Tom Hammann has been a volunteer coach for the Hopedale High boys basketball team for the last 10 years and his presence has been a plus for the Blue Raiders.
The squad ended its season in March by winning the Division 4 Central Sectional title and sharing the State championship with Abington after the MIAA canceled all playoff finals because of the coronavirus.
The 54-year-old Hammann, who’s lived in Bellingham all his life, is a fan favorite who’s liked by the players and respected highly by head coach Tony Cordani. “Tom is a great guy who’s developed excellent relationships with the players,’’ Cordani said. “He’s helped us so often and his knowledge of the game is a huge asset.’’
Hammann’s savvy and his keen ability to relate to players, whether starters or reserves, make him a valuable asset and obviously a key piece in the Blue Raiders continual success. They finished with a 20-5 record overall.
“My role is to be supportive, especially for the kids who don’t get much playing time,’’ Hammann said. “I try to emphasize the value of teamwork and when I’m asked for advice, I’m happy to give it.’’
Hammann was disappointed the State final against Abington was canceled but doesn’t fault anyone. “It was the right decision on the virus,’’ he said. “There wasn’t any other option. Abington had talent and it would have been a great game. But, we got a piece of the championship. And, we’re the first boys team in Hopedale basketball history to be a State champ.’’
Hammann credits Cordani for scheduling strong non-league opponents. When the dust settled, all of the Division 4 Sectional champs were teams that Hopedale played. The Blue Raiders lost to St. John’s, beat Wayland and bowed three times to Sutton.
“Tony asked his coaches if we wanted to play St. John’s in our opener and we all said yes,’’ Hammann noted. “We said that if we lost, we’d be the best 0-1 team in Massachusetts.’’
Hammann doesn’t sit near Cordani or jayvee coach Tom D’Urso during games. He sits at the opposite end of the bench. “I don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen,’’ he emphasized. “There’s no reason to have three coaches talking to the kids. Every year, one of the players is designated to sit next to me for every game. We talk about the game in progress, about strategy and even things that aren’t game-related.’’
Always upbeat and optimistic, Hammann injects a light spirit when the team’s mood gets tense. “What I liked about our team was its commitment to play at a high level,’’ he said. “They played together and learned some valuable life lessons. They were kind, on and off the court. They picked each other up. And, looking ahead, they know that the memories of 2020 will be good. They’ll cherish them.’’
A tri-captain at Bellingham High during the 1982-83 season, Hammann was the spark that ignited a championship team. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound point guard guided the Blackhawks in stylish fashion, always getting the ball into the right hands at the right time. Hammann kept the engine purring, the link to the squad’s top shooters — Cliff Lander and Roger Canestrari Jr.
And, the results were magnificent — a 17-3 record that led to the Tri Valley League title. At one point, the Blackhawks were 15-0. “When we beat Ashland, we started the game with a 28-0 lead after the first quarter and went on to score 98 points,’’ Hammann recalled.
When the season ended with a loss to Rockland in the second round of the tournament, banquets and celebrations followed. “I remember how the town got wrapped up in our success,’’ Hammann said. “Everywhere you went, people knew who you were and offered their best. It was an exciting time.’’
Hammann created much of that excitement. He started in the backcourt for two seasons, his junior year ending in a .500 campaign. His senior year, however, was one for the books. “We lost Lander in my junior year because of an ACL injury,” Hammann said. “He got back for the last eight games and we won seven. We knew at the end of our junior year that we’d have a special team in our final season.’’
Did they ever!
Hammann averaged 12 points and eight assists a game during that magical run. Lander starred at center, Canestrari was a phenomenal off-guard, and Mike Reed and Pat Tannen were quality players at forward. Kevin Winship often got lengthy stretches of playing time off the bench.
“I was proud to be one of the leaders of the team,” Hammann said. “We were a classic run-and-gun team. Everyone knew their role and no one complained about how many points they got or didn’t get.’’
Hammann took the quarterback reins gladly when coach Jim Bonollo handed him control. And, he used his talents efficiently. “Speed and quickness were my assets,’’ he said. “I liked controlling the tempo, and I’d like to think I was scrappy, hard-nosed and always willing to go to the floor for a loose ball. I could shoot but I loved to pass.’’
Hammann had some super efforts for the Hawks. The Holliston game was one he recalls fondly.
“We were playing in a packed house in Holliston,” he noted. “It was a close game but Canestrari had fouled out. Late in the final quarter, they kept fouling me. I went to the free-throw line 12 times and sank 12 straight shots to give us a one-point win. I was intent to stay calm and never thought about missing any shots. I ended up with 22 points and 12 assists.’’
When Bellingham opened the tourney against Oliver Ames, it won easily — by 28. Hammann finished with 15 points and 10 assists.
Also starring in baseball, Hammann played second base for three seasons. He hit .400 as a sophomore and finished with a .340 career batting average. “Our teams were .500,” he said. “My top thrill came as a sophomore against Holliston. I got a winning RBI-single off all-star hurler Rich Glickman in a 3-2 victory. Holliston was the cream of the crop in the TVL.’’
After graduation, Hammann went to Dean College for two years, playing basketball and baseball. A second baseman, he excelled, hitting .300 for two seasons. In basketball, he played guard in a reserve role. After getting his associate’s degree, he enrolled at UMass-Dartmouth where he majored in history.
“After college, I worked as a substitute teacher in Bellingham,” Hammann said. “I coached junior high basketball and jayvee baseball in Bellingham and Franklin. I also was an assistant in football for Bellingham, coaching the defensive backs.’’
Hammann left education in 1994 and started his own construction company — Hammer’s Construction Co. In 2008, he was hired in Hopedale as the facilities manager for the town’s three schools. Calling his mom (Barbara) and his late father (Richard) role models for their encouragement, Hammann also admires Tom Deffley, his mother’s husband. Hammann’s leisure time is spent coaching in Bellingham’s Senior Youth League (Grades 9-12).
“When I played sports, my philosophy was to work hard and learn from every practice,’’ he said. “When you work hard, good things usually happen.’’
That philosophy became reality during the 1982-83 basketball season. Bellingham dominated by running, shooting, playing defense and rebounding. Hammann was a key ingredient when all those elements merged. He was the sparkplug, always ensuring that the Blackhawk engine ran smoothly and efficiently.
Tom Hammann’s upbeat style and philosophy also paid dividends this year when Hopedale’s boys basketball team became the school’s first State champion in the program’s history.