Jaywalking: Thunder rolls into Powertown

Monday, May 21, 2018

As I approached Turners Falls High School on Sunday evening just after 6 p.m., I half-expected Chicken Little to be running around proclaiming the sky was falling.

Sunday night was the first sporting event at the school since the school committee announced the school’s new nickname — Thunder — on Friday.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve written about this topic at least half-dozen times since the debate to change the former Indian nickname began about 18 months ago or so. Full disclosure, I’ve always sided with the purists in town who wanted to keep the nickname, seeing it as a badge of honor for the town rather than some outdated, racist symbol.

Things have been contentious in the town ever since the debate began, and what might be most impressive about this entire thing is that people have remained passionate about this topic despite it dragging on. If nothing else, you must admire the staying power shown by those who want to keep the name. Even now, as I work on this on Monday, people in Turners Falls are out voting for the Gill-Montague School Committee, and the most important factor to many voters heading to the polls was how candidates viewed the nickname change.

As I left the Recorder office and headed north on High Street Sunday evening, you can’t blame me for jokingly wondering to myself if the sky might be falling in the Powertown. But suddenly, as I made my way through the light at the intersection with Silver Street, I noticed a big sign at the start of Turners Falls Road announcing that the road was “Closed to Thru Traffic.” My mind began to race.

“What if the sky is actually falling?” I thought to myself. “What if the town has shut down now that a decision has been made? What if a band of folks was congregating in the Patch to march into town as some sort of small-scale revolution?”

I mean, we are talking about a town that held a make-shift parade to celebrate the re-opening of the Gill-Montague bridge. As if anyone has ever been that excited to get into Gill.

We are talking about one of the only towns around that does not call its main street, “Main Street.” Nope, Avenue A it is. As if there were going to be 25 other avenues in that town worth naming. And naming the streets by numbers? What are you, New York City?

We’re also talking about a town that doesn’t quite know if it wants to be known for its life-long residents, or for its recent “hipster” vibe. If you don’t know which category you fall into, it’s the difference between drinking at BTU or the Rendezvous, or eating a meal at Hubie’s or the Five-Eyed Fox.

You get my point. Nothing is out of the question. So you’ll just have to excuse me if I wasn’t a bit worried when I was forced to detour around to the Gill-Montague bridge to get from Greenfield to the Powertown. As I made my way over the bridge — and what a stunning bridge it is — I was happy to see that the town was intact. Or as intact as when I last left it. I made my way up the hill and over to the high school. Pulling into the parking lot serves as a great reminder as to why the nickname debate has been such a heated one; the lot was as full on a Sunday night as it is on a school day due to the incredible support the community shows for its sports teams. The community gives a damn.

I was hoping to see some sign of the new nickname at the Bourdeau Fields Complex, but as I walked to the softball field from my car, the only sign of thunder was from the dark clouds looming overhead.

Soon, I was taking a seat in the “press box” behind home plate as the teams were set to be announced. St. Peter-Marian’s lineup was read and the excitement level rose as the home team’s lineup was due up. Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves queued up the CD player for the entrance music, and that’s when it happened.

Turners Falls entered to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

Finally, we had a thunder sighting. Even though you can’t technically see thunder, which we will get to in a minute. But you get what I mean.

It was a small gesture, but perhaps it could be seen as the passing of the torch from the Indian to …. Thunder? Again, you know what I mean.

Actually, this is a good time to bring this up. What exactly does thunder look like? I mean, every team needs a logo or a mascot (just be careful not to only refer to it as a mascot, since that was a debate once upon a time), but how do you draw thunder?

No really. Google it. Every picture of thunder is really just a picture of lightning.

“They should have just named us the lightning,” one person said at the game in response to that question.

My favorite depiction so far would be a flexing arm with a hand holding a lightning bolt.

The game went on without a hitch. Even under the new nickname, Turners Falls played like Turners Falls. Jade Tyler crushed a pair of home runs, just like she did before the new nickname, and she struck out 10 to lead Turners to a 5-0 shutout victory. At one point, around the fourth inning, one Turners fan shouted, “Go Thunder,” which elicited a chuckle from many of the other fans, but that was it.

And maybe that’s the lesson here. No matter what the school’s nickname, logo or mascot, it’s not really going to change anything. The town is still going to supply the athletes with overwhelming support. The softball team is still going to be one of the best teams in the state. Athletic life at Turners Falls High School is going to continue just as it always has. Whether there is an Indian on the uniform or some sort of depiction of thunder, life will go on.

As I left the field, I was feeling pretty good about life after the Indian in Turners Falls. And as I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the parking lot, my lights shone across the street and onto a giant sign … “Save the Indian,” it reads, with the former Turners Falls mascot emblazoned.

Oh, Turners Falls, never change.

All joking aside, Sunday night was actually a difficult day for many in the Turners Falls and surrounding communities.

Mike Markol passed away just before 5 p.m. Sunday, ending his brief bout with cancer. It was a somber affair at Bourdeau Fields Complex that evening as news of Markol’s passing spread.

The outpouring of support for Markol’s family continued throughout the night on Sunday and over the day Monday on Facebook, as people posted stories and memories of Mike.

I stopped by Markol’s Facebook page on Monday afternoon to silently remember the man and what caught my eye was what Mike had listed under the “Intro” section on the left side of the page.

“I’m just me that’s who I am,” he wrote once upon a time.

It seemed a fitting way to remember Markol. Rest in peace, Buddy.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.