The young men stare into the camera from the distant
past. Proudly they hold the five basketballs, which represent victory in far away Chicago, Illinois.
In the second row is the can’t be forgotten trophy which represented a national championship.
Like their hometown community of Fitchburg, these young men of the nineteen twenties represented
so many ethnic groups. There are Finnish, Irish, Greek, Italian and British-American sons of
European immigrants who came to America to better themselves. And standing on the far right of the
photograph is the man who molded them into a national champion the immortal Clarence Noah Amiott.
Proudly the Class of 1926 and its yearbook proclaimed that the
1925-1926 team was best ever known in the history of Basketball at the Fitchburg High School. The
team went through its entire schedule without a single defeat. Well, the class book was incorrect,
the Fitchburg squad did have a single loss in the Tufts Tourney which was regarded as the New England
championship. Fitchburg, despite its solitary loss to archrival Brockton, was invited to the Chicago
Tournament hosted by the University of Chicago and its famous athletic directory Amos Alonzo Stagg.
The Fitchburg five then defeated squads from Billings, Montana, Roswell, New Mexico, Nanticoke,
Pennsylvania, Salem, South Dakota and finally, Fargo, North Dakota.
The Red and Gray starting squad was led by a dynamic duo named Lauri
Myllykangas and John Oliva who provided speed and finesse for the offensive concocted by Coach Amiott.
But this was not a two-man squad. Anastos Fanos was the huge center who controlled the boards, which is
the key for any squad, which tries to win championships. But Fanos was not just a huge player who collected rebounds.
In a key regular season contest he had scored a tremendous twenty points against a strong Manchester West squad. Alfred
Matteo from the Water Street area of Fitchburg worked alongside Fanos giving FHS a strong one-two rebounding punch and David
Allen was Mr. Steady for Coach Amiott’s squad. Substitution in basketball was not as great as modern basketball, but Coach
Amiott did not have to worry when replacements were needed. Players like Tauno Puhakken, Dan Quinn, Jake Morey, and Kenneth
Davis were extremely capable of playing the Amiott game. Young Mr. Davis kept a diary for the Red and Gray and he reported on
the National Championship in the following fashion:
April 3 – Today I had “The thrill that comes once in a lifetime.” At 2:30 p.m. we met Salem, SD
in the semi-finals. Salem certainly was a wonderful team; in fact it was our toughest opponent. Talk
about thrills. You don’t know what they are unless you saw the thrilling hair-raising Fitchburg-Salem
game. With 20 seconds to go in the regular game and Salem leading 16 to 15 captain Myllykangas called
time, to find out how many seconds remained. Now a technical foul was called on Salem because the
coach spoke to the player from the sideline. Then Mylly shot a basket and tied the score. In overtime
we won 18 to 17.
Tonight came the greatest thrill. We best Fargo, ND 25 to 14 in the finals and we were proclaimed the
National Basketball Champions. Gee! It feels great to be a “champ.”
Monday April 5 – It fells good to be home again. Fitchburg certainly gave us an enthusiastic welcome.
It seemed as if everyone was at the station to greet us. I haven’t been able to collect my thoughts.
Yet – I’ve heard too much cheering, yelling and praising.
Seventy-five years later, Fitchburg High still sings the praises of this group of
young men who performed so nobly upon the basketball court and brought glory to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Truly
a team for the ages.
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On the afternoon of January 2, 1917, Fitchburg’s Main Street
merchants saw a unique sight as they peered out the windows of their shops. Hundreds of Fitchburg High
School students were marching up the main thoroughfare of Fitchburg waving class banners while they sang
school songs with tremendous joy. Early that afternoon FHS principal Charles T. Woodbury had announced to
the student body that Alvah Crocker had donated a gift of thirty-eight thousand dollars to the children of
Fitchburg. This donation was to be used for the construction of the most modern athletic facility in the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, if not the whole United States of America.
As the mass of smiling faces reached the Upper Common, they paused for a
moment at the base of Prospect Street. It was then decided that all would ascend the steep street, so that they
could serenade their great benefactor. This was the spirit of the thriving industrial community, which lay upon
the banks of the Nashua River, and the Crocker family truly engendered that community spirit.
Why did Alvah Crocker decide to donate this magnificent gift to the children of
Fitchburg? Apparently one of Mr. Crocker’s young sons had returned home one afternoon with bruised and
bloodied knees, which he told his mother that he had received while playing on the open field, which lay next to
the Nashua River near Circle and Broad Streets. At the dinner table that evening Mrs. Crocker related the story
to her husband, and so the head of Fitchburg’s most renowned industrial family sprang into action. Mr. Crocker
decided that the children of his beloved Fitchburg should have better.
The results of Mr. Alvah Crocker’s actions would be the masterpiece which can
be found today less than one hundred yards from Fitchburg’s Upper Common and bears the Crocker family
name. Alvah Crocker was not an individual who did things in a second rate manner. Only the best would be
asked to construct this new athletic complex. Mr. Crocker contacted the architectural firm established by
Frederick Law Olmsted who had developed Central Park and the Emerald Necklace of Boston in the 19th
century. Planners arrived in Fitchburg and began to plan this most modern of facilities. Their plans included a
clubhouse, running track, open and covered grandstands, a baseball and football field and tennis courts to be
used by Fitchburg’s youth. Throughout 1917 and 1918, while America fought World War One, construction
continued upon the facility. In May of 1919, Fitchburg High played Gardner High in a baseball contest in which
10,000 townspeople attended. Just before the first pitch was thrown, Mr. Alvah Crocker stepped to the mound
and tossed the ball to the catcher. Thousands cheered this friend of Fitchburg.
Eighty years later young men and women get opportunities to play at the
athletic complex known as Crocker Field. The years have brought great changes to Crocker Field, but the
generosity of Mr. Alvah Crocker still shines through at his facility. Visiting players enter Crocker Field and
look in awe at this beautiful park. Students of Fitchburg High School play upon a field, which has seen great
athletic achievement over the last eighty years. At this first Hall of Fame induction once again we would like to
sing out, “Hail to Alvah Crocker.”
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In early October of 1959 mighty Nashua High School traveled
to Crocker Field to take on the Red and Gray of FHS. Fitchburg entered the contest with a 2-0 record but had
not looked particularly strong against inter-city rival Notre Dame the previous weekend. But lightning was to be
unleashed upon the visitors from New Hampshire. Lightnings name was Barry MacLean, and he was to
electrify the city of Fitchburg for the next three years as few athletes have done. Early in the second quarter
MacLean started around the Nashua right side, stopped on a dime and threw a perfect pass to waiting receiver
John DiGeronimo. In the third period Barry raced off tackle and out sprinted the whole Nashua defense. Final
score was Fitchburg 14 Nashua 0.
One week later the Red and Gray took on Gardner High, which it had not
beaten in eight years. Early in the first quarter MacLean took a Gardner High punt on his fifteen-yard line,
sprinted up the visitor’s sideline and eighty-five yards later, he stood in the end zone. A legendary athletic
career had begun. Fitchburg High athletes who saw Barry MacLean run with the football will tell you that he
was the most exciting of all time. One particular MacLean run is frequently mentioned as the most dynamic of
his career. On a brisk and sunny Thanksgiving morning, a heavily favored Red Raider trailed arch-rival
Leominster 14-0, and the fans were very anxious and nervous. Leominster received the second half kick off, but
they were forced to punt to FHS after a few plays. Unfortunately for LHS, the kick settled into MacLean’s arms
and he took off with a blast up the sidelines. Two Leominster players hit Barry at the twenty-yard line, but he
bounced off and continued goal ward. He was hit a second time, appeared ready to go down, but maintained his
balance and then shifted into second or third gear. Eighty-five yards later Barry MacLean stood in the end zone
and Crocker Field was hysterical.
Barry MacLean was simply a fabulous football player. During his three years
at FHS, he was a unanimous choice on the old North Worcester County All-Stars, which was established by the
Fitchburg Sentinel. He was the only area football player to be named First Team All-Star in his sophomore,
junior and senior years. In the years from 1959 to 1961 Fitchburg high had very good football teams, but Barry
MacLean was always the single best player on the field.
During his three years at FHS Barry MacLean was a starter for the basketball
squad. He was never the fanciest player on the basketball court, simply the steadiest. He would dazzle you on
the football gridiron, but he did very easily on the basketball court. Many old timers will tell you that Barry
MacLean could have averaged 20 points a game, but instead he did all the dirty jobs for FHS. If the Red and
Gray needed rebounds, strong defense and precision passes, MacLean got the job done. In Barry’s senior year
Fitchburg High had a wonderful basketball squad led by excellent players like Joe Spagnuola, Larry Shattuck,
Dave Rissanen and Leon Drury, but MacLean was an all star on this team of All-Stars.
