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The Bears' McMahon and the day after

POSTED March 20, 2016
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            THOMASTON – Bob McMahon was at baseball practice Sunday morning. His thoughts and his heart were understandably elsewhere.

            McMahon officially switched hats Sunday, moving from Thomaston High girls basketball coach to Thomaston High baseball coach. On a cool, overcast early spring day, he watched his pitchers pitch and his players throw and run.

            The trademark pink shirt and tie were gone giving way to sweatpants and baseball pullover. The baskets in the gym were hoisted high in the air and the bleachers pushed back against the wall, a poignant reminder that time had moved on. But he struggled to think of fastballs and throwing technique.

His mind was with Morgan and Gabrielle, Nik and Charlie, Sam and Danielle. He thoughts were of yesterday and a lot of yesterdays. Less than 24 hours removed from Mohegan Sun and the Bears fourth straight Class S title appearance and a 64-51 loss to Canton, it was all still too raw.

The emotions had not been quelled by the 24 hours. McMahon is a tough guy. He demands much and he can be relentless in his pursuit of excellence. He at times can be perceived as being short with his responses. The passions run deep.

Like so many coaches, he continued to replay the Bears loss in their attempt to win a third straight title.  The Bears foul trouble which cost them Morgan Sanson and Gabrielle Hurlbert and  Casey Carangelo, a few questionable calls, inopportune turnovers and the outstanding play of Canton and their stars Maggie Treacy and Emily Briggs found its way into the conversation.

Coaches always think they could have done something different to change an outcome. McMahon is no different. And while some out there are probably thinking, he’s won his titles get over it, it is never easy to lose a state title game especially one you expected to win. It gnaws at you and kicks you in the stomach.

But it was the sense of ending that really occupied McMahon’s thoughts.  Win or lose Saturday was going to be in part of a tough day, a different outcome only lessening the bittersweet. A win would have made it all easier, adding some smiles to the day that was still going to have it its say.

And Saturday said it is over. The greatest basketball era in the history of Thomaston High sports came to end at about 11:30 Saturday morning.  You know the numbers, maybe enough so that you are tired of hearing them, but they demand repeating.

Four seasons, four trips to the Class S finals at Mohegan Sun. Thomaston’s seniors played out their careers at Mohegan Sun. Back-to-back state titles in 2015-2016. Four BL titles, four BL Tournament titles.  A total of 12 titles up for grab in the four years, Thomaston winning 10. Only state championship losses to Capital Prep and Canton preventing perfection.

A four-year mark of 94-12. A 12-game state tournament win streak. The seniors graduate with a 29-game BL win streak, the last loss they experience on Jan. 20, 2015 to Nonnewaug.

Who does that? Not 106-girl public high schools. Except for Thomaston that is.  McMahon will tell you, teams don’t lose players, they graduate. There are no special passes for the special. Time moves on.

The end of careers is tough on all, but you get the idea why McMahon was struggling.  Thomaston will have its day again, maybe even next year with Carangelo and Julia Quinn leading the way.  But so many of the names will change and  there has been no group like this. They have stolen the hearts of the program, the school, the town.  They have been relentless performers and reluctant rock stars.  They have given all the ride of lifetime.

They know Thomaston around the state. They have marveled and shook their heads at the little school with the big hearts and big game.  

It is so hard to let go of the special. You want to wrap it up, save it and savor it. In the end you have the experiences and the golden memories. That is all you can ever have. It doesn’t last forever.

On this gray, cloudy, cool spring day McMahon was fighting the melancholy. He talked about how tough it had been when he had gone home Saturday and how it was easier with people around and so much tougher when alone.

His heart was with Morgan Sanson the soul of the Bears. Sanson, who fouled out early in the fourth quarter, didn’t sit down at first and never stopped pushing her team from the sidelines. But it was in the locker room after that the ultimate winner was at her best.

“I wish you could have heard Morgan in the locker room and what she said to the team,” said McMahon his eyes glistening. “It was as good as anything I’ve ever heard. She had tears coming down and talked to them about never giving up. You just had to be there.”

Sanson is special stuff with some kind of ball and without the ball in her hand.

Then there was as tough a player as McMahon has ever coached, Hurlbert. Street tough, the kid you can’t keep down. The one you will always take into battle with you. Hurlbert played just 15 minutes in the final because of foul trouble. She was hurting like her cousin Morgan.  But she was eloquent and classy. More special stuff. They have always been about being the best.

There was the specialness of Nicole Schaefer and the improvement of Charlotte Eberhardt and the contributions of the other two seniors, Sam Brostek and Danielle Genest.

McMahon loves these kids and what they have brought to the table. He knew this day was coming but it was still too early, too raw. The idea that it was all over had put that knot in the stomach. It was just too early to let go.

“Anyway I can ever help them down the road I will,” said McMahon. “They have given so much.’

McMahon showed me where it is the Bears do their pre, post and halftime business. It is awesome, a testament to the love of a program. It is their room, and deserves its privacy. But, I have never seen another room like it, take my word for it.

There were tweets from people talking about the Bears class in defeat and reminding them of the brilliance the program is and that one loss doesn’t change it.

McMahon also talked about hopes for next year and down the road. He likes what he sees. Already time was starting to heal.

But the morning after was tough. It wasn’t just a loss, it was an ending that gnawed away. Baseballs were in the air. But basketball was in the heart and mind. It was a ‘Boyz To Men’ Sunday and it wasn’t easy. 

“And it’ll take with me the memories

To be my sunshine after the rain

It’s so hard to say good-bye to yesterday”

Yep, so very hard, especially the morning after. It is never easy to say good-bye to something this special. Time will work its magic, but Sunday wasn’t the day.

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