THP #36: A Little Slice Of Home

November 18, 2022 – Worcester, Massachusetts
WPI vs Tufts
Women’s Basketball

My daughter is coming soon. I need an adult.

But I am the adult. It’s so weird to think that I will soon be the one looked at for advice and guidance and to provide a steady hand in tough times. I’m confident I can handle the challenges as they come. It still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t feel like the adult in the room, and my wife feels the same way.

I still feel like a kid. Every time I get off a work call I do something silly to wash my mouth out of having to be professional. All-hands Zoom meeting at work? No thanks. Babbling at and scratching the dog? Yes, please.

The thing is that I don’t need to sell myself out as a father. I’m still gonna be that guy and I’m going to keep loving being that guy. Will things change as a parent? Yes. Will I change myself fundamentally? No.

Something that’s frustrated me as my wife’s pregnancy has progressed is all the bad attempts at humor/life advice I’ve gotten from older family.

“Oh you think you’re tired now….”

“Just you wait. Once she’s born your life is never your own again.”

“Everything’s going to change and it won’t be like it is now.”

Of course it won’t stay exactly the same. My life is going to be better. I get to live the charmed life I’ve been lucky enough to have so far AND have a kickass daughter to bring into the world too.

All of that shitty advice is all cloaked in this sense of negativity and that hurts to hear. I’m still gonna be here blogging. I’m still going to play Wordle at night with my wife. We’re still going to go apple picking in the fall.

Now I can bring Claire to games with me and show her the New England that I love. And now we can help grow her vocabulary with Wordle. And my wife is going to love helping Claire pick her first apples.

My life is still wholly mine and it will become much richer once my daughter is born. I don’t think parenting is going to be that hard. Try. Show up. Be present. Listen. Don’t lie to your kid. Do those five things and everything else falls into place.

Damn, maybe I am ready to be the adult in the room.

Even with a daughter on the way, there’s always time for a moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Worcester is an excellent food town. There are so many great places to get a bite and few are better than the Miss Worcester Diner. Located at the intersection of Quinsigamond Ave and Southbridge Street, the diner is an icon of the city and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The diner shares a lot with an old brick textile mill that opened in the 1870s. Today, the walls of the mill are covered in extensive, beautiful graffiti art.

The vibe of the diner starts with the front door which, like the rest of the place, is covered in stickers.

The stickers are from everything like bands and sports teams and colleges to random brands and trade unions and tourist stickers people have picked up on their travels. Every inch of the interior is covered in stickers including the ceiling.

It’s a tight, cozy place with the grill out in the open for everyone to see. I love places like that.

The wife and I scooted into a booth for breakfast and I went with something completely different: the Polynesian. My wife got an egg combo with french toast because she’s a high-class woman.

The Polynesian was eggs, toast, home fries, but instead of bacon or sausage it was Spam, which I had never had before. Oh, and I added a chocolate chip pancake like I always do, which was big and fluffy and amazing.

But the Polynesian, that was the real stuff.

Spam gets a bad rap. It’s great. It’s a spiced, emulsified ham that has a silky mouth feel and picks up a nice crunch when you sear it on a pan. It perfectly filled in the gaps of my eggs and home fries. The crunchy toast was the cherry on top. If you’re in Worcester, come here.

There’s a reason this is a staple of the city. The food is great and the vibe is even better. Don’t skip Miss Worcester when you come to Central Massachusetts.

Another food icon of Worcester is George’s Coney Island.

This hot dog joint is absolutely beloved around town. When we moved to Worcester multiple people kept telling me that we had to go here. As lovers of hot dogs, the missus and I finally made it.

Hot dogs have been served here since 1929 and inside the history oozes out of the walls.

You can see the line of the left of the photo; it’s always busy here.

One of the signatures of Coney Island is the endless amount of scratch graffiti chiseled into the walls and booths of the restuaurant.

They even sell merch at the counter including postcards and even a book documenting its history.

The main event of course was the hot dogs. I got all of their special dogs: the MRO (mustard, relish, onion), The Works (chili sauce, mustard, onion), and The Garden (MRO toppings plus ketchup).

One ding off the top was the inability order fries, only chips. I love fries with my dogs, but they had Wachusett chips which are local and high quality.

