By James P. Coughlin
With the upcoming dedication of the John F. “Doc” Coughlin Locker Room at the Worcester Ice Center in the Canal District of Worcester, on Dec. 7, I would very much like to add my deepest appreciation and heartfelt thanks for all that the officials at Worcester State University and the Ice Center have done done to make this new memorialization to my father, possible.
My father devoted over 40 years of his life to first serving as a Community Organizer for Worcester’s Athletic Community. He organized the Worcester Little League (for baseball) in 1956 (three years after I was born) and coached for 17 years. He was instrumental in the formation of the Worcester Peewee Youth Hockey Association and also coached for 14 years.
Subsequently, he organized the hockey program at what then was St. Peter’s High School on Main Street, Worcester, In 1981, the Worcester community honored him for his work with youth sports for over 25 years. And once that was done, he established the Hockey Program and Team at Worcester State College in _____ which is now known as Worcester State University, WSU. He was the first and most successful hockey coach in the history of Worcester State University, and his teams won more than 140 games in his 15-year career. Under his leadership, the school hockey team, “The Lancers” won the Eastern College Athletic (ECAC) Division III hockey championships for many years.
In doing some “family research” on my father, I learned that even as a young man growing up in the Winter Hill neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts, he also was a “sports community organizer” at the park in his neighborhood, Trump Field, between Somerville and Charlestown, MA in the Boston area. I am told from very reliable sources that he had an inexplicable knack for bring young people, his colleagues, together and very handily organized them into competitive teams for baseball and football on an informal basis.
Sadly, he lived only 66 years and on January 6, 1986 he died of pancreatic and liver cancer and I have been fatherless for 34 years since then.
In the wake of his death, my older brother John Francis Coughlin my senior by 8 years very ably began to carry on my father’s legacy by coaching hockey, not only at Worcester State but for other schools as well. I know that my father is now looking down from the heavens above and beaming with a great smile because of how proud he is of my brother for carrying on his legacy. He now serves as the assistant coach of the WSU hockey team under head coach Shayne Toporowski.
That was what my father devoted himself to for the hockey and athletic community of Worcester. But what I want to relate in this Op/Ed is about my relationship with my father.
My older brother, John, as a direct result of being older and accompanying my father to most, if not all of his hockey games became the “Athlete in the family.” By comparison, I became the “quiet Coughlin.” Quite frankly, I tried both baseball and hockey and I not very good at either, and my father was okay with that.
I took an interest in history and politics at an early age, becoming interested in not only religion but historical figures such as Eli Whitney, the inventor of the “Cotton gin” who happened to be either born in, or lived in nearby Westboro, Massachusetts, in the Worcester area. So, he took me to Westboro to literally track down the home where Whitney was born and trace the important things he did in that town.
I also had an interest in politics and something you should know about our family history, (if I might). My father and mother were both working in a women’s skirt factory in Boston and he met his future wife, Eva Barelli there. My mother just happened to have a sister who was then working as the personal secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. to a “rising star” and freshman United States Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, and the rest is history.
Given my interest in politics at an early age (that could have possibly been transmuted to me by my aunt’s sister, Mary Barelli Gallagher), my father made it a point to bring me to visit and tour both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts State Houses.
As kids are at an early age, I also developed an interest in religion during my time attending the former St. Paul’s Elementary School on Chatham Street in Worcester. In particular, I had a fascination for seeing as many manger and Nativity scenes as I possibly could. So, my father, once again as a testament to the unconditional love he imparted on me, he took me around in his car and we visited literally EVERY SINGLE Catholic Church in the city that had a Nativity scene of the Christ child on display for Christmas. And he accompanied me to every church while I insisted at saying a short prayer at each church.
As a youth, for reasons I don’t recall, I never learned to swim. And in my early 20’s, I decided to take introductory swimming lessons, (not in Worcester, but in Cambridge, MA) at the YMCA in downtown Cambridge. One day, I , for whatever reason was running late for the bus departing from Seven Hills Plaza, going down Route 9 to Boston. As it turned out, I had missed the bus that morning in time to make it on some for my swimming class. So, my father being one “never to take no for an answer”he took it upon himself to literally chase after the bus like he was a police cruiser chasing after a suspect of a crime. We drove at a speed that was not “exactly at the speed limit” and eventually caught up with the bus in Shreswbury (about 10 miles from Worcester.)
Through these personal and special stories about my relationship with my father, I have tried to portray the “private Mr. Coughlin” behind the scenes in our family and how he interacted with me. However, the manner in which he treated me with unconditional love was absolutely identical to how he treated all of the young people whom he coached whether it was for baseball or hockey for over 25 years. Ion short, was truly about: being a selfless guide and helper for all the young people whom he coached over the years.
