There they stood quietly at the starting
line of the cross-country course at the Gardner Municipal Golf Course. They were
Fitchburg High School’s Magnificent Seven, Maritza Rosario, Kim Walsh, Annica
Ambrose, Eva Heckel, Marcie Cheries, Carrie Bloxson and Karma Tousignant, and they
were about to create FHS sports history. Throughout the wonderful fall of 1989, these
seven kids and their teammates had been blazing across the cross-country courses of
Central Massachusetts defeating all comers. Standing at the starting line they giggled,
smiled, waved to their parents and friends lining the course and stretched to prepare
themselves for the run of their lives.
Their coach, Mark Ambrose, could be seen dashing from
place to place as he prepared his girls. During his fifteen year coaching career, Mark had
waited for just such a day. He walked over to one of the girls and whispered into her ear,
and Annica smiled. Her father seemed to have struck her funny bone. Next, Coach
Ambrose called his girls into a tight circle, and reminded them about the simple strategy
which he had devised in the last forty-eight hours. Coach Ambrose knew that his best
runner was very good, but he also knew that other competitors would burst to the lead and
probably carry the day. His girls had another job to carry out if victory was to be theirs.
By reading the results of competitions at the District level which had been held the
previous weekend, Coach felt that his kids had to stop either Newton North or Amherst
for FHS to be victorious. Coach told each runner that their responsibility was to defeat at
the finish line the Newton North or Amherst girl who was directly in front of her.
Fitchburg High would be the hunters on this gray November morning.
For many seasons, FHS had been contenders for District
and League championships, but teams from schools like Wachusett Regional and
particularly Shrewsbury had frustrated the Red and Gray. But 1989 had been altogether
different. When the team gathered at their beautiful Coggshall course, Coach Ambrose’s
gang would burst from the starting line like a herd of runaway horses and when they came
out of the woods the Red and Gray would blaze toward victory. Usually it would be the
smiling Maritza who would lead the pack, but following closely would be the ever-steady
Kim Walsh and Annica Ambrose. Often Kim and Annica would be leading their
opponents first runner which gave FHS an insurmountable lead, but would come the
youngsters. In the fall of 1989, the Red Raiders had a tremendous group of
underclassmen. Eva Heckel, Carrie Bloxson, Marcie Cheries and Karma Tousignant
were a revelation for Coach Ambrose. Most squads are lucky to have one or two good
runners, the Red and Gray were loaded top to bottom.
Followers of cross-country knew that something special
was happening in Fitchburg when the Raider ladies crushed Shrewsbury. The Colonials
are very good, but they could not withstand FHS in 1989. At the Mid-Wach League
championship held at Coggshall, the Red and Gray uniforms kept swarming across the
finish line as Coach Ambrose and the kid’s parents howled with glee. On Veteran’s Day
weekend in eighty-nine, the Raiders traveled to Gardner to show the world that they were
for real. Excellent runners and excellent teams had faltered upon the hill of Gardner, but
this was not an ordinary team. Raider’s ’89 had the stuff of champions. The gun sounded
and the Shrewsburys, Nashobas, Wachusett Regionals and Milfords fell before the Big
Red Machine. As they rounded the bend and raced up the long home stretch at Gardner,
the Red and Gray emerged. On they came like an irresistible wave. The Red Raiders had
their championship, but they were still focused on the ultimate goal, the states.
Dick Mulligan stood in front of the girls with the staring
gun uplifted. The runners burst forward and raced down the long six hundred yard
stretch. Fans raced across the field to watch the girl’s head for the hills. Red and Gray
runners were bunched in packs, focused on their competitors. Most spectators headed
back across the field to the finish line to wait. Runners appeared on the homestretch.
Where were the Raiders?
Then Maritza was spotted as she raced homeward.
When she crossed the line it was recorded that she was 20th. She was shuffled down the
chute, and then huge yells from the Red and Gray faithful arose. Doug Grutchfield was
on his tiptoes looking for the Red Raiders. Tired and in pain they came forward. Grin
faced and determined they raced toward glory. Kim, Annica, Eva, Carrie, Marcie and
Karma crossed the finish line and all embraced as their leader, Maritza, raced back to the
group. Had they done it? It was too close to call. The runners, Coach Ambrose, FHS
students, friends and parents quickly walked toward the Mt. Wachusett gymnasium to
await the results. Fathers and mothers hugged their conquering heroes, and the tension
rose. Did we win? Did you beat your girl to the finish line? Clipboard in hand, Coach
Ambrose nervously awaited judgment. Officials were located in a separate room. It was
close. “I think we won!” Then there was a commotion. A clipboard went flying into the
air and Coach Ambrose raced to the center of the gymnasium and performed a near
perfect cartwheel. MaryLou Retton would have been proud. Girls in Red and Gray
uniforms began to scream and cry at the same time. Fitchburg High was the state
champion. One long time FHS sports fan who writes for the Telegram called it “the
single most exciting victory he had ever seen for the Raiders.”
There would be assemblies in the auditorium, slide
shows and victory parties, but that instant of victory was simply the best. Now the girls
could truly say, “We Are the Champions.” Today Maritza, Kim, Annica, Eva, Carrie,
Marcie and Karma have all gone their separate ways. But for one shining moment they
were the victors and that will always be theirs. Now the FHS girl’s cross-country team
has been placed into the FHS Hall of Fame. Hail to the victors.
