CUMBERLAND — About two weeks ago, Ed McVeigh received a letter at his Circuit Drive home that he found equal parts fascinating and disturbing.
“I was wondering, 'What's up with this?' It was on official Central Falls High School stationary, and I hadn't been there in quite a while,” he said. “My first thought was, 'What'd I do now?!'”
The letter, penned by retired athletic director Kathy Luther, provided McVeigh with one of the shocks of his life. She asked the former boys' varsity basketball coach to reserve Thursday, Oct. 11 on his calendar, as he would be recognized as a new Class of 2012 inductee to the Central Falls High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“She caught me by surprise with it – a nice surprise,” McVeigh smiled as he relaxed inside his living room last week. “I called my brother (ex-Cumberland High boys' hoop coach John McVeigh) to tell him, and he just said, 'Geez, Eddie, they must be desperate to be putting you in!' That's him, always busting ...
“To me, this is a tremendous honor because the school has a very rich history and tradition of having great athletes and coaches come out of there,” he added. “To be inducted means a lot to me; actually, the world.”
The 56-year-old coach will join nine others at the fete, slated to begin with a social hour at 6 p.m. at the Twelve Acres Restaurant in Smithfield. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m., followed by the induction ceremony.
Among the others chosen by the CFHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee: Russell Standring, who graduated in 1974; Kenneth Vaudreuil (1976); James Dougan (1978); Albert Cardosa (1982); Kevin Guindon and Brian Goodhart (1988), Jeff Desautel (1989); Carmen Pizarro (2000); and Kinga Dobrzycki-Zuromski (2002).
McVeigh, the lone coach selected, spent 18 years as a business teacher and coach at CF; in that time, he posted 286 boys' hoop victories (he stated mischievously he didn't keep track of defeats) and helped his teams capture six divisional championships (1986-87, 1993-94, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1999-2000 and 2004-05).
In that first season of '86-87, he led his Warriors to his only state title against Narragansett at the then-named Providence Civic Center.
“That was the third time we had to face them that year, and I was worried,” McVeigh recalled. “As everyone knows, beating the same team three times in one season is mighty tough, and I wasn't sure if we'd do it.”
He immediately rattled off the starters as if he still stood with them and long-time assistant/friend Kevin Ornazian at the team bench: Joe Handy, senior, center; Poochie Nunez, junior, point guard; Jeff Desautel, junior, forward; Cici Sousa, senior, shooting guard; and Paul Poulin, senior, forward.
“Paul split time with another senior named John Santos,” McVeigh giggled. “I remember we finished the year at 24-3 … If there was a highlight to my career, that team would have to be it. It was such a proud moment when we took the D-III championship.
“I remember telling the kids at our first practice, 'I know you guys have talent, and my goal is to help you realize it, to play to your potential,'” he continued. “I also said that if they didn't go out and win the state title, I'd consider the season a disappointment.
“I told John, who was at Cumberland at the time, what I had said to them, and he asked me, 'What'd you do that for? Why'd you put all that pressure on them?' and I just said, 'I don't care. I know what they're capable of, and they can do something like that.
“I know some of the D-I coaches, including John, had seen us during the Christmas tournaments, and I had heard that they were saying, 'Central Falls is a team to be reckoned with. It's one of the strongest teams in any league, including ours.' I think we could've played Division I that year, but our enrollment was so small, we had to play in D-III. That's how they aligned divisions back then, by male enrollment.”
McVeigh, who graduated from Cumberland High in 1973 as an All-Blackstone Valley basketball pick and later earned his Bachelor's of Education from then-Bryant College in 1977, indicated he had a plethora of memories come flooding back after hearing the news of his induction.
One was how he ended up at Central Falls in the first place.
“At Bryant, it was a five-year program, but I finished it in four because I wanted to get out and get a job as soon as I could,” he noted. “I started as a business teacher down at North Kingstown High, and I was there about four months, but then the Blizzard of '78 came. One of the older teachers (at CFHS) had died.
“I knew Ronnie Cruz, who was the high school vice-principal back then, knew I wanted to get a job there because that's where I did my student teaching. When he said, 'Eddie, are you interested?' I jumped at it.
“I was only 21 at the time, and I started going through the students' records,” he added with a smile. “I discovered one of the kids I had in homeroom was older than I was. That blew my mind.
“I took a pay cut by moving on to CF, but it was more than worth it. I desperately wanted to teach and coach there because of the quality of kids. The kids in North Kingstown were great, but most of them, their families had money, and they didn't have a whole lot of worries. The kids in Central Falls were total opposites. They appreciated it when you did something for them.”
