Standing room only.... no more bleachers at Memorial Athletic FieldFeb 09, 2021 10:44AM ● By Peter Coyle
February means the Clark Tournament for the local boys’ qualifying basketball teams that include eligibles in the likes of Bartlett, Shepherd Hill, and Oxford. The popular Worcester tournament will likely submit to COVID 19 precautions and continue reset for 2022. Let’s hope the millennials don’t forget how historic and exciting this annual event really is and make it a top priority to qualify and compete during the winter vacation week during Presidents Week. The MIAA is on the move and tradition is not a consideration anymore.
This space has not heard that this pandemic time is any fun for those attempting to play basketball although the unanimous sentiment is “the kids are together and competing” although handcuffed by MIAA rule changes to the rules of basketball that hardly make any sense. You either go to war or you don’t, meaning the MIAA is handicapping the rules of the sport in hopes that this invisible disease doesn’t go into gymnasiums. You can’t stop what you don’t see. A lot of schools have opted out of playing because of the pandemic. Wait until you see “fall 2” starting up February 22 to April 25 for football and indoor track. The rules and constraints put in by the MIAA in basketball have schools opting into the geographical pod model which is like playing in a straight jacket. Anyone who is refereeing or officiating these contests should receive immunity for any bad calls in the future. Officials and referees today are like traffic cops at Kelley Square in Worcester during rush hour. Way too many moving parts and the biggest enemy is COVID-19 which is invisible. Go figure.The bottom line this winter is some schools opted in and some school opted out to play basketball. COVID-19 is the enemy and it is invisible and causes death. Unless the MIAA restricted playing rules are 100% guaranteed not to spread the invisible COVID, then please wait until a vaccine is distributed as a safety measure and the COVID cases can be related to a safe environment. Are high schools really going to attempt to play football in February? We will find out soon.
Taking a recent tour of Ray Street in Webster brings an eye catching major change in the landscaping at upper Memorial Athletic Field. No, second base hasn’t moved since 1983 and remains in its usual place. But, both grandstands or bleachers on each side of the football field have been taken down because of safety issues. The safety project affects both the football and baseball situations. Officials have indicated that only a 200-seat maximum seating capacity set of portable seats will be put on the home side of the football field while the visitors side of the football field will be left vacant to sideline standing for fans. It will be standing-room-only on the visiting sidelines and both end zones. Visitors can sit on the home side if they wish. The school bands are going to have to find their own way to be comfortable at games. While the football grandstands or bleachers decision are just the sign of the times we are in, the baseball field just lost its personality by taking down the famed short porch in right field. The baseball field on Ray Street is an all time treasure in New England.One of the best high school venues ever. Its personality and layout make it as good as Fino Field in Milford and Tivnan Field at Lake Park in Worcester. Does anyone remember when Ray Street was a hotbed for learning how to compete and play all the sports of any season in the 50s, 60s, and 70s? When every kid settled his own differences in a world of playground pick- up games? Bloody noses and ripped pants were guarantees for the end of every day on Ray Street and we were better off for it. The lessons of LIFE on Ray Street became who we are today. Challenging yourself against older kids or more gifted talented kids were the best of times. The bloody noses and ripped pants measured where we were headed in life and we didn’t even know it. Sadly today Ray Street is home to the pigeons and that unused second base that sits so proudly in the middle of the baseball diamond waiting for some kid to slide into it one more time. Football and baseball will continue to be played at the Memorial Field in Webster under the watchful eyes of parents and officials and public address announcers and local cable TV. No more settling your own differences or bloody noses or ripped pants. No more limping home from Ray Street all alone thinking of going back to Ray Street tomorrow for another lesson in LIFE. Even the pigeons have nowhere to sit anymore.
Finally, Rusty Oleszewski’s last excerpt on the French River Rivalry sadly ends in today’s edition. Oleszewski captured everyone’s imagination and soul over the last four months with his crystal clear remembrance of the Dudley students leaving Bartlett High School because of the local politicians and starting a bitter athletic environment between the two schools in 1974. A whole new world was made back in the early 70s and nobody knew that Shepherd Hill would become what it is today. Shepherd Hill grew by leaps and bounds over the last 50 years because of the real estate market in Dudley and Charlton. Shepherd Hill Regional High School became a thriving educational and athletic institution. Oleszewski gave us his perspective on how Shepherd Hill established itself over 50 years ago. Time has passed and the common denominator of all Bartlett-Shepherd Hill athletic events in the early times of 1974 to the mid-80s proved to be personal for each school, meaning it was a true rilvary in every sense. Both sides brought their emotions to the athletic events between the two schools and it is safe to say that you either wore green or maroon on your sleeve at all times. Unfortunately, there is no rivalry today as both schools dimmed the rivalry down to memories only and thankfully Oleszewski raised the great Bartlett-Shepherd Hill rivalry out of its grave and wrote about how both schools handled their emotions during the French River Rivalry. Thank you Rusty on your outstanding insight about how it was and how it will never be again. You suited up in the maroon and gold in three sports and went onto Amherst College and played football and baseball. Your loyalty will forever be appreciated.