Longtime Malden resident Henry “Hank” Cutting passed away at 76
By Joe Campagna
With a tip of the hat to Brookline High’s legendary Ed Schultz (92 years young and still going strong), those who were fortunate enough to play for coach Henry “Hank” Cutting during his tenure at BHS would tell you how much respect they had for the no-nonsense Marine with a gentle side who roamed the Warriors football sidelines from 1992-2002.
Cutting passed away last weekend at age 76. He had suffered for more than 30 years with Parkinson’s disease, an affliction associated with exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical linked to health issues for ground troops. Hank served a tour in Viet Nam in 1964 after graduating from Holy Cross’s ROTC program. He also played football and baseball for the Crusaders. During his active duty, Cutting was awarded a Purple Heart and rose to the rank of captain.
He was a longtime Malden resident and former head football coach at Brookline High and former head baseball coach at Catholic Memorial. He was inducted into both schools respective athletic Halls of Fame.
I got to know Hank pretty well over the years, and my admiration grew at each stop along the way. I was coaching football at BHS when he was hired by AD Walter Sargent to replace Fred Dennan. He was gracious enough to allow me to continue on his staff until I stepped down after becoming baseball coach. Hank had an incredible knowledge of the game, worked harder than anyone I ever met and deeply loved the sport and anyone who played it with a similar passion.
Cutting put in more hours than younger colleagues, despite that he was often exhausted from his grinding classroom and coaching schedule. He was already suffering from Parkinson’s, which made him unsteady on his feet at times. But Hank never sat down on the job and wouldn’t take kindly to any coach or trainer providing him assistance. No matter what the team record, following each game, Cutting would be in the stands scouting future opponents, even ones he has already seen multiple times. As a former Marine, shortcuts and half-hearted preparation were never an option.
One Thanksgiving Day, I noticed Hank had tears in his eyes prior to kickoff and assumed he was in more pain than usual. He looked at me as if I should have known the real reason – “These are tears of joy. There is nowhere I would rather be at this moment than getting ready to lead these men into battle.” And battles they were. There was no love lost between the Brookline and Newton North coaching staffs in those days, and Cutting basked in the annual meeting in front of a big crowd. To him, that was high school football the way it should be. Despite being the underdog most years, Hank’s teams won seven of 10 rivalry games, including three in the final minute. He also led BHS to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1996 when his BHS team went 10-1.
Later on I got to see coach Cutting from a parent perspective when my sons played for him. To say he helped make them the men they are today is putting it mildly. Hard to figure out how many lives coaches touch, but for Hank it had to be in the 1,000’s, judging from the outpouring at his wake and funeral held in his hometown of Malden last week. Personally, I was thrilled my boys could have a guy like him teach them not only football, but also about life. When my Matt suffered a knee injury his senior year, Hank slammed the desk in his office and stated, “I can take the losing, but I hate it when good kids end their careers like that.
You would never find a more devoted husband and father. At each game, Hank’s wife of 56 years, Judy, and two daughters would sit in the stands, cheering for BHS and getting a quick bear hug as Cutting exited the field. As assistant AD, I would sometimes sneak into the back of his classroom and listen to Hank talk about historical battles, where he knew every detail by heart. Cutting had a dry sense of humor. At our first coach’s meeting, his son Shaun asked if everyone had remembered to bring a yellow magic marker like the one he was holding. Without looking up from the play sheet he was preparing, Hank said, “The guy that asks that question always has a yellow marker in his hand.” That broke everyone up – as well as the ice.
After 10 years on the job, with his health issues and the program at the beginning stages of a decline that had nothing to do with coaching, Hank was informed he would not be rehired as coach at Brookline. That was tough for everyone involved. Cutting was beloved at the school and in the community. If it was up to him, he would have died on the job, fighting to the end, the way a Marine wants to go out. But it wasn’t his call, and a dejected Cutting soon retired from his teaching position. Hank wasn’t afraid of anything, including death, but I know the thought of no longer being able to do what he loved had to be terrifying.
As we all knew he would, Cutting kept on coaching. He volunteered at Melrose High until he was forced to call it quits when he needed a walker to get around. Despite becoming weaker with each passing season, Hank could still be spotted in recent years at various games, motoring up and down the sidelines in a cart and eventually in a wheelchair.
The last time I saw Hank was 2010, when he was inducted into the BHS Hall of Fame. He was barely audible and had trouble getting the words out for many reasons, including the emotion of seeing so many former players. He stated that he did not remember teams for their won-loss records, but for the character they exhibited. In the midst of his speech he looked up at the somber audience and said in his best Marine officer’s voice, “Don’t anyone here feel sorry for me.” You could hear a pin drop. Classic Cutting.
Like most competitive coaches, Hank and I had our differences over the years. He loved a good argument and could make you feel two feet tall with his icy stare. But I never stopped admiring and trying to incorporate some of his coaching techniques into my own philosophy. He was one of a kind and will be missed by many, from Archbishop Williams, where Cutting was an outstanding student-athlete and coach, to Catholic Memorial, where he taught and coached for the majority of his career.
Coach, on behalf of all the former players and fellow coaches from every school you ever worked at, I just wanted to say thanks for giving kids from many backgrounds a role model they could look up to in every way imaginable.
And of course, thanks from a grateful nation for your service to our country: Semper Fi.
Joe Campagna is a longtime Brookline High School teacher and baseball coach and former colleague of the late Mr. Cutting.