Quinn: The foundation and formation of UMass’ most passionate fan
Quinn McCarron wouldn't be Reindeer without the everlasting support of his moms
October 24, 2022
The 6-foot-7-inch freshman scanned the Mullins Center crowd. Towels twirling, maroon and white jerseys scattered seats, popcorn crumbs pounded by students’ feet. Everyone was in sync, pumping their fists in the same motion, chanting the same songs. Yet one, spotted from any inch of a packed Mullins, was out of sync with the rest.
Quinn McCarron stood in his freshly thrifted reindeer costume. The hood hid his shaggy brown hair, the red nose bounced as he cheered, the felt antlers hanging on by a thread. It was parents weekend at the University of Massachusetts. He thought it was the halloween dress up game for hockey and that everyone would arrive in costume. Rookie mistake.
Janet and Ann, Quinn’s mothers, received a request for Quinn’s old Chewbacca outfit, but when Janet realized she donated it to Goodwill, plan B came. Determined to help out Quinn, she came home with three options for him: a reindeer, a cow and an army man.
After a scheduling mishap, Quinn figured he’d wear the reindeer costume to the hockey game again two weeks later, when other students were actually dressing up for Halloween.
“UMass won again, and I’m a very average superstitious sports fan. So I’m like, ‘I gotta keep wearing it,’” Quinn says.
Amherst, Mass., resides nearly 40,000 people; in that space holds a small but mighty group of online communicators, thought-givers, opinion producers. Passionate UMass sports fans come together in a virtual community they call UMass Twitter, and to some both on the ins and outs of the digital circle, there is one hero: Reindeer.
While the origin story behind the Reindeer was by way of a thrifted costume and in some ways, a total accident, the two people responsible for the purchase of the costume are Quinn’s mothers. Ann and Janet have always been Quinn’s two pillars, from the simple laughable moments involving old Halloween costumes, to life’s greatest complexities. And that is no accident.
Ann McCarron grew up in Houghs Neck, a one-square-mile peninsula in Quincy, Mass., 10 miles outside of Boston. In the driveway after school with neighbors and her three brothers, or church basketball with friends, the beach town couldn’t escape the thud of Ann’s basketball echoing across the bay. It was constant, she just loved to play.
“She [was] definitely a very tough, under the rim, box-out player … she was a shooter too, she could shoot, I know that,” Quinn says of his mother’s game.
A goal oriented person in every way, Ann found herself through sports. Competition provided protection from the horrors of life off the court.
At the age of seven, Ann became a victim of child sexual abuse. The happy-go-lucky player in her vanished, she felt meaningless. Sports temporarily failed to lift her spirits, as the setback grew too strong for her young self to overcome. But when her junior high school basketball coach looked at the pre-teen, and said “Ann, you can be a great basketball player,” things shifted.
“That’s where I put all my energy in, it gave me my self esteem, playing sports definitely helped me growing up. That’s why I wanted to be the best basketball player in the whole wide world,” Ann says.
Ann captained and started on the first girl’s basketball team to bring Quincy High to the Eastern Mass. tournament in over a decade in the 1980-81 season. Her high school coach told WPI following Ann’s Hall of Fame Induction in 2022, that “her courage, her desire to win, her tenacity, her empathy for others, her leadership cannot be equaled in my thirty years of experience as a coach.”
Ann took her game not far from home, across state lines to what was then Plymouth State College now Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. Her childhood goal of playing in college was fulfilled, but the silence about her abuse never disappeared. She leaned into what she knew best: her tenacity, empathy, and goal-oriented behavior.
In 1998, Ann biked across America.
Fifty days from San Diego to Worcester, Mass., Ann biked to raise money for childhood sexual abuse awareness. At the time nobody talked about it. Ann finally gained the courage to after 28 years, and found that even with turned heads or plugged ears, wincing at the sentences she spoke, she was making a difference.
“That gave me a voice to not be a victim, but be a victor in life.”
Three years later, Ann wanted to accomplish another goal: becoming a mother.
“My mom is so determined with sports so I just thought that is how every mom was,” Quinn says.
The sports loving duo flourished throughout Quinn’s childhood. Attending games with his mom – an associate athletic director at the college level then eventually becoming a fan of his own teams. March was pure madness in the McCarron household. In the white, grayish house with a green door, No. 69 (a joke of Quinn’s friends) on a hill, with a basketball hoop and painted 3-point line, one team evoked strong emotions.
Quinn had hats and sweatshirts, and every March when Chapel Hill and Tar Heel nation celebrated, Quinn bawled. Ann was right there, hugging him and reminding him there’s always next season.
Born in the beginning of the Tom Brady era, and three years shy of the 2004 Red Sox World Series, Quinn was bound to be a sports fan. The passion Ann instilled but Quinn embodied.
Saint John’s Shrewsbury, an all-boys, private catholic high school in Worcester County, had the classic competitive sports environment. Quality athletes, difficult teams to make. Quinn had the height and the love for basketball, but he’d be the first to admit he wasn’t at the skill level. He took that passion elsewhere: he ran cross country for the Pioneers, bringing home the first ever state championship in school history. Off the field, he was just as involved.
“Quintus Maximus, what’s up?”
“Mr. Abdella, the sky.”
It became their little repartee, Charles (Chuck) Abdella explains on the phone with laughter. Abdella is a history teacher at St. John’s Shrewsbury, who first met Quinn when he joined Model UN his freshman year. The more he learned about Quinn, the more impressed he was with him.
“Happy is an unusual default setting for a high school kid … there was stuff going on with Quinn that would give him every reason to not be happy, he was such a happy and upbeat kid,” Abdella says.