Following a 16-2 regular season, the Red and Gray reached the Western
Massachusetts tourney after capturing two out of three victories in the Central Massachusetts competition.
When Fitchburg reached the Springfield College field house, Barry really turned it on against Drury High of
North Adams and Springfield Commerce. Fitchburg lost to Pittsfield and its star Mark Belanger, but old time
fans will tell you that the badly sprained ankle of Barry MacLean took away a victory. Barry was that solid a
basketball player. For his efforts on the court in 1961, Barry MacLean was selected a North County All-Star.
During his sophomore year, Barry played baseball and earned a varsity letter, but decided that track would be his
better sport. He was so very right. Barry MacLean became one of the finest quarter mile runners in the history
of Fitchburg High. Running on the cinder track, Barry’s times were consistently in the low fifties. He was a
District Champion in his senior year with tremendous time just over 50 seconds flat.
How good was Barry MacLean? Ask any Leominster High athlete over the age
of fifty who was the best all around athlete they ever saw and they will tell you Barry MacLean. You will not
get many arguments in Fitchburg either. Barry MacLean was one of a kind on the athletic field.
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It was November of 1941 and the Fitchburg High School Red
and Gray eleven were preparing to face arch-rival Leominster at Doyle Field. The young Raiders begun their
season slowly with loses to Eastern Massachusetts powerhouse Ridge Tech and Arlington, but as the season
progressed the Marty McDonough-coached squad had gained momentum. With solid victories over strong
opponents like Gardner, Belmont, Brookline and Worcester North, the Raiders appeared ready to break a four
game losing streak to Charlie Broderick’s Blue Devils. On Thanksgiving Day the Red and Gray led by Nick
Ricci and Tony Martinez outplayed the Leominster eleven in every department and as the final whistle sounded,
FHS had a choice 14 to 6 victory. This 1941 squad was senior-dominated but there was a young sophomore
playing at safety who had impressed all FHS loyalty with his sharp tackling and booming punts which dug FHS
out of many holes. His name was Charlie Pappas and he had so impressed Coach McDonough that he was
already calling defensive signals. The future looked good for FHS football and the kid from Greek Town.
But world events would soon change many of these expectations. Europe had
been aflame for more than two years as Hitler’s armies marched across the continent. Three thousand miles of
the Atlantic Ocean seemed to have kept America immune from the madness of war. But less than three weeks
after that 1941 Thanksgiving Day contest, things would change for America and also FHS’ number thirty-seven,
Charles Pappas. Japan would bomb Pearl Harbor and America’s youth went to war. Amongst these young men
would be Marty McDonough and that had a direct effect upon FHS football fortunes.
Fitchburg’s football squad would struggle during the war years, but one
individual showed his excellence upon the gridiron. The Fitchburg Sentinel would tell its readers about the
exploits of number thirty-seven of the Red and Gray. Against a strong Gardner squad in 1943 the Sentinel
spoke of “bone busting line cracking by Fitchburg’s Charles Pappas” and on Thanksgiving Day it was reported
that, “Charles Pappas stunned the 8500 fans with a 63 yard punt which soared out of the end zone spiraling far
over DiPasquale’s head and being downed on Leominster’s thirty-seven yard line. And against a strong
Belmont squad from Eastern Massachusetts, the Sentinel said that, “Belmont started the usual desperate aerial
attack which was stopped when Charlie Pappas leaped high in the air on the Fitchburg 30 yard line and came
down with the ball and headed like a steak for the goal line. As he sped up the sidelines, Red and Gray blockers
gathered around him and he raced clear to Belmont’s thirty yard line where he was tripped up by a desperate
tackle.” In his junior year it was reported that Fitchburg’s quarterback Charles Pappas had been selected by the
Wildcats of Gardner High to their all-opponent team. Despite the Red and Gray loss, Pappas’ blocking and
punting had earned him the nod from the Wildcats.
When the football season ended, Charles Pappas immediately would put away
those cleats and hustle to Fitchburg High’s gymnasium to begin the basketball season. In 1943, as World War II
raged, Charles Pappas was a key member of the Red and Gray basketball team, coached by Bill Provenzani
which reached the Western Massachusetts finals with a great 47-43 victory over West Springfield. Ed Kaarela
and Dave Anderson scored in double figures for FHS, but it was the overall brilliance of Charles Pappas, which
carried the Raiders to victory. Throughout his three varsity years on the Red and Gray squad Charlie Pappas
continually made the big play. And then it was reported in the Sportfolio in the Sentinel that, “Some of the
fellows who did so well on the football and basketball teams will be heading out. Most of them are going into
the armed services. Charles Pappas is now a member of Uncle Sam’s team and one whale of a good competitor
will pass from the scene. Pappas was a bundle of dynamite on the football field and a cool basketball performer
and he was the type of youngster who needs no glorifying for being just a high school boy. Charles had a
tremendous amount of poise and balance. He was the kind of athlete that gave a team “guts and backbone.”
Charles Pappas was a great athlete of FHS and now he is a Hall of Famer. The
honor is greatly deserved.
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Nearly eighty years later a member of the Class of 1987, Spiro Kandianis in
writing a remembrance of his final Thanksgiving Game would say the following about Coach Amiott: “The day
of our memorable game was bitter and cold, and Leominster was ahead 6-0 at halftime. Coach Amiott made us
change our muddy uniforms during the half, and it allowed us to warm up and go out onto the field with
renewed determination and spirit. When we got the ball, we came back and scored a touchdown and then the
extra point. We won the game 7-6.”
When Mr. Amiott had to take a leave of absence in 1938 because of the illness
which would ultimately take his life, the Red and Gray dedicated itself to him and wished for his healthy return.
Clarence Amiott was and still is a legend in the community of Fitchburg. From 1913 to 1933 Coach Amiott
directed the youth of FHS to an amazing seventy-nine percent winning record. In two hundred and eleven
football games Coach Amiott’s team won 148, lost 52 and had 11 ties against the finest high school competitors
in New England. His 1933 squad was a perfect 11-0 and claimed the mythical state championship while his
1916 team went 11-1, the 1922 squad team went 10-1, losing only to Proviso High of Illinois, and his 1927
squad went 9-1, giving up only one touchdown during the whole season.
Coach Amiott’s basketball squads won well over three hundred games, which
included numerous district, state and New England championships, and, of course, the 1926 basketball squad
captured the national championship in Chicago, Illinois by defeating schools from all across America. That
squad had an amazing 29-2 record on its way to the national championship. In 1918 FHS cancelled its
basketball season because Coach Amiott had enlisted in the United States Army to win victory in Europe
against the Huns. That lost season really showed the importance of Coach Amiott to FHS and its basketball
But for more important than victories was the influence of Coach Amiott
upon the young people of Fitchburg. He helped to shape character and instilled in all his players the principal of
sportsmanship and self-control. Because of his ideals and because of his personality, all members of his teams
truly admired Clarence N. Amiott. He was the single most important individual in the history of Fitchburg High
athletics. When Coach Amiott passed away on November 12, 1942, the whole city of Fitchburg mourned their
great Coach Amiott.
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In 1972 the United States Department of Health, Education and
Welfare drew up regulations pertaining to the Title IX of the education Amendments Act of 1971, which made
discrimination by reason of sex unlawful in schools receiving federal aid. The regulations called for equal
expenditures on women’s sports and equal access to sports and physical education facilities. This was the
Magna Carta of women’s sports in America. Deborah Dion graduated from Fitchburg High School in the class
of 1972. She was unfortunately excluded from the major benefits of Title IX while she attended Fitchburg High
School. Upon graduation from FHS, Debbie Dion went to college at Fitchburg State College where she was
able to excel in basketball, softball, volleyball and tennis throughout her four years at FSC. In 1976 the Falcon
basketball squad led by Debbie Dion was co-champs of the Massachusetts State College League and won the
E.A.I.A.W. Invitational Championships. Obviously her athletic abilities at Fitchburg State were proven and she
was inducted into their Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
But what about Debbie Dion at Fitchburg High School during the late 1960’s
and early 1970’s. Her high school coach at Fitchburg High, Elsie Studley, referred to Debbie Dion as the finest
women’s basketball player that she has ever seen at FHS. During her senior year Debbie averaged 23.5 points a
game while scoring 257 points in eleven varsity contests. Against Holy Family she dropped in an astonishing
fifty points in leading the Red and Gray to victory. This is still the most points ever scored by a female
basketball player at FHS. In that season of 1972 Debbie was the key player in leading her to key victories over
arch rival Leominster, St. Bernard’s and Gardner. That 1972 squad was really one of the pioneers for women’s
sports at Fitchburg High. Kids like Beth Rahnberg, Casey Ratcliff, Debbie Bennett and Debra Belliveau along
with Hall of Famer, Debbie Dion were breaking new ground every time they walked upon a basketball court.
