Keeping Score: Tech for a day
The rising sun bides its time in late September, and Ben Pike was wearing a miner’s hat to stay on the sidewalk and watch his trusty dog Patrick on the empty Northfield campus. Patrick is a crossbreed between a pub and a beagle-- a puggle, and he’s a happy critter. I’d always get the two confused, thinking Ben was Patrick and vice versa.
Pike is my neighbor and chef instructor at Franklin County Tech, and recently he asked if he could come over with his air gun to do some target practice. “I want to show my students how to skin a squirrel,” he explained.
Last Saturday he was excited about the school’s morning-long food fest and car show. “Then we’re having a football game. C’mon over. Have a pulled pork sandwich.”
Why not? It was a splendid autumn day with red maple leaves zigzagging through the still dry air and the sun shining so brightly I couldn’t tell I was wearing sunglasses.
I arrived before noon and walked to the back of the school past a tow truck airbrushed in reddish-brown flames that the driver said cost $750,000, which is apparently the going rate for a Peterbilt truck with a 525 horsepower engine and a Century towing rig.
The Drifters’ 1964 hit “Under the Boardwalk” was playing and the parking lot was filled with fastidiously maintained cars parked tail-to-nose, hood up to show the 390-cubic inch engine inside a Ford Thunderbird, and hood down to reveal the fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror of Ed Thorn’s 1955 Chevy Bel Air.
Randy Miller’s muscle car, a red 1969 Pontiac Firebird, was parked next to Jim Byrne’s 1912 Model T Speedster. “It was a barn find,” said Byrne. “I grabbed it before it went to auction.”
Pike and his students had transformed an auto bay into a makeshift cafeteria and were serving hand-cut french fries, cheeseburgers, pulled pork and hot dogs. The cash register was brimming with cash and the profits would be used for a trip east next month to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Cambridge. “The students will serve us dinner,” said Pike, “then we’ll take the train to a Bruins game. We’ll be sitting in the balcony, dressed in Bruins’ jerseys and wearing chef’s hats.”
The hot rods began rumbling out of the parking lot and I ambled over to the football field and admired the thick, green carpet of manicured gridiron grass that’s tended to by Tech’s landscaping and horticulture program.
It was still a half-hour before Kevin Hollister would sing the national anthem. The Eagles were seeking to remain undefeated and would kick off against Pathfinder Vocational High School of Three Rivers. Onlookers ringed the field and sat in the grandstands, fans like Marshall Aronstam and George Miner. Rival coaches sauntered toward the back of the end zones to scout their future adversaries.
“I hear Mohawk’s overrated,” I said to Mohawk’s Doug McCloud, who turned and elbowed me in the ribs. A first-year head coach, McCloud was in the afterglow of his team’s 44-0 win against Palmer the previous night. “It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s always fun when you win.”
I walked over to the visitors’ side and stood near the chain gang, glad not to be tracking every play. That job belonged to Recorder correspondent Chris Collins up in the press box. It’s a labor of love, charting the passes and runs, the penalties, punts and return yards; statistics that are crucial to composing a game story.
The sideline dialogue is often colorful and humorous. When Tech quarterback C.J. Daignault scrambled away from one defender and threw a short pass for a long gain down the sideline, a Pathfinder player next to me simply stated in an even tone, “Holy s---. That is not good.”
A few feet away, offensive coordinator Don Irzyk was going bonkers. With Tech leading, 7-6, Pathfinder tight end Tom Murphy caught a third-down pass short of a first down. Irzyk flung off his headset. “What have we told Murphy a million times? Down and distance! We’re third-and-nine. You caught it and you gained a yard. Whoop-dee-do!”
“Keep that coach off the field!” a Tech fan behind me growled. “Give him a five-yarder! What kind of game is this?!”
No wonder there’s a break at halftime to get everybody calmed down. Turners Falls’ longtime booster Stash Koscinski waved me over and said, “Gonna need some points,” referring to our impending Turkey Day wager.
Koscinski was sitting in the south end zone with coach Chris Lapointe, his wife and son, and athletic director Glenn Doulette. Turners had trounced Frontier the previous night, so when Lapointe saw Recorder sports writer Mark Durant ambling toward us he gave him the what-for. “No photo?” he protested. “If it had been Greenfield there’d a been a photo!”
Lapointe was a standout quarterback at Turners Falls and set records at Westfield State. He believes that football is the adhesive that glues a community together from one generation to the next and spoke of Jack Bassett, the school’s longtime athletic director, principal, biology teacher and football coach. “When he passed away he requested in his will that the family donate some money to the football team,” said Lapointe.
Honoring his request, Bassett’s brother Paul and the rest of the family purchased a tackling sled and running back gauntlet. “Also known as a ‘Blaster’,” said Lapointe. “It would’ve taken us years to fund stuff like that.”
Bassett was born in Riverside, Gill, on July 25, 1926, the same day that Red Sox right-hander Red Ruffing lost to Cleveland. He was a town moderator, selectman and county commissioner but most of all he was an educator. He built his house on Turnpike Road next to the high school. “He had that big bay window put in so he could watch the games,” said Lapointe.
It was getting late and I’m not one of those you-gotta-stay-to-the-end types. Tech was pounding Pathfinder so I walked past the school and remembered talk of a wild game dinner and wondered if Pike would be back in my yard hunting to make squirrel stew.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.