Football player bleeds both scarlet and black

Longmeadow football player Frank Barbieri lines up with his teammates as they begin warm-ups prior to the Lancers’ Nov. 17 game against Northampton.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
Nov. 21, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW — The annual Thanksgiving Day football game is one that East Longmeadow and Longmeadow football players alike circle on their calendars.

As both programs have achieved great success in recent years, the clash between the two bordering towns has become a marquee event spreading excitement throughout both teams and the towns that support them.

No doubt Frank Barbieri is excited for this year’s contest, which kicks off at 10 a.m. on Thursday, and for good reason. Frank will be strapping on the pads alongside his friends and teammates, while standing across the field from another group of friends.

Frank appreciates both the scarlet and grey of the East Longmeadow Spartans and the black of the Lancers because while the Longmeadow resident puts on the Lancers uniform on weekends, he attends school at East Longmeadow High School (ELHS) as part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) program.

“Frank likes both teams,” Allison Barbieri, Frank’s mother, said. “He’s played with a lot of kids from both teams and he’s been talking about this game for a while now.”

Frank told Reminder Publications after practice on Nov. 16 that he was excited to have the chance to see and compete against some friends with whom his family originally thought he’d be playing.

Through the urging of a friend in the ASD program who plays for ELHS and partially due to the fact that Matt Lecuyer, Franks’ paraprofessional aide at ELHS, is also the head coach of the Spartans’ junior varsity squad, Frank and his parents decided to explore the idea of playing football.

“One of the students in Frank’s class was the one who got Frank interested,” Allison said. “Frank’s aide turned out to be the [junior varsity] coach and he told Frank to come out to a few practices and see what he thought.”

Frank, who played football in Longmeadow from third grade through eighth grade, had participated with other sports teams at ELHS, including the weight lifting club and track and field, so he knew several football players through those activities. But Frank finally decided he wanted to be a part of the Spartans’ football program after a field trip to a University of Massachusetts football game in Amherst.

“The kids and the coaches were all great and Frank really felt like he belonged,” Allison said.

However, because he is a Longmeadow resident, the Barbieris learned that it might not be possible for Frank to play and they went to speak with Longmeadow Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Alex Rotsko.

“There was some confusion because they are Longmeadow residents,” Rotsko said. “They thought he could play because he goes to school in East Longmeadow because they have the program he needs.”

That’s when Rotsko offered Frank a chance to play for the Lancers.

“He said, ‘Why not Longmeadow?’” Allison said. “He had Frank come to some practices to see what it was like and we talked to Frank and told him it was his decision and he said he wanted to play.”

After school, Frank takes the bus to Longmeadow High School to go to the locker room and get ready for practice. From there, he and the team walk down to Williams Middle School where the team has been conducting practices this season because of construction at the high school.

Originally, Longmeadow offered the Barbieris an aide to assist Frank in getting to practice, but within weeks, it was no longer needed.

“There was a little bit of concern because of the unusual circumstances and having to walk to Williams Middle School to practice, but Frank has been on his own for quite some time now,” Rotsko said.

Allison credited the players on the Longmeadow team for Frank’s quick acclimation to the program.

“The players have been phenomenal in making Frank feel welcome and I think that plays a big part in how well he’s doing,” she said.

Rotsko said that the Lancers have had three ASD students in the past who have participated in the program as managers in the past, but this season is the first time someone with ASD has played.

“I do all the drills,” Frank said.

Rotsko said in addition to participating in practice, Frank has seen game action in junior varsity contests and “he’s done well.”

“The fact that he participates and walks on that field is a success story,” Allison said. “That he’s able to play in some games makes it that much more exciting.”

Whether he gets into Thursday’s game or not doesn’t matter to Frank. He is most excited about participating in a game that involves so many people he’s forged friendships with over the past few months.

“It’s phenomenal how the kids and coaches on both sides have gotten involved in Frank’s life,” Allison said. “It illustrates that these are not just good athletes, but humanitarians. Without the teams’ help, he wouldn’t be so successful.”

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