Jaywalking: Saluting a coach
Former Mohawk Trail Regional High School football coach David Bodenstein had a couple credos his former players recalled living by, but on Sunday he said that when he was coaching, this was what he wanted his players to play by: Give everything you have to the play and to the next one and to the one after that. You play until the end. Football is a violent sport and you always have to be ready.
It’s a lesson that still resonates with players today, but for his former players, it also carried over to many in their current walks of life.
Sunday afternoon about a dozen of Bodenstein’s former players met in the boardroom at Taylor’s Tavern in Greenfield along with the man they still refer to as “Coach” to reminisce about their playing days and visit with the man whom many revered as a second father.
Bodenstein began teaching eighth-grade English at Mohawk in 1972 and remained there for 31 years, finally hanging up his red pen in 2003. He began coaching football at Mohawk that same fall (1972) when he served as an assistant under longtime coach Bill Pollard before taking over the program in 1976. Bodenstein served as head football coach at the school from 1976 until 1993 and also coached the girls’ track team for 15 years, beginning in 1973 and lasting until 1988.
In the process of leading many young hilltown men onto the field for over two decades, his most memorable season came in 1980 when he took Mohawk to its only Super Bowl appearance (a 7-6 loss to Hoosac Valley), and it was players from around this time who sat down for lunch with Bodenstein Sunday and swapped stories about their wheelchair-bound coach suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
“The thing about coach was that he was very fair,” former Mohawk lineman and current Greenfield High School vice principal Tom Gaffigan joked. “He always made us fat guys run as much as the skinny guys. And he would let the first five guys go in to the locker room. I was never going to be one of the first five.”
Gaffigan, who eventually succeeded Bodenstein as head coach at the school and later served as an assistant at Pioneer Valley Regional School under former coach Mike Duprey, helped organize Sunday’s luncheon. A member of the Super Bowl runner-up team in 1980 who went on to play football at Southern Connecticut University, Gaffigan said that he and some of the former players still meet up with Bodenstein from time-to-time but that getting a large group together was something special.
One of the highlighted stories of the day came from Dave “Pinky” Bernard and Dave Wissman Jr. Pinky was a tailback who played his senior season in 1979 and missed the Super Bowl by one season, while Wissman was a senior quarterback on the 1980 team. Wissman went on to become the captain and quarterback at the University of New Hampshire and now serves as defensive coordinator at Sacred Heart University. The two men brought up a story about a bike that had everyone in the room laughing.
Apparently on the first day of double sessions in 1979, one of the coaches’ sons had left his bike out by the football field and Wissman and Bernard decided that rather than running the laps they owed, they would ride the bicycle. Bodenstein wound up catching the two players and began making them run sprints.
“Coach made us run sprints and he kept asking us if we were tired yet?” Wissman said.
“We didn’t give in,” Bernard chimed in. “We kept telling him ‘No.’ I think he finally got tired of watching us run and he finally told us to hit the showers.”
Bill “Bunk” Mazanec, who is now better known as Judge William Mazanec in Franklin County and was a lineman on the 1980 team, going on to play football at Springfield College, said that Bodenstein instilled many values in the players, including a memorable lesson about not swearing.
“If you swore, you had to run to a tree on the other side of the field,” Mazanec recalled, eliciting grumbles from the rest of the men in the room who had clearly learned that lesson multiple times back in the day. “We wound up making up new swear words to avoid the problem.”
That was just one of the many jokes swapped by the players, and Mazanec had one other thing he remembered that triggered a long conversation. It was in response to what Bodenstein’s philosophy was.
“ I’m going to run these guys and keep running them,” he said.
Another person chimed in that Bodenstein said, “We will never lose a game because we’re not conditioned.”
Mary (Shippee) Wissman, a girls’ track & field athlete who won a state championship under Bodenstein, also remembered the running.
“It was the same for the girls,” she said. “He was brutal with all the running, but we respected him.”
