By Bruce Mastracchio
Growing up in East Greenwich, as I have said numerous times, was a unique experience. Three separate and distinct areas of town: a shore and cove, a Main Street, and farmlands made it different from almost anything else I have encountered. I have been in all 50 states, and talked to a lot of people so I think I have some cred in saying so. The experiences could have been had by almost anybody, but not quite like those we experienced here.
As kids here just about every day was taken up with sports. On vacations we left the house at 7 in the morning and played and romped ‘til suppertime, then went back out again for more games or whatever adventure or plan popped up.
Most of us dreamed of playing for the Avengers, the Crimson & White of EGHS. We wouldn’t think of going elsewhere to play. Hometown born and hometown bred, most of us were. Not everyone, some still left town for the Catholic high schools, but even some of them came back.
Our training grounds were the fields and streets of EG. We played tackle football in the street, a good preparation for what was to come (another story for later).
Another earlier prep for football was a game called MuckleBall, which was indigenous (to the best of my knowledge) to Eldredge Elementary School.
A while back I introduced a version of this game to the kids in a private school where I worked. I gave them the history of it, and, of course, a little story. Not sure if they understood, but it will reach them down in the depths, eventually, just like it reaches everybody else.
So, today, in this version, I will talk about MuckleBall, and Eldredge, and the game and let you translate it anyway you want. To how you played your version or not, or whatever.
Remember, you only get to dance here for a short time, so always live in the present, and look to the future. But, don’t forget the past, especially the good times. You can learn a lot from the past, and the good memories always make me smile, especially when I am dancing my way across the mountains of the moon. It is good to smile. I have to smile, and dance, just to keep from crying.
Muckleball was a game that was peculiar to Eldredge School and field. It was kind of like a “King of the Hill” football, and I’ve never seen or heard of it being played elsewhere, though I suppose it was. Of course, now, I have introduced it in a few other climes.
We had our own sandlot football teams. Later it was junior high school football (they wouldn’t let me play – too small), and then, of course, the ultimate for us town kids, who grew up living and dying with the legend and lore of this town.
The realization of our dream. Donning the Crimson and White and playing for the East Greenwich High School Avengers, E>G> or Grenitch as we called it.
But, muckleball was played before that. It was a training ground, so to speak, to see what you were made of. It was only played at Eldredge during our younger years and was played before school or at noontime recess, which lasted an hour in those days. An hour really being an hour, not 45 or 50 minutes as they say today.
The rules were simple – one ball and 20 or 30 screaming kids. One kid gets the ball. Everyone else tries to muckle him. That translates to tackle him. Pulverize him. Crush him. Make him give up the ball. Once “muckled,” the ballcarrier had one or two choices. He could get up again and give it another try. Or, he could toss the ball to another victim, and give him a chance to get creamed.
For the ballcarrier the strategy was simple. If you were fast you turned on the jets and motored out of harm’s way. Of course, if you were fast enough to outrun everybody then your would hear cries of “chicken” in your ears and your only recourse would be to reverse course and run back at the pack of boys chasing you, who were just waiting to get a shot at you to knock the snot out of you.
Again if you were muckled you could get up again and keep the ball, or toss it to some other unfortunate. You could be tackled in a numerous number of ways. Some boys would hit you with a regular tackle with shoulder and arms around the waist or legs and drag you down.
Some might hit you with a “billy goat” bump to take you off your feet and others would just jump in the air and wrap you with a flying headlock to hurl you viciously to the ground.
Most times if you were the victim of a single tackle, it wasn’t so bad. But, when a slew of boys hit you at once, it could hurt, and even result in injury. They would pig-pile you to the ground and the boys coming up behind would jump on the pile crushing those underneath.
The best players were usually the best athletes. Mick was among the best I ever saw, along with Pini and Fats. Of course, Mick was full grown in the sixth grade and he just crushed you when he ran into you. Fats was a crusher too, while Pini combined speed, quickness and toughness all in one, and could run away from you, around you, or through you, sometimes all at once. He was only 5’2” tall but started varsity in all three sports as a freshman and, not just played, but starred. Muckleball never got him. High school sports couldn’t stop him either. Grades did though. As big as Mick was he was hurt though most of his high school career. Fats never played. But others from that Muckleball Field went on to don the Crimson and do quite well.
I never saw Ducky play muckleball, but based on what I saw of him on the gridiron, I think he might have done all right. Muckleball was just a test along the road of life as you might say. One of the “rites of passage” for us EG kids. Most of us used it as a proving ground, and tough as it was it never hurt as much as tackle football on the asphalt street at Tar Ucci’s Memorial Stadium. We all wanted to prove we were tough enough to play for the Avengers. EG was the smallest school in the state, with only 90 boys at the time and, in my day,we went up against bigger schools like Cranston HS (not East), which came out with 107 players dressed to our 33. We tied them, but beat bigger schools like Woonsocket, Barrington, South Kingstown and North Kingstown, who were two and three times bigger than we were. We reveled in playing for our hometown team and as kids we couldn’t wait for that to happen.
It’s funny, I’ve been to a lot of places. Kids today don’t seem to have the same feeling for sports that we had. We knew the high school players and what they had accomplished. We knew the legends of the past, semi-pro too. We wanted to be in their shoes one day. They played the high school games at Eldredge Field, too, right where we played our muckleball games.
They walked over from the Academy and we walked with them. I used to collect all the player’s capes and pile them over me like I was a manager, and thus, walk through the gates without having to pay.
We reveled in their season. Their ups and downs. The rivalries. We looked forward to the Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day games. It took on special meaning when we got to high school and played North Kingstown, our bigger rival from right down the road.
We owned them, even though they were a bigger school, and have owned them over the years. Since 1958, I don’t think they’ve won more than 10 times. We just expected to win and then go home and enjoy our Thanksgiving Day dinner. We relished enjoying our turkey dinner and spoiling theirs.
There was no doubt about it. Sure, the games were tough, but we’d had our training in muckleball and street tackle, and what could be tougher than that? When you’ve taken on the world how could a few paltry Skippers from NK stop you. That’s how we felt. That’s why we won.
Since those muckleball games and high school games, many fields have known my sound.Thanksgiving has been spent in California, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada (and now back in Rhode Island). But the time frames still bring back memories of Eldredge, the high school games and muckleball.
MuckleBall in the mud. In March. What could be better than that?
This story is dedicated to all of the “old gang.” To those who played muckleball, street tackle and ever donned the Crimson & White for old EG High, and put it on the line on those crisp, fall, Saturday afternoons, and especially, on Thanksgiving Day in November.
GOOOOOOOO, GRENITCH ” as Dave Baker’s Mother used to say.
Stand up and cheer
Stand up and Cheer for
East Greenwich High School
Crimson & White
Above the rest
Above the rest
Oh give a cheer
For they are bound to win the fray
For it’s East Greenwich High School’s Day!!!
Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich and had the pleasure of growing up among these colorful characters and even knowing more than a few of them. They made life interesting.