Locals talk sports over coffee

(L to R) Robert Stegeman ’60, John T. Allen and Robert Greenberg chat at Tunnel City Coffee. Photo Editor / Timothy Nagle-McNaughton
(L to R) Robert Stegeman ’60, John T. Allen and Robert Greenberg chat at Tunnel City Coffee. Timothy Nagle-McNaughton / Photo Editor

After all of my prior articles were handily rejected upon their submission for Pulitzer Prize recognition, I came to acknowledge that the features section of the Record may not have served as the proper outlet for my articles. Thus, I have decided to allow the team to play under its own roof and use my feature as a mechanism for further understanding sports both in the College community and the greater world. Luckily, this change of direction did not require traveling too far and built off of the themes examined in my most recent installment (“Java Jack strikes back: town, gown and black coffee,” May 15, 2015).

For more than a decade now, a group of about 15 older Williamstown residents, all but one of them male, have regularly inhabited Tunnel City Coffee. They generally arrive around 11 a.m. on weekdays. Their ties to the College vary. For example, Robert Greenberg is a post-retirement transplant to South Williamstown who previously worked in New York and attended a NESCAC rival of the College, graduating from Bates in 1954. By contrast, a couple of College alumni populate the group, including Robert Stegeman ’60, who is a retired teacher. Garfield Professor of Ancient Languages Emeritus Charles J. Fuqua hangs out with the crowd about three times a week, John T. Allen serves as a volunteer coach for men’s football working with the outside linebackers and Sarah McFarland worked in the College’s library system for more than two decades before teaching history at Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, Mass.

Though the members of this group will chat about essentially anything under the sun, save for politics and religion, there exists amongst them a special appreciation for sport, originating from both their viewership as well as playing and coaching experience. Despite Greenberg’s natural preference for the New York Giants as a former resident of the city, the group finds a relative consensus in its support of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, just as much of Western Massachusetts does. Collegiate sports allegiance is a bit more mixed, with alumni of Purdue, Fordham, Holy Cross, Princeton, Bates and the College sitting around with coffee and tea to discuss collegiate athletics.

In conversing with the gentlemen and lady in Tunnel that Monday morning, I discovered one athletic career that was especially of note amongst the impressive crowd. Allen, though quite the modest man, surprised me with his athletic legacy that his friends recalled in the back room of the coffee shop. Playing both football and baseball at Holy Cross, Allen fondly recalls his days competing on the gridiron against later NFL legend Mike Ditka and earning All-East recognition as a catcher with the Crusaders. A native of North Adams, Mass. Allen ultimately returned to the Berkshires to teach physical education, coach football and serve as the Athletic Director at Mount Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS) in Williamstown, Mass. Allen led his team to back-to-back Western Massachusetts Super Bowl Championships in 1999 and 2000 and six of his former players went on to start for the Ephs. He ultimately retired from his position as head coach after 39 seasons with the Mounties, going on to coach Drury High School in North Adams, his alma mater, on a one-year basis after the sudden passing of the school’s former head coach and to work for the Ephs with an annual salary of one dollar. The football field at MGRHS is now named in his honor.

Fueled by both caffeine and a desire to engage in more storytelling through these column inches, my hope is to bring forward more athletic narratives from across the College and the greater area, whether they emerge from a group that has been invited back into the kitchen of Tunnel City when there is not enough space in the main seating area (even on Christmas or Thanksgiving when the store is otherwise closed, thanks to the appreciation Tunnel proprietor Paul Lovegreen exudes for this gang) or anywhere else.

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