’s skin color at the draft, he said “I don’t care if he’s striped, plaid, or polka dot. Boston drafts Chuck Cooper.”

Others will remember Walter for his hockey – coaching the first American World champion in 1933, the Olympic bronze medalists in 1936, and as president of USA Hockey in 1960, year of the first Olympic gold. But he almost brought the National Football League to Boston too.

Walter Brown

It was in the late 1950s. There were no Patriots then. Our team was by default, the New York Giants. They were on TV every single Sunday.  Remember Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, and Chris Schenkel?

But there were serious negotiations to change that. Walter and Tom Yawkey teamed up to buy the Washington Redskins from George Preston Marshall and bring them back to Boston.  They were going to be co-owners, the team would play in Fenway Park, and Frank Leahy – late of Notre Dame by way of Boston College, was going to be the coach.

Unfortunately, the deal didn’t happen. Marshall held onto the ‘Skins. But can you imagine how different things would be now, in the world of Boston football, if Tom and Walter had pulled it off? And they almost did.

My final family sports idol was my dad. He too was an official, and he loved it. He also introduced me to Boston College football and to public address announcing.

He took me to my first BC game ever. At Fenway Park. November 24, 1956. BC 52, Brandeis 0. I remember nothing about the game – but I was mesmerized in pre-game warmups. By the Brandeis punter. He could kick that ball so high.

Dad also did public address announcing for Watertown High football. He took me to a game once and sat me on his lap. And he let me count into the mic – one, two, three. It was Watertown against Rindge Tech.  I don’t remember that game either, but I do remember staring at the game program. The Coca Cola ad in the centerfold, where they had the lineups, had a picture of a cheerleader with the brightest red lips and biggest smile I ever saw.

That’s where my public address career started. It’s probably also where I developed my lifelong fondness for cheerleaders and majorettes.

And about that public address announcing job I had at BC?  It wasn’t a job. It was a vocation.  I couldn’t wait for the season to start and to get to the stadium on game day. It was a privilege to be there – to be a unique part of football at the college that had been so good to me.

For BC football, I was the one constant for 42 years. Nine head coaches. The best of times and the worst of times.

Alumni could always come back and be sure they’d hear that same old Boston accent.  Many of them told me just that, over the years…it was good to know that some things didn’t change, they said.

When I started, that night we beat Texas in 1976, I made sure to carry on the tradition set by Professor McLoud.  He was a stickler, that man. He read the rule book. And it said, about the points after touchdown, that the team would get one or two points “if the try is successful.” And so it was, for sixty years at Alumni Stadium, Boston College’s signature announcement: “The kick is good. Try Successful.”

My only regret was that those 42 years were not 51 years. I wanted to surpass the all-time leader, the gold standard in public address announcing: Bob Sheppard. He did it for 50 years for the New York Giants. And 57 for the Yankees, but that’s baseball.

I always tried to do it Bob’s way. He insisted on the Three C’s: A public address announcer must be clear, concise, correct. Not cute, colorful, or comic. That’s the way to do it. Cheerleaders belong on the field, not in the p.a. booth.

I wanted to make my school’s team – and of course myself – the all-time champions in football public address longevity. That didn’t happen. But 42 years isn’t so bad. It did surpass the 40 years of the gentleman who did it at Harvard. And any time I can help my school beat fair Harvard in anything, I done good.

So there’s where my sporting career came from. I had colleagues for emulation and family for inspiration. They all took that next step, after the Golden Rule. They made the world a better place for their having been there.

And so did the one more person I must mention. I would not be standing here – I don’t know where I’d be standing or even if I’d be standing, without her.

That’s my dear wife Mary Ellen. We’ve been together for 48 years and married for 43. She was the most beloved first grade teacher in the history of the Milton public schools. She’s the mother of my three children. It’s good for me that opposites attract, because she brought an unlimited well of wisdom and a bedrock of common sense to our life together.

But those vast stores of wisdom and common sense pale in comparison to Mary Ellen’s courage. For over four years now, she has been fighting that pernicious, horrible foe, Alzheimer’s Disease. That battle continues, every day.

Mary Ellen is here, along with six of her 13 siblings and a gathering of our dear friends. And the only thing that means more to me tonight than this wonderful award is her presence.

Mary Ellen, my dearest darling. If anyone deserves an award for lifetime achievement, it’s not I. It’s you.

To the Gridiron Club, thank you for deeming me a worthy recipient of the John Baronian Award. I promise to do my best to live up to the standards set by Mr. Baronian, by Jack Grinold, and the others.

To the players, coaches, and officials who are also honored tonight, my congratulations.

And to you all, ladies and gentlemen, for being here with us, for supporting your friends and family members, and for helping the Gridiron Club in its mission as Keepers of the Flame, thank you.

Remembering Vin Shanley, Boston College Hockey Captain Extraordinaire

November 25, 2018

Vincent Shanley, Boston College ’72, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on the weekend of Thanksgiving 2018. This blog post is for him.

I traveled with the Boston College hockey team to all games in the 1971-72 season, when Vin was team captain and Snooks Kelley was in his 36th and final year of coaching BC. He was an ideal captain – not the most talented player on the team but the one to whom everybody looked up. I always thought that he was a breed apart from his teammates, even though he was still one of the boys too.

As a BC senior, he was already married to his lovely wife Christine. He was thoughtful and serious – I recall one time, on a bus trip to a game at Dartmouth, everybody else was horsing around, playing cards and telling jokes. Vinnie had his nose buried in “The Vantage Point,” a telephone-book-sized memoir by Lyndon Johnson.  I could tell right then that Vinnie was going places and that he’d already scoped out the trajectory of his eminently successful legal career.

My article that follows was published at the time of Vin’s induction to the BC Hall of Fame in 2016.

May he rest in peace! 

Vin Shanley ‘72

Ice Hockey

Vin Shanley, senior captain of Boston College, 1971-72 season.

Vin Shanley looked around the crowded locker room and thought, “Oh my God, What am I doing here?”

It was 1963. All the other candidates for the Boston Technical High freshman team wore uniforms emblazoned with logos from their youth hockey programs.

Not Vinnie. He’d never played organized hockey.  He felt lost in the puck handling drills. But then came the skating contests.  And Vin Shanley could fly.  Ever since he can remember, he’d walked the mile from his home in Brighton to the Boston Skating Club. Three days a week. Just to go skating.

