It was August of 2017 and preseason camp was about to start when the Central Falls High football team was whistled for a false start penalty that was no mere 10-yard infraction.
Head coach Jeff Lapierre was relayed some tough news – his Central Falls High varsity and JV programs would be unable to conduct any home games at Macomber Stadium due to apparent contaminated soil. The city’s other multi-purpose playing venue, the Francis Corrigan Sports Complex that’s located on Higginson Ave., wasn’t in much better shape, though at least it was suitable to conduct practice.
That is, if you can find patches of grass that aren’t submerged under water or chewed up by divots.
This is the backstory of how the Road Warriors came into existence. Now in Year 2 without a home field, Central Falls has refused to let the absence of a basic tenet derail a Super Bowl quest that continues to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
Home-field advantage? Sure, it would be nice, but these Warriors are old pros when it comes to traveling to someone else’s home field and silencing the crowd.
“We like going there and claiming that home field as ours,” said C.F. senior Dutchie Arroyo, who lines up at wide receiver and free safety but also has experience at quarterback after seeing time under center as a junior.
It’s that steely-eyed mindset that has led to some pretty impressive results. In 2017, Central Falls finished second in Division III-B with a 6-1 mark and reached the semifinals. This fall, Road Warriors The Sequel owns the inside track to the top seed to next month’s D-III tournament.
This past Saturday afternoon, Central Falls improved to 5-0 in league play and 6-0 overall following a 28-18 victory over Tolman High. The Warriors entered the pivotal clash – the Tigers had yet to lose in league play – averaging 46.6 points per game while yielding only 7.6 points.
Not having the biggest, most important piece to the puzzle? For these Road Warriors, the field they step on when an opponent is standing on the opposite sideline represents the only time during the week when they’re not dodging puddles, which happens far too frequently during the practices leading up to kickoff.
“We don’t use it as an excuse at all. Everyone knows that it does no good to complain.”
“If we have 10 yards of field that are dry, those are the 10 yards we’re going to use. We have to modify, but we’re still going to get our work done,” said Anthony Ficocelli, C.F. athletic director and assistant football coach.
Also of note, the game against Tolman took place at Pawtucket’s Max Read Field and was recognized as Homecoming for the Warriors.
Yes, the annual rite of the fall sports season was held in a different city. It is disappointing? Sure, especially if you’re someone like Arroyo and fellow senior Jordan Alvarado. You can make do with one season of not playing at home. When it’s your last year of high school … that’s when the disappointment truly stings.
To dwell on it, however, can only sidetrack you from the focus of the mission. Winning football games is still the main objective regardless of where the contest is taking place or the fact that every game-day, it’s time to once again board the school bus and head out on the road.
“We don’t use it as an excuse at all,” Arroyo noted. “Everyone knows that it does no good to complain.”
Added Alvarado, a running back and linebacker, “We use it as momentum … taking away what teams have been working on and working for and leaving their field with a victory.”
“It’s a goal to go someplace else and everyone is raucous at first, but then it gets real quiet real fast,” said Lapierre. “I call them Teflon. They’ve had so much bounce off of them, but they just keep on winning.”
“All they ask is, ‘What time is the bus on Friday? What time is it on Saturday?'” said Ficocelli. “We laid it on the line, saying that it stinks, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt. We’re going to make the best of it and not use it as a crutch or a liability.”
The contest against Tolman marked the third and final time this 2018 season that Central Falls was the designated home team.
“We’ve gone to the opposing head coaches and asked them, ‘To preserve our road white jerseys, can we wear blue?’ Everyone has been very cooperative,” said Lapierre.
Riding the wave of not having a home field to call its own can only last for so long. Sooner or later, Central Falls officials need to do something to make Macomber Stadium safe. A sign was hung to let the public know about the state of the field, which prompted the Central Falls School Department to suspend all high school-related athletic activities at Macomber. Besides football, other sports including soccer, baseball, and softball have also experienced the pinch of taking their acts on the road for the entire season.
Removing the political layer from the equation, it goes without saying that all Warrior athletes regardless of the sport deserve better. If their alleged home field is deemed a hazard, what kind of message does that send to the community?
For now, a classic R.I. high school football underdog story is in the process of being written. A team without a home field to call its own just keeps on plugging along with a winning flair.
“It would be a great story,” Arroyo said, allowing himself for one brief moment to imagine what a Super Bowl title would mean to a Central Falls program that would have traveled a long road to reach that ultimate prize.