Quinn expected to go to St. John’s Shrewsbury, like his cousins did. It seemed to be somewhat of a family thing, but Ann and Janet had additional reasoning.
When Quinn was heading into high school, Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having male support in Quinn’s life was something his moms sought out. Ann wanted to focus on preparing Quinn for high school but instead she was going through chemotherapy.
“I beat that first round and then a year and a half later, it recurred and metastasized to my liver.”
Metastatic breast cancer, the official diagnosis.
“I didn’t think I was gonna make it, I wasn’t going to see him graduate from high school.”
Janet entered Ann’s life when Quinn was seven, and Ann jokes that she kept Quinn alive till he was eight, then they met Janet. The duo became a trio, officially, in what most would call non-romantic circumstances.
Ann was at Dana Farber in Boston, where she had been going for a couple of years, and was on an immunotherapy drug when the oncologist told her that she’d be on chemo for the rest of her life. So she turned to Janet and asked her a question.
“Will you marry me?”
Martha’s Vineyard has always been one of Ann’s favorite places. On their wedding day, she walked down the aisle with Quinn by her side, looking at Janet with the water behind her. Quinn says his mom always goes big, so following the ceremony, a bagpipe parade welcomed the newlyweds down the street.
She ended up going into the hospital right after the wedding because she was so weak, but to her, it lives to be one of the greatest days ever.
Quinn had no choice but to continue high school, even with the possibility that his mother might not be there to see him go through it. Janet took great care of them both, driving Ann to countless doctors appointments, helping Quinn with AP classes, holding them all together.
In the middle of treatment one day of Quinn’s freshman year, Ann got a phone call.
On the other end was St. John’s. Any mother of a high school boy might not expect the best news from the school calling but Quinn was different. The phone call was to let her know that he was one of the four freshmen awarded the John Lane scholarship. The award is about embodying what the school means, the passion, the leadership and perseverance.
To Abdella, he was always happy, upbeat, friendly but always working to always be a little better, a little more mature and focused. By senior year, the Model UN club gave him the role of leading weekly practices, and the group wanted to put Quinn as the face going forward for new members. The thing about Quinn is that no matter what he is talking about, he is passionate.
Every year the club travels to Chicago and when there, goes out right at Millennium Park to play football. All for fun but it’s February, cold and snowy. The year that Quinn was a senior, it was about -20 degrees. He was having trouble breathing due to the extreme cold so Abdella called his mom who responded, “yeah, Quinn will be fine.”
The group got worried for a second, scared even Abdella explained. The leader was down for a moment but got right back up, quickly.
“He is a guy that probably from his earliest age had to be empathetic to people who are in unusual circumstances or circumstances that people don’t think are normal,” Abdella says. “For Quinn that probably made him who he was. He is tolerant, open minded, caring, and that is who we want our students to be, he represents that.”
In his present-day reindeer mode, Quinn saw a young girl ride the Zamboni during a UMass hockey game so naturally he waved. She waved back, she pumped her arms, he pumped his. She got the crowd rowdy.
“Her dad DM’d me about a month later and said she was really inspired by you and started wearing sloth costumes to the game.”
Abby, the 13-year-old, is who Quinn credits a lot to.
Before the unveiling of the national championship banner in October 2021, Quinn camped outside Mullins for longer than 24 hours. Head hockey coach Greg Carvel handed pizza out to students in line and specifically asked, “where’s the Reindeer? I want to give him a slice.”
Months prior, when Carvel was in Pittsburgh making history with UMass hockey, Quinn was in the stands entirely thanks to money raised by members of UMass Twitter. The group came together to raise over $1,000 to send Quinn and others to the Frozen Four.
This past summer, Janet, Janet’s mom and Ann were at the Saratoga Race Tracks. At dinner, there were a few guys talking about UMass, the Amherst area, so Ann struck up a conversation. She explained her son was heading into his senior year.
“Oh, does he play sports there?” the men asked.
“No, he’s the UMass Reindeer.”
You would’ve thought he was Bobby Trivigno or Sam Breen based on the response Ann received. Out of pure love and appreciation for the Reindeer, Ann received box seats for the horse races the next day.
“So [the UMass Sloth DM] was kind of like a big wake up call,” Quinn says, reflecting back to the early days of UMass Reindeer. “After, I thought let me see where this goes. And I really committed to it after that. So I do credit [Abby] for that.”
To 2,300 plus people, both physical fans and virtual followers, he is the Reindeer. Even off campus, “REINDEER” is heard as he ducks on low ceilings at parties, or walks down the street eating pizza. And yes, there are multiple reindeer outfits now. A family friend of the McCarron’s searches Ebay regularly for them.
Quinn, he would say, is the same person as Reindeer. He loves Harry Styles, and just recently got tickets to his show in New York. “That was really cool. The floor seats were insane. It was crazy. I also towered above everybody there. Which was funny.”
His favorite comfort movie? Well he’s a true Massachusetts boy: Good Will Hunting.
Despite his mother Janet being an excellent cook, Quinn claims he is the pickiest eater in the world. Pizza sometimes but mainly he’ll go for a burger, chicken or pasta. The No. 1 dining at UMass isn’t valued by Quinn although he says he is trying. He’ll go in the deli line sometimes and have some spinach here and there.
However he’s addressed by others: Quinn, Reindeer, or “UMass” as his friends from Worcester call him, the same message is there. The different versions of himself all come from his mom’s, the two women he views as the strongest, and a household that holds a deeper bond through sports.
“A quote I just always point to, don’t ever apologize for caring about sports, your team and what you are passionate about,” Quinn says.
Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Lulukesin.