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When Central Falls boards its bus for tonightâs Injury Fund opener in Newport against Rogers, the Warriors will do so without someone who had been with them for the past two decades.
Joe Handy, who served the last 10 seasons as the Warriorsâ head coach and the 10 before that as an assistant, has not returned to the helm this season.
It wasnât because Handy didnât want to coach anymore, nor was it because of any outside commitments with his family or his occupation.
âAnd it wasnât the kids, it wasnât (Central Falls athletic director) Kathy (Luther), there was nobody bumping me,â added Handy, who was one of the few coaches at the school who didnât work for the townâs school department and had to re-apply for his position each year.
âIt was literally these stipulations that (the school committee) said needed to be met before I coach. I had to get insurance, even though I had my own health coverage, and I had to get an independent contractorâs license. I canât tell you wholeheartedly that thatâs actually something that was needed.â
Handy found out about these stipulations when the girlsâ basketball job was posted in October, a month before the start of basketball practice across the state. He quickly got the insurance he needed through the National Federation of High School Sports, but once that matter was settled, he was soon notified that he also needed his license and had to apply for it with the state.
âThis is Rhode Island,â said Handy. âYouâre not going to get it right away, and I just got it last week. âŠ At that point, it really wore on me. I had conversations with my wife and even my kids because they loved behind around (the program). I wasnât sleeping. I was asking myself, âAm I doing the right thing? I canât believe theyâre making me do this. I shouldnât even go back.â
âIt wasnât even the fact that I had to re-apply for my position. But now I had to do it with these stipulations. It put a bitter taste in my mouth, I literally tossed and turned in my sleep night after night and I said, âI canât do this anymore. I have to make a decision. Am I going to wait until the season starts or just step aside?â
âAnd then I just decided that enough was enough. It was one of the toughest decisions Iâve ever had to make in my life. I really wanted to come back and coach the girls. Theyâre really good kids.â
While this episode made Handyâs November a stressful and emotional month, he was able to relax on Wednesday afternoon and fondly look back on his long tenure at Central Falls, which began just three years after he graduated from there in 1987 and helped the Warrior boysâ basketball team win the Class C state championship.
â(The late) Steve Nadeau asked me to be his assistant coach,â recalled Handy. âI played basketball with him, and one day, he said, âWhy donât you go out for the assistant job?â At the time, I was coaching CYO and a lot of the Holy Trinity teams, so he talked me into it, I put in for it, and I coached with him, and a few years later, I coached with Kathy Luther.â
Handy eventually became the head coach before the start of the 2000-01 campaign, and during his first four seasons, his Warriors languished in the Division II-North ranks, mostly against deeper and taller teams. They totaled just 15 division games, winning as many as eight in his first season.
But in the 2004-05 season, the Warriors dropped down to Division III and began to prosper. Over the next four seasons, they averaged 12 victories a year and reached the Division III semifinals in 2006 and â07.
Then came the 2008-09 campaign, which saw the Warriors capture their first Division III championship with a heart-pounding 57-54 victory over Hope at the Ryan Center that went double overtime. C.F. also posted a 13-1 record that saw the win the regular-season title and need to survive a barnburner with the Blue Wave in their finale in order to capture first place.
Last season, the Warriors produced the first unblemished regular season in the programâs history, but were stunned in the semifinal round of the playoffs by Mount Pleasant, 40-36.
âI canât complain,â said Handy. âHow could I? Weâve had a lot of success. Last year, the girls went 16-0 and became the first team in our program to have an undefeated regular season. We got knocked out of the playoffs, but that was a great regular-season run. And of course, we had the championship year, and that was beautiful.â
Handy also received two high honors by receiving the RIIL (Rhode Island Interscholastic League) and Cox Sports Male Coach of the Year awards in 2009. He was also named the Division III Coach of the Year four times in the last seven years, but those awards meant very little to him.
âThe girls won two RIIL sportsmanship team awards and Iâm really proud of that,â he said.
This season, the Warriors are making the move back up to Division II, and even though the team lost a few key players to graduation and had another starter move out of state, Handy was looking forward to the challenge.
âI would go to war with those girls,â said Handy. âThey are fantastic kids, and going into the season knowing we were going into Division II, I knew we were going to compete every night. Were we going to contend for a championship? Probably not, but I knew we were going to compete.â
Handy admitted that spending his afternoons at home and not inside the Warriorsâ gym has been somewhat of a weird feeling, but he wouldnât rule out returning to coaching a high school team in the near future.
âIâve already been approached in a couple of areas asking me if Iâd be interested,â said Handy. âI love coaching. Iâve coached my son and my daughter and Iâd love to coach high school basketball again. And besides, Iâm only going to be 42, so I still have plenty of years left.â
After talking about the future, Handy took the time to wish C.F.âs boysâ and girlsâ teams successful seasons and take one last glance at his career with the Warriors.
âMy time there was magical,â added Handy. âI wouldnât trade it for anything. I gave my heart and soul and dedicated a lot of time to this program. My heartâs always been in it. I just didnât deserve to be treated this way.â