PAWTUCKET — The 1991 Shea High football team’s story reads like something out of Hoosiers, the movie about a long-shot basketball team that won the Indiana state championship back in the 1950s.
“We had 17 players on the team and they showed up for practice every day,” said Steve Alves Jr., the West Warwick native who began his coaching career at Shea High in 1989. “It’s a good thing our coaching staff was a bunch of young guys because we had to get in there and practice with the kids so that we would have enough bodies to hold a full scrimmage.”
Alves was just 24 at the time. His staff included brother Jimmy along with Ken Mahoney, Jay Manning, Anthony Giardillo, Doug Haynes and the late Sal Martins.
“It was my first head coaching job,” Alves said earlier this week, “and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger thrill than the day we won the Division IV Super Bowl in 1991.”
Alves said the average size of his starting 11 players was 5-foot-7 and 147 pounds.
“Despite an 0-2 start, this resilient group rebounded to win nine straight games, avenging a 35-6 loss to Tiverton to win the school’s first Super Bowl. This group of 17 started a football dynasty that went on to win four consecutive Super Bowls, which is still a state record, and 37 of its next 39 games,” Alves wrote in an introduction of the team that was read to the crowd at McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night prior to the Tolman-Shea game.
Theo Murray, now a teacher at Tolman High, played tackle on the 1991 Raiders.
“Coach Alves took over in my sophomore year,” Murray recalled. “We only won two or three games that season. My junior year, we went .500 in the league. In our senior year, everything came together. We lost to Tiverton (in a Sept. 28 road game). Our best player, Dino Georgopoulos, had a staph infection. The only other time we lost was to Warren (8-7 the following week) on a safety late in the game.
“We were in third place in the final week of the season and in those days, only two teams went to the playoffs. We needed Warren to lose its final game. One of our coaches went to the Warren game and – this was before we had cellphones – he sent us a pager notice with the final score, saying Warren had lost. It was halftime of our game and we all started celebrating. The fans didn’t know what we were celebrating about in the middle of our game.”
Shea earned a rematch with Tiverton in the Super Bowl.
“We beat them 11-6,” Murray said. “It was a great day for the Shea High football program. I think coach Alves and his staff put Shea football on the map, especially after they went on to win three more Super Bowls in a row. (Current coach) Dino (Campopiano) has carried on the winning tradition that Steve started at Shea.”
In fact, the Raiders have won two Super Bowls during Dino’s reign, giving them six over the past 20 seasons.
Alves would accept the head coaching job at La Salle Academy following his fourth straight Super Bowl triumph at Shea (the latter two came in Division III).
“I stayed at La Salle for two years,” Alves said. “My wife and I were starting our family. We had two young children and I was pretty busy with my job in the attorney general’s office. My life got in the way of coaching. I returned to coaching for a few seasons at West Warwick and now I am kind of a coaching consultant for my brother Jimmy’s team at Exeter/West Greenwich. I’m also the dean of students at West Warwick.”
“Steve taught us a lot, and not just about football,” said Murray, who has become head baseball coach and volunteer assistant football coach at Tolman. “I will never forget in my sophomore year, we were playing Portsmouth, and our star player at the time, our quarterback, had missed a couple of practices that week. A few minutes before the game, coach Alves called us together and made a speech about commitment to the team and to each other. He said a couple of players had missed practice again this week and we needed to take a players’ vote to decide if they were going to be allowed to play.
“We voted, as a team, for them to sit out the game,” Murray added. “We became a team that night. I think that is what turned the tide for us. All of the old stuff that had been going on for years would not be allowed with coach Alves. It was an amazing lesson he taught us. Steve had the players who missed practice suit up and come down on the bus ride and then their teammates voted not to let them play a few minutes before the game. That was a pretty powerful message about discipline and teamwork and commitment to each other.”
Alves was known for running tough practices. There was a gradual attrition rate over the first two seasons as players dropped out of the program.
“By 1991, we were down to 17 players, but all of them wanted to make the commitment to the team and to each other,” Alves recalled.
The Raiders were not a difficult team for opponents to prepare for, Murray admitted with a laugh.
“We ran four plays on offense,” he said. “Everyone knew what was coming. But we had some tough players. One of our running backs, Mark Roderick, was a tough as any player I’ve ever seen. Dino (Georgopoulos) was our franchise at quarterback.”
Anthony Dantzler led the Raiders in rushing, averaging six yards per carry (531 yards total) and scoring 10 touchdowns. Georgopoulos ran for 503 yards (6.4 yards per carry). Roderick contributed 349 yards and scored four touchdowns. Junior split end Helmut McIntosh ran 80 yards for a touchdown in one game.
Halfback Spiros Stratis caught 12 passes and scored two touchdowns. The Raiders only threw the ball 62 times in 10 games, completing half of them.
Shea’s real strength lay on defense, where it held opponents to an average of 118 yards per game. The Raiders used their speed, toughness and desire to great advantage, swarming to the ball on every play. Nobody ever took a play off.
That kind of teamwork developed a strong bond that sustained itself over the years as those 17 players departed high school and went separate ways. Their shared experience in 1991 made them friends for life.
“We had a great time at our reunion,” Murray said on Friday morning. “Helmut (McIntosh) drove up from Philadelphia and didn’t get there in time for the reunion at McCoy. He joined us later on in the night. We all sat around and told old stories. Coach Alves was amazing. He could remember details of things that happened at practice, and in games, that some of us could hardly recall. The reunion went so well that we have decided to get together every year for the Tolman-Shea game.”
Here are the names of those 17 players who became a band of brothers 20 years ago: Josh Tiberio, Kevin Topka, Dino Georgopoulos, DeWayne Smith, Todd Arrighi, Spiros Stratis, Helmut McIntosh, Greg Cooper, Anthony Barbosa, Jerrold Togar, John Barbosa, Walter Parfitt, Willie Agyman, Mark Roderick, Anthony Danztler, Theo Murray and Jason Cordeiro.
Steve Alves provided that list of names off the top of his head on Wednesday night, proving what an indelible mark those players left on his life and the lives of one another. They were 17 youngsters and a youthful coaching staff who put Shea football back on the map.