Shanley outstripped them all and made the team. The hockey know-how, taught by coach Vic Campbell, came quickly. He showed Shanley the fine points, like how to snap off a wicked backhand shot, and how to cradle the stick blade as he would a catcher’s mitt when receiving passes.

In his junior and senior years, Shanley was the leading scorer in the Boston City League.  But Boston College coach John “Snooks” Kelley wasn’t initially interested.  Vin put in a post-graduate year at New Prep, a frequent opponent for the Eagle freshmen.

The first time the team came to BC, Vin scored two goals. A week later, the planned opponent cancelled out, and New Prep coach Owen Hughes agreed to play at McHugh Forum again. This time Vinnie scored a hat trick, with two of the goals coming on 20-foot backhanders.

The next day, the Shanleys’ phone rang. It was Snooks. He had already given out all of his scholarship money, he explained, but he asked Vinnie to come to BC as a recruited walk-on. Vin survived the cuts in freshman year and played as a regular. The next year he made it through the grueling two weeks of tryouts and beat out a couple of scholarship players for a varsity berth.

Vin Shanley and BU’s goalie in a game at Boston Arena in 1970.

Kelley called Shanley into his office. “I like your work ethic, kid. You’re on the team,” the Snooker said.

“I never missed a game, never missed a shift, in three years. I’m proud of that,” said Vin. “But I was never so proud as I was when I skated onto that ice wearing the Maroon and Gold. I was a Boston College hockey player.”

Vin’s sophomore year started off well but ended in disaster. Stacked with talented seniors, the team cruised through the first half of the schedule near the top of the standings. But then, beset by senioritis, they lost eight of their last 11 games and spiraled out of sight.

For the rest of Shanley’s BC career, the team was rebuilding and struggling for mere respectability.  Before his junior season, Vin addressed his teammates.

“We saw what happened last year,” he said. “We’ve lost eight players from that team including three All-Americans. But we’re going to play hard, we’re going to do the best we can, and we’re not going to tolerate any nonsense.”

The team got the message but didn’t have the talent. They went 11-15 and missed the playoffs for the first time. Coach Kelley announced that he’d be retiring after the following season. His career-win mark stood at 487.

Shanley and his mates dedicated their season to winning 13 games to send Snooks off with 500 wins. It’s a mark that seems quaint now, but was a towering achievement 44 years ago.

Talent on the 1971-72 team was a bit better. Juniors Bob Reardon and Ed Kenty had emerged to be fine forwards. Shanley, Scott Godfrey, and Jack Cronin were the senior spiritual leaders. They all felt that they were good enough to get the Snooker his 500th, and maybe even to make the playoffs.  They elected Shanley their captain.

Kenty, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2002, stated,

“Vinnie wasn’t the most naturally gifted player but was an extremely hard worker who led by example. He was not afraid to speak up when players slacked off — and believe me, I know that first hand. He also was a selfless player who made others around him better. I centered Vinnie and Scott Godfrey. I think that in my three years, it was the best line I played on.

Shanley scoring against the St. Louis University Billikens in 1972. His centerman Ed Kenty is in background.

“As a person, Vinnie was always pulling the guys together off the ice as most good captains do, and he connected with everyone on every level. In summary, great leader, very good player and a super guy.”

The 500th victory for Snooks didn’t come readily. By late February, the Eagles had ten wins, but the remaining schedule included a North Country swing to Clarkson and St. Lawrence and a meeting with national champion BU, who had thrashed the Eagles seven straight times.

But they pulled it off. And, miracle of miracles, they did it against the Terriers, 7-5. Kenty scored four times, including an empty-netter to clinch the game.  In the frantic waning seconds, the puck had caromed out to Shanley. His eyes lit up.  But the disc eluded his stick and landed on Kenty’s.

BC did not make the playoffs, but they attained the goal that truly counted. At the post-season banquet, Shanley received, for the second consecutive year, the Pike’s Peak Club Award as the Player Who Best Typifies Boston College Hockey.

Vin has stayed involved with the Pike’s Peak Club. He has been on the Board of Directors for 40 years and served three terms as president. The Club initiated its endowed scholarship during his presidency. He and his wife Christine have three children: Meagan, 43; Vincent, 41; and MaryKate, 38, as well as four grandchildren.

Vin played an important part in bringing Jerry York back to The Heights. As a member of the committee to select the Eagles’ third coach in three years, he made a passionate argument for the experience, steady hand, and previous track record of Coach York. It carried the day.

The rest is a history of success. But that success may never have occurred without Vin Shanley, the walk-on from Brighton who became one of Boston College hockey’s most respected captains and leaders of all time.

You Think You Know What It Means to be a Sports Hero? Not Until You Meet Pete Frates, You Don’t

September 5, 2018

Boston College’s Varsity Club has honored Pete Frates with the presentation of the Varsity Club Medal. This is only the second time that the medal has been bestowed upon an individual, who has “served Boston College with excellence, fostered its athletic traditions, and promoted sportsmanship while in service to the Varsity Club and Boston College Athletics.”

Pete, as many know, is the face of the Ice Bucket Challenge. He didn’t invent it, but he was the one responsible for turning it into a social-media phenomenon that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research.

I do believe that when the cure for ALS is finally run to earth, the path for that cure will lead back to Pete Frates.

The following story of this singularly heroic man and his wonderful family, which was done for the Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony on September 7, 2018, appears below.

Pete Frates ’07   

Varsity Club Medal

The most prescient scouting report on the athletic potential of young Peter Frates didn’t come from a coach. It was from a dancer.

Well, actually it was gym teacher Susan Stowe, but her subject matter was dance. She’d been observing Pete ever since kindergarten. One day, when Pete was in the fourth grade, she remarked to his mother Diane,

Julie, Lucy, and Pete Frates

“I don’t say this very often, but you’ve got a Division One athlete on your hands. In the dance curriculum, he has shown such agility, and such an ability to learn – all the things necessary to be an athlete.”

There was one other athletic must-have about Pete Frates: he was born with grit and determination.  When he was an infant, he fought off a severe staph infection that required a blood transfusion and that carried a more than 20 percent mortality rate.

Pete played football, hockey, and baseball from the age of six. He excelled in all of them, all the way through high school at Saint John’s Prep in Danvers.  In football he was a Catholic Conference All-Star. He also had an instinctive rapport with coaches and an innate ability to lead, so he was elected or appointed captain of most of his teams.