Top Of The Page
Thanksgiving morning of 1968 rose dark
and gloomy as thousands trudged toward ancient Crocker Field to watch the annual
Turkey Day Classic between the Red and Gray and the Blue Devils. There was a hint of
the approaching winter in the air as the eagerly awaited contest approached. But spirits in
the Raider locker room nearly matched the weather outside. Coach Marco Landon had
known, for a day or two, that he would be without the services of his outstanding senior
quarterback, Chris Petrides, who had been injured in the week prior to the Turkey Day
Classic, and that he was definitely out of the game. Petrides had triggered a
high-powered Raider offense which featured the pass catching of Tom DiGeronimo and
the running of the Boudreau twins, Richie and Ralph. Now that seemed to be gone, but
Coach Marco Landon had an ace up his sleeve and he knew it. That ace was named Allen
Allen Glenny had come to FHS with a well-deserved
reputation as an outstanding quarterback who could dominate a contest with his passing
and running. In his sophomore year Allen had split the quarterbacking duties with Chris
Petrides and both QB’s had performed extremely well for the Raiders in 1967. But
Coach Landon had decided that he was going to go with a single quarterback in 1968, and
his choice was Petrides. Allen Glenny had every reason to be disappointed, but he did not
sulk. Instead, when Coach Landon installed him as the Raider’s free safety on defense,
Allen played like an All Star. A difficult situation had been handled maturely by the
junior quarterback, and now fate would allow Allen the opportunity to show the right
The 1968 Raiders were an outstanding squad which had
only lost one contest, a highly controversial game against powerful Nashua. Raider
faithful will tell you that the Red and Gray had been robbed by the men in stripes at
Holman Stadium, but the Blue Devils were also tough that season. The smaller and
quicker Devils were aided by the slippery conditions on Crocker Field and seemed to be
hindering to the Raider’s lightning quick offense. But the new FHS quarterback had risen
to the occasion. His passing to Tom DiGeronimo was crisp and his running of the option
play was Fitchburg’s main running weapon. And Glenny continued to be a force for the
Red and Gray defense. His passing and running had laid the Raiders into a 16-14 lead as
the clock wound down and Crocker Field held their breath as LHS lined up for a possible
game winning field goal. When the Raiders blocked the attempt, FHS had a precious
Turkey Day victory and a star had been established. For his efforts on Thanksgiving Day
thirty-five years ago, Allen Glenny was named the St. Germaine Award winner which
was given annually between the 1950’s and 1970’s to the best Raider on Turkey Day.
The back-up, who was never really a back-up, had come through with flying colors.
Allen Glenny would win many other gridiron awards during his days at FHS, but his
performance on Thanksgiving Day would have to be considered the most memorable.
But football might not have been Allen Glenny’s best
sport. When he entered FHS in the fall of 1966 many area sport’s fans knew more about
Glenny, the baseball player, than Glenny, the football player. Standing six foot two
inches tall and swinging from both sides of the plate, Allen Glenny was a classic baseball
player. He simply looked good at the plate and in the field because he was. Allen was a
400+ hitter who hit with power to all parts of the field. Like many switch-hitters, Allen
looked smoother from the left side of the plate, but he really drove the ball when he
batted right-handed. Many balls that he smacked landed in the bushes in right-center
field or found their way into Crocker’s covered grandstand, and a few flew over the roof.
Allen was an outstanding defensive player who could scoop the ball at first base or roam
the vast expanses of centerfield. During his junior and senior years, he was named to the
All Star squads which represented the north county region, but Allen was also picked by
the Worcester County coaches as an All Star. When the Raider season ended in June,
Allen was an outstanding American Legion player for Leominster and later the Cleghorn
Legion. In his senior year, Allen was picked to play in an All Star tournament at Fenway
Allen Glenny’s senior campaign was a blur of Raider
touchdowns as the high-powered offense rolled through opponents defenses. The
scoreboard at Crocker Field was almost like an adding machine as Glenny marched the
Raiders up and down the field. Excellent Nashua and Gardner squads tumbled before the
Raiders. College coaches began to inquire about number twelve who quarterbacked the
Red and Gray. Schools like Boston College, Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard inquired
about Allen who was a high honor student at FHS who would achieve a gold “F” for his
academic excellence. But their inquiries would be fruitless because Allen Glenny wanted
a Service Academy appointment, and so when the United States Military Academy came
calling, Allen jumped at the opportunity.
Following his graduation in 1970, Allen immediately
headed to Annapolis, Maryland, to become a member of the Naval Academy’s Class of
1974. He would play four years of football at Navy, establishing many offensive records
during his junior and senior seasons when he was Navy’s starting quarterback. This is
quite impressive when you remember that it was Roger Staubach’s records that were
broken. He was awarded the outstanding player trophy in the Army-Navy game of 1973
which Navy won 51-0.
Allen Glenny had always wanted to be a Naval Flyer and
upon completion of four years at Annapolis, he was accepted into the Naval Flight
program which he completed successfully. Unfortunately on April 17, 1980, Lieutenant
Allen R. Glenny was tragically killed in a plane crash in American Samoa while on a
training mission. His family, the Naval Academy and his hometown community of
Fitchburg mourned that tragic loss. Today FHS honors its fallen hero with induction into
the Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
In the Red and Gray of May
1937 the sports editor in an article entitled “Stars of 1937 Pass in Review” had the
following to say about Donald “Ossie” MacLean; “This dashing senior was an
outstanding player on the gridiron and on the basketball floor. Ever since his debut as a
sophomore, he has been considered a real “find” in the sports world. He co-captained the
1936 football team and was captain elect of the baseball nine. He would probably be
unanimously voted the most valuable athlete of 1937.” Certainly his classmates felt
highly about this stylish southpaw who had excited Raider fans throughout the 1930’s.
