Barrington legend Frank Murgo sits quietly in his wheelchair inside the spacious confines of the newly renovated Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol, a place he has called home for the past 2 and a half years. It is here where he receives a number of family and friends on a regular basis. He doesn’t say much; but he doesn’t have, to because he is well aware of what’s going on within his surroundings.
“Dad is pretty comfortable here,” offers son, Bruce Murgo, who like his three other siblings, pays daily visits to make sure his father is well taken care of and at ease. “It’s nice to see that he enjoys the company.”
Recently, the Barrington High School gymnasium was dedicated and renamed in his honor during ceremonies at halftime of the Thanksgiving Day football game between Barrington and Mt. Hope High School.
It was a day Frank thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish, culminating with the Eagles' dramatic double overtime win over the visiting Huskies. What better way to celebrate this auspicious occasion than a Turkey Day triumph at Barrington’s Victory Field, the very same venue where Coach Murgo had some of his greatest conquests.
With both Barrington and Mt. Hope players gathered around him, Coach Murgo relished in the moment.
“It was a tremendous honor to have the gym named after me,” said Frank, in a soft tone. “I can’t thank everyone enough. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
The men behind the scenes who actually got the idea to have the gym renamed the “Frank Murgo Gymnasium,” were former BHS athletes TR Rimoshytus, Mark Stamoulis, and David Hughes.
“He was a great mentor to all of us,” said Mr. Rimoshytus. “He pushed you to the limit. He’s such a great human being.”
Matt Murgo, the coach’s oldest son, said having the gym named in honor of his father was so befitting.
“The gym was more of his classroom,” he noted. “People want to remember him as a teacher, not just a coach. He was well-respected in both areas.”
On Jan. 2, Frank will celebrate his 94th birthday, and in the process, will be the oldest person from Barrington still alive that has a building named after him.
“That’s really something,” echoed Bruce Murgo. “I know my dad is very proud of that. We couldn’t be more proud of him and everything that he’s accomplished in life.”
Once they gained approval from the school committee, the plan to put forth Frank Murgo’s name permanently at the entrance to the high school gym, was set into motion.
“There’s still more work to be done,” said Mr. Rimoshytus. “Once we get everything completed, we plan on doing something bigger. Several guys who are doing the work are donating their time.”
Mark Stamoulis says planning to honor Frank Murgo in this special way was a no-brainer.
“I was attending the Barrington High Hall of Fame event last year and watched as scores of athletes of all ages gathered around Mr. Murgo,” he recalled. “Witnessing this outpouring of affection got me thinking — what could we do? I recalled the hot summer YMCA sports camps and how he instilled a love of baseball and how he seemed to be at every high school game cheering and patching us up. I contacted TR Rimoshytus and Dave Hughes at the Booster Club and we began talking about naming the gym for Mr. Murgo. I was concerned that we needed to expedite the process due to health concerns. I actually went on social media to gauge interest and received over 240 responses in one day, all positive.
"We met with the school committee and Mike Messore and they were wonderful in fast-tracking the idea. George Finn was also instrumental in coordinating the actual award ceremony.”
He continued, “With TR doing much of the legwork and donations from former students across the country, we put a plaque design together and will finish by constructing an entrance to the gym."
Much of the labor and materials are being donated out of respect for Mr. Murgo. Brian Morrisette, Eric Flower, Brian Butterfield, John DiMatteo, Jay Gasbarro, JayEl Trophies in Bristol, and Karen Martins of Fast Signs in Seekonk are donating time and services. Gary and Glenn Lepore of LDL Studios in Providence provided architectural plans.
“Lastly, we could think of no better time than the Thanksgiving game, between the two communities where Mr. Murgo lived and worked, to present the plaque," Mr. Stamoulis said.
It’s ironic that Frank Murgo was actually one of the “villains” during the early years of the old Barrington-Bristol Thanksgiving Day football series. During the early 1940s, Frank was an All-state fullback for the Colts and had some of his most memorable games against the Eagles. He is also the only living member of Colt Memorial High School’s one and only state championship baseball team in 1941. Frank is also the brother of Lou Murgo (who now resides in California), former Bristol High School star athlete and coach, and one of Brown University’s all-time leading basketball scorers and member of the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame.
Remember when the brothers Murgo coached against each other for the first and only time in 1961? That Thanksgiving Day battle is still talked about to this day.
When Frank came to Barrington in the 1950s, after serving as a teacher and coach at North Kingstown High School for four years, he became an overnight success. The native son of Bristol had begun to transform himself into an icon in the Barrington community.
“If there is such an honorific as ‘The Mayor of East Bay Sports,’ it has to belong to Frank Murgo,” said noted author and former Eagle player, John Christensen. “The legendary Murgo has been affiliated with sports at Barrington High since his student days in the early 1940s. A 1942 graduate of the former Colt Memorial High, Murgo played football and baseball at Colt, and won numerous all-state honors. He played baseball while at URI. Coming to Barrington High in ’56 – and for the next three decades - Murgo taught physical education at the school, and made his mark as a major figure in the Eagles’ sports programs. He coached football, basketball and baseball, and became one of the state’s first athletic trainers. His football teams won four class titles in the 1960s.”
