John Habib's City Sports: Jack Thornton was unique talent
AS A teenager in the 1970s, I frequently turned on the radio to listen to Bob Lobel on WGIR-AM. Lobel occasionally invited local people to his studio to talk sports, and one of them was Jack Thornton.
Thornton had a great radio voice, and I found his knowledge of high school sports to be top-notch. He was articulate and thorough in his analysis, especially in the immediate aftermath of a game.
A 1968 graduate of Manchester Memorial High and later St. Anselm College, Thornton worked so well with Lobel that the two became partners on broadcasts of high school football, basketball and baseball games, Lobel handling the play-by-play, Thornton doing color commentary.
I'd been listening to Thornton for a couple of years when I saw and met him for the first time, during the American Legion World Series at Gill Stadium. Until then, I had no idea he was blind.
When I heard this week that Thornton died Sunday at age 64 after a long period of declining health, I paused to think of the lesson he taught me years ago: Never feel sorry for yourself. Jack Thornton never did, and that's why I regard him to this day as the epitome of what the human spirit is all about.
Reached at his home earlier this week, Lobel shared some thoughts of his own about his former on-air sidekick.
"If I try to tell someone about Jack Thornton, especially how I was able to work with him during my broadcast ... Unless you knew him or saw him do it, you wouldn't believe it," Lobel said. "Jack was an amazing person. What instantly caught my attention was Jack was able to add something to my show that (fellow local broadcasters) Frank Sullivan, Dick Powers — none of us — could add. Call it a sixth sense or another dimension, but he had something which was extremely rare and unique. I trusted it, and I trusted him because he didn't make stuff up."
Lobel said Thornton's late father, John, would take his son to the games and serve as his eyes.
"I can't explain how he did it, but through his father's love and devotion, Jack was able to connect the dots and provide commentary during and after games," Lobel said. "To this day, I just can't explain it. It's still all a mystery to me, but Jack was a special kid, a special person who I'm going to miss greatly."
MEMORIAL baseball coach Aaron Abood has applied for the new position of full-time athletics director for the city's public high schools, and he appears to have a backer in Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry.
"If Aaron meets the credentials required for the job, I would support him," said Beaudry. "I hear from many people he's a very good baseball coach. I felt bad a few years back when he didn't get the boys' (varsity) basketball job at Memorial. I felt he got short-changed there."
At the time, the school board chose Mike Fitzpatrick, who had already coached Central to two Class L titles.
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AT A RECENT meeting of the city school board's Athletic Committee, Manchester High West athletics director Sarah Dumais suggested the city retain part-time city AD Dave Gosselin until January to help his successor with the transition.
Beaudry shot that proposal down.
"I'm not going to support paying a full-timer and a part-timer — not when we're trying to save money to hire back teachers, which is my top priority right now," Beaudry said.
He would consider a four- to six-week transition period with Gosselin tutoring the new athletics director, Beaudry said, but it's unlikely he'd ultimately support it.
"I would expect whoever we hire to hit the ground running from the first day on," Beaudry said.
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UNIVERSITY of Rhode Island sophomore Kate Capistran, a Manchester High Central graduate, recently was named a 2013 Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Pocock All-American. Capistran rowed in the second seat on Rhode Island's varsity eight-plus boat this season and earned second-team All-America honors. She is one of 42 rowers nationally to earn CRCA All-America recognition and one of 13 rowers named to the CRCA Division I New England All-Region first team.
"Kate is an extremely hard worker," said Rhode Island head coach Shelagh Donohoe. "Her most limiting factor when she came in was her rowing technique. Throughout the fall and winter, Kate made very good changes that allowed her to apply her power better. The technical changes, along with her increased aerobic base and strength, allowed her to move from the third boat to second boat and, by the spring, the varsity eight."
With Capistran in the shell, URI won the Atlantic 10 Conference championship and received its first berth in the NCAAs.
Kate is the sister of Luke Capistran, who died at 16 in 2011 after a courageous battle with cancer.
"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at firstname.lastname@example.org.