Handicap? What handicap?
Talk to Fletcher Carter about his bad hip or hobbled knee, and he’d pass it off with a smile. Then he’d go off to a handball court and beat your brains out.
Just when you thought the ping pong table would catch up to him, wham! He’d slam the ball down your throat.
As a fitness director, Fletch was to the Haverhill YMCA what Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed were to American lore — larger than life. His name was synonymous with everything good about society.
If you had a dollar for every life he touched at the Y during the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, you could have taken out a lifetime membership and still had money to spare. Nothing was ever a problem for Fletch.
I saw him reach into his pocket when a kid needed some help with a membership. Another time, he sat a teenager down in his office and talked to him about the evils of bullying.
“It’s not doing you or the other kid any good to poke fun,” he warned the child. “Someday the shoe could be on the other foot.”
So he appointed the child an “assistant counselor’’ and gave him some responsibility in the gym. The “bully” mended his ways, went on to play basketball at Haverhill High and never forgot the encouragement he received from Carter.
Fletcher came along during the Dick Stearns era at the Y, when the Rudy’s Tigers group was growling inside the walls. There were no strangers here — only friends waiting to meet. One day Fletch came up to me with a proposal.
“Some other YMCAs want to challenge us in ping pong,” he said. “You think we can get a few guys together and give them a match?”
Fletch set up a couple of tables and Monday became ping pong night. On came guys like Ron Prue, Stu Hopkins, myself and a ringer named Don Veltsos, who happened to be a New England champion. Fletch was our coach, except when we needed a spare player. He owned a backhand slam that would make you gasp.