For former Burlington, Mass., high school football coach James Anthony Trentini, Thanksgiving wasn’t just a holiday; it was the pinnacle of football season.
Every year, his daughter Patti remembers, the local rival football teams would play each other on Thanksgiving morning. “I can remember going with him early to games,” said Patti in an oral history recorded by the 9/11 Memorial Museum, “if we had, for some reason, a light snow, to help shovel the field off.”
Despite the blustery Massachusetts cold, James’ trademark was to wear shorts no matter the temperature. “His reason for that was that the kids, his players, couldn’t complain about how cold it was if he was out there in shorts on a subzero day, on Thanksgiving Day,” said Patti.
After the game had concluded, James’ wife, Mary, Patti and Patti’s three siblings usually trundled to James’ sister’s house for the Thanksgiving meal. Patti remembers James running two TVs side by side – before the advent of picture-in-picture – broadcasting two football games at once. Often, a radio would be playing a third game. “That was his idea of heaven,” Patti recalls.
Hailing from a large Italian-American family, sometimes as many as 30 or 40 people joined the family for Thanksgiving dinner, which consisted of many courses. Munching would start around noon with antipasti dishes, nuts, cheeses, fruits, and Italian meats before the pasta dishes were served. The turkey often did not make an appearance until 6 or 7 in the evening.
James was a “controlled eater,” according to Patti, but “food was everything in the world to him.” The family had a running joke that James would never have one course next to the same person. In between servings, James would circle the room and socialize before finding a new spot to settle into. “That way, no one could see how much he really ate,” said Patti.
If a relative brought a guest, Patti remembers, James would gently rib the newcomer by asking them if they were a big eater.
“Because if you are,” he would say, “don’t sit next to me. You might feel embarrassed when you see how little I eat.”
A former teacher, coach, and assistant principal, James retired as the head of the Burlington School District health education department. His wife, Mary, too, had been a high school administrator.
In their retirement, they took every opportunity to travel. On Sept. 11, 2001, James and Mary left their home in Rowley, Mass., and boarded Flight 11 bound for California, where they planned to babysit three of their grandchildren. Mary had mentioned to Patti the night before that she and James were bringing an extra suitcase with them filled with presents for the children.
But every Thanksgiving, James and Mary’s fellow coaches and former colleagues make a toast in memory of the couple. As a tribute to James’ affable spirit, they even wear shorts on the sidelines.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff