THP #19: The Mill City

January 16, 2021 – Lowell, Massachusetts
UMass Lowell vs Binghamton
Women’s Basketball

It’s cold and wet and Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, better known as Jack, rests below my feet in the Edson Cemetery at the corner of Lincoln and Seventh.

All the walking paths here have road names. It’s easier to parse through the acres of graves that way.

I’ve never read Kerouac’s work but I know that his influence has touched writing far and wide and it’s doubtful that I haven’t read and enjoyed something that was shaped, in some way by his writing.

The small flat stone sits a few yards in front of a more robust stone with the simple inscription “The Road is Life.” A small Fleurdelisé adorns his grave in honor of his Quebecois heritage.

As a writer myself it only felt right to pay my respects.

I find a sense of peace and calm in cemeteries. They are always quiet. Good thinking places. And I’m always taken by the names. There are millions of names on millions of gravestones around the country. Every one of those names is a story, a life lived.

There was Eugene Haines. He passed in 1881 at the age of 28, a year younger than myself. Who was he? What did he do? When did someone last say his name or think about him?

Just a short walk from Eugene was the Proctor family plot. A family of four was buried there. The last person died in 1925. Gone for nearly a century and the stone that marked their final resting place still looked immaculate.

Nathaniel and Zilpah Matthews lived beautifully long, symmetrical lives. He was born a year before her. She passed a year before him. Both lived into their 80s.

As I walked I thought of  a song lyric from Ron Gallo’s All The Punks Are Domesticated“I will be forgotten in two generations/What will have been my big mark?”

All of these people lived a life as best they could and now they’re here. What was their big mark? I’ll never know. In a tangible sense they are just names etched in stone. In my mind they are whoever I want them to be.

That’s why I like cemeteries: even in death, they are still places to dream.

The University

UMass Lowell is one of the youngest Division I programs, having elevated from Division II before the 2013-2014 school year. The Riverhawks hockey team was the school’s lone Division I program before the department-wide elevation.

Lowell holds a unique distinction as being one of only four programs in New England to have two campus venues for basketball with Northeastern, Providence, and Fairfield being the other three.

The program’s rise to Division I mirrored the university’s rise in overall prestige during the same time. When I went to my first UMass Lowell hockey game back in 1999 the university was a small regional school, and now the total number of students is quickly moving toward 20,000.

Academically, the school has hung its hat on its unique plastics engineering major. One of just seven four-year school’s in the country to offer the major, Lowell is the lone school to offer Master’s and Doctorate programs in the field.

The Good Eats

Suppa’s is a Lowell institution. It’s a greasy dive. It’s a pizza place. It’s a perfect campus spot for a quick bite.

I hadn’t eaten anything and was ravenous. The menu is a calvalcade of greasy goodness. This is not a health food spot. It never will be a health food spot. It’s an indulgence and a damn good one.

I went with the steak stick. This is how it is described on the menu: Fresh shaved steak and mozzarella cheese wrapped in homemade pizza dough, deep fried to perfection.

The Steak Stick

Served with a side of blue cheese, I added a bag of honey mustard chips and a water to wash it down. It was great. It was the type of food that you love eating and know full well you’ll never eat it again.

Worth it.

The Gym

The Costello Athletic Center is the beating heart of UMass Lowell sports. The soccer/lacrosse field and the field hockey field sit across the parking lot from the building. Opened in 1964, it’s the home of the Riverhawks both literally and spiritually.

Recent investment has built out the facilities in the building for its tenants, the basketball teams and women’s volleyball. While it looks very 60s brutalist on the outside, the renovations (where you can still smell the wood lacquer) are modern and sleek.

River Hawk Central, a student lounge.

The actual playing arena is a step back in time. A small, cramped room that is a perfect place to spend an afternoon watching hoops. This season both teams are playing all home games in Costello. In a normal year both would split time between here and the much newer, and larger, Tsongas Center.

The Game

Today was the first of a weekend doubleheader between the Riverhawks and Binghamton. Lowell came into the game 6-2 in the league and contending for first-ever America East title while the Bearcats came in 3-5 in conference play.

In the first half, things went back and forth as neither team could fully defend the other.

However, UMass Lowell, led by a great group of sophomores, put the pedal down in the third quarter. The Riverhawks had slowly built a lead throughout but opened up a 10-point gap after three quarters.

The Riverhawks would hold on with ease thanks to six players scoring at least six points led by sophomore Denise Solis scoring 16 in just 22 minutes of play as she was hampered by fouls and eventually fouled out. Tianha Sears had 10 for the Riverhawks.

UMass Lowell only shot 38 percent from the field but it was enough as Binghamton shot 32 percent.

UMass Lowell 59, Binghamton 49. Final.
Player of the game: Jailena Sanchez (UML) – 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals.

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