During the years of America’s Great Depression, Coach
Clarence Amiott had a group of great athletes pass through the corridors of FHS who are
still remembered by old time fans with great pleasure. Kids named Bill Mackie, Jimmy
Leo, Bill Whelan, Lauri Shattuck, “Duke” Savitt, Ray Belliveau, Paul Glenny, Rollie
Blake are recalled as being Raider stars. But whenever those names are recalled, the
name “Ossie” MacLean is always brought to the forefront. There was something about
the sweet throwing lefty that has never been forgotten. Donald Francis MacLean was
your typical three sport start who found the games easy to play, but played those games
with a great intensity. His high school yearbook talked about “Ossie” being FHS’ finest
example of sportsmanship. Whether on the football gridiron, baseball diamond or
basketball court, MacLean would fight you tooth and nail, and then shake your hand a the
Some athletes have the ability to score lots of points, hit
long homeruns and run faster than all other competitors, but some athletes have the ability
to get the job done in the clutch when the game in on the line. “Ossie” MacLean would
fall into that latter category. Whenever the Red and Gray needed the big play “Ossie”
was your man. In 1935 in MacLean’s junior season, Gardner’s Wildcats came to Crocker
Field with one of their strongest teams ever. Led by two powerful running backs named
Frank Michniewicz and Leo Lajoie, the Cats were poised to knock off FHS. On the
evening before the contest exuberant Cats fans had painted Crocker Field which did not
sit well with the Raiders. Ten thousand fans squeezed into Crocker to watch this class of
titans, and they would not be disappointed.
With five minutes remaining in the contest, Gardner’s
Lajoie had put the Wildcats ahead 18-12 and things appeared desperate for the FHS
squad. But Gardner kicked to “Ossie” which zigzagged to his own forty-three yard line.
Then the lefty fired a 37 yard pass to Pat Lattore to bring the ball to Gardner’s twenty
yard line and Crocker Field rocked with excitement. Two more passes placed the ball on
the two yard line but less than a minute remained when Joe Torcoletti burst into the end
zone. Game tied 18-18. Coach Amiott called Torcoletti’s number for the extra point, but
he was hit and fumbled, but the ever alert “Ossie” MacLean fell on the loose ball. Final
score - FHS 19 - Gardner 18. That 1935 football squad was one of Amiott’s finest groups
only losing to a terrific Brockton squad led by Lou Montgomery.
The spring of 1936 brought disaster to the city of
Fitchburg. During a March thaw, the Nashua River overflowed its banks and Crocker
Field was covered with nearly six feet of water. Throughout the spring and summer
months New England remained wet and the ground saturated. Crocker Field never
recovered. If you look at the 1937 Boulder, you will see that the Red and Gray only
played eight games that season which disrupted the efforts of the good FHS squad which
entered the Thanksgiving contest with a 4-3 record. The week before the FHS-LHS
contest the skies opened and so Crocker Field was a sea of mud. Ten thousand fans
watched a strong Blue Devil squad dominate the first half and as the mud-caked squads
left the field the score was 6-0 Leominster.
What occurred next is one of the legendary stories of the
Fitchburg-Leominster Classic. When the Red and Gray reached their locker room Coach
Amiott immediately had the players take of their muddy uniforms and put on dry ones.
The Leominster fans howled in astonishment as Fitchburg emerged from the clubhouse.
As the squads jogged onto the field, Amiott told “Ossie” MacLean what play the Raiders
would call when they tied the contest. A special play had been practiced by FHS which
would break “Ossie” loose. The Raiders took the second half kickoff down the field with
“Ossie” sprinting into the end zone and scoring the extra point. Fitchburg High would
fight and scrap to hold their one point lead and when the final whistle blew it was FHS 7 -
LHS 6. Coach Amiott believed that MacLean was special and the special ones get the job
done in the clutch.
Although “Ossie” MacLean is primarily remembered for
his exploits on the gridiron, he was a valuable member of the Raider basketball teams for
three seasons. Back in the 1930’s Fitchburg played one of the most demanding schedules
in the state and annually were selected to play in the MIT tournament which was the state
tourney in that era. Particularly in “Ossie” MacLean’s last two years he was one of
Amiott’s key people. And yet most people who know “Ossie” MacLean including his
son, Don, will tell you that his best sport was probably baseball. Throwing from the left
side with a dazzling assortment of pitches, “Ossie” was nearly unhittable in high school.
The Red Sox and old Boston Braves showed a great deal of interest in Fitchburg’s star
pitcher, who would still be throwing in the old twilight league in the early 1950’s.
“Ossie” was married to his beloved Dora and they had
three children, Donald Jr., Barry, and Susan. Barry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in
2001. “Ossie” MacLean loved his old school and now is honored as one of its Hall of
Top Of The Page
On a late July evening in the summer of
2002, a large group of students stood outside the home of Chris Woods, silently holding
candles in remembrance of an individual who was loved and admired, Donald Woods.
When asked why they stood so reverently on this warm summer night, kids spoke of the
kindness that Mr. Woods had shown them so many times over the years. When they
needed fatherly advice, or even the kind understanding of a grandfather figure, Mr.
Woods had always stepped forward with just the right words. When word of his death
reached these students and athletes of Fitchburg High School, they acted in the only
fashion they understood, they returned the kindness. Mr. Woods would have said “thank
you” to one and all as he always had. Sometimes the children truly have the clearest
Donald Beaumont Woods lived into the twenty-first
century, but he was an individual of the 20th century. Growing up in his beloved
Fitchburg, Mr. Woods would talk about walks on Main Street on a Friday evening in the
late 1930’s during his high school years. Main Street was brightly lit as hundreds of
Fitchburgers hurried to finish their weekly shopping, and teenagers would hurry to watch
the early show at the Fitchburg Theatre. These were happy days which never left Mr.