Unfortunately Debbie Dion did not have the opportunity to play a full varsity schedule of twenty games with
post-season tournaments. How many points would she have scored if she had been given the chance?
When one looks at old yearbook pictures of the basketball contests played in
1971-1972, the pictures seem somewhat wrong. The uniforms are not very snappy and fans are almost
non-existent. But still, one cannot ignore a season scoring over twenty-points and fifty-points and in a single
contest. Today’s young ladies who got the opportunity to play tournament games in front of hundreds of fans
should be grateful for these early efforts.
Debbie Dion was a standout in her era playing against more established
schools, which had been contesting in basketball games for a much longer time. In her senior year Fitchburg
was very competitive against all of their opponents and was primarily through the efforts of Debbie Dion. It is
only fitting that Debbie Dion, Class of 1972, should be a member of the Fitchburg High School Hall of Fame.
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Shortly after graduating from Fitchburg High School in 1976,
Doug Romano was quoted in the Fitchburg Sentinel saying, “When I was in high school, I tried to get the most
out of it that I could. I was always busy and I tried to get in as many different things as was possible.” This
small statement is a very good summary of a high school career, which included athletics, class leadership and
even stage acting. Doug Romano was the picture of the true student athlete.
During his three years at FHS, Doug Romano never stopped competing. Under
Coach Marco Landon he was a three year starter at the end position on both defense and offense. When the
gridiron season was completed, Doug would immediately head to the FHS gymnasium and begin basketball
practice where he played for three years under Coach Doug Grutchfield. As the spring months rolled around,
one could find Dougie walking down to Crocker Field to practice tossing the discus and the shot put. The kid
did not have any spare time. And Doug Romano was excellent in all three of these athletic competitions.
Fitchburg High football during the mid-1970’s was good, never great. Even
Doug will tell you that his squads were somewhat undermanned in those years. Kids like Dan Wuoti, Jason
Thomas, Louis Pappas and Doug Romano gave everything they had, but sometimes they came up a little short.
But the effort was never lacking, particularly in the case of Doug Romano. His hard hitting efforts at defensive
end and tight end did not go unnoticed by football observers of Central Massachusetts’ football.
Following his senior gridiron campaign, Doug Romano was named to
numerous All Star teams and was selected for the prestigious Harry Agganis All Star football game held every
summer at Lynn’s Manning Bowl. That was particularly fitting since Doug’s head coach Marco Landon had
played with the great Agganis at Boston University. The colleges did not ignore Romano’s efforts during his
FHS football career. UMass, UConn and UNH came knocking on Doug’s door with scholarship offers
following his senior year. He accepted a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire and he was selected
the Wildcat’s captain after his three years as a starter at the tight end position.
But Doug Romano’s high school career as a basketball player might well have
been more distinguished than his gridiron career. Under the coaching of Doug Grutchfield the Red and Gray
had wonderful basketball squads in the mid-1970’s. With teammates like Ray Spagnuola, Dave Caputi, Tony
Jones, Joe Dizuzio and Mike Petrides, the Red and Gray were always in the tight of District championships. In
Doug’s junior year, the Raiders, with excellent play from the squad, captured FHS’ first District title in nearly
twenty-five years. But it may have been an effort in his senior year, which symbolized the type of athlete that
Doug Romano was. Following sixteen points from St. John’s Mike Palazzi in the first half, Coach Grutchfield
made a change. As he stated, “In the second half we decided to switch to a diamond and chaser with Doug
Romano on Palazzi. He got just two points in the second half and that was the difference. Their offense was at
a standstill.” By the way, Doug Romano also scored a game high 22 points in that St. John’s game. Doug
Romano was not the fancy basketball star, but he always did the little things that led to victory for FHS.
When discussing athletic highlights, Doug always spoke fondly of a team
victory, which could well have been his personal favorite athletic moment at FHS. In his senior year, Doug and
teammates like Mike Gallo, Louis Pappas, Peter Bergeron, Garnett Ricks, Joe Blackwelder and others helped
FHS capture the District III Class A Track and Field Championship. Doug recalled the sprinting of teammates
like Louis Pappas and Mike Gallo and the long distance efforts of Peter Bergeron and Chris Woods. He did not
mention the efforts in the discus of a certain Doug Romano.
At the conclusion of his senior year, Doug Romano was awarded Fitchburg
High’s General Excellence Award, which is the school’s highest honor. His excellence on the playing fields
contributed to this award, but Doug Romano was class president for three years and won the best actor’s award
in the competitive plays in his junior year. Doug Romano was the true scholar-athlete at FHS, and now he is a
member of the FHS Hall of Fame.
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In 1913 the Red and Gray reported that the students of FHS
were extremely happy that the Fitchburg School committee has selected a dynamic Clarence N. Amiott to lead
the athletic program at FHS. It was also reported in that issue that Edward A. Adams had enrolled in Tufts
Medical School. So it was that those two individuals whose lives would become so entwined in Fitchburg High
School sports that we would have their stories reported in the very same issue of the Red and Gray. In his early
years, Edward Adams had played football on the same squad with slightly older Clarence Amiott. Theirs was a
relationship, which would prosper and endure until Clarence Amiott’s untimely death in 1942.
The FHS class book of 1913 reported, “that Eddie has been in the limelight for
a good while, and has played on the football team for a couple of years and when he has nothing else to do, cuts
meat to keep in condition. Finds time to have a good time.” Interesting that a future team physician would get
great pleasure out of cutting meats.
Dr. Adams graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1917 and
practiced surgery at Burbank Hospital for more than 36 years. In 1929 Edward Adams had been selected as the
first Team Physician for all High School athletic teams. It’s not surprising that Clarence Amiott was the athletic
director and football coach at this particular time. For the next three decades Dr. Edward Adams would be a
familiar sight at the Red and Gray football games as he tended to the numerous injuries that might occur during
a football contest. When the autumn days began to turn colder, Doctor Adams could be seen emerging from the
Crocker Field clubhouse with his famous raccoon coat, which was directly out of the 1920’s. When that
raccoon coat appeared, FHS gridders knew that the Thanksgiving game would soon be upon them. In his later
years, Dr. Adams would always be accompanied by his trusty black umbrella. He suffered from a sever case of
rheumatoid arthritis, which had a crippling effect upon his ability to walk, and he always had to keep dry. Thus
the need for that black umbrella. But you could not keep Doctor Adams away from Fitchburg High football
games particularly during the Amiott Era. They were simply good friends and when the great coach passed
away at a much too early age, Doctor Adams was deeply affected. He wrote a beautiful poem expressing his
feelings and the community’s feeling to Clarence Amiott:
Lap gently, sea beneath the tropic sun,
Upon those feet whose final race is won,
Those feet, which made the path, we strive to tread,
That lonely path to greatness where he led,
Warm breezes o’er him may you gently blow,
Dispersing mountains of this love we know,
To teach the mind, the hand, the heart and steel
The courage – those gifts to us we shall feel
Bright sun, press warmly on him, where he rests,
Caress that noble heart within his breast
Now stilled, yet such great strength did have to give
To us and to ours, it still shall live.
Dear friends, tread softly as you near this mound
Which his great love has made a hallowed ground;
Warm sands, be kind, embrace him gently there;
Keep him, dear God of men, within they care.
This wonderful poem is a great tribute to Coach Amiott, but it also shows the
heart of a great individual, Doctor Edward Adams. When Doctor Adams passed away in January of 1963 his
honorary pallbearers included these men of Fitchburg High, Martin McDonough, Edward Sullivan, Ralph
Howard and Stephen Woodbury. This way was proper for this man of FHS. His good friend Dr. Paul Cochrane
said that Doctor Adams expressed the idea that FHS sports, and the opportunity to be involved, gave him more
than he ever gave it. Doctor Adams, we think you are wrong and now we would like to make you a Fitchburg
Hall of Famer.
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In The Boulder for the Class of 1947 a young Paul Cochrane, who is
described as a sturdy football end, when asked about his future stated that his future would be experienced as Doctor
Paul Cochrane. Few high school seniors are so aware of their own possibilities. And because this member of the
Class of 1947 was so correct, the community of Fitchburg and the Fitchburg High School community have been blessed.
Always a self-effacing individual when Paul Cochrane was asked to give his remembrances
of the Turkey Day Classic stated, “Those were the days of Skip Salvatore, Dave Chester and a junior named Marco Landon.