He spent three seasons as the girls' varsity hoop coach, the next two as the boys' JV mentor under George Desautel. For one year, he also helped out his brother John with the North Cumberland Middle School boys' squad.
“He had ACL surgery on his knee, and he had problems getting around, so he asked me to join him,” McVeigh said. “I was glad to do it.”
Following that remarkable season of 1986-87, he spent 17 more there, and five times was selected the Rhode Island Basketball Coaches Association's “Coach of the Year.” He mentioned he was forced to retire at the end of the 2004-05 campaign (when he also claimed a divisional crown) because of health issues.
“One reason was because I was having my problems walking; my hips were killing me,” he offered. “The other was that I saw the future, and I didn't want to take any chances with my pension. I had a feeling they were considering cuts to teacher pensions. I didn't want to risk it.
“School ended on a Friday, and I went to Rhode Island Hospital (for a total right hip replacement the following Monday.”
Exactly a month to do the day later, his surgeon replaced his left hip.
“I will say this: I knew the incoming coach wasn't going to be left high and dry,” he said. “I knew he was going to be stepping into a really nice situation because there would a lot of good players still there. I had some people tell me, 'Are you crazy? You'll be loaded next year. You could win another state championship,' but I didn't care. It was just time.”
When asked if he has any regrets looking back at his career, McVeigh just chuckled.
“You know, there are still games I'll remember and think, 'If only I had subbed this kid in, or if only I had called this play,' but – nah – I don't have any; I had a terrific time at CF, and I'll never forget them,” he noted. “I remember one time when my mom (Alice Antone McVeigh), who had been really sick, passed away. It was March 3, 1993, and we were playing Warren in a state D-II semifinal.”
His always-smiling face suddenly turned serious.
“It was at CCRI in Lincoln, and I got a call early in the morning; that's when I found out my mom died,” he added. “There was no way I was going to that game, so I called Kevin (Ornazian, his assistant), and he came here to the house at 4:30 in the morning.
“We sat down and went over everything I wanted to do in that game and when, and Kev carried it out to perfection. The only exception: A ref made a bad call with one second left in the game. There had been a loose ball about 35 feet from the basket, and it wasn't going to affect anybody. It was just going to end in a tie, then move to overtime. But the ref called Billy Plante for a foul, and (a Warren player) went to the line and sank two free throws. They won it and went to the state final; our season was over.
“The one thing that continues to go through my head is, 'If I had been there, I wonder if the referee would've had the (guts) to make that call.' You know, refs came up to me later on and told me that it wasn't a foul, and shouldn't have been called. I just feel bad for Billy and the rest of the kids.”
When asked what the key was to his coaching philosophy, and he just shrugged.
“I wanted to make sure that they were understanding what I was telling them; I mean really telling them,” he said. “I could've just drawn up the X's and O's on the board, but I wanted to show them the plays and why we were running them. I wanted to show them the reason behind it. If they still weren't in the right place mentally, I'd go out on the court and show them. They knew I wasn't just getting my knowledge from a book, but through what I learned from other coaches and my playing the game, all the sweat it took for me to get where I was.
“I've got to thank Joe Hughes, who had played at Central Falls and Holy Cross, he taught me a lot, but I learned even more from my brother,” he continued. “Joe sometimes would get too technical when I was playing at Cumberland. He had the knowledge, but sometimes his communication with us would go over our heads, like he was looking at us like collegians.
“We'd go to John, who also was with us, and ask, 'What's he saying?' and he'd break it down for us. He'd describe what Joe was telling us in simpler terms.”
Another highlight for McVeigh: Whenever Central Falls faced Cumberland in non-league games or holiday tournament clashes. The reason was simple, as Ed led the Warriors, John the Clippers.
“They were always battles – on and off the court,” Ed McVeigh laughed. “The kids on both teams knew how badly my brother and I wanted to beat each other; they also knew that if they didn't, there would be consequences.
“I know John's got the upper hand (in terms of most wins), but – then again – he should have! He was always in Division I, and we were always in D-II or III. It was still fun, though.”
Through it all, he stated emphatically he wouldn't have had the career he did if it wasn't for his wife, Arlene, who had to bear the brunt of his lousy mood after pathetic defeats or lazy practices.
“I've got to give her a whole lot of credit,” McVeigh explained. “She was able to put up with me after games that didn't quite go the way I wanted them. Being married to a coach is no picnic, day at the beach, that's for sure. But I'm really thankful she has always been there for me.”
Anyone interested in attending the banquet at Twelve Acres may purchase tickets – $26 per person – by calling Luther at (401) 639-2519 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Deadline for buying ducats is Oct. 2, as none will be sold at the door that evening.