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Anyone who has ever been to school knows that one of the principal things that can develop in those years is the love-hate relationship with a teacher or coach.
James Trenteni was a young guy with a drill-sergeant crew cut when he began as an assistant coach at St. John’s Prep in 1968. I was 15 and barely able to tie my own shoes. I was also starting to become filled with the peace-and-love vibe, and guys who looked like boot-camp instructors, and who chewed people out because they didn’t like to lift weights, didn’t exactly make it with me.
That season, I didn’t have to deal with Coach Trentini on the football field, as he worked with the varsity and I was just a JV schlub. But he was my gym teacher, so he had plenty of opportunities to torture me. And he took them.
One day, shortly after our season ended, Coach Trentini dragged us all over to the scale in the weight room and weighed us. This was never good news for me. I’ve had a lifelong battle with the scale ― the scale usually wins ― and I’m never anxious for the whole world to hear about it. Boy, he was all over me, telling me I’d have to start running and lifting weights if I wanted to play football next year.
I hated lifting weights. I still hate lifting weights. I always hated those ripped kids with the beach bodies ― the ones who never missed a chance to give us a flex. All they ever did was brag about how much they benched.
Meanwhile, I’d go to gym class, kill myself trying to bench press five pounds from where I was the previous week, and Coach Trentini would be like Sgt. Carter. I despised him, and tried to come up with every excuse I could find not to go to gym class. But I guess I wasn’t clever enough to figure anything out, because I’d go every week, and, well, rinse and repeat.
Coach Trentini also ran off-season agility drills. And if my physique wasn’t ripped, at least I was nimble enough to do those. In fact, I was quite good at them and sailed through the session with flying colors. We had to put on a little display for the last class, just like that scene in “Stripes,” with me starring as Bill Murray.
“That ought to impress the SOB,” I thought. It did. In a curious way, though.
After I finished, he enthusiastically barked, “Krause, that was very good. Very good.” I was beaming. Finally, I did something right for this SOB.
“Krause, have you ever thought of becoming a dancer?” he said to me. “Really. You’d make a great dancer. Because if you don’t start hitting those weights harder, you’re never going to play football.”
I had to laugh. I’ve always appreciated a good joke, even if it’s directed toward me. Of course, he was right. I was not much of a football player, and I never set out to be. I always liked being able to say I was on the football team much more than I liked playing football. Perhaps it took a good dose of Coach Trentini for me to really see that.
More than 30 years later, in the wee hours in the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, I was watching the scroll of victims who were on the two planes that were deliberately flown into the towers of the World Trade Center. The name James Trentini came up, aged 65.
I didn’t even have to verify whether it was the same Jim Trentini. I just knew. He was going to Los Angeles to visit his grandchild.
All I could do was close my eyes, try to contemplate the horror of what had happened the previous morning, and think back to a more innocent time in my life when bench-pressing weights seemed so important.
We had our issues in 1968 too ― an unpopular war as well as two political assassinations that changed the course of our history. But when you’re 15, as smart as you think you are, you don’t fully realize the ramifications that come with these events. You do when you’re almost 50.
Others I knew, or had known of, died in the attack. There was Garnett “Ace” Bailey, who helped the Bruins win two Stanley Cups. Bob Jalbert of Swampscott, whose son, Mike, taught my niece at St. Joseph’s Grammar School in Wakefield, died in the attacks too.
But it’s Jim Trentini’s name that I’ve never forgotten. I survived him, and I survived high school. I realized that I’d stopped hating Coach Trentini long ago. He was a young guy entrusted with the task of making men out of privileged, prep-school kids. Judging from how most of my football buddies turned out, he ― and his fellow coaches ― did a wonderful job.
My football career, such as it was, taught me the value of always reaching farther than you think you can.
Coach James Trentini helped me learn that lesson. I remember him today, 20 years later.