Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Lightning crashes near McGuirk Stadium

Published: 9/15/2023 4:25:19 PM
Modified: 9/15/2023 4:24:48 PM

Good morning!
Lightning kills thousands of people across America each year. Well, hundreds anyway. Dozens? According to the National Weather Service, 19 people were killed by lightning last year. In any given year the odds are 1 in 1.22 million you’ll be killed by a lightning strike, but that’s enough risk to frighten the Chicken Littles of the world.

On Saturday afternoon, Jerry Daly and I were outside the visitors locker room at McGuirk Alumni Stadium waiting for the Miami (Ohio) football team to run onto the field. Coach Chuck Martin walked past us flanked by two of his assistants but the players remained in the hallway.

The crowd had stood for the national anthem and the majorettes were ready to twirl their batons when the PA announcer spoiled all the fun. Sounding like HAL from A Space Odyssey, he spoke in calm measured tones saying there’d been a lightning strike somewhere.

“Evacuate the stadium,” he said.

Telling people to “evacuate” usually means a fire or tornado, not a rogue lightning strike. There were storm clouds near Mt. Sugarloaf, but at the stadium it was bright and hot.

It reminded me of a Playboy cartoon that showed two golfers on the green looking at a mushroom cloud rising over the city. “Go ahead and putt,” one of them says. “It’ll be two minutes before the shock wave hits us.”

What happened on Saturday had to be athletic director Ryan Bamford’s worst nightmare. Here it was opening day, there were thousands of fans, the band was playing and it was beautiful football weather.

But rules are rules and the NCAA — short for National Climate Anticipation Association — says shut it down whenever there’s lightning within an eight mile radius. At Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Boston College and Holy Cross had to wait two hours before they could play the final 118 seconds of their game.     

South Deefield’s Steve Aronstam has worked the yard markers at UMass games for 12 years. A member of the officiating crew had told him the game couldn’t be postponed until midnight, which was good news for cops, EMTs and other personnel who were paid by the hour.

Miami (Ohio) fans had no choice but to stay till the end. Aaron Strader drove from Pittsburgh and was wearing a white RedHawks jersey with a red No. 13 sewn on the back. It was his son Raion’s number. “True freshman,” he smiled. “He’s the starting cornerback.”

Strader’s son made three tackles during the 41-28 win that ended at 12:28 a.m.

The undergrads who’d come down from the dorms and sororities to cheer on State U sheltered in place at the Hangar Pub, or partied under the trees. 

I bought a grinder at Big Y and drove to Easthampton to watch my grandkids’ games. It was raucous and cheerful at the Mountain View School. The home team was ahead and the PA announcer adeptly called the names and gains. A storm was brewing and a lightning bolt flashed in the southern sky. “Did you see that?!” exclaimed my grandson Chase.

We all saw it, but the game played on and no one was hurt. The game ended as big drops of rain began falling and everyone ran to their cars. Life is a risk. Over 42,000 people died in car accidents last year but no one’s shutting down the auto industry (except maybe the UAW).

Meanwhile recruiters take note, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the fewest lightning strikes in the continental U.S. happen on the California coast. Come to our school and leave the cribbage board home.


Scouting EMU — UMass is an 8.5-point underdog today against Eastern Michigan, which lost to Minnesota last week 25-6. Last year in Ypsilanti, the Minutemen squandered a 13-0 lead in the third quarter and lost, 20-13. Kicker Jesus Gomez has converted 16 of 19 career field goal attempts including two from over 50 yards, and is a perfect 47-for-47 on extra points.

To lure fans into 30,000-seat Rynearson Stadium, EMU is pushing a car show, Kid’s Club Day and Band Day. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.


The Wall Street Journal reports that UNH placed third behind Michigan Tech and Auburn in the Free Speech College Rankings. The study analyzed students’ ability to be pro or con anything without being judged, woked or ostracized. Only two other New England schools were ranked in the top 100 — Brown (69th) and WPI (78th).

UMass-Amherst was 132nd of 248 colleges and universities, Amherst College was 195th, Boston College was 229th and Harvard was last.


Achilles tendon tears like the one Aaron Rodgers suffered leave the person unable to move. “You’re not injured, your body is broken,” said a guest on the Dan Patrick Show.    

Two Red Sox players went down like they’d been shot. Ferguson Jenkins tore his Achilles covering first base, and Gabe Kapler fell while he was running from second to third base. He didn’t even try to get up, he was tagged out and waited for the trainers to come get him.


Baseball Banter — Between pitches in Baltimore on Wednesday, Cards radio voice Rick Horton told listeners: “On this date — 9/13/1845 — Alexander Cartwright presented the rules of baseball.”

Broadcast partner John Rooney mulled it over and in a droll voice asked, “Was he related to Ben, Hoss and Little Joe? The Ponderosa was a big park.”

One more, this from John Sterling discussing hitters’ favorite ballparks during Yanks-Sox on Tuesday: “Bobby Murcer had such a good time at Yankee Stadium. He had a swing for Yankee Stadium. He hit all those home runs, then they had to move to Shea because their ballpark was being remodeled and he couldn’t hit there.” 

Murcer went from averaging 25 home runs in five seasons to 10 his only season at Shea before was traded to San Francisco.


SQUIBBERS: The Amherst College football team opens at Middlebury today and hosts Hamilton next week at 1 p.m. Coach E.J. Mills is three wins shy of 150. … The cheapest ticket for the Army-Navy game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9 is $629 in Upper Level 337, Row 26, high enough to see Europe. … Miami (Ohio) versus the University of Miami on Sept. 1 was affectionately referred to as the Confusion Bowl. … UMass basketball season tickets are on sale for the 2023-24 home schedule that starts Nov. 7 against Albany. Prices range from $210 to $300 for a 16-game Mullins Center schedule that includes Harvard, VCU, Davidson and St. Bonaventure. Go to for more information. … Elon Musk should just combine Twitter and X and call it Twix, just like the candy bar. … The Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard after the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles: “They had two chances with the ball to win the game late, and couldn’t do it. Seems like this is a consistent theme since Tom Brady left.” … Chris Russo’s take on the Giants’ 40-0 loss to the Cowboys: “How do you think John Mara’s Cheerios went down this morning at the Westchester Country Club?” … Take heart, Giants fans. In 2003 Buffalo skunked the Patriots, 31-0, in the season opener and the Pats won the Super Bowl. …. This week’s four-game series between the Red Sox and Yankees had all the gusto of an I Love Lucy rerun until Judge’s grand slam off Brennan Bernardino on Thursday night. … Chaim Bloom was doomed the moment Xander Bogaerts became a Padre. …  Former Yankee Josh Donaldson homered in his second game with the Brewers on Tuesday night and it was the game winner in a 3-1 verdict over the Marlins. …  After Kevin Pillar ripped a single for the unstoppable Braves on Wednesday, Phils color man John Kruk uttered, “If it ain’t one guy comin’ off their bench it’s another.”  … Who says you can’t make a career of it in college? Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi is in his seventh-year — four at Michigan State and three at NIU. … Tony Romo after Jim Nantz said Jalen Hurts has a master’s degree: “I almost got my degree in five years at Eastern Illinois, the Harvard of the Midwest.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning colum nist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at


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