Simpson honored for 50 years of coaching

BRAD SIMPSON was honored before the game on senior night for his 50th season of coaching basketball at Wakefield High. Pictured, Simpson holds a basketball signed by the 2019-20 Warriors. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)


WAKEFIELD — Sitting together on the bench, ahead of them a line of teammates on either side funneling towards an epic Red Sea full of friends and super fans, Quinn Bayers, Patrick Collins, Ryan Marcus, Chris Miller and Lucas Smith got a few seconds to enjoy the moment.

It was a deserving moment, one that came just after the senior five got a chance to thank their families for all of their support. And yet, the beauty of senior night on Friday night at the Charbonneau Field House is all of these important moments are built up to the main act on a stage the Warriors love to perform on.

Once public address announcer Dan Byrne called their names, Wakefield was snapped right back into a competitive thrill that they work so hard to enjoy.

In the end, Wakefield beat Stoneham 67-43, their sixth consecutive victory.

Miller got the first bucket of the game on a outback but the Warriors were groggy to start, trailing 8-5 after four minutes.

“We haven’t played just those five before so I expected there to be some hiccups and Stoneham came out and played pretty well,” said head coach Brad Simpson.

The Warriors got junior Brett Okundaye into the game who promptly hit the offensive glass and layed one back in to cut the lead to 8-7. Okundaye led the Warriors with 23 points in this one.

Bayers, who finished with 20 points, scored four in the first as the Warriors started to pick up the pace and ended the first with a 14-9 lead.

“As soon as the speed of the game picked up we got into a rhythm,” said Simpson.

Wakefield exploded in the second quarter, scoring 26 points to to take a commanding 35-23 lead into the break.

Okundaye scored 11, Marcus had seven and Bayers six. Okundaye had three 3-pointers in the quarter. Typically a slasher, Stoneham’s gameplan was to play off him. It looked like they were daring him to shoot, and they were, so Okundaye did. It was further proof that the junior continues to expand his game and is one of the toughest covers in the league.

The Warriors pressed Stoneham into some turnovers and converted on the offensive end. Bayers had back-to-back buckets, first a spinning layup in the lane then a steal and easy two to make it 32-23.

Marcus put an exclamation on the quarter with a step-back 3.

Wakefield’s defense really turned it up in the third backed by the Red Sea. The Warriors allowed just six points in the quarter and the passing was especially strong on the offensive end in the fourth. Okundaye had a pretty bounce pass to Bayers for a layup and Bayers later found Marcus for bucket. Collins had a couple of terrific defensive plays in-between and the Warriors cruised to another big win.

“I think after the first six, seven minutes of the game we played really well,” said Simpson. “When we’re playing good defense we’re tough. That press bothered them.”

That image of the seniors, sitting together before the game was a fitting metaphor for their reality off the court. Mirroring what is largely the case for the entire class of 2020 as evidenced by one of the best Red Sea’s ever at Wakefield High, the five on the boys’ basketball team are great friends.

“They’re very close,” said Simpson of his seniors. “And they’re great role models for the younger kids too. They’re usually early to practice and focused. It’s just a good group.”

That group also happens to hold the distinction of being the 50th senior class that coach Simpson has coached. Seven years after he graduated from Wakefield High in ‘64, the former Wakefield junior high history teacher went back and spent 17 years as an assistant and is now in his 33rd season as head coach. Athletic Director Brendan Kent spoke before the game to thank coach Simpson and the Warriors all signed a “50” basketball that the coach will surely cherish.

The reason this incredible accomplishment isn’t leading this story? It’s not coach Simpson’s style.

The night belonged to the kids, specifically the seniors, as it has in Wakefield on every winter Friday night since his own mentor and legendary coach Sonny Lane held the reigns. But now, he will have to bear with us…or stop reading.

Kent spoke about Simpson as a person and a caring, genuine leader. Yes, he has state championship hardware, enough wins to fill up the field house and a list of former players who have went on to accomplish great things. But the thing that makes Simpson unique is what continues to drive him.

“As a head coach, my teams have won hundreds of games and lost hundreds of games,” said Simpson. “Some games I do remember but it’s the kids I remember more.”

Like on Friday night, when the Warriors went out of their way to run plays for Smith, a fan favorite and consummate teammate. Smith is one of the best shooters on the team, but sometimes they just don’t fall. And they didn’t on Friday, but the larger point is the effect a student athlete like Smith has on the coach. Simpson won’t remember the box score on Friday night. He will remember Smith and the work of Marcus and Bayers to get him the ball, or the flare screens set by Miller and Collins because it was important to them.

That’s the culture coach Simpson has created.

The best part of coaching for 50 seasons is seeing many of these players return, whether it was Andy Ward, a standout on the ‘96 team who was there Friday night, or Mark Plansky, an ‘84 graduate who went on to play at Villanova where he was a part of the ‘85 championship team. Plansky came to practice recently and chipped in with a tip about defensive pressure that Simpson said helped the team beat Belmont last week.

Whether it’s on on the Warrior girls’ basketball bench with his daughter and assistant coach Beth, his own bench, with assistant coaches Bryan Sweeney, John Amentola, Dan Looney, Ty O’Brien, Tom Leahy or Ray Elcewicz, at the scorer’s table where Byrne calls and writes the games or across the sideline like Watertown head coach Steve Harrington, Simpson’s roots run deep. Even on the Stoneham sideline Friday night was assistant coach Ryan Havey, a phenomenal hoop player who learned the game from his father Jim, a co-captain of Wakefield’s ‘78 team. Simpson was an assistant then, more of a “good cop” job that he sometimes misses. That’s because it’s his nature to want to support a student-athlete first. That’s a tough balancing act for head coaches who even at the high school level, are judged by wins and losses.

As the coach took the microphone before the game and thanked everyone for their support, including the Red Sea, he gave the crowd a chance to salute the real hero of the night, his wife Judy.

And so it was, that 50 years after Judy and Brad Simpson decided to commit themselves to the Wakefield community, the fans got their chance to say thank you. A deserving moment, indeed.