With its stone-bricked structure and its round towers, the Cranston Street Armory resembled a castle.
Inside the dingy old building in the west end of Providence, it was anything but a castle. The former site of indoor track for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League housed a 176-yard wooden oval whose loose boards often creaked. On any given wintry night, heat was sometimes an option and the excessive dust that floated around the air would burn your throat.
But the Cranston Street Armory, now a production facility for Hollywood movie director and R.I. native Michael Corrente, also had character. And for one memorable night in February of 1978, members of the Cumberland High track team added a little more character to that dingy old building and made it sing.
After winning just two league meets the previous three years, head coach Tom Kenwood and his Clippers captured the state championship. The Clippers didn’t just win, they dominated the field and defeated second-place Classical by 22 ½ points.
On Friday night, that team and Kenwood were inducted into the Cumberland High Athletic Hall of Fame. Thirty-two years later, the longtime coach remembers the day his Clippers won it all like it was yesterday.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “The first time for anything is great. There were just so many great performances that night. I was happy for the team, happy for the kids.”
Kenwood recalled his first year of coaching in 1974 when he took over the track program during the indoor season. That year, the Clippers went 0-6 for the league season. And it didn’t get much better the next two as his squads had back-to-back 1-6 campaigns.
“It was a struggle,” admitted Kenwood about the early years. “We didn’t have access to a gymnasium. We ran outside for the most part. I was just starting to get to know the kids. It was a struggle those first three years.”
It all came together for Cumberland in 1978, the same year as the infamous blizzard that blanketed Rhode Island with several feet of snow. It was also during that school year that the cross-country team, another inductee at Friday ceremony, earned a state championship in the fall.
Cumberland claimed four individual state titles at the state championship, led by a double-winning effort from Walter “Gator” Grant in the mile and two mile. Ron Benoit copped the 600-yard run and Scott Lancaster tied for first in the 300. The Clippers also won the 4x1 lap relay, the meet’s final event. In between, Cumberland amassed 21 more points to coast to its runaway win.
The Clippers scored a good portion of their points in the running events, something that didn’t surprise Kenwood considering he inherited nearly all of the members from the successful cross-country squad.
“We had a great nucleus coming in,” he said. “I knew we would have a good team.”
Due to the blizzard, the meet was postponed from its original date, but that didn’t stop Kenwood’s Clippers from getting the work done.
“(They) were one of the most dedicated teams I ever coached,” he said at the induction ceremony. “It was a team that was very talented. When it snowed, they were still running on the roads. It just showed their dedication.”
Since that season, Kenwood has endured much success at Cumberland. He won another state crown, this time in cross country in 2004. He’s also compiled nearly 600 wins and 40 division and class titles over his more than three-decade career and has been named coach of the year several times, including the 1978 season.
Where does he rank his first state championship team?
“No doubt,” he said, “the very best I ever coached.”
Along with the 1977-78 boys’ cross-country team that was coached by Harry Gederman, Cumberland had seven other individuals inducted into its Hall of Fame class Friday night.
That list included Serge Boudreault (hockey), Paul Giguere (football, track), Daryl Simoneau (cross country, track), Paul Murphy (football, baseball), John Brodeur (baseball), Will Tsonos (baseball, football) and Gail Fox (track, basketball).
Boudreault, a former professional hockey player, who once played for the Providence Reds, coached the Clippers for 12 seasons during the 1970s and early 1980s where he produced several all-staters in the state’s top division.
Giguere starred in two sports at Cumberland in the mid-1980s. He was an all-state football player and later played at URI. He also excelled for the track team where he also was an all-stater and a nationally-ranked weight thrower.
The current baseball coach and assistant football coach at his alma mater, Murphy shined in those two sports at CHS in the 1980s. He was the starting quarterback in his junior and senior years, earning all-division and all-state honors. He led his team to an undefeated 1984 fall season before it lost a heartbreaker in the Super Bowl. As an all-state pitcher, he helped lead the Clippers to the 1985 baseball state championship.
Also on that state title team were two more inductees to the Hall of Fame — Brodeur and Tsonos.
Tsonos served as Murphy’s catcher during the Clippers’ wondrous run. During that year, he led the league in batting with a .578 average. He also starred in football and basketball and was named “Outstanding Student Athlete” at CHS his senior year.
Brodeur was a two-time all-state outfielder for the Clippers and led the state in batting his junior year. He also excelled at the collegiate level, playing for URI for four years where he was selected first-team, All-Yankee Conference and was named captain his senior season. He’s won several state titles as a coach for North Cumberland Middle School and coached the Cumberland National Little League All-Star squad to the state title this summer, a team that came just one win short of earning a trip to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Simoneau was an all-state cross-country and long distance runner for the Clippers. He was a three-time runner-up in the cross-country state meet and claimed individual state titles in the 1,500 and 3,000 during the indoor season in 1981. Simoneau later earned All-American honors while at Boston University.
Fox, the lone female in the recent class, starred in the field events for the track team and won a state long jump crown in 1989. She led the team to two state outdoor titles (1987, 1989) under head coach Bob Bayha. To this day, she still holds several school records. Fox was also a first-team, all-class and third-team all-state basketball player while playing for coach Frank Gieselman.