Woods. He would be a member of the Class of 1940 at Fitchburg High when it was
newly opened on Academy Street. Pride would enter his eyes as he told you that “40”
was the first group to go to FHS’ new building on Academy Street. During his high
school years, the diminutive Mr. Woods was actively involved with the Yearbook as the
business manager, and he also was elected as the president of the Drama Club. He
received a letter sweater with an “F” as a member of the varsity tennis squad and was
actively involved with intramural sports. If you enter Chris Woods’ office at FHS there is
a picture of a proud young Donald Woods running in the Junior-Senior Relay with a
Class of 1940 symbol prominently shown on his chest. Like many of his generation who
had undergone the tests of the Great Depression and watched his community begin to
spring to life once again, Donald Woods never forgot his roots. He felt that it was his
duty to give back to his community and school.
December 7,1941, was a “day which would live in
infamy” as F.D.R. stated, and it would change Mr. Woods’ life forever. Like all the
young men of the “greatest generation” who rushed to enlist after the Japanese attack
upon Pearl Harbor, Don Woods heeded his nation’s call and entered the United States
Marine Corps. in May of 1942. During World War II, Don Woods served as an airborne
radio and radar operator flying numerous tricky and dangerous operations during the
Pacific War against the Empire of Japan. It was an experience which Don Woods would
proudly recall throughout the rest of his life. As a matter of fact, he reenlisted in the
Marine Corps Reserves in 1974 at the age of fifty-two and would remain in the Reserves
until 1980. His two favorite phrases were always “Hail to the Red and Gray” and
Returning home to Fitchburg in the middle of 1946, Don
set about establishing his post-war life. He began working for Foster Insurance and
eventually would reach the position of vice-president in the company. During his
thirty-five years with Foster’s, Donald Woods actively supported many organizations
which tried to help the community of Fitchburg. He was chairman of the Fitchburg
branch of the American Red Cross, president of the Fitchburg YMCA, Rotary Club
member, a friend of the Fitchburg Public Library, and a friend of Coggshall Park and a
lifelong member of the Fitchburg Historical Society. His time was Fitchburg’s time.
Early in the 1950’s, Donald was married to his beloved Janice and they had two children,
Marli and Chris, who were raised as loyal Raiders.
In the early 1980’s Donald Woods retired from his career
in the business community and began his work as a keeper of the candle for FHS. Few, if
any, individuals contributed more time and effort into preserving the rich heritage which
is Fitchburg High School. Don was elected to the executive board of the FHS Alumni
Association and his continually diligent work soon found him being elected as that
board’s president and CEO. Raising funds, so that FHS kids could go to college, became
one of his life’s goals. During this time period he decided that he would help out by
becoming a substitute teacher which has to be one of life’s tough jobs. But Don Woods
was unique. So kids would tell you that the old Mr. Woods really loved to talk about
World War II history, City of Fitchburg history and FHS tradition, even if it was a
biology class. And they loved it.
In the late 1980’s, FHS’ beloved Crocker Field began to
show her age. The seventy-year ago pearl began to have serious structural problems, and
there was even talk of closing down the field. The grandstands were in serious trouble
and money was needed to renovate. Public funding was limited, and so Don Wood’s
sprung into action. He helped organize the Crocker Field Restoration Committee which
immediately began to collect money for the project. Thousands of dollars were raised and
although the old field still needs more work, it was truly saved by the efforts of Mr.
Woods’ Committee. Fitchburg High and our community must always be grateful for
Don’s decisive actions.
Finally there is the matter of track. Don’s son, Chris, has
been involved with FHS track for a decade and a half. Mr. Woods began to volunteer at
track meets, doing the little projects that go unseen. Hurdles to be set up, mats to be
moved, and races to be judged. Don Woods did not have to be asked to help, it was done
naturally. He was everywhere to be seen. He was the good worker. In 2001, Mr. Woods
was selected as an Olympic Support Runner as the Olympic Flame passed through
Massachusetts. Don Woods humbly accepted the honor, as was his way. Some
individuals star on the fields of athletic endeavors and others star in life. Donald B.
Woods choose to make his beloved Fitchburg High School a better institution and we
now honor him with membership in our FHS Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
In the spring of 1970 athletic director
John Conway submitted to the Fitchburg School Committee the name of Douglass
Grutchfield for the position of head basketball coach at Fitchburg High School and
athletics in FHS never looked backwards. The former Look Magazine All American
from the University of Massachusetts had immediately established himself as a coaching
force to be reckoned with his teams at Amherst High and Belmont High and he took the
local basketball scene by storm in that initial season. Instilling in his players an intense
desire to win, Coach Grutchfield took a group which had barely finished above .500 in
previous seasons and encouraged and pushed them to an undefeated regular season. The
Raiders would not capture a District title in that initial season of 1971, but a statement
had been made. The Red and Gray were going to challenge for basketball supremacy in
Central Massachusetts and beyond.
Coach Doug Grutchfield felt that a system had to be
established which identifies Fitchburg basketball. Soon all his junior high coaches were
gathered together and “The System” was taught first to the coaches and then to the
players. Grutchfield’s idea was that the good basketball teams won because they applied
constant defensive pressure upon their opponents until the opponents collapsed and
victories would follow. Soon there began to appear in the vocabulary of FHS players
something about “The Chinese”. The training at the junior high level took a year or two,
but by 1975 Coach “Grutch” had players like Joe Dizuzio, Mike Petrides, Ray Spagnuolo
and Doug Romano who had outstanding skills and also understood the system and in
March of that year, FHS captured the first of six District titles of the “Grutchfield Era.”