Very few Boston-area athletes have played hockey in Boston Garden, football at Gillette Stadium, and baseball in Fenway Park. But Pete Frates has – and at Fenway, he blasted a home run into the bullpen in a game against Harvard, his favorite foe.

“We always thought he’d be a hockey player,” said Diane. “He was a defenseman on the Saint John’s varsity as a sophomore. He was a safety in football, and they had some powerhouse teams. He played baseball all summer in Babe Ruth or Legion ball.  He’s always had a deep and abiding love for baseball. Both my husband John and I went to BC, Class of 80. It was his dream to play at BC, but that didn’t seem to be on the radar.”

One day, in the summer between junior and senior years of high school, Pete went to a baseball showcase run by BC coach Pete Hughes. After it was over, when Hughes learned that Frates was an honor student and that he’d done well on his SATs, he asked Pete to come and play baseball at Boston College.

Pete receives his baseball jersey from members of the BC baseball team. The team has retired his #3.

Pete played center field for the Eagles, for three years under Hughes and then his senior year as team captain under Mike Aoki. In 2007 he set a modern BC record in a game at Maryland. He went 4-for 6, with eight RBIs from a grand slam, a three-run homer and a double. His Fenway homer came in 2006, when he was 4-for-4 in the 10-2 Beanpot final win over Harvard.

After graduation, Pete played a year with Hamburg, Germany, in the European League before coming home and entering the workaday world. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with selling group life insurance for a living, but he still played ball, catching on with the Lexington Blue Sox in the Inter-City League. But life changed on that fateful day when he and his family answered a doctor’s call to come in and discuss a diagnosis.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS, the dreaded and incurable disease that took the life of another baseball great, Lou Gehrig, had come to Pete Frates. He went for a second opinion to Dr. Merit Cudkowicz at Mass General. After she confirmed the bad news, and Pete was exiting her office, he turned around and asked,

“Doctor. How much money would you need to find a cure for ALS?”

Taken aback at such an unusual question, she answered, “I’d need a billion dollars.”

To which Pete replied, “I’ll work on that for you.”

Some day, when medical textbooks describe the cure for ALS, they will point to that day, April 1, 2012, as the starting point, the call to battle.

Pete Frates and family on the day he received the BC Varsity Club Medal from club president Richard Schoenfeld, second from left.

Team Frates was born that day. Pete set to work – calling, texting, emailing – everyone he knew from his many endeavors, athletic and otherwise. He asked if they’d join in the fight. And the “Circles of Pete” began to form.

A little more than a year later, Pete and Julie Kowalik, a 2012 BC graduate, were married at her family’s Marblehead home. Their daughter Lucy was born in 2014.

Two and half years after that second opinion, and an online conversation between Pete and Pat Quinn, another ALS patient, the Ice Bucket Challenge emerged as a worldwide, social-media-driven phenomenon.

Dumping cold water on someone’s head as a way of raising money for charity was Quinn’s idea. To Frates, it was like that pitch he hit out of Fenway Park. To his parents, he said,

“This is the vehicle I’ve been waiting for.”

Team Frates swung into action with the Ice Bucket challenge. The Boston College community was particularly responsive, with athletes like Matt Ryan, Brian Boyle, and Sean Marshall taking prominent roles. You’ve seen the film clips of those who’ve accepted the challenge – the famous athletes, show business titans, captains of industry, and two presidents of the United States. More than 2.4 million tagged videos about the challenge have appeared on Facebook.

In its first year, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $200 million. The work continues, the ice water continues to flow, and most importantly, there’s hope for a cure. The FDA has approved two new experimental drugs, with more in the pipeline.

Thanks to $1 million in challenge money, researchers discovered the NEK1 gene in Project MinE, a global gene-sequencing effort, involving 11 countries and 80 researchers.

None of that progress, none of those positive steps toward finding the cure for ALS, would have happened without Pete Frates and those who admire him, love him, and would do anything he asks of them.

“He’s had more friends that anybody ever could have,” says Diane. “A life well-lived.”

Clark Booth: Boston’s Most Erudite Sports Reporter Ever

July 31, 2018

But the World of Sports was Just One Place Where He Wrote and Spoke with Class, Wit, and Elegance

Clark Booth
Writer, broadcaster, man of letters, and world traveler – one of Boston’s finest ever.

Mr. Booth passed away on July 28 at the age of 79. I knew him — not well, but I corresponded with him several times over the years and considered him a friend.  He personified class and dignity. He wrote superbly, and while he loved sports and its people, he always had the events and people of the sporting life in proper perspective.

Clark was appropriately critical of much that has to do with “big time” sports – particularly of the sanctimonious hypocrisy of college sports and sporting factories. I loved his label for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State football operation: a “penal colony.” But there was no bigger booster of Boston College hockey and Jerry York. To Clark Booth, York’s BC team was an oft-cited example of college athletics as it should be.

Back in 2005, I happened to be researching a hockey story and made a call to Harvard’s great Gene Kinasewich. My call came to Gene’s home on the very day that he died. That passing, too, was a big loss for Boston sports. Knowing Clark’s soft spot for hockey, I contacted him, gave him the news, and forwarded some of the background materials I had already assembled about Gene. Clark was effusive in his thanks to me, and he penned a wonderful encomium to Gene in his column in the Boston Pilot. He also wrote a very nice review of my and Reid Oslin’s history of Boston College Hockey.

Please first take a moment to click on this link and read Clark’s self-penned obituary. It’s a perfect summation of his career, in sports and beyond. It also radiates his boyish enthusiasm for sport, for people, and for life in general.  That obit is Clark Booth speaking!

Sports was just one area in which Clark excelled. If you read that obit, you have an idea of how many other fascinating people, events, and projects he covered down through the years. Had he remained focused on sports, I am sure that many more people than I would rank him among the very best – with writers like Grantland Rice, Red Smith, and Shirley Povich, and with broadcasters like Al Michaels and Jim McKay. He was that good.

The closest comparison to Clark from members of the Boston sporting press would be Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald. Ray had a classy writing style too, and like Clark Booth he was a truly nice man.

Clark was a Holy Cross man. Twenty-four years ago, I was editing a special Silver Anniversary edition of a publication for the BC Hall of Fame, and I called Clark and got his permission to reprint his magazine article about the BC-HC football rivalry. It’s worth a read, and it appears below. Ironically, the teams will begin playing each other in the 2018 season, after a hiatus of 32 years. I don’t know whether the games will be good or even competitive, but they certainly won’t be the same.

