Kenny Rix wants his best friend Gerry Habershaw to be remembered as champion.
It’s easy to see why.
Habershaw, who recently died unexpectedly at 57, was one of the best athletes to ever wear a Bishop Hendricken uniform. He wore three.
A multi-sport All-Stater and member of Hendricken’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Habershaw led the Hawks to five state championships throughout his high school career. He was a clutch player who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 1982 Super Bowl, the winning pitcher in the 1981 state baseball final and the player who sank six consecutive free throws in overtime to lead the basketball team to the 1983 state championship.
“Gerry was a natural leader. He was a fun guy to be around, but took the game very seriously and worked hard every day,” said his former Hendricken football coach Ed Fracassa. “He wasn’t the biggest guy or the most talented player, but he was a tough competitor.”
Fracassa was planning to reminisce with Habershaw a few weeks ago at the 1981-82 Hendricken football team’s 40 year reunion. Instead on that day, Fracassa attended his former captain’s funeral.
A week later, several members of that state championship squad gathered with their former coach, now 84. After those in attendance signed a football with Habershaw’s name inscribed on it, a moment of silence was held for their former captain who had led them to become state champions four decades earlier.
“We had a couple moments of prayer for Gerry,” said Fracassa. “That was such a close-knit team. That was 40 years ago, but they never forgot. We talked a lot about Gerry. It was magical.”
Gerry Habershaw was a friend of mine and a classmate at Bishop Hendricken HS.
Gerry was a larger than life figure, and he was an outstanding educator who was beloved by his students.
He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and BH classmates.https://t.co/zu6bBM7fcw
— Jim Langevin (@JimLangevin) November 28, 2021
Some of us were lucky enough to have this man as our coach. Coach Hab was a great coach but more importantly he was even a better person. Taught lessons beyond the diamond or court. Thank you Coach!! We will miss you. Prayers and thoughts to your family. pic.twitter.com/uJUVfDY1sh
— Geoff Marcone (@MarconeGeoff) November 28, 2021
He was an outstanding athlete, but former Hendricken teammate Raymond Williams said Habersbaw was an even better friend.
“He was the best friend and teammate you could ever have. We shared the Hendricken Athlete of the Year award our senior year (1983) and I can’t imagine sharing it with anyone else,” said Wiliams, now a nationally recognized attorney. “He was more than an athlete, though. He was the biggest cheerleader. No matter how good or bad you were, Hab was cheering you on. While we spent a great amount of time on the field and court, we spent just as much time in the classroom and outside the classroom. He was bigger than life itself. Always cracking jokes and smiling.”
Habershaw would go on to play baseball at Providence College and then on to a 30 year career as an educator, coach and principal – leaving a lasting legacy in Warwick.
Habershaw’s first head coaching job was in 1991 as the Pilgrim baseball coach.
“Gerry told me didn’t know much about baseball so I would coach third and run the show. I will never forget the faith he had in me to be a coach. We were very good as we both had anticipated. We ended up getting beat by LaSalle in the Final Four. Hab had a way with each kid. He spoke to each kid differently. He really understood them for who they were. He was one of a kind,” said longtime assistant Bob Evans.
Brian D’Amato, Pilgrim’s former All-State pitcher who was drafted by the San Diego Padres his senior year, remembers the first time he met Habershaw.
“We had just won the state championship the year before and here comes this new coach who didn’t look much older than me,” said D’Amato, 49. “He said, ‘Trust me. I can do a good job for you guys.’ He really wanted us to believe in him. And we did.”
The RIIL is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Gerry Habershaw and offers its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the longtime educator and coach. The Pilgrim High School Principal was also a member of the RIIL’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics. https://t.co/i3XLXVamYS
— RIIL (@RIIL_sports) November 28, 2021
The biggest lesson D’Amato learned from Habershaw didn’t come on the playing field.
“Gerry always said ‘when you’re on top of the world, you have to look out for that kid who is behind you,’” said D’Amato. “There was a special needs kid who everyone picked on. The kid just wanted to fit and no one would let him. I knew Hab had a special relationship with him. I saw how Gerry treated him and wanted to treat him the same way. I let the kid play basketball with us and when people picked on him I stood up for him. The kid needed someone to look up to rather than someone to punish him. Gerry taught me that.”
A decade later, D’Amato learned how much his support and kindness meant to the young man.
“I ran into him at a wedding. He introduced me to his mom and dad and said ‘this is the guy who got me through high school when everyone hated me,’” said D’Amato. “That was my Hab moment. I saw how Hab treated people and learned to treat people the same way.”
And it’s for reasons like that, Rix wants Habershaw to be remembered as a champion….a champion for kids.
“He had one goal – to help kids,” said Rix who taught and coached with his close friend Habershaw for nearly 30 years. “And the kids loved him.”
At the center of a mural painted by students at Warwick Vets was an image of Habershaw wearing a Superman cape. An H replaced the S on Superman’s chest.
“The kids had the utmost respect for Hab. He was their super hero,” said Rix.
Habershaw created out-of-the-box programs designed to help each and every student succeed.
“One of the many things he did to help kids was create the Transition Academy. He wanted to have something for kids (transitioning) from junior high (to high school). Some of the kids had been suspended 50 times, some had learning disabilities and some were ready to drop out. School just wasn’t for them. Gerry had this vision that if he could get the right group of people together to teach them in a (special) class and help them get to their sophomore year, he could get them to graduate.
“It was challenging every day. A lot of those kids didn’t want to be in school. But 90 percent of those kids that passed that freshman year went on to get their diploma. Those kids are the ones who thanked Gerry over and over again because he NEVER gave up on them no matter what. He was always there trying to help them. That’s what I think gets lost when you talk about Gerry Habershaw. He was always known as a great athlete, a good coach and of course, a great friend, but the things he would do for other people and never expect anything in return made him the person he was. He knew how to reach people. He wanted to help kids..and he did it. He had a big place in his heart for the underdog – anybody who needed help – and he provided that,” said Rix. “He was a champion… a champion for kids…every single one of them.”
i love you kids, you make my day – fist pound.
— Gerry Habershaw (@habsoncesaid) February 4, 2010
And for a fall/winter update on the RIIL, Stone Freeman interviewed RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney…