The best part of my job is meeting people connected with various sports teams or organizations throughout the Blackstone Valley. When all is said and done, it is the people and the things they teach us that remain long after the final scores have faded away.
Here are some of the people I remember from my life during the year 2010.
MIKE PAPPAS – The Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club icon, who is now 85 years young, reminded me that life is all about the journey, that the friendships and memories one makes along the way are more important than the occasional bumps in the road we may encounter. Good luck in 2011, Mike!
GEORGE CODERRE – The Woonsocket High girls’ basketball coach led his team to the Division I state championship last March, a remarkable achievement for a team that won the Division II state title the year before and then chose to pursue an even tougher challenge.
Coderre, who is in his 50s, came back to coach the Villa Novans again this season, even after his daughter Brooke went off to college. A lot of coaches would have retired after winning two straight state titles. George Coderre came back because he wanted his players to know that all of them mattered, not just his daughter.
BOBBY MARCHAND – The long-time Central Falls boys’ soccer coach was forced into retirement in early September. Bobby did not go quietly into the night as the educational atmosphere at C.F. deteriorated over the past few years. Marchand voiced his opinions, something he has done throughout his life.
During an interview in September, Bobby told me he had been fired from his first teaching job in the early 1970s for protesting the Vietnam War and growing his hair down over his shoulders. A court ruling overturned the firing several years later but Marchand had moved on, eventually landing at Central Falls, a place well suited for his passionate leadership skills.
Bobby reminded me that some of the idealists from the late 1960s never really changed as the years rolled on. Marchand went down fighting for what he believed, which is a great lesson to leave with his former students and soccer players.
HENRI ETHIER – The former Providence College basketball captain passed away in 2010 at the age of 87. His sister Theresa let me know of Hank’s passing. Have to admit I never knew who Hank was until Theresa and Hank’s daughter Meryl passed on the amazing story of his life. Hank interrupted his college career to serve in World War II as a pilot, flying many missions over Europe. He then came home and moved to California with his wife Ruth to raise a family that eventually numbered seven children. Hank left behind 15 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchilden. That’s a wonderful life.
ARTHUR JODAT – One of my golfing buddies, Arthur is a 79-year-old Rumford resident who still can shoot under his age when the putts are dropping. A veteran of this country’s “forgotten war,” Arthur came home from Korea to pursue the American dream with his wife Babe. “Jody” lives in the same house that he was born in, backed up against the Turner Reservoir in Rumford. Jody understands the golf swing and is a great teacher of the game to anyone who will take the time to listen.
BEN MONDOR – The legendary Pawtucket Red Sox owner passed away in October at the age of 85. Ben is another World War II veteran who came home to resume his life in Woonsocket, where he renovated old mills and restored them to a useful existence. Mondor did the same thing with the Pawtucket Red Sox when he saved the sagging minor league baseball franchise from bankruptcy in 1977. Ben turned the PawSox into a shining diamond, a baseball jewel known far and wide.
I once believed that McCoy Stadium should be renamed in Ben’s honor after he passed. Having mentioned the thought to PawSox President Mike Tamburro, I learned the real reason why this would never happen.
“Ben always said it took us many years to make McCoy Stadium well known enough that the fans could find the place,” Tamburro said with a laugh. “Ben would ask us why should we change the name after people finally know where we are?”
Ben’s honesty and business savvy, not to mention his smiling face and zest for life, will be missed whenever PawSox fans visit McCoy Stadium.
CARNELL HENDERSON – The Woonsocket High football coach led the Villa Novans to their second straight Division II championship. Henderson is a product of the city who came back home to become an educator and coach at his alma mater. He understands the students he deals with every day because he walked in their shoes just 20 years ago.
As a coach, Carnell is smart enough to surround himself with a staff that can communicate his message to the players. The city is also producing a solid nucleus of talented athletes who can be turned into winning football players by one of the best coaching staffs in the state. Talented cycles of good athletes in a city can make the coaches look pretty smart.
People can complain all they want about the state of education in Rhode Island but Carnell Henderson is representative of coaches who devote many hours of the lives to their athletes, taking time away from family to teach kids who become part of their extended family. And they do it for little or no money at all.
And, of course, there are the kids, the young high school athletes we often publicize on these sports pages. I sometimes worry about the publicity we push upon high school students, especially those rare freshmen and sophomores who make an immediate impact on their teams.
Casey Stengel used to call kids “the youth of America.” And that’s what they are. The kids are our future. Jerry Seinfeld deems them “replacements” for the rest of us as we grow older.
I have to admit that some of the kids get under my skin as they walk through the middle of an intersection, ignoring traffic as they stare at their smart phones. But for the most part, I recognize today’s youths as the same type of teenagers I knew 45 years ago.
Last week, I showed up for a Shea High basketball game, got my scorebook set up, and then glanced at an empty section of bleachers across from the scorer’s table. I plunked myself down and prepared to watch the game. Soon I was surrounded by a late-arriving crowd of high school teenagers, kids chattering and texting away, nearly oblivious to the game going on five feet in front of them. I thought about getting up and finding a seat with fewer distractions, but I stayed, and listened, while taking notes on the game.
What I realized is the kids were talking about the same things I talked about in high school. They spoke in hushed tones about girls, boys and sports. The two kids next to me appeared to be in a debate about the NBA.
It was somehow reassuring to know that kids haven’t changed much over the years. They’ll grow up and in 40 years they’ll feel just as out of touch with the “youth of America” as I occasionally do.
Those kids from Shea High became part of the people I met and the memories I take with me from 2010 into the New Year.
Happy New Year, everyone!