Clark Booth. Requiescat in Pace!

Clark Booth on the Boston College-Holy Cross football rivalry after it ended in 1986.

 

 

Boston College’s Clare Droesch: A Winner at The Game of Basketball – and the Game of Life.

May 12, 2018

Clare Droesch, Boston College Class of 2005, lost her long battle with cancer of May 11, 2018. I interviewed Clare before her induction to BC’s Hall of Fame in 2016. The biography of Clare that I wrote for the evening’s program follows.

When the time came for New York’s 2001 High School Basketball Player of the Year to choose a college, she decided that she wanted to build something grand, to be a part of a new tradition. That’s why Clare Droesch spurned offers from Connecticut, Notre Dame, Purdue and others to come from Christ the King High School to Boston College.

“My school was the UConn of high schools. I wanted to go to a place where we’d beat the best teams, where we’d leave a mark and be a school that other kids would look up to and want to go to,” she said.

Clare Droesch carried through. A sharp shooting, fearless point guard and inspirational leader on and off the court, Clare became an indispensable contributor to a golden era of Boston College women’s basketball under coach Cathy Inglese.

Inglese was in her ninth year of coaching the Eagle women when Droesch arrived. Rebuilding had gone well, with winning records in five of the previous six seasons. Still, they’d never won a Big East Tournament. In the previous four years, they’d gone 1-8 against their nemesis, Connecticut.

The Eagles reached the NCAA Tournament in all four years of Clare’s career. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen twice. In 2004 they won the Big East championship after knocking out top-ranked UConn in the semifinals.

In 2005, when Clare was team captain, they defeated Number-One ranked UConn again, in Clare’s final home game. The score was 51-48, and the game was nationally televised – no better way for Droesch to cap off her playing days.

Clare played in 126 games between 2001 and 2005. The Eagles won 92 of them.  If Boston College needed a basket, Clare Droesch wanted the ball in her hands.

during the second round of the Women’s NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 22, 2005, at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill N.C. (Kevin C. Cox/WireImage)

“She had such a desire to win. When the game was on the line, she always wanted to take that last shot. She was also one of the best passers on the team,” said Inglese.

“And in the locker room, before the game, when we were in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament against Connecticut…the way that she got the team fired up. I can’t forget that.”

Droesch was Inglese’s first big-name recruit from New York City. News of her arrival gave the program an additional level of prestige. For her first two years, Clare didn’t start, but she frequently logged more minutes than starters. As a freshman, she earned her a spot on the Big East All-Rookie team.

When Clare graduated in 2005, her 1,136 career points placed her twelfth all-time at Boston College. She was also twelfth in rebounds with 539; sixth in assists with 324; and third all time in three-pointers, with 158. She was honored as an ACC Legend in 2015.

Those impressive accolades and numbers don’t tell the entire story of Clare Droesch. While she always wanted to take her shot at crunch time, she also saw that her primary job was to be the vocal, outspoken bellwether who got every other player charged up to play her best.

“I never had to do that in high school,” she said. “We were a run-and-gun team, and I was the best player, the big scorer. Everyone else just followed me.”

The adjustment to college ball was hard for Clare. She learned to play defense, because, as she puts it “Coach Inglese made it very clear that if you didn’t play defense, you weren’t going to play.”

Even today, it’s “Coach,” not “Cathy” Inglese. “She made me a better overall player. That’s why I succeeded in college. I didn’t do a lot of different things, but I did them in a different way, trying to make myself more valuable to the team,” explains Clare.

“I was the type of player who wanted to do things my own way. But Coach Inglese really knew how to run the offense, and it was a matter of getting the best shot for the team. I was open at some times, but I didn’t always have the green light.”

Hunkering down to conform to the system worked for Droesch’s playing career. And now, as she coaches high school players back in New York, she finds herself employing the same approach that Inglese took with her.

Clare fondly remembers the help and mentoring by Inglese’s assistants, Kelly Cole and Bill Gould. “My rocks as coaches,” she says.

She’s also grateful to Donna Bennett, BC’s assistant director of sports medicine. In junior year, Clare suffered a foot injury and developed plantar fasciitis. The excruciating pain spread up through her shins. Bennett worked with Clare every day, keeping her fit to play with massages, shots, hot packs, and cold packs. Clare played through the pain, never missed a game, and waited until graduation for corrective surgery.

After college, Clare’s pro career was all too brief. While playing in Portugal, she hurt her previously uninjured foot by overcompensating to protect the other one.  So she turned first to college coaching, with stops at UMass-Boston, Vanderbilt, and Saint John’s.

Working with younger, more impressionable athletes was more to her liking, however. She’s now in her fifth year as assistant varsity coach at her high school alma mater, Christ the King. She’s also in her fifth year of a battle with cancer.

On December 19, 2011, Clare was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Tumors also spread to her spine and hip. Radiation treatments followed, then chemotherapy. Every other Monday, she’s at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The rest of the time, it’s basketball coaching and time with her family – parents George and Patty, and brother George – and friends back in Rockaway.

“My support system has been amazing, both from my family and from my friends at Boston College. When I got sick, I reached out to my BC family. I truly love Boston College. I still go there all the time, and I’m still close with the coaches.”

“I take it as a game,” she said. “Every day’s a game.”

Remembering Len Ceglarski

December 19, 2017

I covered college hockey for the Hockey News from 1969 to 1987, and was color radio commentator for Boston College hockey from 1973 to 1980. I’d like to share some of my memories of Len Ceglarski from those years.

Leonard S. Ceglarski passed away at the age of 91 on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Memories and tributes from the world of sport have been flowing in.  As well they should.

Len Ceglarski, coach

When Lenny retired from coaching college hockey in 1992, he was the all-time winningest coach in the game, with 673 wins over 34 seasons.  The first 14 seasons and 254 wins were at Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University ) in Potsdam, New York.  The last 20 seasons and 419 wins were at his alma mater, Boston College.

Len had succeeded the man who was his college coach, John “Snooks” Kelley, on that lofty winningest-ever perch.  Now that spot belongs to Jerry York, a man to whom Lenny gave his first job in hockey.  Not a bad tradition.