Bodenstein, who was wearing his St. Bonaventure hooded sweatshirt for the college which he attended, sat and listened to his former players talk about their playing days, occasionally chiming in with a story or comment. Others in the room, like former tailback Mike Gerry, who went on to play football at AIC, where he was an All-New England punter, as well as former lineman Ernie Parson and wingback Joe Kearney, also joined in on the conversation. All the while I sat quietly and listened, jotting down notes on the stories circulating about. After a while, I turned to Pinky and the Wissmans and asked what it was that made Bodenstein so beloved.
“He taught us more about being men than he did about football,” Pinky Bernard said. “It wasn’t only about football and winning right now, it’s about where you are 10 or 15 years from now.”
Dave Wissman agreed.
“All I do and all I try to instill in my team is because of him,” Wissman said.
Bodenstein’s son Brad also responded to the question, saying he can remember something his father always preached and led him to get a tatoo reading, “Don’t Flinch.”
“I don’t care how big you are and how big your opponent is, you don’t flinch,” Brad said. “I’ve carried that through to my life, and it’s helped me deal with adversity.”
It’s no surprise that a number of the men in the room are current or former coaches. Craig Hicks, a former defensive back, is a Pathfinder Vocational Technical High School assistant, while I already mentioned Wissman and Gaffigan. Others had coached in the youth ranks. It led to my final topic of the day. It seemed to me that many of the men (and woman) in the room respected and loved Bodenstein as much for what he taught them about life as what he taught them about the sport they were playing. It was a kind of tough-love that he instilled in them, a far cry from how coaches are able to coach today, with parents breathing down their necks about kids with other options (besides sports), who often quit in the face of adversity rather than work through it. How do you become a successful coach in the face of all this? How do you do for young players what Bodenstein did for those gathered in the room?
“First you sit down with parents and you tell them that not everyone is going to get a trophy,” Wissman began. “No one is going to get a trophy unless they earn it. The coach has got to frame it from the beginning. And you tell the parents that if a player is going to piss and moan about playing time or something else, (that parent) better not come to me. I’m as old-fashioned as coach Bodenstein and you’ve got to make everyone adhere to it.”
Wissman said that he also makes it clear to his players that if they are in trouble, no matter what it is, to give him a call. It’s that type of philosophy that gets coaches the respect of their players, and it’s that reason that after more than 30 years, Bodenstein’s former players were sharing lunch with him on Sunday.
The fourth annual 5K Kringle Candle Chase to benefit the Jill E. Harrington-Hanzalik Memorial Foundation will take place Sunday in Bernardston.
The event attracted 630 people last year and is a great chance for folks to get outside and enjoy the spring weather for a great cause.
For those unaware about the JEHH Foundation, it honors Jill E. Harrington-Hanzalik, who passed away on April 26, 2010 at the age of 33 within minutes of giving birth to her son Chase Thomas Hanzalik, who tragically died moments later. The foundation was started by the Bernardston family, which includes former NBA player Adam Harrington and his brother Kevin Harrington, and assists families, individuals and organizations to help children achieve their dreams.
The money raised from the 5K helps fund the foundation’s community project, which recently provided the funding to renovate the tennis courts and basketball courts at Bernardston Elementary School. As a whole, the JEHH Foundation has awarded $180,000 in its existence.
Registration for the 5K can be done by going to www.chaseyourdreamsnow.org until Wednesdsay. After that, registration must be done on the morning of the event at Pratt Field in Bernardston from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The fee is $40. The first 500 registrants get a goodie bag that includes a candle from Kringle and a T-shirt.
The 5K is free to children under 18, and the first person under the age of 18 to cross the finish line gets the Dream Cup, which is a trophy that goes to the winning runner’s school for display.
“We want to encourage children to get outside and enjoy the weather and be active,” Kevin Harrington said. “You can walk it, jog it or skip it. It’s about getting outside and spending some time with friends and family for a good cause.”
At 8:30 a.m., the group will march from Pratt Field over to Kringle Candle for the start of the race with a Pratt Field finish line. After the race, a number of vendors will be on hand at Pratt for some family activities. Our Family Farms will have milk and cookies, there will be face painting, and other things. Other contributing vendors are Snow & Son’s Landscaping, Hillside Pizza and Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.