Here’s the thing though: the dogs themselves?

They were flabby steamed dogs that didn’t taste of much. The chili sauce was fine but nothing special. It just made me want to take the drive south to Providence and get some New York System. All the hype I got on this place and for me it was just a really nice neon sign lighting the way to a forgettable meal.

The Game

Worcester Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1865 by tinware manufacturer John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn, owner of the world’s biggest wire mill. Today, The Boynton is a popular watering hole for students just down the road from campus. Washburn also is the namesake of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Their teams are called the Ichabods.

Today, WPI has an undergraduate enrollment just over 4,000 and is one of the country’s preeminent scientific research institutions. U.S. News and World Report ranks it 66th academically in the country.

Athletically, the Engineers play in the plainly, yet charmingly, named New England Women’s And Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), and basketball is the school’s marquee sport.

Despite being nicknamed the Engineers, the school’s mascot, as seen in the photo atop the piece, is Gompei the Goat. In 1891 the sophomore class stole a goat to use as a mascot. Gompei Kuwada tended to the goat because he was the only student with G.K. initials (same as goat keeper). The modern mascot was named in his honor.

And the home of WPI basketball is Harrington Auditorium.

It’s a beautiful old barn in the heart of campus. Inside it eschews the bells and whistles for a straight-up experience.

The entryway has a nice trophy case and that’s it. No table for snacks. No table to take tickets. Admission is free at WPI.

And the gym is spectacular. If walls could talk the stories they would tell of all the hardwood classics played in the Auditorium since it opened in 1968.

To get the bathroom and I vending machine I had to go underneath the stands and down a hallway through a door. It opened up into an area that overlooked the swimming pool and had a sign pointing you to a place that could only really happen at a place like WPI.

The Game

It was actually a doubleheader on this Friday night. The men opened against Maine-Farmington. The WPI men might be New England’s best chance of winning a national title this year. Preseason #8 in the country, the Engineers never trailed against the Beavers.

Sophomore forward John Adams was the national newcomer of the year last season and a preseason second-team All-American this year. It’s easy to see why.

What’s better than having an All-American on your team? Having two. John Lowther was preseason fourth-team and is just as in control on the inside.

This play by Adams and WPI was just really cool. The men beat Farmington, which had preseason third-team Terion Moss, 67-46.

The women closed the show against #11 ranked Tufts, and the Jumbos came to town anchored by junior preseason second-team All-American Maggie Russell.

But the Engineers went 19-5 last year and were ready for the Jumbos. And early on, it was a tit-for-tat kind of game.

Tufts got the better of it early and took a three-point lead after the first quarter.

But WPI was ready and battled back in the second quarter. The Engineers kept finding answers for the Jumbos.

Melanie Presseau’s bucket in the final minute gave the Engineers a five-point lead at intermission.

The third quarter started and the upset was clearly in the cards. The Engineers forced the issue and played their game at their pace and there was nothing Tufts could do.

This triple from Alice Kelly put the hosts up 11 points.

And the party kept going with Kelly at the center of it. She and the Engineers could do no wrong as the lead ballooned to 16 midway through the third.

And then the national title contenders showed up. Tufts chipped away at the deficit. Sixteen became a dozen because nine became five.

The Jumbos held WPI to just two points the final 5:46 of the third quarter and held the Engineers without a field goal for a stretch of 8:01.

Sarah Crossett cut the gap down to two early in the fourth.

But I did mention Maggie Russell, and she saved the best for last.

That jumper tied the game at 44.

She was immense for the Jumbos in the fourth quarter. She had a dozen points in the final eight minutes of the game and carried Tufts every step of the way. She wanted the ball, and she made moments every time she got it.

Her points kept the Jumbos apace with the Engineers and helped Tufts pull ahead in the final minute. But WPI still had a chance.

And look who got the key rebound. Russell would hit both of her free throws to open a three-point gap for Tufts. All the Jumbos had to do was defend for six seconds to pick up a signature road win.

Tufts 60, WPI 57. Final
Player Of The Game: Maggie Russell (Tufts) – 25 points, 8 rebounds
Time of Game – 1:34:59

The basketball was excellent at Harrington. However, the beating heart, the soul, of WPI basketball is the pep band.