My memory of those games was one of survival particularly in my senior year. I can remember chasing Salvatore and Chester
all over the place. I don’t remember catching them ever. I was grateful to come out of the game with a 7-6 victory will
all my parts reasonably intact.” Doctor, you must have done a fairly good job back in 1946 because those powerful Blue
Devils did only score one touchdown!
Upon graduation from Fitchburg High School, Paul Cochrane enrolled at Middlebury College
in Vermont in a pre-med program and after four years he was accepted to Tufts University of Medicine, which was the same
school from which Edward Adams had graduated thirty-five years earlier. While Paul was at Middlebury College he continued
playing football for the Vermont squad. So maybe that rather small FHS defensive end was not that bad a football player.
After his years at Tufts Medical, Doctor Cochrane served an internship and residency at
Waltham General and Worcester City Hospitals, and returned to Fitchburg in July of 1958 to begin a Family Practice. It
was shortly after his return to his hometown that Doctor Cochrane began to assist Doctor Adams who was having great
difficulty with arthritis. Soon Paul Cochrane was taking on a large share of duties of team physician of his beloved
Fitchburg High School. For more than forty years the student athletes of Fitchburg have been cared for by this quiet
unassuming man who bleeds Red and Gray through his blood vessels.
During those more than forty years of service to FHS, Doctor Cochrane has seen many different
kinds of things at Crocker Field on the playing field, but also in the stand. He has been called into the grandstands to
care for individuals who have had heart attacks, strokes, dizzy spells, asthma attacks or simply drank too much alcohol and
fell down and broke an arm or a leg. In a contest at Crocker Field an opponent’s end caught over his head in the end zone
for a touchdown. The young player ran off the field with his arm over his head. Doctor Cochrane felt the young man might
have been showboating, but when he reached the opponent’s bench his arm remained over his head. Paul was called across the
field and the kid had not been showing off, he had a dislocated shoulder. Doctor Cochrane had the boy straightened out easily
since this young athlete had suffered similar problems; all in a day’s work for both Doctor Cochrane and the young football player.
The name Warren Muir brings a ready smile to the face of Paul Cochrane. Of course, you are not a
Red Raider fan if the memory of Fitchburg High’s All American does not make you smile. One incident which he remembers showed the
intelligence of Warren Muir as well as his athletic prowess. The opponents kicked the ball toward Warren, but the punt bounced in
front of Warren and it was surrounded by the other team. If memory serves me right, that opponent might well have been the Blue Devils.
No whistle was blown by the officials. Warren scooped up the ball and headed for the end zone. The opponents just stood and watched,
thinking the play would be called back. When the officials raised their hands for touchdown, there were some embarrassed faces on the
field. You never expected any less from Warren Muir. Doctor Cochrane has cherished that memory for nearly forty years.
The nineteen-nineties have been especially enjoyable for Fitchburg’s beloved physician. He has stood
on the sidelines with his son-in-law and cheered for the Raiders as they brought glory back to FHS. Thanksgiving morning we will
find Doctor Cochrane quietly standing on the sideline ready to help any young athlete in distress. But as the men of FHS like Zack
McCall, Ricky Morales, Chris Roy, Todd Steffanides, Danny Schneider, Frank McDonald, Jason Twomley, Marcus DiNatale and so many others
have provided Fitchburg with another Turkey Day victory, Paul Cochrane smiles inwardly and loves every minute.
Doctor Cochrane wrote that he is very proud of my school, my teachers, coaches and students. His wife
and three children graduated from FHS and all have done well in their chosen professions. He stated that he has been very fortunate
to be involved in the sports programs at FHS over these many years. Fitchburg High is honored by his presence and today he deservedly
becomes a member of the new Hall of Fame of the Red Raiders.
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The year was 1938 and the events, which would lead to World War II, were happening
all across the continent of Europe. In that year a young Finnish boy of eleven entered the United States and soon found his way
to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The young boy’s name was Erkki Koutonen and his life would become an All American story.
The young immigrant youth soon found himself in school and within a short period of time he was enrolled
at B.F. Brown Junior High School where he would be profoundly influenced by two of his teachers. One was his gym instructor Voitto
Lassila, and the other was his seventh grade manual arts teacher, William Provenzani and each would have a great effect upon young Erkki.
Following his years at B.F. Brown, Erkki enrolled at FHS and was competing for the Red and Gray. In 1944, Erkki was a solid member of
the Red Raider basketball squad which went to the Western Massachusetts tournament under Coach Provenzani. But World War II had its
influence upon Erkki’s life. Before he could finish his senior year at Fitchburg High, Erkki was drafted into the service and became
a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. While serving in the Marines, Erkki received two important documents, his high school diploma and
his citizenship papers.
Following his years in the service, Erkki entered the University of Michigan in 1947 with the help of his
teacher and friend, Voitto Lassila. Mr. Lassila was able to convince the people at Michigan that this young man from Fitchburg had
tremendous athletic potential. Erkki Koutonen certainly proved his friend and mentor correct when he was selected for the United States
Olympic team, which competed in the London Olympics of 1948. Erkki Koutonen’s event was called the Hop, Stop and Jump back in the 1940’s
and 1950’s and today we know it as the Triple Jump. This young 22 year old was representing his new county, the United States of America,
and his hometown, Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Erkki did not win gold, silver or bronze, but his efforts were good enough for his old hometown.
Following the Olympics, Erkki decided to leave the University of Michigan so that he could remain close to his beloved Thelma.
But education was not forgotten and so Erkki entered Fitchburg State Teacher’s College in the Industrial Arts
program. He would follow in the footsteps of his old manual arts teacher William Provenzani. Graduating from Fitchburg Teacher’s in 1948,
Erkki would teach in Grafton and Bedford before returning to FHS in 1957. From 1957 through 1959, Erkki was an assistant coach for the
outdoor track team under Coach Joe Hannon and became the head coach in 1960. He also helped establish the FHS boy’s cross-country program
in 1959. In his very first year as the cross-country coach his squad was undefeated in dual meets and his sensational runner Dennis LeBlanc
finished in the top five in the State Championship.
During the 1960’s Coach Koutonen established a program at Fitchburg High School, which was second to none in
Central Massachusetts. His cross-country squads had an overall record of sixty-five wins and only twenty-seven losses during this period.
His 1961 squad captured the Class B Championship and FHS captured nine consecutive Class A Lunenburg Invitational Championships. But his
outdoor track and field teams were even better. His teams had an astonishing record of 70 wins and only 19 losses in dual competitions while
capturing seven North Central Mass. Conference Championships and five District III titles. For his efforts as a track and field and
cross-country coach, Erkki Koutonen was elected into the Massachusetts Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame where he was considered a giant
in his field.
Erkki Koutonen was always a giant of a man, but he was truly a gentle man who truly loved the young students
with whom he came in contact. Erkki’s squads from 1959 to 1974 won many victories for the Red and Gray but the score was never important to
Coach Koutonen. He cared for and helped all athletes, not just kids who competed for FHS. Winning track meets was something important, but
Erkki Koutonen felt it was more important to develop young men who had started out in competition as boys. When he passed away in 1987,
Fitchburg lost a completely unselfish and dedicated human being. He was an Olympian and an All American. Now he is a Fitchburg High Hall
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As the 1961 edition of the Red Raider football team stared at the camera for the team photo,
number forty-one, Barry MacLean sat in the middle of the first row. This future FHS Hall of Famer was preparing for his final year of play
for the Red Raiders. But if you looked closely at that picture, you would have noticed two very young faces staring intently at the camera.
One wore the number twenty-eight which would be made part of FHS athletic history and his name was Warren Muir. Standing close to young
Muir was a young man who wore a low number in the teens, and was listed as a back. This was freshman Jack Jerszyk who would not wear number
fifteen for long, but who would remain closely connected to his fellow classmate Muir.
Soon that young freshman would be wearing the number seventy-four as he developed into an imposing force along
the Red and Gray offensive and defensive lines as the Class of 1965 developed into a cohesive football machine. Jack Jerszyk and his fellow
teammates Dennis Daulton, Steve Morey, Dennis Belliveau, Steve Allaire and Bob Girouard would open the holes through which their brilliant
halfback could sprint. Jack Jerszyk always said it was the team effort which made the football season of 1964 so special for its members.
There was intense pride as the squad developed an all for one attitude as each passing contest saw success.
