Keeping Score: Be Blue to your school

Friday, May 25, 2018

Good morning!

The search to find a new nickname for the Turners Falls High School athletic teams has ended. It was inevitable that if the school committee spun the dial enough times it would land on something catchy but harmless.

Like Thunder. 

Blue Thunder would’ve aligned the new nickname with the school’s colors, but the naming committee was bent on ripping off the WNBA. Chicago has the Sky, Connecticut has the Sun, and now Turners Falls has the Thunder.

I was hoping for “Steam” since the controversy began as a tempest in a teapot. When “Wildcats” was suggested, a naysayer said the term was offensive to middle-aged women. That’s how ridiculous it got, choosing a sound over an image to avoid offending anyone.

Now it’s the folks in the Powertown who are offended. “The name Indians shall be heard no more,” wrote Warren Thomas in Thursday’s Letters section of The Recorder. “Truly a pity.”

Thomas grew up in Turners Falls and played football for TFHS. In 1964, he co-captained the Wesleyan University football team (home of the Cardinals).

Thomas wrote that the Indians nickname was meant to embody “the noble and brave of Turners Falls.”

Not anymore. These days, everything’s construed as a negative. Dixie? A racist song. Inmates? In Washington they’re called students. Columbus? A cad. Jeffery Amherst? A latter day Bashar al-Assad.

And so it’s Thunder, which unlike lightning is benign. It got me to wondering what else was nicknamed Thunder. Surely there was a horse from the western movies — wasn’t Tonto’s horse named Thunder? Uh-uh. The closest I found was Thunderhead, Son of Flicka, the sequel to the 1943 movie My Friend Flicka.

Tonto was a Native American who rode with the Lone Ranger and his trusty steed Silver. Tonto’s horse was named Scout, but devotees will recall that in the early days, Tonto saddled an all-white horse he called White Feller.

Yup, Hi-Ho, White Feller! You could look it up.

And where was the outrage?

The NHL Channel’s Gord Stellick says of the Vegas Knights: “They’ve got like four second lines.”

Our man in Vegas Mark “Scooter” Durant disagreed: “More like three seconds and an above-average fourth,” he texted.

Durant’s putting his Preakness Stakes winnings toward Stanley Cup tickets. “The first round cost $80 (plus fees), the second round was $115, Conference Finals were $215 and the Stanley Cup will be at least $375,” said Durant, who has upper bowl, goal line seats near the top of T-Mobile Arena.

U.S. Racing lists Justify at 20-23 ($100 to win $115) to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and become the 13th Triple Crown winner.

Bob Baffert’s undefeated colt posted a career-low 97 Beyer in the slop at last week’s Preakness. As of now, a field of 13 is expected to enter the starting gate, including Audible (4/1), Bravazo (9/2), Tenfold (6/1) and Hofburg (7/1).

Chad Brown will keep Good Magic out of the Belmont but will be saddling New England’s favorite hunch bet Gronkowski, a 35/1 longshot in the future books.

Bravazo nearly caught Justify at the wire in the Preakness. Most felt he was tiring but there’s another compelling theory. Horses are pack animals — they like to run with the pack — and Justify backed up for some company.

The Belmont Stakes is called “The test of the champion” because it’s a mile-and-a-half distance over a course nicknamed “Big Sandy.”

“It’s a lot of pressure but you hope everything goes smooth,” said trainer Bob Baffert.

Trainers will be conspiring to knock off the silver-haired assassin. Justify came out of the Preakness looking vulnerable, and 11 horses have tried and failed after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

It’s a perfect money-making opportunity, we’ve just gotta find the right horse.


Sad week for the folks in Powertown who lost their neighbor Mike Markol on Sunday. The 53-year-old Markol was among the town’s all-time high school sports boosters. His passing puts the week’s other happenings in better perspective.

The press release announcing UMass football coach Mark Whipple’s two-year contract extension was absent the usual hyperbole. Whipple said he was “excited about the future” and athletic director Ryan Bamford said “Mark has positioned us well for the future.”

When Whipple replaced Charley Molnar after the 2013 season, UMass was 122nd in total offense and 99th in total defense. Last year they were 35th and 75th respectively, but lost winnable games against Hawaii, Temple, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion and finished with four wins and eight losses.

Whipple will have no excuses this season. His team is experienced and talented, and even by UMass standards they play an easy schedule.

The Minutemen will open the season three months from today against FCS Duquesne. Other cupcakes include Charlotte (1-11 last year), Georgia Southern (2-10), Coastal Carolina (3-9), UConn (3-9) and BYU (4-9). They will finish at least 7-5, probably 8-4 and maybe 9-3. You heard it here first.

SQUIBBERS: The Yankees and Rangers combined for 19 home runs in Arlington this week, a record for most dingers by both teams in a three-game series. “Joel Pineiro said having to pitch in that ballpark used to give him the night sweats,” said MLB analyst Eduardo Perez. … On NESN last weekend, Dennis Eckersley told Dave O’Brien that growing up in Oakland his father hated the Eck’s long hair. “He said, ‘None of that in this house.’ This was the 60s with Haight-Ashbury and all that, right? He was so disciplined, he was tough.” … According to thehockeywriters.com, players will earn only between $15,000 and $175,000 in playoff money depending how deep they went into the playoffs. That’s a lot for a rookie but not much for a multi-millionaire veteran. It underscores they’re playing to win the Stanley Cup. As one Vegas Knight put it: “All I’ve won so far is a hat.” …. The Winnipeg Jets’ two primary radio sponsors are a hot tub company and a vasectomy clinic. … Former Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa was designated for assignment by the Marlins this week. He had a 9.00 ERA in 20 innings pitched. … The UMass baseball team finished 15-29 under first-year coach Matt Reynolds. Team leaders were Middleboro’s Eddy Hart (.298 batting average) and right-hander Justin Lasko (5-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 82 innings) … The softball team’s quest to reach the NCAA tourney was foiled by Fordham in the A-10 championship. The Rams were butted out of the NCAA tourney by LSU and La.-Lafayette by a combined score of 24-3. … Terry Plotkin informs us that the Ultimate State Championships will be at the Oxbow on the Connecticut River this weekend. … The Red Sox are 21-6 versus the AL East and the Yankees are 7-7, not including their 3-3 records versus each other. … Thanks to JD Martinez the Red Sox are out of the Big Papi Era. As Ty Cobb explained it with this comment from quotegarden.com: “Baseball is not unlike war, and when you get right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery.”

If you’re driving along Route 5 in Deerfield this Memorial Day weekend, note the shrine a half-mile south of Richardson’s Candy Kitchen. A boy grew up on that road and played baseball and climbed the mountains behind our house with my children. He died in Iraq before his dreams were realized. Greg Belanger had signed up for the Reserves before 9/11 to help pay school bills.

Enjoy the holiday, but say a prayer for Greg and all the others who won’t be sharing it with us.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.