I’ve seen a ton of pep bands over the years. Most are fine. Few are exceptional. The WPI band is either the best or second-best pep band I’ve seen in New England. The only other one that would even be in the conversation would be at Northeastern.

They provide fun color throughout the game and bring the energy and support for the home team, but when the horns go up their star shines the brightest.

A good hockey or basketball game is made infinitely better by a good band, and pep bands are basically non-existent at the D3 level. So to have one of the best here in Worcester is a real treat.

Thanks for reading. I know the pep band brought it in a big way, but I’ll still send you out with one for the road.

THP #11: The Smallest Gym

January 28, 2020 – Henniker, New Hampshire
New England College vs Tufts University
Men’s Basketball

It was a cold night on the last Tuesday in January. It was the kind of cold that gave you claustrophobia. And it was in a town seemingly removed from the rest of New England.

Henniker has just a shade under 5,000 people and it feels less because the town is so spread out, with just 110 people per square mile.

It has three major claims to fame. The first is that it is the only Henniker on earth. The second is that it is the birthplace of paintball. The third is that the community of Henniker played an early role in the development of American Sign Language.

The town is an enigma. It has all the trappings of a tucked away hamlet in Vermont but it sits just 30 minutes away from Manchester and 20 minutes from Concord, the first and third largest cities in the state, respectively.

Today it is a small, sleepy town buried under the cold of a dark winter’s night.

The downtown starts at town hall and ends at the intersection of the Citizens Bank and the convenience store.

However, on this night there was excitement and theater all around as a fender bender snared the main thoroughfare through Henniker.

The Campus

The New England College campus feels very much like the many other small, secluded colleges that dot New England. Academically, NEC offers programs ranging from associate’s degrees all the way up to a doctoral degree program.

It’s also one of the most diverse universities in the country and was named as one of the 25 most diverse univerisities in the country by Time Magazine in 2018.

Athletically, NEC is a member of the New England Collegiate Conference, a non-football league of small private schools around New England. New England College is the only college in the country with athletic teams called The Pilgrims.

This is THP’s second stop in the NECC after Lesley.

Bridges Gym

The Game

Bridges Gym is small inside and out. With offices wedged into the tiniest of spaces, Bridges is definitely an exercise in maximizing space.

The cramped entryway of Bridges Gym

But nothing can top the size of the gym. Nothing can quite prepare you for seeing a 94-foot court in a room 100-feet long.

The yard between baseline and wall

On the bench side the sideline is only about seven feet from the wall. This is a room devoted to NEC athletics with not a single inch to spare. With a capacity of just under 400 it gets real loud real quick in a room this small.

And tonight was a night for it to get loud as nationally-ranked Tufts University was in town for a rare late-season non-conference game. While the Jumbos came it with the national ranking, NEC was by no means a lightweight. The Pilgrims entered the game 12-6 with talent across the floor.

Here, I want to take a minute to reference Calvin Cheek. The NEC junior from Boston has 385 career steals as of this writing. The all-time NCAA men’s career steals record is currently 452 held by Juvaris Hayes of Merrimack College. Cheek is on pace to break the record and potentially reach 500.

The game was a grind as both teams defended like their lives depended on it. Two squads used to scoring 80 or more, scored in fits and bursts.

Strong defense certainly helped keep the score down.

NEC let an eight-point lead slip away in the second half thanks to timely shooting by the Jumbos.

However, the Pilgrims were able to flip the script and pull back into the lead as the half progressed. Led by 16 points from Jamal Allen and 15 points by Cheek, the Pilgrims were able to consistently stay that one step ahead of Tufts throughout the final 10 minutes.

And when it came down to the final seconds, when Tufts had a chance to tie, NEC buckled down. New England College 59, Tufts 56. Final.

Top Performer: Luke Rogers (Tufts) – 8 pts, 16 rbd, 6 blk

During the game, I was sitting at the table and got to talking with some of the student workers. Everyone there cared. From the spotter to the PA announcer, it was so refreshing to talk with students that were actively involved and cared about the event going on.

One of the guys even offered me some of the french fries that he had with dinner. They were the good crispy ones, the ones you can only find at the local pizzeria. Good fries. Good kids.