Jerry was Lenny’s first assistant coach at Clarkson, a small school in a one-horse town about 50 miles from the Canadian border.  During Lenny’s time, they played in a drafty old barn on an ice surface that had a neutral zone that was much shorter than regulation size.  As soon as players broke out of their own end, they’d be at the opponent’s blue line. It was a building more suited to peewee hockey than to college varsity play.

But Len Ceglarski made Clarkson’s teams into a perennial power in Eastern college hockey. Rarely did they miss the ECAC playoffs at the Boston Garden.  Three times they finished runners-up in the NCAA finals. Until York arrived for the last few years of his tenure, Lenny ran the show all by himself – the recruiting, the on-ice coaching, the scouting. He even had his children draw up designs and color schemes for the Clarkson team jerseys.

Len Ceglarski, player

When Snooks Kelley announced his impending retirement from BC after the 1971-72 season, the job was Len Ceglarski’s if he wanted it. He was an alumnus who had an impressive run at a place with fewer resources than BC. There would be no debate.  That’s what we all believed and hoped anyway.

But Lenny didn’t approach BC athletic director Bill Flynn right away, and many very fine candidates applied. Two of the more impressive interviewees were Arlington High legend Eddie Burns, a BC man, and Tim Taylor of Harvard. Had Ceglarski not accepted the position, Taylor may well have been picked.

Finally, Flynn called Len to ask if he was interested.  He was, and that was that. He and wife Ursula and their six sons moved back to Massachusetts form the North Country.

The first time I met Ceglarski was in 1969 at McHugh Forum. It was after a Tuesday night ECAC quarterfinal playoff. Clarkson knocked off host BC, 4-2, and was headed yet again to the Garden. A kid named John Halme scored two or three goals.

Lenny came up to the press row to talk to a couple of reporters. I don’t remember what was said, but I do recall thinking that he seemed like a genuinely nice man.  He also must be a good coach too; his team had lost 7-2 to BC during the regular season.  BC’s team was very talented. Tim Sheehy and his classmates were in their prime, as juniors, and Paul Hurley was back on defense for his final year after playing in the 1968 Olympics.

The following year, 1969-70, I began covering the game for the Hockey News. I went to my first game up in Potsdam late in February.  BC had already begun a disastrous second-half slide – they lost 8 of their last 11 games – but they put up a good battle before losing 7-5. At one point, with BC on the power play, the puck skipped up into the stands. The clock operator let seven seconds run off before stopping it. The officials either ignored it or didn’t see it.

That year was the last one for Ned Harkness at Cornell.  Since the mid-60s, Cornell, with a roster full of Toronto-bred junior players, had been the Red Menace.  They were feared and, for the most part, hated.  In 1969-70, Harkness’s team went undefeated, 29-0, and won the national championship.  Clarkson lost to them 3-2 in the ECAC final at the Garden. In that game, Cornell scored in the last minute. They won again over Clarkson, 6-4, in the NCAA final at Lake Placid.

Those two losses were most unfortunate. You see, Lenny was just about the only coach in the East who could beat Cornell regularly. It was almost impossible for anyone to win in Ithaca; Clarkson beat Cornell 7-0 down there at one point, then by 2-1 two years later. So how did old Ned Harkness address his situation? By refusing to schedule Clarkson.

Harkness was the polar opposite of Ceglarski. Yes, he always had good teams and he drove them to near-perfection. But he was a bandit, a schlemiel, and a scoundrel.  If an opposing team had a breakaway against his goaltender, all of a sudden the arena lights would go out.  The opponents’ dressing room at Lynah Rink would be heated up to about a hundred degrees between periods. Sand would be sprinkled on the floor around the visiting team’s bench in order to dull their skates.

For two or three years before they had to meet in those 1970 playoffs, Cornell just would not play Clarkson.  Cornell played a creampuff schedule – two games against all the Ivy League teams, which guaranteed them ten wins a year.  They played BU and BC and once each. Lenny had no use for Ned, and the feeling was mutual.  Good guys don’t always win, and the bad guy beat the good guy twice in 1970.

Since that year, I have never rooted for a Cornell team. I still don’t.  Even though “some of my best friends are Cornellians,” most of their fans in those days were arrogant, obnoxious, and entitled. You’d think they were the ones who were playing the game.  Cornell has renewed its rivalry with BU – and it is a good one, I’ll grant – and I pull for those Terriers every time. Old dislikes die hard.

In 1971, Clarkson was back in the ECAC final. Again they lost, this time to Harvard, by a score of 7-4. Harvard was playing inspired hockey, giving its coach Cooney Weiland a grand swan song.  After the ECAC championship game in Boston, the NCAA selection committee broke precedent and selected Boston University as the East’s second team for the NCAA finals.  Never before had they taken any but the playoff runner-up.

Jack Kelley’s Terriers were a great team, no doubt.  They had been upset by Harvard in the ECAC semis and had a record of 26-2-1. Clarkson, which had knocked off Cornell – who else – in the other semifinal game, had a record of 28-4-1. A strong case could be made for taking BU, but it still shouldn’t have happened.  Yes, I know BU won the national championship that year, but Len Ceglarski and Clarkson deserved to go to the finals in Syracuse.

I was at the last game Lenny coached against Snooks Kelley in 1972. It was up in Potsdam in late February. Clarkson was a solid team and was once again playoff-bound.  BC, a rag-tag bunch, was struggling desperately to get Snooks his 500th win before retirement.  That was their only objective for the season.

Miracle of miracles, the Eagles pulled it out 6-4. The score was tied late in the third period when forechecker Bobby Reardon picked the pocket of Clarkson defenseman Bobby Clarke. Reardon jammed the puck past Carl Piehl for the game winner.  Piehl was the second-string goalie. Ceglarski had chosen not to play his top guy in the net, his late nephew Kevin Woods.

A year or so later, I was reminiscing about that game with Lenny, and about how critical it was, as win number 498, for Snooks in his quest for 500. He half-smiled and said, “I did my best.”

I also was at Len’s last game as Clarkson coach. It was the 1972 ECAC quarterfinals. Clarkson played at Harvard and was the better team in a close contest. But they lost. Woods was in the goal this time. He had a bad-luck play at exactly the wrong time, when a long, fluttering shot by Bill Corkery glanced into the net off his glove hand.

In the post-game locker room, neither I nor any of the other reporters addressed the elephant that was standing there by asking, “So, is this your last game at Clarkson? Are we going to see you at BC next season?” And of course, he never said a thing either.