That squad took their talents to Bentley College to challenge an outstanding Don Bosco
squad which had swept through Eastern Massachusetts. The Boston Press stated that
mighty Bosco, with three Division I prospects, would crush the Red and Gray.
Over 3500 people packed into Bentley and the Red and
Gray under Coach Doug Grutchfield showed that Fitchburg High could play with the big
guys. Dizuzio slashed to the basket, “Spags” played field general, Petrides hit form the
outside and Romano and Harry Xarras muscled underneath. Old timers sat in the stands
and talked about the olden days of Amiott, FHS and the Tech Tourney. Fitchburg would
lose that contest by five points, but Grutch’s gang had brought respect back to the way in
which basketball was played at FHS.
Between 1975 and 1995 Central Massachusetts had
some of the most intense rivalries ever encountered in our region. There were storied
high school programs, outstanding coaches and great individual players and the Fitchburg
High basketball team was always in the middle of it. The Red Raiders played storied
games against the likes of Doherty High of Worcester, St. John’s of Shrewsbury,
Wachusett Regional, Notre Dame, Milford, Holy Name, St. Peter’s and Leominster.
Coach Grutchfield, matching wits against Duane Curriveau, Billy Gibbons, Buddy
Mahan, Steve Mancuso, Ron Mazzaferro and of course Bob Foley of St. Peter’s and later
St. John’s. Sometimes the Raiders would be victorious, sometimes they would come out
short, but the level of competition was always intense.
There were so many games and individuals that it is
difficult to remember them all, but some certainly stick out. Fitchburg’s Tony Jones
versus Doherty’s Tony Jefferies in the 1977 contest was a clash of giants. St. John’s great
Matt Palazzi against the Raiders of David Marshall, Johnny Connolly, Mike LeBlanc,
Paul DiGeronimo and sophomore Mike Connolly’s late basket at the Hart Center at Holy
Cross in 1983 was an all time victory. The Red and Gray did not get a chance to
challenge for the state title because of Prop. 2 ½. The 1985 squad, which escaped
continually from defeat to face mighty Brockton in the Centrum was one of Grutch’s real
miracles. Kids named Barry, Connolly, Carlson, Gilchrist, Earley and Wirtonen came oh
so close. Then there was the “little team that could” in 1988. Coach Grutchfield to a
group of hard working scrappers and captured the Districts with a magnificent upset. In
the annuals of FHS basketball under Coach Doug Grutchfield the post-season of 1992
might have been the most startling. Led by super star Zack McCall and cool-handed
point guard named Jeff Scott, the Raiders took on the world and came so close. First St.
John’s fell to the Red and Gray in the Districts and then Springfield Central, which had
won 50 games straight, fell before the brilliance of McCall and Jeff Scott’s foul shots,
and finally the overtime defeat against South Boston. McCall’s effort will live in the
annals of FHS basketball.
Throughout this period there were battles with the
officials, Saturday morning practices with Coach John Cordio arriving late with coffee
and donuts, long bus trips to Milford, Springfield, Holden and Worcester, and lots of
laughs and tears. Overseeing this whole period was Coach Douglass Grutchfield. During
his tenure, FHS won twenty-one League Championships and seven District Division One
titles, reached the state semi-finals five times and the state finals twice. Coaching at FHS,
Amherst and Belmont, Doug personally had 588 victories which placed him in the top
five in Massachusetts history. For his efforts Doug was elected to the Massachusetts
Coaches Basketball Hall of Fame in and just one month ago, he was placed in the New
England Hall of Fame as a coach. Doug has also been elected to the University of
Massachusetts Hall of Fame. While at UMass he established 13 individual scoring and
rebounding records, and was named All-Conference, All-New England and All-East in
But Doug Grutchfield’s greatest accomplishments might
not have happened on the basketball court. In 1984 he was named athletic director of
Fitchburg and his accomplishments were amazing. Taking a program in trouble, Doug
pushed, prodded and shoved FHS sports into the modern era. Crocker Field was
modernized with lights and an all weather track and the new Fitchburg High School has a
magnificent field house with unbelievable facilities. Doug Grutchfield loves sports
history and his individual efforts in preserving the clubhouse may have his most personal
accomplishment. Trophies were shined, pictures hung, programs preserved so that future
generations will know about FHS’ history.
For his efforts he was selected Mass. Athletic Director of
the Year in 1994, National A.D. of the Year in 1996 and was invited to the White House
and served on the national task force entitled “Building Character Through Sports.” In
1998 he was elected President of National Council of Secondary School Athletic
Directors and in 2000 named a National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators
Association Distinguished Service Award Winner.
Doug is married to the former El McNamara – Class of
1973 and his five children Lee, Peter, Karen, K.C. and Hannah and now he belongs to the
FHS Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
America was mired in the Great
Depression in the early 1930’s and the city of Fitchburg had not escaped the ravages of
this economic disaster. All along the banks of the Nashua River, once hearty business
ventures stood closed and hundreds of workers were tossed from their jobs. Every week
another factory would close or severely cut back on the workers hours. It was a desperate
time for America’s society. But strangely at that time the children of those immigrant
factory workers were accomplishing fabulous deeds at Fitchburg High School under the
tutelage of their legendary coach Clarence Amiott. Whether on the gridiron or the
basketball court, the young men of FHS were creating a Golden Age of sports. From
1930 to 1937, Fitchburg High School and its athletic accomplishments were second to
none. In a melting pot of first generation immigrants from Finland, Italy, Ireland, Canada
and the British Isles, Fitchburg High was conquering all challengers. Kids with names
like Whelan, Blake, Fellows, Oliva, Secino, Fillback, Lahti, Leo, MacLean, Shattuck and
so many others were making their community proud. Thousands would flock to Crocker
Field on a Saturday afternoon to pay fifteen cents to watch their Raiders take on
Brockton, Arlington, Waltham, Medford, Framingham and Gardner and generally come
out on top. In to this mix of players came a dynamic kid from the West Street area named
Milton Savitt who will forever be remembered as the “Duke.”
