The Torrington High School football team nailed down its first victory, 21-0 over Kennedy, last weekend, but this week (Friday) the Red Raiders have a real toughie – Woodland, in Beacon Falls.
First-year head coach Gaitan Rodriguez, however, is conceding nothing to the 7-1 opponent. His team is 1-7, but he likes the spunk and desire his players have shown in this very tough season and he sees a good future at his alma mater.
“These kids are great,” he told me. “They haven’t lost their drive at all. And they compete every week.”
Meeting the coach for the first time Monday before practice, I found him cooperative and enthusiastic. Nor did he appear to be in a rush, even though I had intercepted him on his way from the parking lot to the practice field behind the school. I knew I was cutting into his work day and felt guilty about it, but he didn’t object.
Ah, I thought, a patient guy. Just what the program needs.
Athletic director Mike McKenna has every confidence in the first-year coach, whom he said he has known and liked since Rodriguez was a freshman at THS.
“I know that first win was great,” McKenna told me Tuesday. “It’s a growing process and this team is showing improvement and getting better every week.”
Ollie Gray is one of Rodriguez’s five assistants, concentrating on running backs and outside linebackers. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, N.Y. It is his first year at THS, but he has been an assistant coach at Crosby, Sacred Heart, Nonnewaug and for many years at the Pop Warner level. He’s a Waterbury native.
“When I met him (Rodriguez), we meshed,” Gray said. “He believes in sports and he loves kids, and I’m the same way.”
When Rodriguez emerged as the top candidate for the job, he was offensive coordinator at Sheehan High School. Both Sheehan head coach John Ferrazzi and athletic director V.J. Sarullo had the highest praise for him and said they felt he’d make a terrific head coach. McKenna felt the same.
A generous family
I voted Tuesday at the Torrington Middle School, which sits on property purchased from the Ruwet family. What some people don’t realize is that while the Ruwets sold that 24-acre school plot to the city, brothers George, Edward and Joseph Ruwet and their sister Doris Sibley, at the same time donated 86 more acres to the city. Much of the property is being used for athletic field.
George Ruwet died Oct. 30. The funeral was Monday. The Ruwets have long been known not only for their industriousness and public spiritedness, but for their generosity.
A sad situation
It was heartbreaking to learn, from a Sunday Hartford Courant Page One story, that the Walter “Doc” Hurley Scholarship Foundation is floundering because of apparent mismanagement and appears about to disintegrate.
It was once a terrific organization for a good number of years, providing scholarship monies to Hartford inner-city kids.
Doc, 91, was a superior high school athlete at Weaver High, a college star, a U.S. Marine and then a legendary educator and assistant to the principal for decades at Weaver. He was disappointed that he was never offered a head coaching job in Hartford, but he made his mark in other ways. The inner-city kids loved and respected Doc, a rangy, athletic man with huge hands and a booming voice. He was one of the best known and best liked men in Hartford. A key figure in calming the waters during the race riots of the 1960s, when trouble loomed, Doc was invariably summoned.
Woody Anderson, who covered high school sports for The Courant in the 1970s, had this story about Doc:
“Doc ran a sports camp for Hartford kids at Trinity College during the summers. One day he got up during lunch time and addressed the assembled kids. He said,
“‘If you are identified as one of those campers who have been pilfering food and taking it home, you will not be allowed back in camp.'”
Laughing now, Anderson continued, “Well, almost without hesitation, Kids started taking oranges and apples out of their back packs, and sandwiches and everything you can name. None of them wanted to be caught stealing the camp’s food. They wanted to come back every day.
“That was Doc. Kids flocked to him. He inspired them. He was a Pied Piper.”
I only hope Doc’s scholarship gets back on its feet.