When one reads the old faded pages of the Fitchburg Sentinel in the fall of 1964, Muir and junior tailback
Bernie Araujo, along with quarterback Ricky Lehto, are gaining huge amounts of yardage and lots of this yardage was found behind the awesome
blocks of the offensive line especially from two of the tri-captains Jack Jerszyk and his pal Dennis Belliveau. Coach Stan Goode loved the
play of his line as they swept away enemy defenders.
In their junior year, many of this Class of 1965 had shown their ability with a terrific performance against
Leominster at Doyle Field when they routed Leominster 20-0. In that contest, big number seventy-four was all over the field knocking Blue
Devils to the gridiron as the Red Raiders dominated Leominster. Over and over FHS running plays went behind huge blocks thrown by Jack
Thanksgiving morning of 1964 was so typical with its gray sky and bitter cold. Fitchburg came into the contest
with a 6-0-2 record with ties against Nashua and Gardner. Heavily favored, the senior Red and Gray squad would meet an inspired LHS eleven,
which led 8-6 late in the fourth quarter. Coach Goode turned to Muir and his senior offensive line led by Belliveau and Jerszyk to bring
victory to Fitchburg. They did not fail. Three years of comradeship came together in that final drive. Jerszyk, Daulton, Belliveau and
Girouard were leveling the Leominster defense. And Muir was just being Muir. Finally the end zone was achieved.
Thirty years later Jack Jerszyk spoke of the victory cigars smoked in the shower room by coaches Goode, Conway
and Landon with their players. Tri-captains Jerszyk, Muir and Belliveau had snuck the stogies into the clubhouse for post-game celebration.
He recalled the feeling of togetherness, which the Class of 1965 had at that moment of their lives. They and their coaches were truly a
team and Jack and his teammates always savored that precious moment. Teammates are forever.
Jack Jerszyk was awarded a full athletic scholarship to play football for the Minutemen of the University of
Massachusetts following his graduation from FHS. Following college he lived and taught in New Jersey, returning to Fitchburg High in the
early 1990’s to teach in the special education program. Jack’s battles on the football field paled in comparison to his courageous efforts
in his final days. His friends, teammates, and fellow teachers can never forget that final effort. Jack Jerszyk was a true Hall of Famer
in that courageous effort.
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Early in 1962, Red Smith, the nationally renowned sports writer for the New York Times wrote
a column about a good football squad, which had played at Boston University under the leadership of “Buff” Donelli in 1952. Smith called
the squad a good but not great team with several superior athletes. Amongst the athletes were the great Harry Agganis of Lynn, Tom Gastall,
John Pappas and an outstanding lineman named Jim Meredith. This squad, which achieved a record of 7-2 played against some of America’s best
squads like the University of Maryland and Miami University. But unfortunately it was a cursed squad. Smith told how John Pappas died of a
brain hemorrhage following a contest at Syracuse, how Harry Agganis, our up and coming star for the Red Sox suddenly died of a brain clot in
1953 and how Tom Gastall crashed in a small plane in Chesapeake Bay.
Smith then wrote about Jim Meredith of Fitchburg High and I quote, “And then there was Jungle Jim Meredith.
After graduation he was commissioned in the paratroops. He had a bad landing in Germany and broke a leg. Cancer developed and the leg
Naturally he couldn’t fly or jump or fight anymore. They made him a wooden leg and he went back to Fitchburg
and worked there as assistant coach for the Fitchburg High football team, stumping about on his artificial gam.
The news dispatch that started this whole piece was about him. It said that Jim Meredith, twenty-nine years
old, had died of cancer in Fitchburg.”
Red Smith of the New York Tribunes respected the memory of Jim Meredith, but the members of the FHS Class of
1962 may very well have honored Coach Meredith in the best fashion:
The Fitchburg High School will always revere the memory of Mr. Meredith. Whether on the football field or in the classroom, he was a
splendid example of a dedicated teacher and a true friend. His unselfish devotion and guidance to his students were characteristics of his
many years at Fitchburg High. How can we, the Class of 1962, ever forget the warmth and good humor that he continually radiated? The sun
has now set. Long gray shadows of evening have enveloped his body, but not his soul. When God called for such a fine individual, we suffered
a great loss – heaven gained a great man. It is to Mr. Meredith, that we, the Class of 1962, dedicate our support.
Jim Meredith graduated from Fitchburg High School in 1950. Earning letters for baseball and football during
his sophomore, junior and senior year. In his senior year at FHS in which the squad compelled an outstanding 7-2-1 record, Jim Meredith was
a co-captain and he was named first-ream for the Worcester County All-Stars. During his three football campaigns, Jim’s FHS squads had a
19-6-5 record against very rough competition including the likes of Watertown, Woburn, Brookline, Wakefield along with arch-rival Leominster
But Jim Meredith was more than an athlete at FHS. His yearbook remembered Jim as, “A dynamic student excelling
in athletics who is active in class student council activities while being very good at football. A great addition to our class, he is always
willing to help.” That was the Jim Meredith beloved by Red and Gray fans of all ages.
During his last year Jim could be seen at Crocker Field encouraging the Red Raiders to greater glory. From 1957
to 1962 Jim Meredith was a daily reminder to every FHS student of loyalty to his country and his high school. He was a man to truly admire.
He was always a Fitchburg High Hall of Famer. His untimely death was a great loss for our community.
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In the year 2001, individuals like Mia Hamm, Lisa Fernandez,
Joan Benoit Samuelson, Dot Richardson, Jackie JoynerKersey, and Chris Evert are almost household names.
These were young women who got an opportunity to show their athletic prowess in the late 1970’s and throughout the
1980’s. Unlike their mothers who never really got a chance to have “a league of their own”, women
of the last twenty-five years have had their day in the sun.
Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and Fitchburg High School was privileged to be able to
watch one of America’s finest overall female athletes. Her name is Kathleen Erin Lawler and anyone who has
ever watched Kathy compete knows that he or she has watched a true Hall of Famer. Growing up in
the early 1970’s, Kathy was part of a New England generation that turned on Channel 38 and watched
the amazing Bobby Orr. When her brother Kevin went off to the Wallace Civic Center to practice
for his Youth Hockey team, Kathy asked, “Why can’t I?” Well, she could! In 1972 when Kathy was
eleven years old, she was the second leading scorer in Fitchburg Youth Hockey. That was not a
girl’s league, it was a boy’s dominated hockey league. But nobody dominated Kathy Lawler.
During her three years at FHS as a member of the class of 1979, Kathy Lawler earned
three varsity letters on the FHS cross-country team, and was awarded the Coaches Award in 1978 for her
dedication to the squad and her school spirit. Kathy played varsity softball in the years from
1977 through 1979. During those three seasons Kathy was named softball MVP each and every year.
In 1979, Kathy Lawler received recognition by the High School All-Americans for Athletic Ability,
Scholarship, Leadership and Sportsmanship, which recognizes all aspects of an individual high
But that is not why Kathleen Erin Lawler was selected by the Hall of Fame Committee
for this great honor. Kathy Lawler was American Sport’s pioneer just like Mia Hamm or Joan Benoit
Samuelson and her game was hockey. Barriers were broken by this tremendous athlete at every
single game. During her years at FHS, Kathy was given an opportunity to play varsity hockey by
Coach Bill Putnam and she never looked back. Kathy Lawler was never a token in a men’s hockey
program, she was simple a teammate. In the 1970’s, the North Central Hockey League was good
hockey and Kathy Lawler fit right into the scheme of things. In 1979 Kathy Lawler’s #10 was
retired by the school, and February 28, 1979 was declared Kathy Lawler Day for her contributions
to the FHS Hockey team. Later in that year, she was featured on Channel Four’s Evening Magazine
in which her unique story was told to the people of New England
But Kathy Lawler’s accomplishments did not end when she graduated from FHS.
Upon the urging of her hockey coach, Bill Putnam, Kathy entered Pottsdam State, which was located in
Upstate New York. Miss Lawler from Fitchburg, Mass. immediately set the college hockey world on
fire. In 1979-1980 Kathy scored 73 goals and had 45 assists for a total of 118 points, which was
an all time record for intercollegiate ice hockey men or women. Two years later she broke her own
record with 93 goals, 30 assists and 123 points. When Kathy finished her college career she had
amassed an amazing total of 293 goals, 157 assists and 450 total points. The statistics are truly
Kathy Lawler may have been born ten years too early. We at Fitchburg High School
truly believe that she would have been a member of that Women’s Olympic Hockey team that captured the
first Olympic Gold in Nagano, Japan. Kathy Lawler was always Fitchburg High’s gold medal girl.
