Clarisse Hutchinson’s cross country career came to an end Saturday with her 43rd-place finish in 23 minutes, 9 seconds at the WMass Division II Cross Country Championships at Northfield Mountain. Her Franklin County Technical School legacy, however, will last much longer.
This fall marked the first time that the Eagles hosted cross country meets. For years, the school had been a cooperative with Turners Falls High School, which served as host, running home meets around the back fields at the Bourdeau Fields Complex. But interest in the sport had waned at Turners, and this year the team was going to furnish only one runner with the rest of the squad made up of Tech students. Because of that, the Eagles took over as the host school, which left the Franklin Tech athletic department with two options: continue to run home meets at Turners Falls High School, or create a track of its own.
“There became some discussion at our school and we decided that we wanted to host the meets here,” Franklin Tech athletic director Joe Gamache said. “There was a pre-existing course here from when we used to have our own team and we decided to utilize that some.”
Gamache was approached by Hutchinson this past spring about creating the track as her senior capstone. For those who don’t know, for Franklin Tech students to graduate, they must complete something called a capstone project, which is akin to a thesis for a college student working toward a master’s.
“The fact that kids at our school need to complete a senior capstone project worked out perfectly,” Gamache said. “It’s nice to have one of those projects directly benefit our school.”
I stopped by the Tech school last week on a rainy Thursday morning to meet with Hutchinson. Our plan was to walk the course and talk about the experience. I showed up in the pouring rain worried that moisture would dampen our plans, but after briefly meeting in the Landscaping Department, the two of us ventured out on something called a Gem Cart, which is essentially a supercharged golf cart. The rain, seemingly aware of our walking plans, let up as we drove across the parking lot, and we began to traverse the roughly 1.5-mile course.
Hutchinson came to Tech school as a freshman, having previously been home-schooled. She knew she wanted to join the landscaping department and it has been exactly what she was hoping it would be. She is now applying to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass and wants to go into equine studies.
Running had always been something she enjoyed doing, she was pretty good at it and landed on the cross country team. Hutchinson has been one of the most successful individual runners for the Turners Falls/Franklin Tech program over the past four years, and when she learned the school was going to be hosting cross country in the spring, she approached teacher Mark Amstein to get it approved. Amstein signed off, as did Gamache, and Hutchinson began work this past May.
“We started out by finding a map of the school and marking the existing trails,” she said. “There was a nature trail around the school but it hadn’t been used a lot and was overgrown.”
Hutchinson began the project with the help of her friend Miranda Noyes, and the two used the cell phone app “Map My Run” to find out exactly how long the proposed course was going to be. Then there was the painstaking effort to clear the course of all the overgrown brush, as well as grading the course where tractors had driven through for logging purposes, leaving in their wake giant mud ruts. After a lot of pruning, mowing and grading, the course was complete.
“I felt very accomplished and very happy about how it all came out,” Hutchinson said. “It’s so nice, not just for the school, but for all of us. To be able to run home meets at our school. ... It makes you proud.”
The course begins at the starting line on the track that runs around the football field. Runners head out of the field and run along the fence before entering the woods running between the football field and airport. Runners then make a counter-clockwise loop around the school before emerging from the woods near the Nancy Gifford Softball Field. The initial course took runners across Industrial Boulevard, but that idea had to be scrapped because of traffic concerns. Instead, runners make their way back toward the football field, then do another loop around the course for a total of 2.9 miles. Course highlights include a picturesque run into the woods, through two piles of compost (which were not smelly on the day we walked it), and catching a glimpse of where the Franklin County Radio Control Club launches its airplanes on its very own runway.
Hutchinson still has work to do. She now has to write a paper on the project and then go into a classroom with three teachers from other departments where she must give a 10-minute presentation. I’d give her an A for the course. But my grade matters little. Sorry, Clarisse.
No matter what the final grade, the Tech school has its course for years to come, and it’s homegrown.
Let me clear up a little confusion regarding Franklin Tech running back Kyle Laffey.
We noticed on Sunday that Masslive.com had Laffey for 2,088 rushing yards thus far this season, which would easily lead western Mass. I then received a Monday-morning e-mail mentioning that Laffey must be Franklin County’s new all-time single-season rushing leader, supplanting former Turners Falls player Ryan Wilder, who set the mark just a year ago.
I checked our stats at the paper and we had Laffey for 1,216 yards on the season, so I shot Tech coach Joe Gamache a text and he confirmed that number. When told of the Masslive numbers for his back, he joked, “Maybe I should go by their numbers.”
So rest easy Ryan Wilder: unless Laffey rushes for 400 yards in each of his final two games, you’re safe.
Don’t ever say that our local teams don’t show sportsmanship. Frontier and Turners Falls were among four field hockey teams in western Mass. to win the Sportsmanship Award selected by the Western Mass. Field Hockey Officials Association. Congratulations to both teams for not only successful seasons that resulted in tournament appearances, but for also showing a lot of sportsmanship.
Lots of chatter about our weekly Pigskin Picks over the past few days.
When I arrived at Pollard Field on Friday night, I made my way over to the Mohawk sideline and shook hands with first-year coach Doug McCloud. I began our conversation by telling him “You’re welcome for the bulletin board material.” That came in reference to all four of us picking Franklin Tech to win that game. It also marked the second time this season I had picked the Eagles to beat the Warriors. I got a good ribbing from a few Mohawk players before the game about my pick, including spirited fullback Brian Sullivan, who made sure I knew that Mohawk was going to do everything in its power to prove me wrong. The Warriors backed it up and I went to 0-2 on the season when taking the Eagles to beat the Warriors with Mohawk’s 20-14 overtime victory. After the game, at least four players let me have it, all in good spirit.
That takes us to this Friday, where Mohawk is hosting Turners Falls in the WMass Division VI championship game at 7. I was made aware by someone on Monday of a local Facebook post that claimed when I pick Turners Falls to win, it does just that. I won’t give away my pick just yet but will say that it has the potential to be one heck of a game.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.