The Brass City Brawlers were deliriously happy after capturing the New England Championship 27-12 against the Southern New England Rage on October 25th.
Story and Photographs By John Murray
The Brass City Brawler football team is the best sports story in the city. It’s not because the Brawlers are East Coast champions in their division of semi-professional football. It’s not because they’re playing for the national championship in Orlando in January against a team from Michigan. No, the football accomplishments are great, but the Brawlers are the best sports story in Waterbury because they really aren’t about football.
The Brawlers are about redemption and second chances.
Coach Richard Bachand has taken a group of misfits and castaways to forge a dynamic football team that is 12-0 this year and one of the top ranked teams in the country. More than half the Brawlers have spent time in prison, many having derailed promising high school football careers by getting in trouble with the law. Bachand has used football to instill loyalty and discipline in these young men and last year 14 enrolled in college. The Brawlers are winning football games, but more significantly, the Brawlers are changing lives.
“Football is a hook to get these guys attention,” Coach Bachand said. “My guys are not throw away guys. I want them to have a second chance. Everyone of these guys wants to belong to something.”
Rich Bachand can be gruff on the sidelines, but the man has a huge heart and has hurled himself into the Brawler mission of giving troubled young men a second chance.
Bachand is the owner and coach of the Brawlers and works the job full-time all year long. The Brawlers play football games, but Bachand demands a year-long commitment to the program and the players perform an extraordinary amount of community service in Waterbury. The Brawlers were involved in the Front Porch Program, helped set up tents and tables and chairs at The Gathering, they cut grass, fix fences and offered to volunteer in several political campaigns. The Brawlers ran a free football camp for kids this past summer.
“Many of my guys are used to taking,” Bachand said, “now they have to give back. It’s amazing what a little self worth will do for these young men.”
The Brawlers played their first season on the dilapidated field at Crosby High School, and this year played a majority of their games at Municipal Stadium. Sometimes there were hundreds of fans at their games, and at other times, hardly anybody showed up. Almost 1000 fans showed up at the championship game in late October.
Hollister Munn #65 fires up the team before each game, Munn was a Brawler last year and is now on injured reserved, but remains an inspiration to his teammates.
The Brawlers are a no-frills team that fixes it’s own equipment, gets dressed on the sidelines before the game, and then dominates the opposition.
In addition to getting 14 players into college last year, Bachand has helped 21 of the players get the first job they’ve ever had. When they get their first paycheck the players are encouraged to bring it to practice and show it to their teammates. ‘We clap and yell and give them positive feedback,” Bachand said. “It makes us all feel good.”
One player brought his paycheck to practice and asked Bachand who FICA was. “I don’t know who this guy is but he took $65 of mine and I want it back,” he told Bachand.
Running back Ernest Jones is a wrecking ball on opposing defenses.
#5 Ocordo Skeen was a terror all season long on defense and was named the Defensive Player of the Game in the New England Championship in October.
Former Wilby High School star Dave Gondek led the Brawler’s high octane offense, and was the offensive MVP in the New England Championship.
Statistics say that 60% of young men who have been incarcerated will get in trouble again and head back to prison. In the two years of running the Brawler program there have been 39 players on probation or parole, and not player has committed an offense in that time.
“Many of these guys come from gangs,” Bachand said. “Now we have a new gang, the Brawlers, and we are doing constructive things. I’m really proud of that. The Brawlers are a family and we keep each other out of trouble.”
Bachand purchased the rights to operate a semi-profesional football team in 2013 and brought his idea to Newington and New Britain and was laughed out of town. Bachand brought his idea to Waterbury and was getting shuffled from person to person until frustrated, he stormed the mayor’s office and demanded to speak with Neil O’Leary. The mayor wasn’t in, and Bachand ended up talking with mayoral aide Geraldo Reyes, who has been the Brawlers #1 supporter the past two years.
“I’ve had second chances,” Reyes said. “I get it. And when I went to the first game and saw five guys on the field with ankle bracelets I knew this was the real deal.”
City officials have embraced the Brawlers, and Bachand said without the support of the O’Leary administration his program would have folded. Even with city support, the program is in dire financial need. Bachand said his operating budget for the year is $50,000 and last year he came up $20,000 short. Every game Bachand has to pay for officials, an EMT, a film crew and a chain crew. It cost $6500 for the uniforms and helmets and $3000 to rent a practice facilty during the winter. The team practices with three footballs and Bachand pays $17 per month, per player, to insure them in case of injury.
The Brawlers have received support from the City of Waterbury, Geraldo Reyes Jr., The Waterbury Observer, Ralph Monti, Curtis Products, Fanny Marone Realty, John Murray, Litte Brown Jud, John Turley, Chase Fitness, BobKen Automatic, Thomas Gahan, John McCormack, Atlantic Steel, Elizabeth Brown and Ken Cox.
“Some people have stepped forward but we need more community support and sponsorships to sustain the program,” Bachand said. “A handful of very nice people sponsored us for $4000, but we need more people to come to the games, and more businesses and organizations to realize what we are doing.”
Coach Bachand was honored by the Correctional Education Association for his work with young men.
Brawler #66 Matt Barker is one of the captains on the team and volunteered on election day to work in the headquarters of State Representative Victor Cuevas on Election Day. On the left is Geraldo Reyes, aide to Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, who became the advocate for the Brawlers in city government.
Coach Bachand said the team winning the New England Championship was an emotional event for dozens of his players who had never been on the winning side of anything in their lives. “There were tears,” Bachand said. “This was the highlight of some of their lives.”
Getting doused with cold water by his players in the waning moments of the championship game was a thrill for Rich Bachand, but football is just a small part of the Brawler program. The players do intense community work and eight Brawlers volunteered to work on election day in downtown Waterbury.
The statistics say that twenty of these young men would have been back in prison if not for Bachand and the Brass City Brawlers. “You can’t put a price on the cost avoidance that the Brawlers produce,” Reyes said. “Rich Bachand’s program is saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and turning around lives. Rich believed in these guys when no one else would. The players would run through brick walls for him.”
One organization that gets what Bachand is doing is the Correctional Education Association of Connecticut that asked him to speak at their annual meeting last month in Rocky Hill. Bachand spoke passionately about the Brass City Brawlers to several hundred attendees and told them about the discipline his players need to succeed. “One white team we played last year started calling us everything you can imagine,” Bachand said. “They called us felons, criminals and the N-word, but our players didn’t respond to that. They have too much to lose.”
When Bachand told the crowd about the unblemished record his players have maintained the audience erupted in applause. When Bachand told them about the 14 young men he helped get into college, the 21 young men he helped secure their first job, the tears the players shed after winning the New England Championship, the audience gave Rich Bachand a sustained standing ovation.
The Brass City Brawlers are a lot more than a superb football team. Rich Bachand has thrown a life line to dozens of men swirling in a void, and along the way, these men might win a national championship.
Efforts are now underway to raise $17,500 to transport the team down to Florida for the championship game. The cost will cover rental fees for six vans, hotel rooms in Florida, meals for 45 players and an entrance fee to play in the semi-professional national championship game on January 17th in Deland, Florida.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for my guys,” Bachand. “This might be the only opportunity for many of these young men to ever travel to Florida, and with help from the community, we’re going to bring the national championship trophy back to Waterbury.”
Donations can be made to the Brawlers travel expenses at;
Checks can also be sent to Coach Rich Bachand at 27 Vivian Street in Newington, CT 06111. Checks should be made out to the Brass City Brawlers.