A Stab in the Dark

by | Nov 24, 2020

Above: EG High Avenger team of 1954: (front row, from left to right): Richard Enander, David Baker, Robert DeRensis, Everett Hathaway, Donald Hallene, Benjamin Malvinni, Bob Padula, Donald “Ducky” Kettelle, Robert Leyden, Jim Van Baalen. (Rear, from left to right): Alan Halsband, Dominic Iannazzi, Courtney Regan, John Tibbits, Bill Austin, Gordon Cooley, Robert Frettaloso, Robert Novo, Clayton Cooley, David Norman, George Bailey, Richard Van Olinda, Nick Carcieri, ? Burlingame, and Richard Kenyon. 

The Greenwood Cove “Hauggers” were on a roll. After many seasons of mediocrity, brought about mainly by the small size of their school, and, constantly going up against bigger schools with more and bigger players, the GC boys were having a breakout season.

The three section makeup of the town was creating a timely mix, like the multi-flavored sodas served up at Earnshaw’s Drug on Main Street. The combination of the rough kids from below the hill, teamed with the farm kids from Huguenot Village and a nice mix of guys from on the hill, had produced a chemistry that was working for the Hauggers as they had breezed through most all their opponents. Their league record was 6-1 going into their last game of the season against the South Kingstone Sachems, who also were 6-1. The Haugger boys’ only loss was to their hated rival, the Colt High Ponies by a 13-6 score. South’s only loss had been a 6-0 nail biter to the Mapleville Mustangs.

However, both Colt and Mapleville had each lost one and tied one, mathematically eliminating them from outright title contention.Their only hope was for a co-championship if things broke their way.

In those days a point system was devised giving a team two points for a win and 1 point for a tie. Under that system South and Greenwood Cove each had 12 points, while Mapleville and Colt had 11 points. The most that could be hoped for was a co-championship if the stars aligned. But, if either South or GC won on Turkey Day they would have an uncatchable 14 points and the league crown.

The Greenwood Cove contingent had bested the Barringer Bullrakers, Warham Wamps,

Mapleville, the Reservoir Lakers, Voke Tech Builders and their other hated rival, their next door neighbor, the Fordwick Schooners.

In their two preseason games, non-league contests, the GCHS juggernaut had vanquished the Metropolitan High Lions and the Forestdale Horned Frogs. The Crimson were headed for their best season ever in school history.

Because of the buildup for the game with South Kingstone, the contest was being moved from the Saturday before Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving Day itself. At that time the Thanksgiving tradition was not held at GCHS though other schools in the state played their rivalry game on that day.

Another date was just as big back then in 1940s and 1950s R.I. high school football, and that was the Columbus Day game, another rivalry game, which drew crowds as large or larger than Thanksgiving Day. The recent one was the Fordwick–Greenwood Cove tussle, which was decided in favor of the Hauggers.

So with two weeks between their last game scrimmage, the Greenwood Cove boys had almost two weeks to prepare for the Sachems, who were led by the combination of Dave and Rollie Longpine. The South district included the Narragansett Indian Reservation, and many of their players were of either full or mixed Indian blood.

They also had Stan LaCaribine, a ferocious fullback and punter, Jim Harris, who later played at Tennessee State, Georgie Reali and the Hussard boys. They were a real good team, a combination of size, power and speed, just the combination needed for a championship.

Ducky Kettelle, the inspiration for “Quackers.”

Greenwood Cove countered with Ronnie “Quackers” Littell (who, the next year, would lead the Crimson to an undefeated season), Peewee Carillo, a 5-2 quarterback, who was an outstanding three-sport athlete despite his size (he would get off a 60-yard punt against South); Bubba “The Magic Wand” Rendisi, Nunzio Grazano, Hub Sabbett, Pat Henderson, Davis Mahan and Linwood Sharris. No slouches there either.

The portend was for a great game. But, the sisters of fate had other plans.

It has always been said that “boys will be boys” and “life wins out in the end.” There was no better sayings than those two as the Hauggers wound down to their date with destiny. One of the key players for GCHS was Bobby Lettafroso, a rugged tight end, groomed by bullraking on the water, who looked more like a man then an 18-year-old senior, and who was often the target for the jump passes of Peewee Carillo. One of the favorite plays was for Peewee to semi-roll out then jump up and fire a pass to Bobby for a good gain. It kept many a drive alive during the season.

But what was that first saying? “Boys will be Boys.” With all that time on their hands some of the players were stretching curfew at night. Despite the urging and driving practices of Head Coach C.A. “Bull” Cherry and his capable assistants, Enzio “Ironman” Zaccanazzi and Pat “Hardcore” Hollister, the Greenwood boys were chomping for a little relaxing space after toiling hard for most of the grueling season.

One of their favorite things to do was go down to the Queen Street playground (now the site of the Firemen’s Hall). Half of the area was a playground with swings, monkey bars and a basketball court. The other half, overlooking Greenwood Cove, was still unfettered and had bushes, trees and wildlife.

The boys used to go there to relax, shoot the bull, smoke (yes, some of them smoked) and maybe have a beer or two. Most went there to shoot the bull.

One night, a week before the game with South, as the boys loitered in the woods of the Queen Street Playground, they noticed a light and movement near the docks down by Greenwood Cove Clam, a business that bought and sold the catches of the local quahauggers.

The boys decided to go down and check it out. BIG mistake.

