---- — HAVERHILL — It had to be 10 or years ago, maybe a couple more or less.
I whizzed up 110, stopped into Whittier Tech and settled in to cover a state tourney game.
The game wasn’t a quarter old, when amazement struck. A Shawsheen Tech fan — who later turned out to be an administrator at the school — was told to leave for cheering during a Whittier free throw.
It was Whittier’s superintendent who did the ejecting, promising to call security if necessary.
I didn’t have to wonder why the place was empty and student apathy was at an all-time high. It was plain to see that sports, at least basketball, was considered a hassle at Whittier.
What a difference a decade makes! Give it up for guys like athletic director Kevin Bradley and current boys coach Tom Sipsey for changing all that.
Last night, the Wildcats disposed of Amesbury, 59-21, in a Division 3 North first-round tourney game before about 500 fans.
Behind the bench, there were “whiteout” conditions, a spirited student section on their feet to support their boys.
“Maroon Man” was in place, as was the Whittier Wildcat himself.
Athletics has indeed found itself a home in Cats country.
Sipsey’s voice cracked and tears nearly welled up when he spoke of the support his 20-3 Wildcats have received in the house that Bradley rebuilt.
“I remember my first game four years ago against Lynn Tech, before about seven fans,” said Sipsey. “I asked why they only pulled out half the bleachers. I saw why, right away. Now, four years later, look at this place. The place is packed. Thing like the ‘white out’ and all the support make me as proud as I am of anything we’ve done here, even the banners.”
If you know Kevin Bradley, you know he’s the guy behind it.
There is no bigger risk-taker/promoter in the profession.
The light shows, pre-game musical mixes and excitement surrounding his girls hoop program attest to that.
Bradley knows what sports can do for a school’s pride. It galvanizes relationships between athletes and classmates.
Even when his bosses disagreed, Bradley understood it and bided his time.
Last night, current Superintendent William DeRosa was there for the show.
The fun taunts between schools got a little chippy.
Whittier: “You can’t do that.”
Amesbury: “Change my oil.”
Whittier: “Warm up the bus.”
Amesbury: “Tune up our bus.”
The superintendent ejection count last night?
Zero. All DeRosa did, to his credit, was congratulate Sipsey on the win with a postgame handshake.
“The school, the curriculum, it’s excellent,” said Sipsey. “Every senior we’ve had has gone on to college or into his trade, and that will continue this year. But this kind of stuff completes the experience. This community has embraced our team.”
Whittier sophomore Connor Bradley, a JV hoopster and the starting varsity quarterback, was proud to be in that sea of white last night. It’s something he first thought about as a pre-teen on the sideline for his father’s football team.
Folks around Central Catholic saw plenty of Connor, and if you dig deep into the bureau, you’ll find an old “Central Crazies” T-shirt or two.
“I basically grew up here,” said the younger Bradley. “I think this has always been our plan. This is what we’ve always wanted, and it’s growing more and more.
“I remember those old days with only part of the stands pulled out, and nobody around. Just look at the difference. We’ve worked hard here, the student government, everybody is working to grow support here. Mostly, it’s a lot of fun.”
Bradley wondered before he came to Whittier if he’d miss all that by not going to a school like Central or his Methuen High.
But instead of complaining, he’s helped make it great.
agateHed:Whittier 59, Amesbury 21
agateText:Division 3 North First Round
Amesbury (21):@zzAgate:agateText: Thomas Connors 2 0-0 5, Jack Fortin 2 1-2 6, Devin Gobeil 2 0-0 4, Curran O’Connor 2 0-2 4, Grant Bellino 1 0-1 2, Totals 9 1-5 21
agateText:Whittier (59):@zzAgate:agateText: Ryan Grant 8 2-2 19, Liam Burns 1 1-1 3, Nathan Frongillo 2 2-2 6, Andrew Wells 4 0-0 11, Justin Reyes 7 6-9 20, Jaylin Deveau 0 0-0 0, Totals 22 11-14 59
agateText:3-pointers:@zzAgate:agateText: A — Connors, Fortin; W — Grant, Wells 3
agateText:Amesbury (9-10):@zzAgate:agateText: 2 5 6 8 — 21
agateText:Whittier (20-3):@zzAgate:agateText: 13 20 12 14 — 59
agateText:Next Round:@zzAgate:agateText: Division 3 North quarters, Friday, 7 p.m., host Newburyport