In many ways, my father was like an on-call social worker for his players. So in the final analysis, the nickname of “Doc,” which he acquired, I am told, because he once went out of his way to check on a player who was hurt in a game one night, was very appropriate for him.
Another part of my father that is also quite touching was how he did not have a “carte Blanche” way of treating of his players—rather he treated them all as individuals.
I have one very special memory of my dad paying very special attention to one of his younger hockey players when he was coaching in the 1960s.
During the course of one hockey game, he noticed that one of his better players was not playing his usual best. So, he decided to check in to see what was happening with this particular player’s reduced ice hockey performance. He had a great ability to read his players auras and could very easily tell if someone was withholding something from him.
Well, the young man’s father had recently died and he was still grieving from his loss. As a result, his emotional pain was having a major interference in his life and perhaps his hockey playing as well.
So, my father very quietly and with absolutely no fanfare of any kind, took it upon himself to do some very special fathering for this player.
He broke off from his plans for the next day or so and became a “surrogate father” for this player. He took him out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner; took him bowling and to a college hockey game; and did exactly the very things this player enjoyed doing with his late father.
In paying tribute to my father, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the rather important role that my mother played in our rather public hockey family in Worcester. My mother was a very supportive spouse to my father throughout his long coaching career. She always referred to the players on the then-Worcester State College hockey team as “my other boys.” It was a ritual after every hockey game that she would host the entire hockey team to an Italian dinner at our house at 332 Chandler St., regardless if the hockey squad won or lost its game that night. My mother would spend hours in preparation for the team’s meal that night. It would often be a 12-course meal, featuring all kinds of Italian food, homemade Italian pastries, and much more.
However, there was one rule in our family’s house. That was, if you were coming to dinner at the Coughlins, you absolutely had to eat—no ifs, and, or buts about it. God only help the hockey player or their girlfriends (who were also welcomed) who did not want to eat. My mother could not understand for the life of her, “Why would someone come into my house and not eat?” My grandmother was an Italian immigrant from Naples, who married my grandfather, who came from Rome. My grandparents had nine children, among them was my mother, Eva.
My grandmother passed onto all of her children, the Italian phrase, “mangia, mangia, beva, beva,” which translates into the English: “If you eat, you will feel better.” If you were among those hockey players who either declined to eat or as my mother would often say, “ate like a bird,” you were among those guests at our family dinner table who were treated to hearing my mother’s endless rendition of “mangia, mangia, beva, beva,” until those players or their girlfriends finally relented and had some dinner.
As for my dad’s players, besides calling him “coach,” they also affectionately called him “Mr. C.”
Similarly, the players also referred to my mother as “Mrs. C.”
As I introduced myself on the “John F. Coughlin Memorial Field” a short time ago as the son of “Doc” Coughlin, two of the coaches on the field at the time for football practice told me that my father had inspired them, personally, to coach after they graduated.
These stories are extremely touching to me as a member of the Coughlin family and are a great source of pride, strength, and appreciation as I have remained fatherless since the age of 32, when my father died of cancer on Jan. 6, 1986.
From Clark University:
Clark U. to hold panel, film screening to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan. 22
Clark University will host Lessons from MLK: Seeking Solidarity in Times of Educational Inequity, a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Wednesday, January, 22; the day will consist of two community-wide programs to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King.
🏵️“Lessons from MLK: Seeking Solidarity in Times of Educational Inequity,” a community luncheon/panel presentation featuring Clark faculty, staff, and community members who will discuss the persisting challenges and opportunities surrounding educational inequity in K-12 public school and university settings, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Tilton Hall in the Higgins University Center, 950 Main St.
🏵️From 5:30 – 8 p.m., the University will hold a screening of “I Am Not Your Negro,” the Oscar-nominated documentary based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, in Jefferson Academic Center, Room 320. A post -film discussion will follow.
🏵️Both events are free and open to the public. They are sponsored by Clark’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
CANAL DISTRICT’S BOBBY LARGESSE’S CARDBOARD WINDOW PANES
Isn’t it a shame how Bob Largesse, who claims to be a Canal District “leader,” is a negligent landlord when it comes to his non-CD rental property. A few streets away from the Canal District is BOBBY’S inner-city package store at the end of Ward Street/bottom of Stone Street. Look at HIS APARTMENTS UPSTAIRS! A few days ago, in the depths of wintertime, when it’s around 25 degrees F outside, we saw the cardboard in his windows:
Bob, a millionaire developer, knows what to do, but he ain’t doing it!
– text/photos by Rose T.
The late, great Elliott Smith once said his songs reflect a “strong, quiet beauty.” He was right. – R.T.