As the Great Depression deepened in 1930-31, the Doyle
family of Leominster donated a wonderful parcel of land to the community of Leominster
so that they too could have an outstanding facility for their children. All through 1930
and 1931, workers cleared land, erected a field house and built baseball fields and a track.
But the prize was going to be a football field which would compete with Fitchburg’s
As Thanksgiving morning approached in 1931, the two
communities along the river tingled with anticipation regarding the upcoming match.
Fitchburg was loaded, but the Leominster High gridiron fortunes were on the rise.
Charlie Broderick had just arrived in the Comb City and a sophomore tailback named
Ronny Cahill was beginning to create his legend. So hundreds jumped on the F&L
trolley cars that morning of November 26, 1931, to watch an athletic contest which is still
recalled over seventy years later.
The Red Raiders and Leominster were evenly matched
like to heavy weight boxers. Led by their “Battleship Bill” Whelan and a fleet of small
running backs named Moran, Fillback, and Belliveau, the Raiders had battled the feisty
gang from LHS for three quarters. Throughout the first thirty-five minutes the Raider
attack had been highlighted by “Duke” Savitt’s slashing dashes into LHS’ defense. As
the game entered the final quarter, the score was knotted at 7-7, and the Raiders were
backed up to their own fifteen or sixteen yard line. Coach Amiott called for the off tackle
slant which would feature “Duke.” The huge Whelan centered the ball and leveled his
defender, the Raider offensive line worked like a Swiss watch, and “Pete” Lahti swung
from his end position and cut down the LHS safely. As the Fitchburg Sentinel
stated seventy-two years ago, “Savitt burst through the hole, swivel-hipped a defender,
broke loose down the LHS sideline as the crowd screamed and raced into the end zone
It has been called the perfect play by Raider fans, and
“Duke” apparently waved to the Leominster fans as he raced past their stands which
caused them to howl. Like Babe Ruth’s legend, we are not sure about the wave, but we
do know that the “Duke” went 85 yards for the touchdown. Leominster’s effort faltered
after the touchdown, and the final score stood at 24-7, in favor of the Raiders.
But “Duke” Savitt was not a one-play wonder. He was a
three-year starter in football and two year starter for the Red and Gray basketball squads
which continually played in the Old Tech Tourney which was originated at M.I.T. The
Red Raiders captured that tourney in 1931 with victories over Eastern Massachusetts’s
squads from Salem, Lynn and New Bedford. Coach Amiott’s squad would reach the
finals in 1932 only to fall in the finals to Brockton. “Duke” was a key player on those
championship squads through his FHS years.
He was one of the very best, but it was his flair and style
that caused people to talk about “The Duke” forty years after his career at FHS was
concluded. His efforts were always good, but often verged on the spectacular. If he
played today he would be said to have a great deal of charisma.
During World War II, “Duke” enlisted into the military
and served three years in the United States Navy where his commanding officer was
Captain Gene Tunney, Former heavy weight boxing champion. Following WWII, Milton
Savitt became involved in various entertainment and athletic projects. He was sports
publicity manager for the well known Fitchburg Paamco Basketball squad in the late
1940’s and later would be heard on radio stations in Fitchburg, Gardner, Lowell and
Medford. He died in 1973 at the age of fifty-eight. Shortly before his untimely death,
Fitchburg played Brockton at Crocker Field. The stands were packed as the old rivalry
was renewed. When “Duke” arrived at the contest, there was a buzz in the stands. He
was always one of FHS’ favorites who now resides in the Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
During the autumn of 1944 as World
War II continued to rage across the continent of Europe and on the islands of the Pacific,
the Class of 1948 entered the hallowed halls of FHS. Four years later this group of young
people had established a record of scholastic and athletic excellence which allowed The
Boulder – 1948 to proclaim that “48” was the best class that ever attended Fitchburg High
School. Fifty-five years later that proclamation of pride still holds very strongly. During
our first two inductions into the FHS Hall of Fame the Class of 1948 has had three
athletes honored by the Hall. Bob Duncan, Ray Ablondi and Joe Cushing all members of
the Class of 1948 have had their pictures placed upon the wall. Each in his own way
made their marks upon Fitchburg High’s athletic history. Other members of that unique
class might eventually find their way into the Hall of Fame.
