CENTRAL FALLS — Pawtucket resident Joe Handy recalls with fondness – not to mention an edge in his voice – his years as a student-athlete at Central Falls High School.
But no particular moment meant more to him than the happenings of March 15, 1987. It was on that Saturday at the then-Providence Civic Center that Handy, the Warriors’ senior co-captain, helped deliver to his school its first-ever state basketball championship.
“I’ll never forget it,” the 45-year-old Handy stated recently. “We were 15-1 in the regular season, with our one loss coming to Ports-mouth; we lost at the buzzer in double overtime. “We played them again in the last game of the season, and beat them by 49,” he added with a laugh. “In that one, and I remember because I was still (miffed), I had a triple-double – 29 points, 31 rebounds and 10 blocks.
“We ended up beating Bristol in the semifinal, then defeated Narragansett in the championship game at the Civic Center by 14. The scene, it was unbelievable. I remember all the guys on the team. There was Jeff Desautel, a junior forward, and Poochie Nunez, our (junior) guard. The other starters were (junior swing) John Santos and (senior) Paul Poulin, another forward.
“Our sixth man was (junior) Cici Sousa, but we also had (his classmates) Jim Dunbar, Steve Afonso and George Mardenli … If there’s one thing I’ll never forget, it’s lifting the championship plaque and pointing it at two people who meant he world to me – my mother, Theresa, who had never seen me play before that game (due to illnesses) and the late Ralph J. Holden.
“He was a mentor to all of us who grew up in Central Falls, all of those guys I just mentioned. He meant the world to me.”
For that memorable achievement, as well as many more when he took over the coaching chores for the Warriors’ girls basketball team, Handy has been inducted into the Central Falls High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
He will join seven others in the Class of 2014 at what will surely be an emotional ceremony at the Twelve Acres Restaurant in Smithfield on Friday, May 16.
That honored group includes Filiberto (“Phil”) Agrela (Class of 1981, football, basketball, baseball); Tim Frails (Class of 1975, football, basketball); Bob Pelletier (Class of 1970, basketball, baseball); Raisa Gonzalez (Class of 2000, soccer, hoop, softball); B.K. Nordan (Class of 1998, football, basketball, baseball); and Henry Zepeda (Class of 2004, soccer).
Dr. Maureen Chevrette, former School Superintendent, will receive a Special Recognition Award for her 34 years of service as a teacher, mentor, director of curriculum and principal in the district.
And, for the first time ever, Handy’s 1986-87 state title squad will be inducted as a unit.
According to Kathy Luther, the Hall of Fame Committee’s co-chairman with former varsity football head coach and athletic director Tony Rainone, this will be the seventh annual fete.
It’s hardly surprising that Rainone will serve as the evening emcee.
“This all began in 2002; that’s when Tony, Jack Lyle (then principal) and Maureen got together to form the hall with 15 initial inductees,” stated Luther, who herself was among that Class of 2002. “We’ve had our ceremonies every two years, with the stipulation that a student-athlete be out of school for 10 years and a coach (or other significant contributor) for five.
“This is going to be something else,” she added with a smile. “I remember Joe being my student when I was substituting my very first year in the district. He was a great kid, very quiet, but he always completed all his work.
“He was a great basketball player, a student of the game,” she added. “He just had this innate sense of knowing what was going to happen before it did, so he was always there on the ball. He could read what the other team was going to do.
“This team is being honored because this was the first real state championship the school had won; we had won divisional titles, but not a state (crown). It was a special group, and Joe led the way.”
Handy, currently the girls’ mentor at Davies Tech, admitted when he first discovered the news, he was stunned but elated.
“You know what? I thought it was very nice,” Handy said in his typical, understated fashion. This is the same guy who averaged 17 points and 17 rebounds per game that senior campaign, and also collected All-League, All-Division and All-Valley laurels during his playing career, though never made much of it.
“You know me; I don’t do those things for any recognition, but to be mentioned with those names, the people in this class (of inductees) certainly but all of the others, it’s something else.
“I’m very flattered, and I told my family (including wife Christine and youngsters Brock and Kelly); they were excited but also reserved – I guess they get that from me,” he continued, chuckling. “I have a tough time accepting accolades. I didn’t play or coach for any honor. I just wanted to win.
“With coaching, it was the same thing; I just wanted to help the kids learn the sport and do well.”
Handy began his coaching career in 1990 under the late Steve Nadeau. Over the next five, he assisted Luther with the girls’ hoop squad before taking the reins in 2001.
Between then and 2010, he led the Warriors to a pair of divisional crowns, three Division III state championship appearances and the first-ever Rhode Island title in 2009. He also was selected the sport’s Coach of the Year five times, and – during that same banner season – earned the Cox Communications’ R.I. Coach of the Year.
“I was the AD at the time, and we were taking the girls’ basketball team to the ceremony because some of the players were going to be recognized,” said Luther, a 1977 CFHS graduate who excelled in cross-country, basketball, softball and volleyball; taught in the district for 29 years; and served as athletic director for six more before her retirement.
“He didn’t know about it, and it was so hard to keep a secret! I knew, the girls knew, his family knew.
“When they called him up, he was shocked, and everyone went crazy!” she added. “Just for him to get that award, with him coming from Central Falls and the accomplishments he earned with his players, it was incredible.
“He was just so consistent with them, on and off the court. He was so committed to them learning. He was truly a special student-athlete, and he’s the same as a coach. He’s a great friend, and he deserves this so much.”
Luther deemed this particular class of inductees “a diverse group.
“What we tried to do was induct people from different disciplines – that is, athletic endeavors – and different eras,” she noted. “I think this is a great representation of the former excellent student-athletes and coaches at Central Falls.”
Rainone called Handy “just an outstanding individual ho always put the welfare of the kids above all else.
“I remember back when he was a player, and (then head coach) Ed McVeigh said Joe pulled down more rebounds than anyone could ever count,” Rainone offered. “Ed used to joke that he thought at times Joe would deliberately miss a layup so he could grab his own rebounds.
“And, as a coach, Joe worked with me in the athletic department, and he always put hi athletes on top of the ladder. He cared so much for the kids not only on the floor but off it, too.
“As for the class (of 2014) itself, it’s a great group, in particular that state championship team,” he continued. “We’re also honoring Maureen, as she was always so responsible, making sure we maintained the athletic program. She realized the value of sports; she was always very good at that.
“There were times when, after we won a division or state title (regardless of the sport), some of the money would come out of her own pocket for championship jackets or rings. She had an expense account, and she’d dip into it so our kids would have what other kids in other cities had after they won.
“This is also a special class to me because two of my former athletes are being inducted. Phil used to coach with us, and B.K. Nordan was a mainstay on our Super Bowl championship team.”
Tickets for the event are $30 per person, and may be purchased by contacting Luther at (401) 639-2519. Checks may be made payable to CFHS Athletic Hall of Fame, and folks should deliver them to the school and give them to school secretary Paulette Barden.
Time is of the essence, however, as the deadline for purchase is Wednesday.