Legacy is a buzzword loosely tossed around alumni support groups across the nation’s college football landscape. But in the backroom of the Bethany House on a late May evening, a group of former players — some of whom are more than a half-century older than the current Bears — is bridging the gap from past to present.
Welcome to the Bridgewater State University Football Council, a dynamic crew of fundraisers, historians and coaches whose history with the Bears stretches back to the initial season of Bridgewater State football in 1960. These full-fledged football fanatics still know what it feels like to strap on the pads for Bridgewater State.
“Bridgewater made me who I am; I went on to be a football coach and a school administration, just like many of these gentlemen,” Phil LeFavor, ’72, G ’76, said, as motioned toward the council members at their recent gathering. “Bridgewater taught me a lot about life, and I have lifelong friends that have developed over the years. This truly is a family. We started it long ago, and yet, every year you see it grow.”
This family meets often to discuss fundraising opportunities, community events and what needs to be done to ensure success for the current roster of Bears on and off the field. The head coach also typically addresses the group to talk about the state of the program — and of course, Head Coach Joe Verria, ’81, is himself a member of the council.
“The football council has been truly heartwarming,” said Rich Florence, ’74, who retired this summer after a long run as Raynham Middle School’s principal. “It’s created pathways to stay connected to the university, the same one where I had such an outstanding experience as a student-athlete here.”
That experience Mr. Florence speaks of motivates everything they do — including their current effort to expand and improve upon the locker room facilities at Swenson Field. To that end, each dollar budgeted in the financial records is pored over not just by a subcommittee but the entire membership, which has grown from its initial membership of four to nearly 40 members today.
Jim Tartari, ’64, was one of the early members of the council and a member of the 1960 team, dubbed the “Original Bears” because that squad launched the program. Mr. Tartari said what began as a “sounding board” now hosts the annual football banquet and golf tournament each spring, Joe Verria Kickoff Classic in the summer and the homecoming alumni breakfast in the fall. The council is also planning on hosting a Valentine’s Day Dinner Dance this upcoming school year, as well.
“At the time I was a student, BSU provided me with two opportunities: To play football after high school and to get an education that I could use with a teacher’s degree,” said a crimson tie-clad Mr. Tartari. “Most of us have really stuck together since 1960.”
For proof of that, look no further than former coach Peter Mazzaferro, who led the Bears from 1968 to 2004. He turned 87 last month, but his commitment to the council is unshakeable; Mazzaferro offered in-person input on budgeting and planning at the most recent meeting.
Ask members of the council for the year of origin and — like any good football story from yesteryear — the details are a bit different. But what’s certain is that an annual alumni dinner nearing its fourth decade served as the birthplace of the group, which now runs the scholarship-based Tom Cook Fund and Peter J. Mazzaferro Fund, as well as the Martin T. Rizzo Fund to offset the football program’s operational costs.
“We always had a reunion dinner, and that was the best thing that ever happened to Bridgewater football because it brought everyone together and became a fundraiser,” said Mr. Verria, who has coached in the program for nearly 30 years. “That evolved into a bigger event over the years, and the council evolved from that, as well. The football council has been supporting our program, whether it’s financial or emotional. They’re just always there.”
Besides the occasional football lifer — such as alum Jeff Hawkins, ’80, who works for the nationally ranked University of Oregon football team and is a trusted member of Peyton Manning’s inner circle — most have moved on to lines of work away from the field. The room at the most recent meeting was filled with school principals, military personnel and just about everything in between.
Despite the divergent career paths, all roads appear to lead back to Bridgewater to support the football program for this group. Just ask Dr. John Fournier, ’84; G ’97, who — while dialed into the spring council meeting via speakerphone — hollered the following signoff to his teammates: “Go Bears!”
There are no membership dues to be part of the football council — “We’ve very inclusive,” Mr. LeFavor cracks — and the only requirement is that an alum stepped onto the gridiron to represent the Bears. The council is hoping to attract the younger alums to ensure long-term stability for the football program’s much-needed fundraising arm.
The next annual dinner and golf celebration is set for April 27, 2018, but the council is already hard at work planning the bash. Each year’s benefit has a theme focused on celebrating a specific group of the Bridgewater State Bear family: 2018 will be former coaches and 2019 will be former cheerleaders, while 2020 will be the 60th anniversary of the Original Bears and other players and coaches from the Ed Swenson era.
The spring council meeting concluded with their favorite part of any meeting: Talking football.
Mr. Verria ran down the roster’s strengths and areas for improvement, talked about travel to the season opener on Sept. 2 at Buffalo State in New York, and shared his message to the players after the Bears enjoyed an undefeated record in MASCAC contests last year.
“I told them, ‘It’s a lot easier to be the one hunting than the one being hunted,’ so they’re going to have to work to keep what they earned,” he said. “But I’ll you something: The players are working really hard.”
So are their supporters. (Story and photo by Charlie Peters, University News & Media)
Photo Caption: Members of the Bridgewater State University Football Council who attended the May 31 meeting included (top row, from left) Glenn Gonsalves, ’91; George Kelly, ’72, G ’77, G’92; Ron Reardon, ’73; Bill Nixon, ’76; Rich Florence, ’74; Charlie Worden, ’70, G ’80; Dave Fee, ’62; Dave Rodriquenz, ’66, G ’71; and Dave Morwick, ’64. Kneeling in the front row: Joe Verria, ’81; Jerry Schimmel, ’75; Coach Emeritus Pete Mazzaferro; Jim Tartari, ’64; and Phil LeFavor, ’72, G ’76.)