On Monday afternoon October 20, 1947, readers of the
Fitchburg Sentinel turned to page eight and saw the headlines of Saturday’s game against
archrival Gardner: FHS Tops Gardner, 13-6, Before 6000; Cushing Scores Twice. As
the readers eyes scanned to the right they could see the Red and Gray number 14 racing
57 yards down the sidelines toward Gardner’s end zone. Behind great blocks from Hans
Thoma, Mike Martin and “Bucker” Shea, the Raider All-Star had broken open a very
close contest. As one looks in the picture’s background one can see the huge crowd
watching the contest. This was a period in which FHS had a great many outstanding
gridiron stars who are still remembered today, but some will tell you that number 14
might have been the best. The Boulder told you that Joe Cushing was an
extremely versatile athlete who starred on the gridiron, baseball diamond and on the
ski-slopes of New England. And the yearbook also told you that outstanding athlete was
also a recipient of the Gold F. Joe Cushing did it in the classroom and on the athletic
But it was on the gridiron where Joe Cushing’s star
shone most brightly. Coach Marty McDonough was blessed with many stars who could
carry the ball in the period between 1945 and 1950, but the one individual who seemed to
rise to the occasion when it was most needed was the Raider’s number 14. Teammates
on those 1946 and 1947 squads of FHS could count on excellent running from guys
named Ablondi, Crohan, Balaban, Capone and big “Corky” Erwin on his famous end
arounds for the McDonough teams, but the blond-haired Cushing seemed to have the
explosive running style which broke games open. John Connolly, the well-known
Fitchburg Sentinel sportswriter of the 1940’s and 1950’s described Cushing’s famous run
against Gardner in the following manner: “Belliveau’s punt was taken by Cushing on his
own 43 yard line and the blond block buster snake hipped his way through the entire
Wildcat team for a brilliant 57 yard run for the second touchdown. Numerous visiting
tacklers had shots at Cushing, some of them hitting him, but bounding off his driving
frame. The last potential tackler was wiped out by Thoma as Cushing raced toward the
The Red and Gray squad had a very deceptive record in
1947. Their record was 5-2-3 which really does not look that outstanding. In their first
contest the Raiders were surprised by a fired up St. Bernard’s squad in a 7-7 contest and
later FHS would also tie Manchester, New Hampshire, and Clinton who in that post-war
period were very strong elevens. The three tied ball games do seem to lessen the overall
record. But two other contests showed the true grit of the Raiders and Joe Cushing was in
the middle of the action. Before 5000 fans at Crocker Field, an underdog Red and Gray
squad solidly defeated an unbeatable Watertown team, which was being hailed as one of
Massachusetts best, 20-0. The local press stated “that Joe Cushing, who is making a
habit of the trick, took advantage of the two well-executed quick opening played to romp
32 and 34 yards for first and third period touchdowns. The play of Cushing, a member of
the North Worcester County All Star team of 1946 completely stood out.” Cushing’s
explosive running behind his excellent offensive line had broken the spirit of the Eastern
Later in the season on Thanksgiving Day the Raiders
went to Doyle Field to take on the Blue Devils who were slightly favored. The Devils
had whipped St. Bernard’s 50 to 7 and only lost to Arlington, so FHS was considered a
long shot. As they had done throughout the post-war period, McDonough’s boys rose to
the occasion. The Raider defense stopped Leominster cold and “Bucker” Shea had a
tremendous day scoring two touchdowns, but press covering the contest stated that Joe
Cushing’s hard-charging running kept Leominster on their heels all day long. Following
the 1947 campaign, Joe was named to the North Worcester County All-Star squad for the
second year in a row and he received an additional honor being named to the 1947
Worcester County All Star which was instituted for the first time in that season of 1947.
As soon as the gridiron season was completed, Joe
Cushing headed to the slopes which has been his life long love. In 1947 and 1948 he was
the Massachusetts Junior Downhill Skiing Champion. Although there was no direct
connection to FHS athletics, this was still quite an athletic foreshadowed his future
career. Following graduation from FHS, Joe attended Dartmouth College and Boston
University and then during the Korean conflict, entered the military as a member of the
Army Security Agency. During the late 1950’s Joe Cushing became involved with
becoming a consultant in ski area construction. He joined Sno-engineering Incorporated
in 1961 and retired in 1995. In his 34 years Joe was involved with over 400 ski projects
all over the world in which his particular expertise was the designing and layout of new
ski areas including Loon Mt. and Waterville Valley in the 1960’s. He became part owner
of the company and now has locations in Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado and
Washington. Joe was married to Mary Mitchell of Cincinnati, Ohio and they have four
children, Joe III, Catherine, Chris and Mary, called Minnie. Today Joe Cushing becomes
a member of the FHS Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
Early in the 1970’s, local basketball fans
began to hear about a kid who was playing in the Biddy League at B.F. Brown gym every
Saturday morning. Old-timers would tell you that this ten-year-old kid could handle the
ball like Bob Cousy. It was even said that his ball handling reminded some people of the
guy who played at Notre Dame High in the 1950’s. That guy’s name was Craig Corliss.
Maybe that was only proper because the coach of the Elks team was none other than Mr.
Corliss. The Biddy League kid’s name was John Pappas. Some Biddy League superstars
never develop beyond the age of twelve, but young Mr. Pappas simply got better every
day, and twenty years later, Fitchburg High fans like Mr. Warren Moge can recall
individual moves that John Pappas made on the basketball court that he still does not
Doug Grutchfield established a dynasty in
Massachusetts’s basketball history for three decades. Games against the likes of St.
John’s, Holy Name, Doherty, Wachusett Regional, Durfee, Springfield Central,
Cambridge Rindge and Latin, Don Bosco, Brockton and so many others are remembered
with great fondness. It was great basketball and it was fun. Names like Dizuzio,
Petrides, Spagnoulo, Rahnasto, Marshall, DiGeronimo, Bennett, Connolly, Barry,
Gilchrist, Pickett, Romano, Morales, McCall and oh so many others bring a smile to the
faces of Red and Gray fans. Mr. Arthur Peterson who watched them all and took careful
note of the games events which always had an especially kind word for that magnificent
little point guard who joins the FHS Hall of Fame in 2003.
John Pappas was an All Star the first day he ever set foot
on the floor of the old Brickyard. He practiced hard, he played hard and he never quit.
