Keeping Score: Sad start to a joyous season

Published: 11/29/2019 10:00:45 PM
Modified: 11/29/2019 10:00:36 PM

Good morning!
A few months ago, reporter Josh Solomon left his Greenfield beat for a newspaper job in South Florida. “Big culture shock here,” he wrote. “I’ve yet to find the pulse of the community.”

On the Treasure Coast there are only stoplights, strip malls and so-called historic districts where tourists overpay for beach sandals and Key lime pie. “There are hot button issues like growth and development,” added Solomon, “but no Al Norman.”

This week, Greenfield lost a large chunk of its own sense of community when Wilson’s Department Store announced it is closing. The news was sad and depressing, and made me remember when the store was the linchpin of a vibrant downtown. Indeed, Wilson’s was the Macy’s of Franklin County, big and grand with everything from peanuts to perfume.

In those days, during the Christmas season, police officers stood at every crosswalk to direct the traffic. That was long ago, and today Wilson’s is the symbol of a bygone era. Soon the big box shoppers will be able to buy their cheap flat screens closer to home.

The day the posters went up on the display windows, townsfolk reacted like there’d been a death in the family. They shared stories and reminisced. What now, they wondered.

The chamber of commerce has its hands full answering that question, because in Greenfield it was always Wilson’s.

Now that the 2019 football season is over, it’s time for UMass football coach Walt Bell to start handing out the purple hearts.

It’s one thing to see an injured player on TV, it’s another to see it happen up close and in person. In the second quarter of last Saturday’s loss to Brigham Young, UMass quarterback Andrew Brito was flattened near his own goal line and had to be helped off the field.

“His wrist,” said someone.

“His everything,” I replied.

“Not a blitz,” said a voice behind me. “More like a missed assignment.”

It was GHS coach Mike Kuchieski, who’s taken a liking to the UMass coaching staff. His son knows several of the players, and assistant coach Jason Tudryn is a family friend. “You’re becoming emotionally attached,” I said.

“I know,” he laughed.

Kuchieski spoke about not having a Thanksgiving Day game against Turners Falls High School, and said he hoped the rivarly would make a comeback. The Cougars’ offense was on the field and UMass linebacker Tyris Lebeau was being tended to by the trainers. Lebeau had tried to body slam a BYU player, but had bounced off him like a bird off the windshield.

A few minutes later, UMass kickoff returner Isaiah Rodgers was knocked out of bounds and blindsided in the back by a BYU defender. Several fans standing on the deck behind us shouted obscenities at the refs for not throwing a flag, but it was a clean hit.

Rodgers remained on the ground surrounded by players and medical staff. “That’s not good,” said Kuchieski. “There’s his parents. Now his dad’s hugging his mom. This is not good.”

Rodgers was put on a stretcher and wheeled past the UMass bench to the parking lot near the visitor’s locker room. When I got there, an EMT was closing the ambulance door. “We’re going to Baystate,” he said. Rodgers’ mother was in the passenger’s seat.

Three players had been carted away in a matter of minutes. It reminded me of soldiers on the battlefield, victimized by generals who’d put them in harm’s way for the greater good next season.

The story being told to reporters and alumni by AD Ryan Bamford is that Bell cleaned house this season. He got rid of the malcontents and bad actors to improve the team culture (Bamford’s words). It didn’t matter that some of them were good players, like offensive lineman Ray Thomas-Ishman who might’ve been able to protect Brito better than the freshman who took his place.

Quite simply, this was a rebuilding year and Bell needed all the help he could get, choirboys or not. The Minutemen weren’t half bad the last two years under coach Mark Whipple. They beat good teams like App. State, Georgia Southern and Liberty. Two years ago they beat BYU.

This season they needed a quarterback to replace Andrew Ford, a running back to replace Marquis Young, and a receiver to replace Andy Isabella, who’s in the NFL. After a bleary eyed comparison of last year’s roster with this year’s, I determined that of the 84 players listed on the 2018 roster, 20 had used their eligibility and five others left the team. Bell replaced quality with quantity, adding 26 freshmen and 13 transfers and walk-ons. 

None of them made a significant impact this season.

UMass is 19-77 in the FBS and the two men who conspired to put them there are gone. Former AD John McCutcheon is in California, and former chancellor Robert Holub teaches German at Ohio State. What they created was the second coming of the Tillson Steam Plant, the $9.3 million boondoggle that never produced a BTU of heat.

Next year, UMass has four beatable opponents — Albany, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Akron — and it’ll be up to Bell to coach up two more wins and get them into a bowl game.

SQUIBBERS: UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel wanted to set the record straight. Contrary to what was reported elsewhere at the time, one of the goals in the 4-1 win against BU wasn’t the result of a missed offside call. “I don’t want ’em to think we stole one,” said Carvel. “We won that one fair and square.” … Longtime college and schoolboy football ref Tim Schmitt worked the Chicopee-Chicopee Comp game on Thanksgiving. “The Battle of the Sword,” said Schmitt, referring to the Ames Sword Company of Chicopee that manufactured swords for the Union Army.  … According to the Wall Street Journal, Fox has sold out its Super Bowl ads. A 30-second spot will cost $5.3 million, and Sports Business Journal reported the Trump re-election campaign bought one of those ads. … The UMass football team’s one-win season fueled speculation about coach Walt Bell’s fate if the team falters again next season. Two names bandied about both have UMass roots: Joe Cullen and Don Brown. “It’ll take a lot more than $500,000 to get Cullen,” said one insider, referring to the former UMass nose tackle and NFL assistant coach. The same goes for Brown, who made $1.3 million as Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season according to USA Today. Brown coached UMass to the I-AA championship game in 2006. … Don’t look now but three ECAC teams (Cornell, Harvard and Clarkson) are ahead of Hockey East in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. The 10th-ranked Minutemen are the lone team in the Top 10. … When a caller informed Adam Schein that Jason Garrett is in line to be the next NY Giants head coach, the Sirius-XM host retorted: “What is that, a headline from The Onion?”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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