When they got down from the hill they noticed a group of the rougher element of quahauggers from Greenwood Cove pitching pennies at the side of the building. Several of the football crew were familiar with the gathering as they worked beside them on the water. They also knew that some of them shouldn’t be messed with.

One of them, “The Canuck,” was just as likely to punch you in the face, or worse, if you got on the wrong side of him. He was a participant in many of the fights that occurred at a nearby bar nicknamed “The Bucket of Blood” because after many fights the floors and walls had to be washed down and the blood spilled had to be cleaned up, as many of the fight participants suffered bloody noses, broken teeth and worse in the battles that occurred there.

This did not deter the boys, but, in the course of the get together, Bobby Lettafroso got into a conversation with The Canuck. At first it seemed to be just a friendly conversation, but then the volume picked up and it got louder. The next thing Bobby and The Canuck were face to face yelling at one another.

Now Bobby, as has been said, worked the water himself. He was built as well as The Canuck, so the altercation would have been a good match.

But, as has been mentioned, you didn’t mess with The Canuck (this writer would not go within hands reach as he was liable to…). The argument turned to a tussle, then an outright fight. Bobby, urged on by his teammates, was holding his own against the older man.

That’s when The Canuck pulled out an ice pick. He struck Bobby just once. Once was enough. Bobby went down like a felled tree. The players jumped in and subdued The Canuck taking the ice pick away. It was just plain, dumb luck they did not get stabbed also.

Someone called the rescue. They were there in minutes. Bobby was taken to the local hospital, where it was determined he had a collapsed lung. He would be laid up for 3 weeks. His season was over. No title game for him.

The Canuck was carted off to jail. He would have his day in court. It would not go well for him. He got 15 years but only served 5, getting off for “good behavior.” No one had ever accused him of that before. For most of the crew down by the shore it was thought he wouldn’t know good behavior if it bit him on the behind.

The dreaded bucking machine

The incident left the team shook. Coach Cherry handed out some punishment, but losing Lettafroso was bad enough. The boys had broken curfew so they got a good tongue lashing and plenty of “hills” from Zaccnazzi and Hollister, plus some time on the hated “Bucking Machine,” but they were going to be allowed to play in the Thanksgiving clash, which would decide the championship.

It was a great game! The teams battled back and forth. At the half the South unit had the Hauggers bottled up on their own goal line. A safety would be BIG for South in a game as tight as this one. But, as the saying goes, “The great players make the great plays.” No one was bigger in this occasion than little Peewee Carillo, who handled the team’s punting. He unleashed a 60-yard punt from the shadow of his own goal posts, getting the Hauggers out of the hole and allowing them to go in at halftime with the score tied at 0-0.

The second half proved to be different. With no “Jump Pass Special” to Lettafroso, the Greenwood boys found themselves constantly in the hole and punting. The bigger, faster South Kingstone outfit started to wear the Crimson down and put points on the board, scoring 7 in the third quarter and 6 in the fourth, coming away from the hard-fought tilt with a 13-0 win and the Class C title.

There was not much to say. Coach Cherry praised the team after the game but also mentioned how the incident down by the docks had not only cost them a key player, but had caused their spirits to drop, possibly affecting their drive and spirit for this important game. It could have also cost Lettafroso his life. (The juniors and sophomores must have listened as they came back the next year with an undefeated season and a title).

And, life goes on as it always does. It wins in the end. Progress came to Greenwood Cove. Most of the real buckskin giants, the quahauggers and their skiffs, were replaced with million dollar yachts. Most just sit moored there at the GC Yacht Club, as their owners are dangerous on the water, at least according to the quahauggers.

The Bucket of Blood is gone. Most of the houses have been gentrified. The old mill is now condos.

The players are now in their ‘70s and ‘80s and still go to the Queen Street Playground, EXCEPT it is now the GC Firemen’s Hall, where they drink on the up and up and tell stories of their gridiron days playing for the Crimson and White, and later the Greenwood Cove Townies, a semi-pro outfit that had a good run of success before the NFL got a toehold on television and reduced the attendance at their games. Always they are The Winners and vanquished all before them. Every year they get better and better. All league. All State. All World. All Everything! Just as it should be.

Author’s Note: Though the writer actually was around (but was not at the docks) for this incident, he relished listening to the “older generation” recount their exploits growing up in this town. He remembered them and thus they’ve served as the base for all the great stories. With his own cohort, he later established some of his own, which emphasized the “28-hour days and 8-day weeks” that were so much of his growing up in this magic town.

Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich, where he experienced those 28-hour days and 8-day weeks that contained the magic that made his hometown so special. Included in all that were the numerous characters that added color to the local life and produced many of Bruce’s stories.

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3 Comments

  1. Carole O'Brien Pomaski

    I remember when my uncle, Nick Carcieri, built the “dreaded bucking machine” because there wasn’t any money for new football equipment. He said the team needed it, so he bought the wood and parts, and built it himself.
    One year not enough boys signed up for the football team. He didn’t want those who had signed up to be disappointed so he went from boy to boy asking them to please help their friends have a team.
    Finally he had enough to form a team, but some had to play both offense and defense.
    The next year those boys stayed and with some new sign-ups he had enough for a full offense and defense.
    He was an amazing man and a great coach helping EGHS kids in ways they sometimes never knew.

    Reply
  2. Donna Rice

    Cliff and I have NOT stopped laughing over the name changes. Another great story. THANKS Bruce

    Reply
  3. Robert C DeRensis

    You brought back some great memories with this story. As one of the players (I still have my football jacket) it was great to think about those long ago days.

    Reply

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