A farewell to a true home court advantage

FRANKLIN, Mass. -- It'd be fair to sum the up the Woodrow Abbot Field House at Franklin High with a pair of numbers.

127 and 36.

That's the record of the Franklin High boys basketball team over the past 14 years inside what is just referred to as "the field house."

With both the Franklin boys and Franklin girls teams on the fringe of getting a home game in the playoffs, it's possible the last game played inside the field house was Thursday night, a 71-55 loss for the boys team to Catholic Memorial, just their second loss at home this season.

Big enough to fit an airplane -- probably more than one -- the field house has been a house of horrors for opponents for years while giving the Panthers a big advantage. It's sheer size alone is enough to throw off some of the best shooters.

"It's a great place to play a game," said Franklin head coach Dean O'Connor following what possibly could be the last game played there. "It's tough and its certainly an advantage. You start thinking about some of the fun times we've had over the years."

Fun times like two seasons ago when the Panthers beat rival Mansfield in the MIAA playoffs. Or even just last year, when accomplished the same feat, this time in overtime, on a night they celebrated their senior and handed the Hornets just their second loss of the season at the time.

Franklin is near completion of a brand new high school that will opens its doors next fall. Their new gym was be more of a traditional one.

"When I first became head coach, I said you have to win 70 percent of your home games and if you do that, you're going to make the tournament probably," O'Connor said. "We've done that, we've done more than that. There have been years we've gone 12-0. We'll miss it but we're excited for a new building, and we'll see what kind of advantage we'll have there."

They have done more than 70, winning 78 percent of home games over the past 14 years. The size has had its advantages in different stages. It has housed plenty of rambunctious student crowds along the away side baseline, and it has also seen empty games. The size of it combined with a lack of crowd can be just as distracting for opposing teams.

As for those opposing teams, it's fair to say they are ready for a new gym and to do away with the field house.

"Yes and no," said Catholic Memorial head coach Denis Tobin when asked if he would miss it. "Since I became head coach 13 years ago we've been playing here. We've had some good CM wins and Franklin's beaten us in tournament games. I won't miss it though. The background is tough to shoot in. We have some good memories and not so good memories of this place."

A more frequent guest -- and former tenant -- current Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan made it clear earlier this season following the Hornets' last trip to the field house.

"No, not at all," Vaughan said with a smile. "I just went in and chanted tear down the field house. I mean it's a great place, I coached here for three years so I understand the advantage you get here. They come out with a great student body and it's a fun place to play. The new place isn't going to be any different in terms of the atmosphere but you're not going to be playing where they should be pulling airplanes into."

O'Connor also noted a win over Foxborough in what he believes was 2002 that clinched the league title and a big win -- 96-75 -- over Catholic Memorial as two other games that stood out for him.

"There's been a lot of great games here," O'Connor added. "It's a great place to play when its full. It's been a great home court, we'll miss it."

For historical purposes, if Thursday night's game does end up being the final contest inside the field house, Franklin senior Danny McDermott will be the last to score, draining a free throw late in the fourth quarter. And for those are even more interested, CM's Brandon Twitty scored the last field goal and Franklin's Chris Rodgers drained the final three.

Of course, that is if either team doesn't get a home game. But if they do, trespassers beware.