Teams Come Together in Unique Way to Share Community's Loss

By Brian Beaky and Nicole Dessingue

In many ways, this fall's "Just For Kicks" Soccer Tournament, held Oct. 10-12 in Dalton, Mass., was no different than any of the others the Dalton Community Recreation Association (CRA) has hosted on Columbus Day weekend over the past 12 years.

There were dozens of teams — 65 in all, some from as far away as Longmeadow, Agwam and Gateway. There were hundreds of happy players in the U10 to U14 age groups. There were hardworking volunteers, active concession stands and raffles.

For all that there was at the event, however, it was what — or rather, who — was missing that united the players, coaches, parents and teams from all participating clubs and associations, and turned the "Just For Kicks" Tournament from a fun fall kick-around into a poignant illustration of the power of the beautiful game to unite a community.

Robert "Boog" Powell passed away suddenly at home on Oct. 5, less than a week before the tournament at which he had become a fixture over the previous decade, supporting tournament organizers, volunteers and players in the same ways that he served the Dalton community as high school athletic director, girls soccer and basketball coach for more than 30 years.

Nicknamed for his similarity in appearance to legendary Baltimore Orioles player Boog Powell, Dalton's Boog was an equally iconic figure in this small Massachusetts town, dedicating himself tirelessly to making a difference in the lives of Dalton's youth.

"He didn't have kids or a wife to go home to. We were his kids. He was like a father to us. He had a big, tremendous heart!" said Darcey Sullivan, the captain of Dalton's girls' soccer team. Sullivan sprained her ankle this summer and says that Boog called and e-mailed on a regular basis to support her in her recovery, even staying late after practices to give her access to the school's training room facilities.

Sullivan's story is just one of hundreds that have been told in the past month in Dalton coffee shops, around the soccer pitch, or on message boards and social networking sites, where the legions of individuals, young and old, whose lives were touched by Boog have come to share memories of the difference Boog made in their lives — differences Boog himself would have been much too modest to take credit for.

"He was almost embarrassed by praise," remembered longtime friend Mike Cooney, as quoted by the Berkshire Eagle in the days after Boog's passing. "He hated it when people made a big deal out of things. It was always about the kids. He did more for Dalton, sometimes without anyone knowing it, than anyone I ever met."

So it was that on Saturday morning, Oct. 10, when the fields of Dalton should have been filled with the sights and sounds of tournament soccer, they instead were quiet, as hundreds of Dalton residents packed the St. Agnes Church to pay tribute to the man who meant so much.

When the teams finally took to the fields at noon on Saturday, many sported patches featuring the initials "B.P." and the warrior head logo of Boog's Waconah High School (the idea of Bob Rodowitz, town coordinator for the Adams Soccer Club). Others wore Waconah's school colors on their uniform. All came together to honor a man that many of the players from other towns never even knew, but appreciated just the same.

"I was incredibly moved by the unbelievable outcry of support from all of the teams involved in the tournament," says Dalton coordinator Dustin Belcher, who worked to move game times and find additional fields in the days before the event in order to allow all those who desired to attend Boog's funeral Saturday morning. "All teams were more than happy to accommodate the schedule changes and showed compassion and understanding.

"Even though there was a common goal by all participants to win the tournament, everyone — no matter where they were from — felt the sadness of our community and stood together with us to help us ease our pain. It was just an amazing display of a community coming together and all participants joining in support."

Perhaps many of those teams and players saw something familiar in the Dalton community's love for Boog. After all, while Boog's impact may have been strongest in Dalton, almost every small town in New England — even across the country — has its own Boog, someone who dedicates his entire life to a community, who mows the fields, teaches the kids, coaches the teams or simply provides a friendly ear to talk to. They do it not for money, or for fame, but simply of a genuine desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

"[Boog's] life was dedicated to Dalton," wrote Dan Duquette, the former general manager of the Boston Red Sox and a longtime Dalton resident. "He taught. He coached. He mentored. He was as much a fixture in Dalton as the library, the fire station and Crane's mills. He was what Dalton was all about. He made a difference in the lives of many a child. And he will be missed."