Long before Sundays were dominated by NFL Football on TV, football was local and live. Indeed, in East Greenwich, semi-pro football was part of the fabric of town life.
EG had its own semi-pro team, the Townies. On Sundays in the early 1960s (and before that from the early 1900s until World War II), the stands at Eldredge Field would fill to watch the Townies play teams from South Kingstown, Providence and Southeastern Massachusetts, among others.
Dom Iannazzi, a math teacher at East Greenwich High School in those days, was the Townies' coach. (In his 80s now, he's been refereeing high school football games ever since.) Player George Battey did a lot of the organizing.
Bruce Mastracchio (organizer of the EGHS Wall of Honor) also helped organize the team. That was a different time, he said, before the NFL got so big and all the games were televised. Mastracchio (Class of '60) played for URI, but in those days, a lot of EG guys never went to college. After high school, it was time to get a job, yet the desire to play football remained.
“We wanted to still play some more football so we formed the Townies and had a good time,” said Donald "Ducky" Kettelle, EGHS Class of 1956. “We played a lot of football. We had a lot of fun.”
Kettelle had played on the state championship ’56 team and was the first football player from East Greenwich to be named All State. After high school he played for the University of Houston, but returned to East Greenwich after his father became ill. By the time the Townies was formed, he was on the EG police force. (He went on to the State Police, then served as chief of police for Foster.)
Ray Fish, who had dropped out of high school at 16 to quahog full time, said playing for the Townies was fun.
“As a young guy I was kind of a fighter,” said Fish. “This was for me, you’d go out on the field on a Sunday and kick the s--t out of somebody and you didn’t get arrested for it.”
He continued, “You’d go to work in the morning you’d come home and go to the field and start practicing. Practiced all summer long. I’m glad I did it. It was fun. I really got in shape.”
“We had an unbelievable nucleus of all state football players,” said Bruce Roberts, EGHS Class of ’61, who also played for the Townies. (Today, Roberts helps coach the Avenger football and boys lacrosse teams.)
Tom Joyce joined the team after he became a police officer for East Greenwich. The Pittsburgh native had played football through high school, then kept playing during his stint in the Marines at Quonset.
Joyce played quarterback for the Townies, but when asked who the best players were, he didn’t hesitate: “Ducky Kettelle – he was the best runner we had. Back then, you did a lot more running than you did throwing.”
Every year, the Townies would play the prison team up at the ACI. “Me and Ducky – they knew we were cops,” Joyce said, so they’d gun for them.
“The field was only 80 yards long,” he recalled. When you reached the end, you’d get moved back 20 yards, except if you broke away, then they’d count it a touchdown.
“The goal line was right at the edge of the wall, and I hit the wall and cracked my helmet,” Kettelle said of one of those prison games.
Roberts said playing at the prison was a good learning experience. “We were never ever going to do anything that would result in us having to be in this building on the wrong side of the law,” he said. “It sobered up a lot of us.”
The Townies did well and even went undefeated their first year.
"We used to practice every day," said Kettelle. "We all had jobs and everything. We had no insurance. We were in shape. We played hard and never got hurt.
Practice for two or three hours into the dark of the night, you know.
"We used to have big crowds at the football field at Eldredge. Really what I think is that people like to watch the people that they know. When we played at Eldredge Field, the stadium it was packed and they loved it. They’d come to see us play and it was great."
Joyce, who had to quit the team after two years because he got injured and the police said he couldn't play anymore, said he thinks the team didn't continue much beyond that because of the Vietnam War.
"There was no one to play, they all left. Everybody got drafted," he said. "It was an interesting time."