By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
SOUTH HADLEY -- As an era in local high school football comes to a close, there is one more tradition that South Hadley High School football coach Ray Ferro has left to savor.
Ferro, who has spent the last 11 years of his 49-year coaching career as the head coach at South Hadley, plans to retire after this season, meaning this Thursday's annual Thanksgiving Day football game against Chicopee Comprehensive High School will be his last.
South Hadley head football coach Ray Ferro will stand on the sidelines for his last Thanksgiving Day football game Thursday. He is retiring after this season.
"Thanksgiving Day games have always been special games," Ferro, who first joined the South Hadley coaching staff as an assistant in 1985, said. "We have had some great games over the years and I've enjoyed being a part of all of them."
One of those great games took place just last year. Needing a win to capture the final Division 2 playoff spot, South Hadley fell behind Chicopee Comprehensive High School, 22-18, with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, but stormed back downfield and won on a controversial play.
With five seconds remaining from the Colts' nine-yard line, Senior quarterback Jason Bourque threw a pass into the back corner of the end zone. Matt Roy leapt and caught the ball, falling out of bounds. The referees conferred and determined Roy had gotten a foot down and it was a touchdown.
After the game, Ferro said the pressure play calling was "common sense."
As steady and sure-handed as the Wing-T offense he introduced to the program, Ferro has been arguably the most successful coach in Tigers history with some tremendous results during the past decade. In 2005 and 2006, he led South Hadley to back-to-back Central /Western Mass. Super Bowls, winning in 2005 for the program's first and only Super Bowl victory to date.
Since the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) went to a playoff format in 2007, South Hadley has earned a playoff berth every year and made an appearance in the 2008 Super Bowl, falling 17-14, to undefeated Tantasqua Regional.
This year, the Tigers are riding a seven-game winning streak and are locked in for another postseason berth. They currently rank second in the MIAA Division 2 power rankings, behind undefeated East Longmeadow. South Hadley's only loss has come at the hands of Longmeadow, which is consistently one of the best teams in the region.
But according to Ferro, wins and losses are not the measuring stick for success, a message he's tried to pass along to his players over the years.
"From the get-go, I've never put the demands on our team to win. The demands I've expected of them in my years coaching have been that they give us 110 percent and if the scoreboard was in our favor, that's great," Ferro said. "As long as they left no regrets on any field they played on, I would be a happy camper."