Lenny’s honeymoon year at BC, 1972-73, was a lot of fun. Tom Mellor came back from the Olympics. Ed Kenty, Reardon, and Harvey Bennett were still around. Freshmen played for the first time on the varsity.  Richie Smith, Mark Albrecht, and Mike Powers were the impact rookies. The Eagles beat Cornell for the first time since before World War II and defeated BU as well. They made it all the way to the NCAA’s at Boston Garden.

With Lenny in charge, there was a new spirit of optimism after years of feeling uncompetitive against the big three rivals – BU, Cornell, and Harvard. But consistent success was a few years away. The rest of the 1970s were rocky, up-and-down until the recruiting stabilized.

Two of the most fun-filled years I can recall were 1976 and 1978. In ‘76, BC returned to the ECAC playoffs after a two-year absence.  They knocked off Cornell 6-2 in Ithaca – I never tired of beating Cornell and its oleaginous coach Dick Bertrand, a worthy successor to Harkness.  Nor did Len Ceglarski.  Beating Cornell delighted him more than winning against any other team.

BC also won the Beanpot in 1976, breaking a twelve-year drought, thanks largely to freshmen Joe Mullen and Paul Skidmore. Lenny had his car stolen right before the Beanpot final, a 6-3 win over BU. I think that the BC booster club would have bought him a new car every year if he could just keep winning the Beanpot.

In the 1976 playoffs, BC was seeded eighth and lost by a goal to top-seeded BU. The game was horribly officiated. John “Monk” McCarthy gave BU a preposterous third-period power play when BC’s Paul Barrett, kneeling next to the boards after a whistle, picked up the puck with his hand and flipped it over his shoulder.  That was one of several lousy calls McCarthy made against both teams. Len was never one to blast referees, and he kept a tight lip that night. All he’d say for the record – almost in tears – was “I’m so proud of them.”

Regarding referees, there was only one time in all the years I knew him that Lenny’s mouth got him in trouble.  In a Saturday afternoon game up at Cornell in 1980, Lenny suggested to Jack McGlynn that his refereeing objectivity had been compromised by his being a drinking buddy of Bertrand.  That got him a two-minute bench minor.

I had driven up to that game, leaving at 6:00 a.m. from the BC campus with the Dailey sisters, Patty and Nancy. They worked in the athletic department and were as devoted to Lenny and his teams as any fan ever was. We saw BC dominate most of the way and prevail, 6-5, after Cornell had a late flurry to make it close.

Usually, a dangerous breakdown like that would have ticked Lenny off. But not this time. After the game he was grinning like a cat full of cream. “We looked pretty good out there today, eh?” After all, it was another win over Cornell in Ithaca.

In 1978 we had the Great Blizzard. Three of them, actually. The middle one was the worst. BC had a tough time getting its game together. They lost big to BU at the Beanpot and at Cornell. The final game of the year was a makeup against UNH on a Sunday afternoon. The winner would be fifth and the loser would be eighth.  Skidmore had a good game in goal and BC pulled it out.

Dave Pearlman and I did the radio broadcast of the quarterfinal playoff game at RPI.  BC should have been playing at home. RPI, mere percentage points ahead in the standings, was there because they had avoided playing BU. Their snowed-out game against the Terriers, an almost certain loss, just couldn’t be made up, sorry.  Too much time out of class, our trustees are concerned, was the spin from coach Jimmy Salfi. So BC bused up to Troy, New York.

Lenny was interviewed by an RPI writer before the game. The questions, about RPI getting a home seed by avoiding BU, were almost taunting and intended to provoke. Lenny wouldn’t take the bait and asked the writer, “Well, what do you think? Do you think it was fair?”

BC ended up winning that night. When Paul Hammer scored the winner in overtime, Dave and I both jumped up in our seats. We pulled the plug out of the radio board, and for several minutes the audience back home didn’t know who won.

BC went on to win the ECAC Tournament and make it to the NCAA final game against BU. Neither team played particularly well; BU won 5-3. It was another NCAA runner-up slot for Len, his fourth and final.

BC would be a frequent qualifier for the big show but they were never able to win it. One year, it was superhuman goaltending by Providence’s Chris Terreri. Another time, BC lost its best player, Tim Sweeney, to an injury during the tourney. Bad bounces and bad luck were frequent visitors.  Boston College did not win the national title until 2001, with York as coach.

Ceglarski was a player on BC’s first NCAA winner in his sophomore season of 1948-49. But that he never won a national championship as a coach is a crying shame.  A coach who has such a long and successful career should get the chance to ascend to the very top of the mountain just once. It seems like the very nice guys, the gracious gentlemen like Len Ceglarski, sometimes just can’t get there.

Others in that category were Charlie Holt of UNH and Lefty Smith of Notre Dame. Each of them, like Lenny, deserved to win a national crown at least once in his lengthy and distinguished career. Perhaps they all lacked that last measure of cutthroat ruthlessness that you could see in coaches like Harkness, Herb Brooks, Bob Johnson, and Shawn Walsh, among others.

Of one thing, though, I’m certain. I’d have wanted my son to be coached by Len Ceglarski.

Recognizing Jim Reid: A Life on the Gridiron

December 15, 2017

Gridiron Club Master of Ceremonies Tom Burke Presents the John Baronian Award for Lifetime Achievement to Jim Reid of Boston College

At this year’s Gridiron Club of Greater Boston’s College Awards Night, the John Baronian Award for Lifetime Service to Football was presented to Jim Reid, defensive coordinator at Boston College. I had the honor of introducing Jim and presenting the award. Here’s what I had to say about him.

In my 42 years of announcing football at Boston College, I’ve seen some very fine defensive teams. That includes this year’s team and last year’s.  It also includes two years ago when the Gridiron Club honored Donnie Brown as Assistant Coach of the Year for putting together one of the best defenses in the country.

But I think my favorite BC defense of all time was the one for the 1994 season.  That was Dan Henning’s first year as BC’s head coach. The record was 7-4-1, and they ended up ranked 23rd in the nation in the final AP poll.

The 1994 defense was coached by Jim Reid. They were a bunch of feral beasts. They had Stephen Boyd at linebacker and Mike Mamula and Stalin Colinet on the line. They sacked the quarterback 47 times. That set BC’s all-time sack record, which wasn’t equaled until last year by another defense coached by Jim.