“Coach Murgo was a legend, a man for whom every other season was time to be marked until football began again,” he continued. “When he was younger, the story went, Coach Murgo suffered a concussion playing semi-pro football, so he suited up anyway and played under an assumed name. Soft, suburban kids won state championships and had winning seasons consistently because this blue-collar son of Italian immigrants knew how to turn them into gritty, passionate football players who would rather die than disappoint him.”
John Christensen is an author and award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared numerous books, magazines, newspapers and websites.
“In so many of the ways that mattered, Murgo had become a coach for life for some of the kids he once had coached,” wrote Providence Journal sports columnist and good friend, Bill Reynolds. “Or maybe it was simpler than that, something more fundamental: they had become friends. Friends that once had shared a certain time and place, friends that had shared memories that never had gone away. Memories that, in many ways, get better as the years go by.”
“Frank has had a tremendous impact on athletics as an athlete, coach, teacher, athletic trainer and a fan of all sports as the ultimate role model,” said BHS athletic director George Finn previously. “Over the years, Frank has influenced the lives of many athletes and has instilled in them integrity, dedication, character, team play and sportsmanship.”
Frank Murgo has been an integral and prominent part of East Bay athletics as an athlete, coach, trainer, community supporter and as a legendary fan.
For the record, Frank was born in Bristol, RI in 1924 and began his athletic career at Colt Memorial High School, as previously mentioned, where he received All State honors in both baseball and football. After high school, Frank played football at URI and he was also a member of the Bristol Townies, a semi-professional football team. After serving his country with the Coast Guard during World War II, Frank went on to Springfield College and excelled as an athlete. He was named to the Springfield College 1950’s All Decade Baseball Team and was inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Upon graduation, Frank married his beloved wife, Shirley, in 1954, and began teaching and coaching in North Kingstown. He moved to Barrington in 1957, where his legendary career began. For the next three decades Frank taught physical education at Barrington High School and made his mark as a major figure in the Eagles’ sports programs. He started the school’s first Letterman’s Club. He coached football, basketball and baseball, and became one of the state’s first athletic trainers. His football teams won four class titles in the 1960s.
For many years Frank managed many successful sports programs at the Barrington YMCA and Canadian baseball camps. He served on the State Board Executive Committee for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
Frank is a member of numerous Halls of Fame, including those of the R.I. Football Coaches (1975), Bristol High School Athletic Hall of Fame (1985), Providence Gridiron Club (1997) and Barrington High School Athletic Hall of Fame (2008). In 1999, in recognition of his years of service, Barrington High School initiated the Frank Murgo Award.
Even after his retirement in 1986, Frank never lost his love for sports. He has been a constant supporter and “super” fan of Barrington High and Mt. Hope High Schools as well as St. Andrew’s and other neighboring towns. He has loved and enjoyed watching local students, including his own grandchildren, go on to play and excel at both the high school and college levels.
Among the many achievements and accolades Frank has received, he believes that the very close relationship he has maintained with his former players is one of his best. They have lasted a lifetime and he considers them a part of his family.
Frank is the very proud father and grandfather to four children, Caron, Matt, Bruce and Lori, six grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter, whom are a constant source of enjoyment in his life and many have followed in his footsteps as teachers, athletes and coaches.
Two Barrington natives, who were like sons to Frank Murgo, are Mike Raffa Sr. and Pat Monti. Both were delighted to hear that the high school gym is now the Frank Murgo Gymnasium.
“I believe this is a tremendous and well-deserved honor for Frank,” said Mr. Raffa. “Over the last 30 years, Frank and I have become friends. But more importantly, he greatly influenced my life as a student in junior high school when I was a member on the basketball team he coached. When I was 13 years old I decided I wanted to be a teacher/coach like Coach Murgo. Looking back at that time, I liked every aspect of his coaching philosophy. He was demanding, but fair. He treated his players with respect, but could and would constructively criticize when necessary. On the court, he was all business, off the court he had a caring, pleasing personality. He cared about winning games, but in the end, it was only a game, not the end of the world. It was obvious he liked kids and in return they liked and respected him.
"As adults we spent time at St. Andrew’s School and Barrington High School basketball games, and were members of the Barrington High School Athletics Hall of Fame Committee. What I remember most when I talked to my peers and former students who were touched by Frank, was their genuine love and respect they had for him. Unbeknownst to him was the positive effect he had on their lives. He was born to be a teacher and a leader of young people and is truly a special man.”
Pat Monti is equally excited that the Barrington High School gymnasium has been named in Frank Murgo’s honor.
“I think it’s a wonderful tribute to Coach Murgo,” he said. “Most people think of Frank Murgo as a Hall of Fame coach but don’t realize he was an even better physical educator. There are hundreds of BHS grads who learned so much from him in physical education classes. He introduced so many new programs (including golf) to the curriculum. He helped non-athletes get acquainted with secondary sports. Nutrition was very important to him. So dedication of the BHS gymnasium in his name is very appropriate.”
As Frank Murgo sits back in the comfort of his room at the RI Veterans Home, he knows how much love and affection he has gained after all these years. He knows that making the transition from Bristol to Barrington was a stroke of good luck at an opportunistic time when he put his best foot forward and became one of the most prominent fixtures in this community. For that, we can all be grateful. He has and continues to be a great ambassador for the town of Barrington.