By Matt Noonan
With great excitement, I am proud to unveil some new content for Noontime Sports this evening – this is the first chapter of our first-ever fictional web series called “A Season With The West Stockbridge Rangers.”
The story takes place in a fictional town in the Berkshire – West Stockbridge, to be exact! – and is about a high school football team that has not won a state championship let alone a county title in 30 years. But with a new coach in town, perhaps their chances of winning a state title could change, right?
We’ll have to wait and find out, but here is the initial chapter of our first-ever fictional high school football web series – please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or engaging with us on social media!
Chapter One: Welcome to West Stockbridge Football
For nearly three decades, the West Stockbridge high school football team was an afterthought.
No one feared the Rangers like many did during the 1970s and 1980s when West Stockbridge would barrel over its local opponents, capture multiple Berkshire County championships and then head east to tangle with some of the best high school football teams in Massachusetts with a state title on the line.
West Stockbridge was not just the team to beat or watch in the Berkshires during both decades, but also a program that every young man in the county aspired to join when they entered their freshman year of high school. Being a member of the West Stockbridge football program provided the players with some sense of what it must have felt like to stroll down Hollywood Boulevard.
No matter who you were or what position you played, if you walked around West Stockbridge with a royal blue and white letterman jacket, then people would stop and ask you for your autograph, as well as a photo, too.
But after the team’s 1989 season concluded with its eighth state championship, the long-time and local coach, Roger Collins, would make an announcement that would impact the future of the Rangers’ football program.
“I’m retiring,” he said with a big grin on his face after the Rangers trounced Norwood on a cold and windy afternoon in December in the D-6 state championship, which was held at Bentley University.
The word “retiring” sent shockwaves across the state, but mainly throughout Berkshire county – how could one of the state’s winningest coaches call it quits when there were more state championships to be won?
While no one really knew why Collins was ready to call it quits, rumors began to circulate weeks later throughout town that the legendary coach was being considered to start a new program with East Stockbridge high school, which was scheduled to open its doors next summer.
The rumors – and yes, the various murmurs at the local diner and coffee shop – were indeed true when members of the town saw a picture of Collins smiling on the front page of the Berkshire Herald weeks later below a headline that read the following: “Local Legend Leaves West for East.”
Members of the community on the western side of town were furious – how could Coach Collins do this to us?
While many were outraged over Collins’ decision to leave a program that he had once competed in, they were amazed at how he was able to continue his winning ways with a new and no-name program that would eventually become the best team in the county in less than five years.
With Collins on the sidelines, the Eagles of East Stockbridge would go on to win five state championships in 15 years while his former team struggled to muster at least one, maybe two wins per season. West Stockbridge would hire five new coaches during that particular stretch and none of them were able to beat Collins’ Eagles, especially when the two schools would meet on Thanksgiving Day.
In 2005, Collins would again announce his retirement, handing over his headset to his assistant coach Brian Murphy, who played for the legendary sideline boss during the team’s initial season in 1990. But unlike his last retirement, Collins would never return to the sidelines again. However, his winning ways somehow continued for the Eagles while the Rangers became what many coaches in the area deemed the laughing stock of Berkshire County.
Murphy and the Eagles would win three more state championships over the next ten years while the Rangers of West Stockbridge tallied just seven victories.
Some people in town felt Collins cursed his former team – they’ll never win another state championship in our lifetime! – but on a warm and humid afternoon in July of 2019, the Rangers’ program was about to begin an improbable turnaround when a two-time New York High School Football Coach of the Year honoree by the name of Steve Cohen walked through the dusty hallways of West Stockbridge high school.
Cohen, who had just moved to the area from Albany, New York, was accompanied on this particular morning by his wife Melissa and two daughters, Maddie and Caroline. Upon entering the school’s gymnasium, the family was greeted by two members of the town’s school committee, Principal Danica Jones, and Arthur Moskowitz, who was the athletic director.
“Good to see you,” Jones and Moskowitz said in unison.
Cohen smiled at both Danica and Arthur. “It’s a pleasure to see you both.”
“If you are still interested, Steve,” said Arthur, “we would like to offer you the opportunity to coach the Rangers’ football team.”
Cohen smiled again. He would eventually respond to Arthur’s offer but needed a moment to glance around the gymnasium – he couldn’t help but marvel at what Coach Collins and the Rangers had accomplished from 1964 to 1989. Maybe one day one his team would have a banner hanging in the same gymnasium, too, along with a team photo next to the 1989 state championship squad – man, wouldn’t that be special, Cohen thought.
“Arthur,” said Cohen, “It would be an honor to lead the Rangers on Friday night.”