They blew away the French school from Indiana, 30-11, and limited them to less than 100 yards passing. In the Aloha Bowl they held a heavily favored Kansas State to a single touchdown.  They scored on a safety and sacked the quarterback eight times. Kansas State had minus-yardage rushing.

Jim is now in his 44th year of coaching football and in his second stint at Boston College. He’s been a member of the coaching staffs of the University of Iowa, Bucknell, Virginia, Syracuse, UMass, Richmond, and the Miami Dolphins. He’s been head coach at UMass, Virginia Military Institute, and Richmond.

Jim Reid delivering his inspirational acceptance speech after receiving the John Baronian Award in recognition of his 44 years of service to football.

Jim’s 44 years in the coaching profession, at so many levels, speak for themselves. But here’s a little something else.

Back in the mid-90s, Jim’s high school football coach, Hank Cutting, was guest of honor at a retirement dinner, over at Moseley’s on the Charles,  when was finishing up at Catholic Memorial. The CM athletic director, Jim O’ Connor, had lined up a well-known and respected college football coach to be the keynote speaker – the late Peter Carmichael. Pete was a member of Tom Coughlin’s staff at Boston College.

Two days before the dinner, Mr. O’Connor received a phone call from Coughlin. He said that Pete Carmichael would not be speaking at the event. All of the BC coaching staff had to be present for review of the films from spring practice. That review was expected to run well into the evening, so they’d have to find someone else.

Standing Ovation for Jim Reid, led by Boston College’s Zach Allen (right) and A.J. Dillon (center). They received the Bulger Lowe Award as New England’s best players – Dillon for offense and Allen for defense.

Mr. O’Connor was in a bind. He put in a call to Jim Reid, who said he’d be glad to step in and speak in Pete’s place.

It didn’t matter that Jim was head coach of the University of Richmond at the time. He dropped everything, bought a plane ticket, and flew up to Boston at his own expense the next day.

That’s what I call going above and beyond in service to the game and to the people of football.

It’s an honor to present the John Baronian Lifetime Achievement Award to Jim Reid.

Remembering the American Football League

October 20, 2017

On October 18, 2017, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Larry Eisenhauer of the Boston Patriots as its Man of the Year. Larry was a superb defensive end for the Pats; he played from 1961 to 1969 and retired just before the American Football League merged with the National Football League.

I served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. My welcoming remarks follow.

Joe Foss, American Football League Commissioner

Good evening, and welcome to the 22nd annual “Legends Night” of the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

We usually call this “NFL Legends Night,” but that’s not true this evening. We’re honoring a hero of the American Football League, so welcome to AFL Legends Night for 2017.

The AFL, born in 1960. With commissioner Joe Foss. Let me tell you about Joe Foss.

He was governor of South Dakota at the time he was asked to be AFL Commissioner.  Joe was a Greatest Generation member. In World War II, he was Marine fighter pilot in the Guadalcanal campaign.  He was launched off an aircraft carrier, by catapult, and flew 350 miles to that island in the South Pacific.

The Marines had already landed there. They were in desperate straits, surrounded by the Japanese, hemmed into a small perimeter that fortunately had an airfield.

Joe Foss became head of what they called the Cactus Air Force. Guadalcanal was code named Cactus.

The fight for that island, and in fact the fight for the Pacific, was decided largely in the skies. The Japanese fought with Mitsubishi Zero fighters; there were 72 of them shot down in the skies over the Solomon Islands. Joe Foss shot down 26 of them.  He received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. Joe Foss’s total victories matched those of Eddie Rickenbacker, the “Ace of Aces,” in World War One.

What better guy to lead the American Football League – to lead a revolution against the establishment National Football league – than Joe Foss?

Joe Foss receiving the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as his wife and mother look on.

He would have been a great president of the United States of America.

Joe came to mind when I was thinking about how we might begin this evening’s program. But something else that kept coming up was a television show about early America.  I’m sure some of you remember it.  The HBO series about John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti, back in 2008.

Now, John Adams is a guy I’ve always felt a little sorry for. He was a one term president, between Washington and Jefferson, and the history books have always given him short shrift. The HBO series and the biography by David McCullough changed that. That’s a good thing.

Adams made a lot of mistakes and made a lot of enemies. But he was a true patriot, devoted to his country and his cause, and he was right on all the big questions.

What brought the series to mind, as I was thinking about tonight, was an interview with the producer. He talked about how they did not sugarcoat the portrayal of colonial times.  There was hardship always – worried about money – violence, brutality and unfairness. It was hard, just to survive. They wanted to show just how hard it was.

Boston Patriots’ founding owner Billy Sullivan

Well, it wasn’t easy for the American Football League to survive, back in those early days. In fact, it was pretty darn hard. The money? Well, let’s just say that an AFL salary might pay for a couple of practice sessions of NFL players today. The playing and practice conditions? Maybe we’ll hear something of them later in the program.

But like John Adams as president, the AFL with Joe Foss at the head, got one thing right. One very big thing, that the NFL did not get right.

When President Kennedy was assassinated on that Friday afternoon, Foss and the guys he worked for, Billy Sullivan and his fellow owners, cancelled the games for that coming Sunday. Billy, if memory serves, was the league owners’ representative at JFK’s funeral.

Pete Rozelle ordered that the NFL play its games anyway. And to Pete’s everlasting credit, he always maintained thereafter that the decision was the biggest mistake he made in his illustrious career as NFL commissioner.

But the AFL got it right the first time.

The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston’s 2017 Man of the Year, Larry Eisenhauer.

In drawing analogies between the birth of the American football league with the American nation – I really don’t mean to say that they are remotely comparable in importance. Pro sports are society’s toy department, and the AFL owners were building another section of that department. Our Founding Fathers were building a new country.

And it was a whole lot harder for General Washington, John Adams, and all of the founders of that day, to take on the British Redcoats than it was for Billy Sullivan and his motley band of revolutionaries to take on the mighty National Football League.

But take on the NFL they did. They prevailed. And unlike the Founding Fathers and the people of those colonies that became the United States of America, they had one helluva lot of fun along the way.

And so did we who watched them and cheered for them.

Let’s hear about those days now, and begin our speaking program.

 

A Long-Delayed Honor: Henry Woronicz is Inducted to the Boston College Hall of Fame

September 29, 2017

When the Boston College Varsity Club established its athletic Hall of Fame 48 years ago, the first class of 20 inductees included seven members of the 1940 football squad that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.  That was fitting. It had been BC’s greatest achievement in intercollegiate sports, the highlight of the school’s first golden era in the last golden days before World War II.

