Mount Greylock to Honor '67 Team, Coach John Allen
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Long after he got out of high school coaching, John Allen remains connected to the Mount Greylock Regional School football program.
And his presence continues to be felt.
“After one of the game, he said to me, ‘Boy, your kid can play,’ “ Steve Messina recalled recently.
“I told Cal that night what he said, and he said, ‘Really? John Allen said that about me?’ The kids still recognize him as ‘the guy.’ Cal was so amazed and proud to hear that John Allen gave him a compliment. That’s the kind of lasting impact he had on the kids here.”
Allen’s influence goes back to the 1960s, around the time of the school’s inception. In 1967, the young head coach led the Mounties to their first league championship, along the way ending an 18-game winning streak for county rival Lee and a 19-game streak for Mahar and capping the year with a win over perennial power Wahconah.
Members of that team will be back in town Friday for Mount Greylock’s Homecoming, and coach and players will be recognized in ceremonies before and at half-time of the Mounties’ game against Ludlow.
“I think everybody who had him, played for him, even kids who had gym classes with him -- everyone respected him in their own way,” said current Mounties coach Andrew Agostini, who was a freshman in the Mount Greylock program during Allen’s last year at the helm, 2002. “And I think he helped contribute to every kid’s life.
“He is such a special person, so it’s an honor to have this night for him.”
The day will begin with an event just for Allen’s former players, who will join the legendary coach and his wife, Jane, at the Log on Spring Street to swap stories from their high school days.
There will be plenty of material to share.
Peter King, a senior co-captain on the ‘67 team and one of the organizers of Friday’s activities, remembered how Allen, a 1961 graduate of and standout athlete at Holy Cross, took a hands-on approach to coaching.
“We had a guy on the team named Dick Cummings, who went on to have a successful career at UMass,” King said. “At times, Coach Allen in practice, without any pads on -- and Dick went about 210 -- would say, ‘Come on Dick, come at me.’ Dick would get up a 5-yard head of steam, and Coach Allen would demonstrate the best form to tackle.”
Allen could also motivate his players with words.
“I kept some of the old mimeo sheets that coach gave us back then,” King said. “And Coach Allen was way ahead of [New England Patriots coach Bill] Belichick. One of the lines I saw from ‘67 was, ‘Do your job … and more.’ The level of determination to succeed, it sort of stuck with me.”
Allen understood that not all efforts lead to success on the scoreboard.
Dick Quinn, the longtime sports information director at Williams College and a junior on the ‘67 team, tells the story of a game against Tantasqua his senior year. The visitors were heavily favored; an article in that day’s Worcester Telegram said, “Tantasqua will complete its perfect season today at Mount Greylock and could win 100-0,” as Quinn tells the story.
The Mounties ended up losing, 24-22, just missing a chance to tie the game in the closing moments.
“Coach Allen gathered us in the locker room, said, let’s take a knee and say a prayer of thanks that no one got hurt, and I thought he was going to walk away,” Quinn said. “I looked up, and he had a tear in his eye. He said, ‘I know the scoreboard says you lost, 24-22, but the only thing a coach can ever ask of you is 100 percent, and you guys gave it to me today.’ I’ll never forget that.
“I got dressed and went to the coaches room and said thanks. He thanked me. And I said, ‘Everything you ever said to me about commitment, teamwork, effort, it was all true today.’ “
Those lessons of commitment made a lasting mark on the boys Allen coached and the men they became.
When his former players held a dinner in Allen’s honor some years back, many made the trip back to Williamstown to recognize their mentor. And about 100 who could not come back for whatever reason sent personal letters to Allen, Quinn said.
“His impact, I would have to say, is immeasurable,” Quinn said.
And the impact extends beyond the school’s football-playing alumni.
It is not lost on Agostini that his team shares John T. Allen Field with the school’s successful soccer and lacrosse programs.
“I think the most special thing about Coach Allen was he was one of the longest tenured people here,” said Agostini, whose father, John Agostini, now a Superior Court judge, played on the ‘67 team at Mount Greylock. “[Allen] was here, I think, almost 40 years. And I think he placed such a value on the student as a whole. Obviously he was concerned with athletics too. He was the football coach, the head basketball coach at one time, the head baseball coach. And I think he really encouraged and set the tone, in a way, that sports are important, and they can be important.
“I think he also got a lot of kids who were great students, and he was able to get a lot of out of them through sports. It was really the whole student with him. … You look at the fall sports, and all the teams have a ton of kids on them. I feel like that was part of his legacy. That was a believe he had: There should be sports, there should be opportunities for kids to excel. I think he set the tone for the school.”
According to numbers compiled by Mount Greylock’s athletic director, over the last five years, the number of students participating in athletics at the junior-senior high school has ranged from 64 percent to 68 percent.
“Most of the coaches who are up here, he hired, and I think that speaks to the stability of the programs and the number of programs,” Agostini said. “There are only a handful of coaches, myself included, who weren’t hired by him. He certainly brought that stability with his longevity here.”
Steve Messina, who started coaching baseball at Mount Greylock in 1991 and has won more than 300 games at the school remembers the day Allen hired him.
“I was certainly aware -- as anyone who played any kind of sport in Berkshire County was -- of John Allen,” the Taconic High graduate said. “When I went to interview, I was a little intimidated because I’d never met the man, but I realized how down to earth and how friendly and welcoming he was.
“During the interview, he had me get up and show him how I’d teach a kid to field a ground ball, which I thought was perfect for the situation. I was impressed by that. I liked the guy and admired the guy from the first time I met him.”
King, who has known Allen even longer, shares that admiration.
“As far as the level of determination to succeed, it sort of stuck with me,” King said. “Obviously, football is one of those games where you get physically knocked down. Coach Allen taught us to get up.
“But the other thing is, while obviously he was successful in his athletic career and as a coach, he always stayed humble. That’s the other thing I attribute to him. If I won a golf match or something, I always tried to stay humble about it. That stayed with me.”