‘Whatever It Takes’ Motto Helped FHS Sports to Excel
Panthers’ A.D. Sees Fall Returning to NormalBy KEN HAMWEY,
Staff Sports Writer
Before the 2020-21 school year began, the Hockomock League’s 12 athletic directors adopted a motto as they prepared to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Brief and to the point, it said: “whatever it takes, we’ll do it.’’
Franklin High A.D. Tom Angelo and his 11 colleagues met daily on many occasions as the summer inched closer to the opening of schools in September. Would interscholastic sports be available for students in the fall and what would they look like were questions begging for answers. Students, parents and coaches were anxious.
Hit the fast-forward key to the conclusion of the school year and take a good look. At Franklin High, all the athletic seasons were conducted, every varsity sport was played, and the newly added Fall 2 campaign enabled endangered sports to get underway. The theme for sports during 2020-21 was about providing opportunities. Winning championships was not the first priority.
But, when Franklin High’s athletes and coaches step onto a court or a field, they give 100 percent. They felt blessed to be able to compete, and they battled intensely throughout all four seasons to once again be in the running to win the Boston Globe’s Dalton Award for the third year in a row. The Dalton trophy goes to a high school that produces the top winning percentage in all varsity sports.
Angelo, who just finished his fifth year as the Panthers’ A.D., didn’t give the Dalton Award a thought last summer — a time that was precarious and full of uncertainty. But he, like the other league A.D.s, was ready to do “whatever it takes.’’
“We didn’t know what to expect,’’ Angelo said. “The summer was so uncertain but all the A.D.s created schedules for every possible scenario. We adapted and we kept the teams in pods. When we got the okay to compete, we made sure we played a team back-to-back so the virus could be confined to just those teams. The summer sure was uncertain.’’
Fall sports started, and they began with all kinds of rule changes and modifications — like wearing masks, social distancing, crowd and bus limitations, and constant sanitizing.
Franklin’s fall season included boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ cross-country, field hockey and golf. “Four of the six varsity teams won Kelly-Rex Division titles,’’ Angelo said. “Those were both cross-country teams, field hockey and girls’ soccer. The field hockey team also won the Hockomock League Cup. In all, the fall teams compiled a 31-9-8 record and it was a tremendous way to start the year, especially with all the modifications.’’
The winter season included boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ ice hockey, girls’ gymnastics and boys’ and girls’ swimming. Five Kelly-Rex championships were won — girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ swimming, gymnastics and boys’ ice hockey tied for a title. The teams combined for an overall record of 51-10-1.
“Our winter teams were outstanding,’’ Angelo said. “It was our first experience dealing with Covid-19 in confined quarters. There were so many guidelines, but it was all about ‘whatever it took.’ Our goals were to provide opportunities and ensure the safety of student-athletes.’’
The new Fall 2 season arrived in March and April and it produced a 21-9 overall record. The teams included football, cheerleading, volleyball, unified basketball and boys and girls winter track. The volleyball team won a Kelly-Rex crown and the Hockomock League Cup and the cheerleaders won a Hockomock League Cup.
“The Fall 2 season wasn’t ideal, but I’d label it ‘awesome’ because we got sports underway in spite of all the challenges,’’ Angelo said. “The coaches were phenomenal, and once we were up and running, it felt normal. The kids participated, they were engaged and they had fun.’’
The spring season ended last month and five of the 10 teams that competed won Hockomock Leagues titles. The championship squads with their record in parentheses were baseball (12-1), girls’ lacrosse (13-0), boys’ lacrosse (13-0), boys’ tennis (13-0) and cheerleading. Other teams that played were softball (6-7), girls’ tennis (4-9), wrestling (7-1), boys’ track (2-2) and girls’ track (3-1).
The squads that entered the playoffs, which got underway after Local Town Pages deadline, included baseball, softball, girls’ and boys’ lacrosse, and boys’ and girls’ tennis.
Although there were games and matches still to be played after the paper’s deadline, the Panthers, nevertheless, had compiled an amazing 74-21 record in the spring.
“We did well, and the five championships are a testament to a strong work ethic,’’ Angelo said.
Although the Covid-19 year showed that A.D.s could adapt, adjust and be flexible on the issues, they still had to be patient. Angelo, who directs 90 coaches at three levels, strived to maintain patience.
“I tried to be calm under pressure,’’ he said. “And, I tried to be patient with coaches, students and parents. It wasn’t easy, but I tried.’’
Quarantines and postponements occurred but Angelo dealt with them admirably. “We had quarantines for some sub-varsity sports and also for boys’ and girls’ ice hockey, golf and field hockey,’’ he noted. “Postponements were sporadic, but all games postponed were made up except for one boys’ hockey game that was canceled because our opponent was unable to compete.’’
The 59-year-old Angelo gives coaches and student-athletes an A-plus for the way they handled all the changes and modifications. “They adhered to all the rules,’’ he emphasized. They did what was asked because they wanted to compete.’’
Athletic department assistant Sue Jacobson and athletic trainer Jenn Edmunds also get high praise from Angelo. “They are so instrumental in what we do as a team,’’ he said. “The three of us run the athletic department, and we all have roles to fulfill. I could not ask for better teammates.’’
Complaints, however, always loom, even when a pandemic strikes, and Angelo had to devote time to handle them.
“Not all, but some parents complained about the rules and the way we dealt with the issues,’’ he said. “That was my most challenging task. If we didn’t adhere to the guidelines, then students would have been at risk, coaches would have been at risk, and we would have had to shut down our athletic programs. We followed the protocols of state agencies like the Executive Office of Energy and Environment, the MIAA, and the Department of Education. We also adhered to the rules set forth by our administration and our Board of Health. We did that so kids could play.’’
And they played with purpose and commitment, which could translate into a third consecutive Dalton Award. “We’ve got a chance to repeat; anything is possible,’’ Angelo said. “We’ll see what the tally indicates, and if it happens, it’ll be the cherry on top of the cake. That’s all great, but what we tried to teach the kids during these times was perseverance, sportsmanship and to seize the opportunity to compete.’’
Angelo is optimistic about athletics for the 2021-22 school year.
“Based on current trends, it looks like we’re on track to a return to normalcy for the fall season,” he said. “Many of the modifications and guidelines we followed this year will fade away, but a few could still stand.’’
A positive sign of restoring order to sports was the MIAA’s decision to conduct sectional and state playoffs for the spring season that got underway after Local Town Pages deadline.
“A.D.s around the state pushed for playoffs to return for the spring, because that’s when athletes felt the most disappointment in 2020,’’ Angelo said.
As far as Tom Angelo is concerned, the 2020-21 athletic year at Franklin was mission accomplished.
“Indeed it was,’’ he said. “There were challenges but we did whatever it took.’’