The man who did the most to make that bowl victory possible, other than perhaps “Chuckin’” Charlie O’Rourke, was Henry Woronicz.  

Henry was not included in that first class of inductees. Nor was he named over the course of many years as, finally, all of the starting lineup of that team had been enshrined. All but Henry Woronicz.

Decades passed. Memories faded. Nominating and selection committees came and went. Henry’s name came up from time to time, but he never received enough support in the voting.  Until this year.  Kudos to the selection committee, and especially to Varsity Club president Richard Schoenfeld, for their commitment to reviewing the merits of “old-timers” who, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.

One of my most enjoyable assignments each year is compiling the biographies of the inductees for the 2017 induction ceremony, which is on October 6. Henry’s story follows. He and his wife Marian both died 25 years ago. It’s a shame they won’t be there in person, but we know they’ll be there in spirit, and watching from the Second Balcony.

Henry Woronicz ’42: A Big-Play Guy

Big plays decide championships. Henry Bronislaw Woronicz was a big-play guy.

With the exception of quarterback Charlie O’Rourke, Henry Woronicz made more critical, tide-turning plays, in the most important games, than any of his teammates during Boston College’s glorious, undefeated 1940 season.  That season ended with a 19-13 win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Now he joins all of the other starters from that team in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

“Henry Woronicz Paves Way to Boston College Victory” trumpeted the newspaper headline. The story’s subhead read “Triumph Over Mighty Men of Tennessee Real Lift for New England Football – Henry Woronicz Blocks Kick to Turn Tide.”

As one writer described it, “the breakaway plays, snap passes, and vicious line play kept the record throng at Tulane Stadium in a uproar.” At left end on both offense and defense, Henry Woronicz was right in the thick of that vicious line play for almost the entire contest.

Woronicz suffered a cracked cheekbone in the first quarter when he was smashed by an offensive lineman while rushing the passer. But he played almost every down anyway.

Henry Woronicz (right) with, from left, Mickey Connolly, Mike Holovak, and Ted Williams.

Tennessee led 7-0 at halftime.   On the Vols’ first possession of the third quarter, Woronicz broke through and smothered Bob Foxx’s punt.  It was the first block of a Tennessee kick in three years. Joe Zabilski recovered, and a few plays later the Eagles tied the score.

But it wasn’t just a blocked kick by the farm kid from Bridgewater that led to the Eagles’ victory. On the “glory play, the lace curtain clincher” in the words of the Boston Globe’s Jerry Nason, Woronicz made it happen.

The score was tied at 13, and the clock was winding down. O’Rourke passes of 19, 24, and seven yards brought the ball to the Tennessee 24. With the Vols all thinking pass, Chuckin’ Charlie faded back and cocked his arm.  But then he tucked it and ran around Woronicz’s left end. Henry mowed down the tacklers and Charlie dashed into the end zone.

But perhaps none of those Sugar Bowl exploits would have been possible had Henry not also turned the tide against Georgetown earlier in the season. He was one of three Eagles who played the entire 60 minutes of that 19-18 triumph, called by revered sportswriter Grantland Rice, “The greatest football game ever played by colleges or pros.”

The weather was so cold and rainy that week that Boston College had to practice indoors, at the Boston Latin School gymnasium. Georgetown raced to a 10-0 lead so effortlessly that, as the book “Honor on the Line” describes, it “left Eagle fans with their collective countenance dark as the leaden sky.”

But with the situation becoming desperate, coach Frank Leahy called a play that was “..the great unveiling. O’Rourke lateraled to Lou Montgomery who rolled to his right and, while in the grasp of Augie Lio, crossed up the defense by passing the ball downfield.  It grazed the fingertips of defender Allen Matuza before falling into the arms of Henry Woronicz at the three yard line, and Woronicz walked in for the first Eagle touchdown.”

Yes, Henry Woronicz was a big-play man. For both the “great unveiling” and the “lace curtain clincher,” he was Leahy’s go-to guy. But he was a hard-luck guy too. That cracked cheekbone against Tennessee was the least of his woes. A severe knee injury two years before almost ended his football days.

After a stellar career at Brockton High, Henry played on an undefeated BC freshman team and cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore. But in spring practice in 1938, he took a hit from the future Monsignor George Kerr and tore up the knee. He withdrew from school and went home to work.

Boston College didn’t forget him. A year later, down to Bridgewater came a delegation from the school – athletic director John Curley, Father “Red” Collins, and backfield coach Ed McKeever – to ask Henry to return to the Heights.  They were persuasive, as was Henry’s future wife Marian Mitchell, about completing his education. So in January of 1940, he re-enrolled.

After the Sugar Bowl season, Leahy moved on and Woronicz played for Denny Myers. In the second game of 1941, a Tulane blocker chopped him from behind and sidelined him for seven games.  Henry played the final game, against Holy Cross at Fenway Park, wearing a big knee brace.

Woronicz was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and got a look from the Philadelphia Eagles. He served four years in the Navy before returning to a career of teaching and coaching. His high school stops included head coaching Bridgewater High for two years and assisting at Waltham High for two. He was also head coach of the Bridgewater Rams and the Randolph Rams, both semi-pro teams.

At the college level, Henry assisted old BC mates O’Rourke and Zabilski. He worked for Chuckin’ Charlie at UMass Amherst in the late 1950s. His last stop was a five-year stint with Joe, from 1964 to 1968, at Northeastern.

In 1985, when he retired from 25 years of teaching physical education at Waltham, the evening’s program read “Henry was Waltham’s answer to Vince Lombardi; he taught by example that effort and perseverance equal success.”

Henry and Marian, who were married in November 1942, had five children: Elizabeth, Janet, Sheila, Stephen and Henry M. They also had seven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. In retirement, they made several cross-country treks by car. Both Henry and Marian passed away in 1992.

Let’s let Charlie O’Rourke have the last word about the guy who did so much to make his own pigskin heroics possible:

“Henry was a helluva player. He was a good, rough tough kid who played both ways for us. He was equally good at both positions.  At defensive end, nobody got around him and he was always putting pressure on the passer. As a tight end, he could block with the best. He could block and catch the football. He could also demonstrate very well as a coach and was well-liked by the players.”