Column: Remembering three coaches and a team that welcomed everyone

By Scott Pickering
Posted 10/22/21

It’s easy to mock the “way things used to be” guy. He’s always got a story about the old days, about things that no longer exist, about people you’ve never heard of. He …

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Column: Remembering three coaches and a team that welcomed everyone

Posted

It’s easy to mock the “way things used to be” guy. He’s always got a story about the old days, about things that no longer exist, about people you’ve never heard of. He can be irritating.

Increasingly, that guy is me.

Living in the town I grew up in, and with a milestone birthday hurtling at me, I’m feeling more nostalgia for the past than normal — meaning, it’s off the charts.

I could write a column every week about the way things used to be, both good and bad. But the impetus for this column is the passing of longtime track coach Bob Gourley. I want to share a story about a special time in Barrington’s history, led by a special group of teachers-coaches.

I was a child and a teenager in Barrington in the 1980s. Soccer was my passion. I played it year-round, back at a time when there were no true year-round programs. To play all year, you played on three different teams, and you went to camps in the summer.

When I got to high school, there was a single soccer season, same as it is now, in the fall. When the season ended, I needed something to do athletically. I played a season of freshman basketball but realized the varsity team was not in my future. So I tried out for the track team in the spring.

“Tried out” is what actually happened, but it was just a formality. No one ever got cut from the track team.

In those days, the boys’ track team was led by the late John Signore, a tall, skinny, bald, very Italian (and proud of it) Barrington Middle School science teacher. His assistant was Ralph Caruso, a not-tall, not-quite-as-skinny English teacher at Barrington High School. And then there was Bob Gourley. I’m not even sure what he was. Maybe a coach, maybe a volunteer, probably more the latter than the former.

Coach Sig coached the runners. Coach Caruso led the jumpers. Coach Gourley managed the throwers. What the throwers did, no one really knew. Sometimes they would pump iron in the weight room, but most of the time they were off in a remote, forgotten location, either spinning in circles or hurling heavy objects at one another, or both.

I was one of the few who had pretty good insights into the life of the throwers. One of my closest friends, Eric Opdyke, was a thrower (hammer, weight and shot) and I spent time both watching him and being ordered to retrieve the heavy object that he had just hurled 150 feet away.

Eric got so good at throwing, he landed a four-year scholarship to Syracuse and was a high-school All-American. He is one of dozens of Barrington kids with a similar story. Coach Gourley shaped the lives of so many young people, not only helping them achieve great things, but opening doors to higher education and successful lives. It’s a remarkable story about a truly selfless volunteer, who continued coaching and mentoring young people right up to the day he died.

But that is not even the real point of this column.

Coach Gourley’s passing reminded me of those track teams of 30 to 35 years ago, where anyone and everyone was welcomed. Whether you were tall, short, cool, dorky, awkward, weird, popular, a recluse, white, black or blue, you had a spot on the track team.

Could you run fast? Sprinter. Every tried LSD (long slow distance)? Great, you’re a middle distance runner. Can you jump? Good, go see Coach Caruso. You’re big …can you throw this? Okay, off you go with Coach Gourley, he’ll teach you the rest. No matter your ability, your athleticism or your circle of friends, you had a home on the track team.

And what a mish-mash outfit we were. It seemed half the nerds in the school were on the boys’ track team, leading Coach Sig to boast that we had the highest GPA of any team at BHS.

We also had some of the most creative training methods imaginable. Indoor track especially demands creativity, since it’s difficult to train when the earth (and track) are covered in snow, ice and sleet.

So we ran sprints in the hallways after school. We found neighborhoods where the plows had cleared roads and we ran circles past the neighbors’ driveways. We hauled massive jumping mats in and out of closets and around the building. We worked together, the sprinters helping the jumpers and the jumpers helping the throwers.

But something else happened along the way. We started to win. A lot. We won some league and division titles. We had kids competing and winning state titles. Kids who never would have fit on any other team in any other sport were superstars on the track team. Scott Delekta, Chris Koehler and Marshall Hurd were state champion sprinters. Opdyke (who was also a star soccer player) became one of the best throwers in the country. The Carter brothers, Frank Glavin, Carlos Duran and so many others became some of the fastest distance runners in Rhode Island.

There are many others whose names I forget, and many who joined the team after I left and moved on to college and career. I hope they take no offense that I did not mention them here.

As the BHS community takes a moment to mourn the loss of Coach Gourley, I hope they remember the team he helped shape a few decades ago. Long before inclusion and equity were commonplace themes, Coaches Signore, Caruso and Gourley were standard-bearers for the cause.

I’ve long felt that the track encircling Victory Field should be named for John Signore. I now think the jumping pits (and one room in the Language Arts wing at BHS) should be named for Ralph Caruso. And the throwing circle obviously must be dedicated to Bob Gourley. Those three coaches taught an entire generation of young people how to be humble, accepting and inclusive 35 years ago, and they made us better people today. I thank all of them.

Scott Pickering is a Barrington resident and general manager of East Bay Media Group, which publishes the Barrington Times.

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