By TERENCE FRACASSA
Bishop Hendricken has named its field and stadium after its legendary and Hall of Fame former football coach Edward Fracassa. The ceremony was held last Friday night at …
Bishop Hendricken has named its field and stadium after its legendary and Hall of Fame former football coach Edward Fracassa. The ceremony was held last Friday night at Hendricken’s game versus Portsmouth.
Hendricken High School Football. The name is now synonymous with annual trips to the Super Bowl, dominance in the State’s top football division, and a pilgrimage of graduates spreading their wings to NCAA Division I powerhouses and even the NFL.
But it all had to start somewhere. And in the early 1970s, Hendricken football was the complete opposite of the image that exists today.
It is hard to fathom where and what Bishop Hendricken High School and its football program were in the early 1970s. In 1970, Hendricken was on the verge of closing its doors. In 1971, the school’s football team finished a Class B season with only one victory. And by 1972, Hendricken was competing in essentially the 4th division of Rhode Island high school football. In an era when the large public high schools dominated the football landscape in the state’s top division, Hendricken was a small school petitioning the state to play in the lower football divisions to win a few games.
Enter Fracassa in 1973 (graduate of the United States Marine Corps, Pawtucket West – now Shea – High School, and the University of Rhode Island).
After the Marines, Fracassa returned to Rhode Island – but he still did not have a high school degree or any work prospects. Through his experience with the Marine Corps, Fracassa turned to what had helped him most – education and athletics.
Fracassa started his career in the field of education as a physical education teacher in the Warwick School Department where he became Department Head at Aldrich Junior High School for over 20 years.
Fracassa was most drawn to coaching track and football – and he was most interested in challenging situations. Charles Shea’s words of taking on challenges and elevating others were hardwired into his persona. One thing remained a constant, however, in his approach to coaching football. No matter how challenging the environment, Fracassa insisted that his programs never move down to or remain in lower divisions to compete. Instead, he insisted that that they move up to the top division and the highest levels of competition - no matter the school’s enrollment or the football team’s record. That mindset soon altered the trajectory of Hendricken football.
That desire led Fracassa to eventually becoming head coach of the football team at Johnston High which had not a game in six years. In three short years, however, things changed with victories, development of the highest scoring players in the State, and - ironically – wins over Hendricken. In his two years as head coach, Fracassa produced the first winning seasons in Johnston’s history.
Taking over in 1973, Fracassa led Hendricken to second place in Class B. True to the agreement between Fracassa and Principal Feerick, the school petitioned the interscholastic league to move up to the State’s top division featuring powerhouses such as Cranston East and East Providence – schools with enrollments that dwarfed that of Hendricken, and schools that were annual favorites to win the State championship, The interscholastic league did not want to elevate Hendricken, however, and Fracassa and Brother Feerick had to fight and beg through the 1973-1974 year.
In that first 1974 season in top Class A play, Fracassa’s Hawks with a 7-2 record only behind Super Bowl champion Cranston East. In 1975 in Class A, Hendricken only lost one game - to Super Bowl champion Pilgrim High School. By 1976 - only 2 years into top division play - Fracassa had Hendricken playing in the Class A Super Bowl at McCoy Stadium.
Fracassa had solidified Hendricken as an annual powerhouse, and an annual threat to reach and win the Super Bowl. For the first time ever in Rhode Island high school football history, a team (Bishop Hendricken under Fracassa) appeared in 3 consecutive State Super Bowls (and, true to form, in the top division); Hendricken went through three regular seasons without a loss (1981 – 1983); Hendricken allowed the fewest point total ever in a single season that included games against both Rhode Island and out of state teams. In a short 10-year period starting in 1973 with Fracassa as head coach, Hendricken accumulated a 73-14 record (80-14 including out of state games and scrimmages). In that period and in the State’s top football division, Fracassa’s Hendricken teams notched: 5 Class A Championships; 3 runner-up squads; 4 Super Bowl births; 3 consecutive Super Bowl appearances (a State record at the time); 3 consecutive undefeated regular seasons with 25 consecutive wins in Class A and close to 30 including out of state and non-league contests (a State record at that time); a 1981 season in which only 3 touchdowns were scored against the Hawks and in which there were ten shut out victories including out of state and non-league games (a State record at that time).
Fracassa was joined by over 100 of his former players to celebrate the field dedication, and he took the podium to address the crowd prior to kickoff.
“I am both honored and humbled. All the players that played for me made this day possible and made lasting memories. I will never forget the memories of coaching you,” said Fracassa.