Rooting for Borkowski

THOMASTON – This is an easy one – I want this one for Keith Borkowski.

There is so much for area fans to root for Saturday when Watertown takes on Joel Barlow for the Class SS football state championship at 4:30 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Start with the program.

This is the Warriors first state final appearance since back in the glory days of 1986 when all-everything generational athlete and quarterback Rico Brogna piloted coach Bill Gargano’s club to an overpowering  31-0 victory over Platt.

It’s been a while and when it’s been a while you wonder if it is ever going to be again. It didn’t look like this year was going to be again either. But the Warriors found their mojo. Four straight wins have put coach Shawn Stanco’s club in the final game on the final day of the season. You root for a team that has the chance at the ultimate dream. They have a chance only one other team has in their class.

Root for Stanco. Nobody had a bigger smile after the 21-0 shutout of Gilbert-Northwestern. Energetic with a smile the width of the Mississippi, Stanco lauded his team in the rain and didn’t forget two coaches who helped him get here – Roger Ouellette and George Palomba. He called them his “football Gods.”  The man gets it.

Root for the players. This is the dream. This is what you play for. They get to play at `The Rent’ football’s version of basketball’s Mohegan Sun.’ It is already a memory for a lifetime. Maybe it will become an even better memory by early evening Saturday.  They have made a school and town proud. Senior quarterback Brayden Gambee, senior linemen Vincent Matule and Sean Montaque  and senior running back Aiden Arline, are just a few of the major contributors that have helped this team to the opportunity to play to be the best.

So you can root for the whole package – program, players, coach, town, the experience. And you should. It all has earned your respect and cheers.

But my attention keeps turning back to Borkowski. Maybe in part because I’ve known him for 40 years or so. We first met on the area softball diamonds, Keith a fiery catcher for feisty modified team called Daveluy’s Demons and I with a pretty solid contingent called Skider’s Gym. Keith was one of the saner ones in world of crazies. The Demons were as unpredictable as they were good.  We had our battles and laughs.

But if that was the early connection it continued with Watertown High. I wrote, Keith coached. He never failed to say hi or help with any issue be it on the softball or football field. Watertown was famous for never having any rosters. None.  Hard to cover a game without knowing who the players were. On-line, you would find the team names with no numbers. Keith always and I mean always found me a roster.

But you root for Keith for deeper reasons. He bleeds Watertown and Watertown High.  He has coached at Watertown since the silent film era. Well, almost – 42 years with the football program and 33 years with softball. Throw in 43 years at Swift Middle School. He has worked in the schools. Name something after him. His commitment is three exits past admirable.

But there is more. So much more. Borkowski fights on through life-threatening pain and challenges. He has fought cancer for almost 20 years. He’s had half a kidney removed then the rest of the kidney. He gets chemo therapy infusions every four weeks.

He’s had a hernia, bad back and drop foot.  Many a detail is left out here but healthy is for other people.

But, Keith keeps on smiling. I asked him how he felt before the semifinal game and he almost laughed it off. He told me he gets up and gets on with the day. No complaints, no oh me, oh mys. He rolls on at 66 happy for what he has unfettered by what he doesn’t have.  He just went to a Demons’ reunion and lived to tell about it.

In a world submerged so often in hate and complaint, he is a healthy model of perseverance and appreciation.

Keith is not a center stage guy. He likes being on the stage, less so in the spotlight. But he is a hard guy to ignore. He’s taken a lot and keeps on punching. But he’s given a lot more.

I root for Watertown tomorrow and the program and all the players and coaches who have done so much and have this chance.  But you know what? I want this one for Keith Borkowski.  He has gone through much. He has given much.

I hope he gets this. It would seem so fitting. But I know this. Win or lose, he will roll on glad to have been part of it. Another day will dawn and will add his light to it.

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