Published June 25. 2013 4:00AM
This was last week, a quiet Thursday otherwise, except at the table in the back of the lounge at Tony D's, where they were laughing the night away. The good times and the bad they'd seen and all the others in between, as that sage Paul Anka once sang, remembering the times of their life.
It was Pete Barry's table. Barry, the retired men's basketball coach at Coast Guard, brought the lads downtown to partake and reminisce. Barry couldn't attend Saturday's induction dinner for the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in Worcester, so he had his own, honoring Mark Harris, Jeff Prebeck and Sam Cheung, three of his finest.
Too bad Barry couldn't get to Worcester. He'd have echoed associate head coach Bob Bono's thoughts. Bono, seeing his former guys proudly wearing their Coast Guard uniforms at a dinner with more than 1,000 attendees, many luminaries among them, said, "I've never been prouder."
Indeed. Coast Guard Academy on the big stage. Let the record show that, once again, sports was the vehicle. All those eyes seeing the royal blue uniform, the pride, the achievement. Perhaps someone could remind The Brass of sports' influence the next time there's an appointment in the balance.
It was late in the dinner that Cheung said, "Coach Barry should be in this, too."
No arguments from this corner, Sam.
They'd hadn't honored a new class since 2009, making the date New England Hall of Fame's next gala a guess. (Maybe they could have it at Mohegan Sun, too, where the food would be better). But this is a chance to begin the drum banging to get Barry on the list.
Barry's accomplishments: The most successful coach in the history of Coast Guard Academy with 262 wins in 19 years. He won five conference championships, went to two NCAA Division III tournaments and to the 2007 Elite Eight. He also coached Division I San Francisco to the NCAA tournament in 1981. He won 413 games total.
The 2007 season alone merits induction. Unless you understand the rhythms of Coast Guard, with Yale-ish academic standards in Division III, you can't appreciate one of its basketball teams coming within one defensive stop of making the Final Four. As a player from perennial power Rochester, Coast Guard's victim in the Sweet 16, said after the loss, "we just lost to bleeping Coast Guard."
Then two nights later, the Bears were nearly counting the money, so agonizingly close to the Final Four. Barry, known to have a martini to celebrate the big ones, instead found himself on the bus home eating a liverwurst sandwich from a Wawa. Why? Because the bus driver, who claimed to be Reggie Jackson's cousin, clipped the side of someone's house on the ride home.
(Honest, honest, honest).
It might be the greatest sports story ever told around here. The Little Team That Did and the 8-hour bus ride home from suburban Philadelphia because Reggie's cousin knew a shortcut.
And yet you needed to be sitting there last Thursday to fully appreciate Barry's contribution. His players loved him. Because he was a civilian voice among all the military-speak, as likely to debate States' Rights as go over his favorite offense, which was called "grinder."
Prebeck, the centerpiece of the Elite Eight team, capitalized on a quieter moment at the table to tell Barry how much he appreciated, essentially, that Barry reaffirmed the lesson that sports are for win or lose, not life or death.
Barry, gone a few years now, still has his fastball. A guest at the table showed a photo of his son's first girlfriend. Barry took a glimpse and never broke stride.
"Boy, Karen Ford never looked like that," he said.
"Karen Ford, Pete?" someone asked.
"The first girl I ever liked," he said. "She needed corrective shoes, though. She couldn't do The Twist."
Humor and deadpan, a Barry combination.
A San Francisco liberal on a military base 3,000 miles away wins the most games in the history of the academy. And he always leaves them laughing. Three of his players were immortalized Saturday night. Now it's time for their coach.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.