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In the storied athletic history of Fitchburg High School, certain family names
continue to appear over and over again cross the decades. Named like Fillback, MacLean, Pappas, DiGeronimo, Glenny and Earley
appear on the honor roll of FHS performers. Many of these family names appeared wearing the Red and Gray in the earlier decades of the
1920's through the 1970's. But the Earley family is a much younger name found in the Fitchburg High annuals. Bill,
"Bull" Earley was a line-breaking fullback for Fitchburg in the early 1980's while brother, Harvey, was a sweet shooting
guard on the Red and Gray squad which played for the state basketball championship in 1985. Today, young William
Earley, Class of 2005, has shown tremendous ability in his freshman year playing for FHS and Coach Ray Cosenza.
But let's not forget the ladies in the Earley family. Sisters Leona and Louella Earley
came to the track program of FHS in the early 1980's and proceeded to set their own standards of excellence. Sister
Leona was very good, but Louella Earley was truly special. There was almost nothing that she couldn't achieve in track
and field during her years at FHS, whether it be the 45 yard dash during the indoor competition or the high jump or 200
meter sprint on the outdoor track.
During her 1983 season, Louella Earley was setting records across the board, but there
was one event in which she particularly stood out as an athlete, and that was the long jump. In the spring of 1983,
Louella Earley leaped an amazing seventeen feet, ten and one half inches to win the District championships. Girls from
all across Central Massachusetts would attempt to top Louella's effort in the 1980's and 1990's and it was only last
season that her efforts were topped by one eight of an inch. With all the improved technology and improved facilities
of the last twenty-years, for Louella to hold onto that long jump record for such a long period of time was tremendous.
Louella loved to compete individually, but she really got great pleasure at the
opportunity to run the relay events during her outdoor seasons. In 1983, she teamed with her sister Leona and the Crute
sisters, Kim and Felicia, in the 4 x 110 relay event and this foursome ran their specialty in an amazing time of 50.9
seconds. District teams have not touched this achievement in nearly twenty years. One of the great aspects of this relay
triumph was that Louella was handed the baton for the final leg from her sister Leona. Along with the relay and long
jump records, Louella held records for FHS at one time in the high jump, 200 meters and the indoor 45 yard, 50 yard
and 300 yard dash.
Coach Steve LeBlanc said that Louella Earley was a quiet performer who avoided the
limelight. She would come to Crocker Field and get the job done with very little fanfare. Records did not mean
anything to Louella, although she established many. If Louella was way ahead of her competition, she would slow
down and allow competitors to finish close to her, but never ahead. If the hundred-yard dash were to be won, Louella
would do the job, but never embarrass opponents.
In a competition against a Shrewsbury High athlete in 1983's Districts, Louella
surpassed her competition in each jump of competition by a single inch or two. When the opponent jumped 15 feet 5
inches in the track, Louella jumped 15 feet 6 inches. In the finals, when the opponent leaped a terrific 17 feet, Louella
blasted her record setting 17-10 ½ effort. The true superstars always rise to the occasion. This shy and quiet young
lady always made Fitchburg High proud of her efforts and now she belongs to our Hall of Fame.
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When Doug Grutchfield is asked to name his best basketball player
during his thirty one years at Fitchburg, he avoids answering that question directly because he does not want to
slight any of his former players. But ask Coach Grutchfield who he felt was the toughest kid that he ever coached
and one name leaps from his lips, Mike Lasorsa, Class of 1973. "Grutch" will tell you that Mike Lasorsa would run
through a wall to bring victory to FHS. If you ever watched Mike play at the old Brickyard on Academy Street, you know
that to be really true. Mike played three years of basketball at Fitchburg and in his senior year he co-captained the Raider
squad while being named to the Telegram and Gazette All-Star squad and the Central Mass. All-Star squad.
But Mike Lasorsa is not remembered by loyal FHS fans for his exploits on the
basketball court, but rather for his play upon the gridiron. Fitchburg High has been noted for its small and shifty
running backs who could elude enemy tacklers with relative ease. Kids like John Marabello, Richie and Ralph
Boudreau, Dennis LaCross and Chuck Aiesi come to mind. But pound for pound, Mike Lasorsa was the
toughest of them all.
In 1971 the Fitchburg High School football team was not supposed to be very
strong. Coach Marco Landon had lost lots of excellent players from his 1970 squad and it appeared that the fall
of 1971 would be long and difficult. Steve Ciccolini, Bill Gamache and Steve Richard would form a solid
senior group. And then a kid named Lloyd LeBlanc stepped forward and the Red and Gray kept getting better
and better. Playing in the backfield with LeBlanc was a 150 pound scat back named Mike Lasorsa who was
very difficult to bring down to the turf. Fitchburg peaked at the right time. When the citizens of Fitchburg
arose on Thanksgiving morning, they looked out their windows and saw 18 inches of snow. The Classic was
Leominster was heavily favored against the Raiders. But Coach Landon and
his assistants had a good feeling about their kids. LeBlanc was running well, Tom Landon and Dean Vallis
were becoming dominant defensive ends, and that Lasorsa kid was really playing well in practice. The work
crews cleared Doyle Field with piles of snow standing six feet high along the sidelines. The Raiders came to
play. Leominster was stopped by the Ciccolini led defense and then Lloyd LeBlanc broke loose for a 70 yard
touchdown. LHS was unable to stop Lasorsa and Raider domination was evident. When the final whistle was
blown, FHS had a 12-6 victory.
Nineteen seventy-two looked good for FHS, lots of veterans returned, including
that kid Lasorsa. Following a disappointing loss to St. Peter's, FHS' Raider put it together. Seven victories in a
row were recorded as the Red and Gray marched toward its confrontation with LHS. Mike Lasorsa and John
Brasili were running wild behind an offensive line anchored by Dave Secino, Bobby Gordon and Larry Bizzotto.
Number 44 was breaking opponents' hearts.
Thanksgiving dawned cold and sunny. Leominster and FHS came into the
contest with identical records of 7-1 and the winner of the game would go to the first annual Western-Central
Massachusetts Super Bowl. Both teams were tremendous and old Crocker Field was rocking with cheers. Over
12,000 fans were crowded into Crocker. Thanksgiving 1972 was going to be Mike Lasorsa's day. Simply
stated, Mike ran over, around and through the Leominster defense. The Blue Devils did not have an answer for
Lasorsa as he broke tackle after tackle racing for key first downs. Following an extremely close first half, the
Raiders seemed to gather steam and they hooked a ride with their dynamo, Mike Lasorsa. As the Faith United
Church's clock moved toward 12:30, the Raiders stood atop the world with a 27-19 victory. How did Mike
Lasorsa do? Really not badly with three touchdowns and a two point conversion and over 150 yards rushing.
That's Hall of Fame stuff!
But there was still the matter of the Super Bowl. Fitchburg defeated Greenfield
20-6 to capture the first championship and Mike Lasorsa scored two FHS touchdowns. It was a fitting end to a
great year. Springfield College must have been watching because Mike was recruited to play football. His
college career was the stuff of legends. Mike rushed for over 2,500 yards during his college career and with his
kickoff and punt returns he gained 4,545 all-purpose yards. He is the Springfield all-time leading rusher. But
he is still all Red and Gray and now he is a Hall of Famer.
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It was Thanksgiving Day of 1945 and all America had a great deal to be thankful for as the fourth Thursday of
November approached. World War II had ended just three months earlier and the young men of the "Greatest
Generation" were returning to the United States of America to begin their lives anew. Coach Marty McDonough stood
on the sod at Crocker Field to greet his Red Raider football players in the fall of 1945. Fitchburg High's post World
War II athletes would create a wonderful sports legacy particularly upon the gridiron.
As the big day arrived hundreds of Fitchburg residents boarded the busses in Depot
Square to take the short ride to Doyle Field. One of those gentlemen was the father of FHS' sophomore back, Bob
Duncan. Young Duncan was anxious to play in his first game against archrival Leominster. As the contest began Bob
Duncan sat amongst his fellow underclassmen and watched the play. That was particularly difficult since it was raining
cats and dogs. He watched his fellow classmate Mike Martin boom punts which kept the highly favored home team
from the Comb City buried in their half of the field.
Late in the first half Coach McDonough turned toward the Fitchburg bench and called
for Duncan to enter the contest. When he arrived, his mud-splattered teammates looked up to watch him enter the
huddle. But before a play could be called, the gun was fired, and the first half was history. As the Raiders retreated to
the clubhouse, Bob glanced into the stands and spotted his father standing at the top of the grandstand. Duncan whose
spotless uniform stood in stark contrast to his fellow Raiders' uniforms could hear his father's voice ringing loud and
clear, "Fall down, fall down." Mr. Duncan did not want people to think his kid had not seen any action. He did not
really have to worry for the next three years, Bob Duncan of the Class of 1948 would get various uniforms soiled in any
Bob Duncan was the type of athlete, which was so typical of the 1940's and 1950's.
