Long before the Arlington (Mass.) High school hockey team would become known as the Spy Ponders, Gerry Bartholomew was neck deep into not just hockey, but in Spy Pond itself. He was but a teenager when he ventured onto too risky a patch of ice in the thickly settled Boston suburb to fetch a stray puck.
"You’re not sitting at home watching TV. You get out, you mix and you mingle and you meet new people. I think it’s added to my life."
“Next thing I knew I was up to my neck,” says Bartholomew, who remembers his wet clothes turning hard as he trudged a mile and a half to his Newport Street home like it was last week. “I was back out there the next day.”
The next day still hasn’t stopped coming for Bartholomew, one of the town’s founding fathers of the sport.
“He’s evolved with the game,” says Jack Kelly, head coach of Arlington’s Bantam A squad and associate head coach at Trinity Catholic. “Gerry is old school in a lot of ways, and the kids respond to that. He’ll leave the politically correct stuff to Jason [Kitayama] and Kevin [Crean].”
As Kelly’s two assistants run practice at Arlington Veterans Rink, the 90-year-old man watches from the third row behind the net, a rack of water bottles at his side. A routine Thursday night is the perfect portrait of what ‘Gerry Barts’ has always been willing to do for youth hockey: whatever it takes.
“I still have the skates in the car, but they’re only there just as an exhibition,” says Bartholomew, who was born in 1918. “If anybody says, ‘Do you have skates?’ I say, ‘Yes.’ I just don’t go on the ice anymore.”
That part of his career ended six years ago when he realized the rink was the domain of younger legs.
“I was in the way out there sometimes, and if I had guys who could [run practice] it was better for them to do it,” says Bartholomew. “Years ago, we had a saying, ‘Line to line with Danny Shine, and stops and starts with Mr. Barts.’ ”
Shine, who made his name coaching Arlington Catholic, was another pillar in the town’s hockey history, along with legendary high school coach Ed Burns. Bartholomew, who in November followed Burns into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame, has outlasted all of his colleagues and some of his successors.
“He’s sharp as a tack. His memory is phenomenal,” says Kelly. “He’s kind of said he’s going to keep at it. Too many of his friends have sat down and relaxed and that was the end of them. He misses nothing. There’s never a night where he says, ‘I’m too tired.’ ”
That willingness to keep moving forward has been the secret to his longevity.
“I believe – and I’ve read several articles – that mixing here is most important for an older person like myself,” admits Bartholomew. “You’re not sitting at home watching TV. You get out, you mix and you mingle and you meet new people. I think it’s added to my life.
“Who knows, I might die tomorrow, God forbid. If only the good die young I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Crean played Bantam hockey for Bartholomew, but Kitayama didn’t.
“He cut me. It took me two years to get over it,” recalls Kitayama, who appreciates Bartholomew more since being put in a position to make those decisions on other players.
“The thing about Gerry is he’s spent so long being a part of the game, he has very naturally embraced the progression of the game while being able to cling to his sense of expertise.”
Eddie Shore to Bobby Orr to Ray Bourque, time has given Bartholomew a unique perspective of comparing players across a wide swath of time. He thinks back to the game’s greats, such as Dit Clapper, Howie Morenz and Shore, players he saw skate, and believes that they could play in today’s NHL. He also thinks Phil Esposito would have a hard time scoring.
“He wouldn’t be able to anchor in front of the net like he used to. They’d boost him right out of there like nothing at all,” says Bartholomew.
He’s coached the kids, and he’s coached their parents. Through it all he has left his mark on generations of Massachusetts hockey players.
“I’m going to say there’s more talent around now, but it’s spread further apart than it was years ago,” says Bartholomew, whose sons Bob and Kevin were both hockey captains at Arlington.
Kevin, who passed away in 1994, went on to play at Boston College. Bob, who went on to play at UMass, is an assistant coach at Arlington High and lives in the other half of the Bartholomew house.
Despite some well-intentioned concern from his wife Ruth, Bartholomew still makes it to the rink on schedule, and still makes observations.
“And exclamations,” he adds.
For four decades, Bartholomew was treasurer for Arlington Youth Hockey. Now he is their treasure.
“When we do something right, he’s the first one to pat us on the back,” says Kevin Carney, a 15-year-old Bantam A center.
“When I first started, I didn’t know what his story was. He’s very humble, he doesn’t walk around like he runs the place or anything like that. He knows the game very well.”
For Carney and generations of hockey players in Arlington, the words of ‘Gerry Barts’ have been part of growing up in the game.
“Move your feet and keep your stick on the ice.”
The more the game changes, the more some things never change.
Mick Colageo is a sports writer with The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Mass.