Amherst football’s moment: State title on the line Saturday

  • Shaina Tramazzo talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shaina Tramazzo talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Ross talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jonathan Fisher talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jonathan Fisher talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rashaun Robinson talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Seth Rothberg, an assistant librarian at Jones Library, talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Angela Scionti talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mike Crowley talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mike Crowley talks about the Amherst Regional High School football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Naomi Johnson, an Amherst Regional High School student, talks about the school’s football team playing in the MIAA Division 5 Super Bowl against Swampscott Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Regional fans cheer for their team during their win against West Springfield in the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Holyoke High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Amherst Regional fans cheer at the close of their team’s win against Northbridge in the Division 5 state semifinal, Nov. 23, at Westfield State University. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Amherst Regional team celebrates after winning the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Holyoke High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Dan Block, front, of Amherst Regional, runs for a touchdown against West Springfield during the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Holyoke High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/5/2019 4:14:02 PM

AMHERST — As he shoveled snow at Ren’s Mobil gas station this week, Rashaun Robinson expressed excitement for the success the Amherst Regional Hurricanes football team is having, 18 years after he graduated from the high school.

“I’m all happy about that,” Robinson said of the team’s undefeated season that is culminating with an appearance in the Division 5 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. “Made my day.”

“That’s going to be big in Amherst, man,” he said.

For Shaina Tramazzo, who co-owns the Hangar Pub and Grill and Amherst Brewing Co. with her husband, Harold, the 11-0 season, on the line against 9-3 Swampscott, has been special, in part because the business sponsors football player Ryan Saunders.

“It brings some energy to town,” Tramazzo said. “It’s exciting.”

The Division 5 Super Bowl will be played at 1:30 p.m. at the home of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, the first time the Hurricanes have advanced to the state championship game under the current playoff format. The school last won a Super Bowl in 1999, when western and central Massachusetts competed against each other, but at the time didn’t get to face off with a team from eastern Massachusetts.

The coach of that team 20 years ago, Ron Lashway Jr., said he knows many of the students playing on the current team from his involvement with the baseball program and, running Douglass Funeral Service in downtown Amherst, he has spoken with many others about the team’s successful run.

“A lot of people on the street are talking about the team,” Lashway said. “The support is there and people are really proud of them, win or lose.”

Lashway praised coach Chris Ehorn Jr. for creating a family-oriented atmosphere for the players, while also stressing the importance of academics and maintaining discipline.

When Amherst played at Westfield State University in the state semifinals late last month, Lashway said, the Amherst football community was well represented, with numerous alumni as spectators, including some from the 1999 team who had also been recognized at halftime during a game earlier in the season.

Ben Rodriguez, a former player who now lives in Suffield, Connecticut, has closely followed the team’s fortunes, making it to the Amherst-Northampton game, as well as the semifinal. He hopes to meet up with others at Gillette to see what he said is a skilled team that is well-coached.

“It’s a close-knit alumni group ranging from 1989 to 1991 that attended many of the early Thanksgiving Day games, the 1999 championship game, and I’m hearing that alum from other years are planning to attend as well,” Rodriguez said.

That people in Amherst are also following the team closely is a positive development for those who love football and are trying to attract the next generation of players to the sport.

Amherst Youth Football President Mike Isabelle, who played football for the high school team in the early 1990s, said the run this season has been remarkable.

“There’s a lot of support and people are really excited about it,” Isabelle said.

His organization only has 45 to 50 young players — fewer than he’d like and not enough to field a pee-wee level team this year — but Isabelle said the high school team under Ehorn is enhancing the future of the sport in Amherst.

“There’s nothing better than success to help build up the program,” Isabelle said.

Before the season, the high school players participated in joint practices with the youth football players, and they have done other outreach to the next generation, including speaking at a banquet.

“These players look up to the high school players. They are role models, whether they realize it or not,” Isabelle said.

A send-off for the football team will take place at the high school Friday, and fans are organizing at least one bus that will get them to Gillette for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff.

Amherst Regional senior Naomi Johnson said she is friends with some members of the football team, and described the team’s run as good for school spirit.

If the team is able to claim a state championship, Johnson said it will mean “more hype, I guess.”

Even though he has to tend to affairs of the town, Town Manager Paul Bockelman has been closely following the success of the team, which is hard to avoid when his executive assistant is Angela Mills, whose sons, J.B. and Nate, are both quarterbacks on the squad.

Bockelman said 2019 has been “a magical season.”

“I am fully confident the ‘Canes are going to bring home a victory,” Bockelman said.

Even though she doesn’t follow high school football, Angela Scionti, a UMass employee who grew up in Londonderry, New Hampshire, said she’s “really excited” for the Hurricanes. Scionti knows a bit about winning after being on a state champion junior varsity field hockey team, she said.

Amherst resident Mike Crowley played football while growing up in Leominster and observed that the success of the Amherst team is allowing the players to be on the same field where the pros play. “They’ve earned that,” Crowley said.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of those kids,” said Jonathan Fisher of Goshen outside Jones Library on Tuesday.

Matt Ross, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts, played in two high school state championships in doubles tennis when he was growing up in Georgia.

“What I remember most about it is not really the game itself but the people that we were with,” he said. “What’s great is actually the relationships that you’ve built when you go there. That’ll be what they’ll remember.”

Robinson said he would try to get to the game Saturday at Gillette, and that he would celebrate the team’s accomplishment.

“Celebrate if they don’t win anyway, because they made it there,” he said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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