When Central Falls boards its bus for tonight’s 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 Warriors’ head coach and the 10 before that as an assistant, has not returned to the helm this season.
It wasn’t because Handy didn’t want to coach anymore, nor was it because of any outside commitments with his family or his occupation.
“And it wasn’t the kids, it wasn’t (Central Falls athletic director) Kathy (Luther), there was nobody bumping me,” added Handy, who was one of the few coaches at the school who didn’t work for the town’s school department and had to re-apply for his position each year.
“It 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 contractor’s license. I can’t tell you wholeheartedly that that’s actually something that was needed.”
Handy found out about these stipulations when the girls’ 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.
“This is Rhode Island,” said Handy. “You’re not going to get it right away, and I just got it last week. … 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 wasn’t sleeping. I was asking myself, ‘Am I doing the right thing? I can’t believe they’re making me do this. I shouldn’t even go back.’
“It wasn’t 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, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I have to make a decision. Am I going to wait until the season starts or just step aside?’
“And then I just decided that enough was enough. It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life. I really wanted to come back and coach the girls. They’re really good kids.”
While this episode made Handy’s 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 boys’ basketball team win the Class C state championship.
“(The late) Steve Nadeau asked me to be his assistant coach,” recalled Handy. “I played basketball with him, and one day, he said, ‘Why don’t you go out for the assistant job?’ 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.”
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 ’07.
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 program’s history, but were stunned in the semifinal round of the playoffs by Mount Pleasant, 40-36.
“I can’t complain,” said Handy. “How could I? We’ve 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.”
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.
“The girls won two RIIL sportsmanship team awards and I’m really proud of that,” 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.
“I would go to war with those girls,” said Handy. “They 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.”
Handy admitted that spending his afternoons at home and not inside the Warriors’ gym has been somewhat of a weird feeling, but he wouldn’t rule out returning to coaching a high school team in the near future.
“I’ve already been approached in a couple of areas asking me if I’d be interested,” said Handy. “I love coaching. I’ve coached my son and my daughter and I’d love to coach high school basketball again. And besides, I’m only going to be 42, so I still have plenty of years left.”
After talking about the future, Handy took the time to wish C.F.’s boys’ and girls’ teams successful seasons and take one last glance at his career with the Warriors.
“My time there was magical,” added Handy. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I gave my heart and soul and dedicated a lot of time to this program. My heart’s always been in it. I just didn’t deserve to be treated this way.”