Summer camps to be specialized in a particular sport were non-existent. If you wanted to play ball, you went down to
your local playground and played with the gang. "Dunc" as he was called during his days at FHS probably never stood
taller than 5'8" tall and never weighed more than 150 lbs., but that never bothered him. Little guys have to be smarter
and know how to play the game while big guys just do it with physical strength. During his days at FHS Coach Marty
McDonough allowed Bob Duncan to call all the offensive plays for the football squad. He must have done a pretty
good job because FHS never lost to the Blue Devils while he was at the helm. In his junior season, the North County
Sportswriters Association named Bob an honorable mention member of the 1946 All-Star football team. During his
senior year Bob was named a second team all-star as he helped Fitchburg defeat Leominster 13-0. He would proudly
tell you that the Class of 1948 never lost a Thanksgiving Game to the Devils.
But Bob Duncan's best sport was probably basketball and in 1948 Bobby and his
fellow teammates "Corky" Ervin, "Bucker" Shea, John Gates and Bob Turcotte put together an outstanding 16-4 record
which included a semi-final appearance in the old Western Mass. Springfield Tourney. Ervin, Shea and Gates got the
points under the hoop, but it was Bob Duncan who piled up the assists. And when FHS needed that clutch set shot
from the perimeter old number 13 was ready. For his efforts the North County writers named Bob Duncan First Team
All-Star in 1948.
Where do quarterbacks and point guards play on a baseball team? Of course they play
catcher. Guess who played catcher at FHS in 1946 and 1947? You guessed correctly if you said Bob Duncan. When
Coach McDonough asked for play in the infield in 1948, Bob just went out and bought a new glove. Following his
graduation from FHS, Bob Duncan went to Fitchburg State Teachers College, graduating in 1953. He coached football,
basketball and track at Gardner High between 1955 and 1990, and became one of Central Massachusetts' top track
officials. Bob Duncan, Dick Mulligan and Ev Engals created track for our region. He is the Hall of Famer for the little
guys. That's our Bob Duncan.
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When asked to answer a question of the Hall of Fame questionnaire regarding special honors, which he had received
during his lifetime, Stephen Woodbury of the Class of 1930 stated his greatest honor was to serve Fitchburg High
School for thirty years. This was spoken like a true Woodbury. For you see, Steve Woodbury's father was the
legendary Charles Talbot Woodbury who served as principal of FHS from 1903 until his untimely death in 1927. Our
Hall of Famer Stephen T. Woodbury literally had Red and Gray flowing through his blood vessels.
It was in the fall of 1926 that Stephen Woodbury entered Fitchburg High School as a
lowly freshman whose father happened to be the beloved principal of FHS. During his first years at Fitchburg, Steve
Woodbury discovered that he enjoyed track and field competition under the tutelage of Coach Adler and that he was
particularly good at the very difficult high jump event. Soon young Woodbury discovered that his efforts at his
specialty were amongst the best in the Worcester County region. As he grew taller and taller, his leaps began to
approach the six foot level. In those days high jumpers used a method of jumping which almost appear to be primitive
to today's "Fosbury Floppers." Steve Woodbury's method would be called the eastern roll which allowed jumpers to
somehow straddle the bar. During his last three years at FHS, Woodbury would be a star performer on the track and
field team, which featured a fellow Hall of Famer, Voitto Lassila.
Steve Woodbury was an outstanding student at Fitchburg High School from which he
received the coveted "Gold F" award for academic excellence. During years at Fitchburg, Steve Woodbury also served
faithfully as the Class of 1930's class treasurer. With his school record, young Stephen Woodbury would have been a
perfect candidate for Dartmouth College, but his high jumping ability intrigued the track coaches at the Hanover, New
Hampshire school. And so in the fall of 1930 Steve Woodbury enrolled at that prestigious Ivy League School.
Dartmouth College may not have realized how strong a competitor they had enrolled in
the person of Stephen Woodbury, but his highflying jumps soon began to catch the eyes of the coaches. Leaping over
six feet soon became a normal happening as Stephen Woodbury continued his education at Dartmouth College. As his
senior year approached, Dartmouth College high jumping record began to fall at the feet of Stephen T. Woodbury of
Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In March of 1934, Stephen Woodbury's photograph showing his jumping prowess appeared
in the nationally published Newsweek and the old Boston Post Sport's page showed Woodbury clearing 6 feet 5 3/8's
inches to establish a new eastern collegiate record. For his outstanding senor season, Steve Woodbury was selected to
the NCAA All Star Track and Field team of 1934. If that were today, the term used to describe Stephen Woodbury
would have been All American.
Following his college graduation, Steve Woodbury returned to his alma mater where
he began a teaching career at FHS. But he was also selected to coach the Fitchburg High track squad. He would coach
FHS from 1934 to 1943, but then World War II beckoned this FHS coach. After serving with distinction in the U.S.
Navy, Mr. Woodbury returned to Academy Street and took up his teaching and coaching duties once again. He would
lead the Red and Gray from 1946 to 1951 and he had some outstanding athletes during those years. True to his nature,
Mr. Woodbury would rather talk about his athletes than himself. He sent the Hall of Fame committee a picture of the
1948 state relay champions which included great sprinters like Ray Ablondi, Henry Brunelle, Ronald Balaban and
Norman "Red" Goguen. We also received a great picture of Joe Hannon from the Class of 1951 who was State Class II
champion, Massachusetts State champion and New England champion. Steve Woodbury, a man of Fitchburg, wanted
to only talk about his men of Fitchburg.
In 1956, Stephen Woodbury achieved his life long ambition. He was named Principal
of Fitchburg High School and would maintain that position from 1956 to 1965 when he retired. Stephen T. Woodbury
had followed in his father's footsteps and that is why Hall of Famer, Stephen Woodbury said that 30 years of service to
FHS was his greatest honor.
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It was a cool Thanksgiving morning as the Red Raiders disembarked from their buses as they prepared to enter the
lion's den, known as Doyle Field, to face their archrivals from Leominster in the annual Turkey Classic. Head Coach
John Dubzinski had prepared his FHS squad extremely well, and kids named Tom DiGeronimo, John Romano, Mark
Jackson and Mike Minichello from the senior class along with underclassmen like Paul DiGeronimo were ready to take
up the challenge. Each of the players seemed to realize that this was not your everyday football contest.
The heavily favored Blue Devils were shocked as the Red and Gray led by their senior
quarterback, Tom DiGeronimo took it to them. FHS had entered the contest with a neat 6-2-1 record based mainly on
the excellent quarterback of DiGeronimo during the fall campaign. But LHS was the big time and the Devils of this era
were simply powerful. But Tom DiGeronimo, who would be named a Central Massachusetts Conference All-Star in
this 1981 campaign, was running and tossing the ball all over Doyle Field with great success as the Red and Gray
streaked to an astounding 12-7 half-time lead. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders the clock struck midnight in the
second half as the Devils staged a strong second half comeback. The Red and Gray had enjoyed a very successful
campaign, but that last twenty-four minutes had been difficult.
Nevertheless, Tom DiGeronimo had distinguished himself in his senior campaign and
he was rewarded with the Most Valuable Player honor at the conclusion of the season. During his two years at the helm
for the Red and Gray he had continually played at a high level and his name was recognized as one of Central
Massachusetts' better football players. Apparently the coaches at Avon Old Farm, a powerful prep school program,
agreed with this assessment because Tom was awarded with a scholarship to play football at the prep school. And the
University of Maine must have liked Tom's efforts at FHS and Avon Old Farm because he was given a scholarship to
attend the school located in Orono, Maine. He would switch to defensive backfield while at Maine and he gave the
Black Bears four years of solid collegiate play.
But football may not have been Tom DiGeronimo's best game. When the gridiron
season came to a conclusion Tom was immediately heading to the FHS gym where he played three years of varsity
basketball for Coach Doug Grutchfield. During those three years Tom and a dynamic point guard named John Pappas
made a tremendous duo for FHS. Lacking overall team height Tom had to sacrifice his natural position as a forward to
play center for Fitchburg. Playing against some of Central Massachusetts' powerhouse five, Tom and Johnny really got
the job done. With his uncanny passing ability, John Pappas would look to dish the ball to Tom DiGeronimo who was
always stationed under the hoop and with his great hands would gather the ball in and score the points. It was almost
poetic justice that Tom DiGeronimo and John Pappas scored their 1000th points within a game or two of each other.
Tom must often wonder what it would have been like to have a really good big man playing with him and John Pappas.
