By Russ Held
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (May 7, 2018) - Coach Downes has saved his best for last.
William "Red" Arthur Downes will wrap up his 33-year career as coach of the men's golf team at Western New England University next week when the Golden Bears compete at the NCAA Division III National Championships.
"This is, without a doubt, the best team I have had here in my 30 years,'' Downes said. "This one really feels different. We have three seniors who are really, really good and three freshmen who will be a big part of the nucleus for years to come.''
WNEU leaves Saturday, before playing two practice rounds at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. The Golden Bears qualified by winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference Championships at Kernwood Country Club in Salem two weeks ago.
"We won by 20, we left nothing in doubt,'' Downes said. "The first day, we threw out a (non-qualifying score of) 78, and a 76 on the second. This is the third time we've qualified for nationals in the last four years, and the third time John Abbott has played in it.''
"Last year, we won five tournaments in the spring, then lost by one stroke (at the conference championships) to go to nationals,'' Downes said. "This team, we had (very high) expectations. The first year, we were like deer in headlights at nationals, and the second time we drove away knowing we should have made the cut.
"We're pretty good when we all play at or near our potential. A realistic goal is to make the cut (top 18 teams) and hope for the best from there.''
Co-captains Abbott, whom Downes called "probably the best we've ever had here,'' and Metcalf are both All-American Scholars. Freshmen Cameron Cox and Ryan Zogby will also make the trip, and classmate Tyler Sinacola had a solid rookie season but did not crack to the starting lineup for this one.
Downes, who has coached there since 1968, has left such a legacy at the Springfield school that the school's Hall of Fame is named in his honor.
He has retired before, most notably in 1999 when he stepped away from full-time duties there that included teaching physical education and coaching baseball, basketball and soccer.
"I kept the golf team ... it was part-time, but I did it right and made it a full-time (commitment),'' said Downes, who resurrected the program during the 1980s.
"But retiring now? It's just time. I had thought about it for a while and it seemed to make sense with my grandson (Metcalf) graduating this year.''
Downes' sons Billy (GreatHorse) and Bobby (CC of Wilbraham) are current club professionals in Western Massachusetts and with daughters Charlene and Mary he has six grandchildren.
"People keep telling me to stick around for some of the others. (Grandson) Kevin (Allard of Longmeadow High School) won Western Mass. last year, Ryan is 12 and going to be very good himself ... I just can't see coaching into my 90s. I'm 81 now and I'd like to wear short pants and go to Florida.
Most importantly, Downes said is that of his own health and wife Pat.
"I've had two knees and a hip (replacement), prostate cancer ... I'm half-a-robot now,'' Downes said. "But my wife had a triple bypass in October, when we thought it was acid reflux and then found she had two blocked arteries and one partial. She was sitting on a heart attack. After 36 rehab sessions, she's doing great.
"And I tell you what, I wouldn't know what to do without her. There's no way I'd know.''
Next up for WNEU - after its latest trip to the NCAA Championships - is figuring out what to do without Coach Downes.