Tom DiGeronimo was selected to the CMC All-Star basketball squad in both his junior
and senior years along with being selected to the Telegram and Gazette Central Massachusetts all-star basketball squad.
Also in his senior year Tom was selected to the Best Forty-eight All-Star squad, which plays against the best in the state
of Massachusetts. He was an internally motivated kid who did not have much to say on the gridiron or the basketball
court, but just let his actions speak volumes.
Following his graduation from Maine, Tom returned to Central Massachusetts where
he was an assistant football coach for a number of schools including FHS. But his greatest fame as a coach occurred
during his years at the helm of the Narragansett Regional High School football squads where his imaginative,
wide-open brand of ball produced victory after victory. His Warrior squad was really outstanding in 1997 and they
went to the Super Bowl and completed an undefeated 12-0 season with the Division III Super Bowl Trophy as part of
their reward. Today Tom is the vice principal at the Academy Middle School. His roots go very deep in the
community of Fitchburg and now he is one of FHS' First Hall of Famers.
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As the young boys and girls of Fitchburg and surrounding communities gather at beautiful Coggshall Park during the
picturesque month of October, they prepare themselves to run the cross-country course for the annual Voitto Lassila
Memorial Cross Country Race. Little do they realize that their efforts will honor an individual who literally lived a life
dedicated to young people and the values of a good and proper physical life.
Voitto Lassila, who was a member of the Class of 1929 of Fitchburg High School,
grew up in the community of Fitchburg during the era of the great Finnish migration to our region. It was during the
1920's that the great Finnish Olympic athletes were developing their reputations as the world's finest track and field
competitors. The "Flying Finns" led by the incomparable Paavo Nurmi set a standard of excellence, which inspired
youth all across the globe, but particularly amongst the Finnish of Fitchburg. It was during the Roaring Twenties that
Voitto Lassila entered FHS and soon his name was appearing in the Fitchburg Sentinel for his accomplishments at
Crocker Field. Voit Lassila was a letterman for the Fitchburg High track squad for his three years at the school. He
competed in many events for the track squad, but it was the pole vault competition which soon became his favorite
event. He soon was soaring to amazing heights as he defeated all the regional competition. On May 28, 1929, Voitto
Lassila using a standard bamboo pole went over the bar at a height of 12 feet one-half inch in a dual meet against
Leominster at Crocker Field. That effort would remain the Crocker Field standard until it was broken by a young
Gardner High athlete in 1971, some forty-two years later. Lassila's standard would not be topped by a Red and Gray
athlete until the year 1985. His standard of excellence for FHS stood for 56 years.
On May 29, 1929, the Fitchburg Sentinel told the story of the Lassila leap in the
The pole vault, which was the last event of the program, was also the most sensational. The battle between Brown
of Leominster and Lassila of Fitchburg was one of the prettiest ever seen anywhere. Brown and Lassila went over 11
feet six inches easily and the bar was set at 12 feet one half inch.
Lassila went over amid the plaudits of the crowd all of which had attention centered upon the sky-scraping event.
Brown tried twice and failed. On his second attempt Brown had hit his face against the pole vault standards, and his
coach asked him to stop. But Brown wanted to continue but his coach knocked off the bar and the competition was
completed. Lassila had been victorious.
Upon graduation from FHS in 1929, Voitto Lassila enrolled at the University of
Michigan in the early 1930's where he continued to compete in track and field, but soon his interest was turned toward
gymnastics. He captained the Exhibition Gymnastics squad, which traveled all across the United States representing his
beloved university. Voitto graduated form Michigan in 1936 and he would become a member of the "M" club that was
the University of Michigan's Honor Society.
Following his college days, Mr. Lassila returned to B.F. Brown Junior High School in
Fitchburg where he became a gym instructor. Throughout the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's Voitto Lassila influenced the
youth of Fitchburg through his intra-mural programs and daily gym classes. Hundreds of children took up physical
activity because of his efforts. Young men would leave B.F. Brown and would travel up to FHS and they would be
ready to take on all competition. In the late 1950's and early 1960's Voit Lassila's cross-country teams became
legendary. The Keene, New Hampshire varsity coach once was quoted as saying, "It looked like nearly half of
Fitchburg had come to run in the meet and all were about waist high!"
Mr. Lassila once stated, "They have so much energy and it is our job as coaches to see
that it is exerted in the right direction. Boys who play sports all afternoon are usually too tired to get in trouble at
night." Mr. Voitto Lassila was a great track star at FHS and a great teacher of the young at B.F. Brown and today he is
a member of the Fitchburg High Hall of Fame.
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On a gray overcast morning in 1963, a quiet and subdued crowd filed into Doyle Field to watch the annual
Thanksgiving Day Classic between archrivals Fitchburg and Leominster. Just six days earlier, America's beloved
president John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in the streets of Dallas, Texas, and the USA had been crushed by the
terrible event. There had even been discussion that the Fitchburg - Leominster contest should be canceled. But school
administrators decided that the rivalry should be contested.
As the ten thousand fans searched for their seats or found their places upon the banks
of Doyle Field, they did not realize that they were about to watch one of the greatest performances in the history of the
Thanksgiving Day Game. Fitchburg High which entered the contest with a 5-3 record was a junior dominated class and
the key player was tailback Warren Muir who wore number twenty-eight. Throughout the fall, he had been dazzling
opponents with slashing runs, but he saved his best effort for the Turkey Day game.
Early in the contest, Warren gathered in a Leominster punt on his own forty-five yard
line, and raced down the sideline in front of Coach Broderick and the startled fans of LHS. Breaking tackles along the
way, Warren Muir sprinted into the end zone for the Raiders first score. Later in the first period after Fitchburg had
used the running of Ricky Lehto and Jack Jakola to reach the thirteen yard line, Warren Burst through the Leominster
defense and FHS had its second touchdown. Then in the fourth quarter, Warren took another punt at his own forty yard
line and weaved in and out of Blue Devil tacklers until he reached the end zone. Warren probably ran 130 yards to
complete his touchdown run. When the final gun sounded, Fitchburg High had a 20-0 victory over Leominster and
Warren Muir had rushed for 234 yards from scrimmage. Oh, he also kicked Fitchburg's two extra points. It was truly
an amazing performance, but it was only a prelude.
Fitchburg High entered its 1964 football campaign with high hopes. With veteran
linemen like Jack Jerszyk, Dennis Belliveau, Dennis Daulton and Bob Girouard, Coach Stan Goode believed that holes
would be opened for his superstar Warren Muir. Coach Goode was not to be disappointed. The Red and Gray rolled to
a record of 6-0-2 as they entered the Thanksgiving contest. Warren Muir has been spectacular in every contest,
particularly against Gardner and Rindge Tech. Against the boys from Cambridge, Warren had raced for touchdown
runs of 85 yards, 60 yards, and 45 yards all in the first quarter. Then Coach Goode rested his superstar.
But Warren Muir saved his best for last. On Thanksgiving morning in 1964, Fitchburg
entered Crocker Field as a heavy favorite over the Blue Devils at LHS. But the kids from Leominster were an inspired
bunch that Thanksgiving morning. Their beloved Coach Charlie Broderick was coaching his last contest and as the
teams entered the final quarter, Fitchburg trailed Leominster 8 to 6. Now Coach Goode turned to Warren Muir,
Fitchburg got the ball at their own forty-five yard line with eight minutes remaining on the clock. Fitchburg's offense
became Muir left, Muir right and Muir up the middle. Slowly the Leominster defense fell before the power of number
twenty-eight. With less than two minutes on the clock, Warren burst through the line and raced into the end zone.
Minutes later the final gun sounded and FHS had a cherished victory 12-8. Warren Muir now belonged to the ages.
But "Hoss" was more than just a football player. When springtime arrived, Warren
would head down to Crocker Field to compete on Coach Erkki Koutonen's track squad. He was that rare blend of speed
and power. He and Lothar Huckaby were tremendous in the 100 yard dash and when that was completed, Warren
would walk over to the shot put ring and toss the twelve pound ball well over fifty feet. In his senior year Warren
captured the Class B shot put competition with a record toss well over fifty-four feet. He was also class president
during his junior and senior years.
Upon completion of his FHS career, Warren entered the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point in the fall of 1965. Following his plebe year, Warren decided to transfer to the University of South Carolina
to continue to play for Coach Paul Dietzel. During his three-year career at South Carolina, Warren was named to the
ACC All-Star team in his sophomore and senior years. In 1969, Warren was named to the Kodak Coaches
All-American Team and was also picked by the Detroit Press to their All-American squad.
Today Warren Muir lives in Aiken, South Carolina, but he will always belong to
Fitchburg High School. He will always be our All-American Kid.
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