John Pappas had more fancy moves with a basketball in his hands than any other player
than Bob Cousy, but this writer never saw him make a move which would not get his
teammates in a better position to score an early lay-up. Just ask Tom DiGeronimo, Class
of 1982, who was Johnny’s teammate for three years, about the passes he received from
John. “DiGe” was barely six foot one, and he was playing underneath against the giants
of Central Massachusetts and scoring enough points to accumulate 1000+ in his career.
Tom could leap and he was strong, but John’s perfect uptakes and dump passes set Tom
up for many an easy basket. John Pappas would score over 1000 points for FHS as did
his partner Tom, but I wonder how many assists John Pappas had during his three-year
If you go back to the record books to find out the records
of the squads playing between 1980 and 1982, you might wonder what the fuss is about
concerning this Pappas kid. Certainly during this long period of basketball excellence,
which spanned more than three decades, the years 1980-1982 look quite average.
Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. Probably no coach
developed excellent big men than did Coach Grutchfield, but you cannot develop height.
You either have it or you don’t. Fitchburg High was small during John Pappas’ year on
the hard wood floor. His fellow co-captain DiGeronimo played center at six feet and so
one can see that victories came with effort and hard work.
The Hall of Fame is a place for individuals who achieved
and rose to the occasion. Is there any basketball game which loyalists of the Red and
Gray remember as far as John Pappas is concerned? Of course there is. It took place on a
cold bitter February evening in the year of 1982 at the Leominster High School gym.
Both the Blue Devils and the Red Raiders were tournament bound during eighty-two.
They were solid, but they were not going to defeat the St. John’s of the world in 1982.
Did it matter? Not really, because this was Fitchburg versus Leominster.
Leominster had a veteran squad and they would
dominate throughout most of the contest. Sometimes John Pappas could be criticized for
being to unselfish. Many evenings “Grutch” would stand in front of the bench and plead
to John to take the fifteen-foot jumper instead of throwing that new perfect pass. Next
time down the floor John would look for the pass and John Cordio, “Grutch’s” right man,
would reiterate the plea. But the call would go unanswered. With less than six minutes
to go in the contest the Blue Devils were in the driver’s seat. The teams exchanged
baskets and the Raiders remained in deep trouble.
Pappas looked over to the bench and then he took
control. The packed Leominster house did not realize that they were about to watch one
of the most spectacular displays of basketball magic ever performed in Central
Massachusetts. The dynamo from Greek Town began a relentless drive to take the
Raiders over the top. His incredible quick first step had Leominster defenders gasping for
breathe and grasping for a ghost. The 8 to 10 point lead shrunk but there only remained
two minutes on the clock. The Fitchburg cheering section was on its feet howling with
glorious delight. Blue Devil faithful sat in shocked silence and awe. The point was
taking a victory right out of their hands. With seconds remaining on the clock, John
Pappas, with ice-cold water in his veins, sunk two foul shots to send the game into
Leominster was done and John wove through their
defenses in the overtime period to give the Red and Gray a remembered victory. As the
jubilant fans rushed to the floor, John looked into the stands for his number one fans, his
mother, dad and Uncle John. You had to see Hall of Famer John Pappas to believe it.
One individual who did believe was Wally Halas of
Clark University. The five foot ten inch Halas knew a point guard when he saw one.
Clark was building a dynasty under Coach Halas and John Pappas would be a building
block. He would play five years at Clark. An injury in his sophomore year allowed John
to play a fifth year and that brought about the true measure of John Pappas. From 1985
through 1987 Clark was participating in the Division III NCAA tourney. In John’s junior
year, he was All New England, captain of Clark and the go-to-guy. He returned in his
fifth year as captain once again, and with great expectations, but found himself on the
bench. Coach Halas had been enchanted by a scoring point guard and so John sat.
Crushed and hurt, John kept his mouth shut. When the team started slowly, John was
reinserted and Clark rolled.
In March, Potsdam State came to Clark with a 69 game
win streak. Oh they were good and Clark put them down. Who was the ringmaster?
Clark went to the Final Four and that’s where FHS Hall of Famer belonged.
Today John lives in Plano, Texas with his beautiful wife,
Suzanne (Swarzel) with their two daughters, Alexandra and Victoria. John is a regional
marketing director for the Lincoln Financial Group. Welcome Aboard, John!
Top Of The Page
In March of 1938 the beloved Clarence
N. Amiott was forced to leave his Fitchburg High because of an illness which would
unfortunately take his life in November of 1942. Mr. Amiott was interviewed by a
student reporter of the Red and Gray who questioned the coach about his twenty-five
years at Fitchburg High. Coach Amiott was asked about the hundreds of young men who
had competed for FHS during his quarter of a century. When asked which athlete was the
best overall athlete during that time Mr. Amiott did not hesitate. Mr. Amiott said, “I
think perhaps that the greatest all-round athlete was Larry Hobbs.” No greater honor
could have been bestowed upon an athlete who grew up in Fitchburg’s Golden Age of
Lawrence G. Hobbs was an individual who epitomized
the term, All American Boy. During his four years at Fitchburg High School, Larry
earned sixteen varsity letters which had only been done once before by Coach Amiott
himself. He had lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track and field from his
freshman year through his senior year, a truly amazing accomplishment. And these were
years of glory for Fitchburg High. But there was Larry Hobbs then the superstar on the
athletic field. During his junior and senior years, Larry was the president of the class of
The yearbook may well have told about the young man
that was Larry Hobbs. It stated, “These humble words are all too few, to say how much
we think of you.” The book further states that Larry Hobbs was a “manly fellow of fine
character” and we sure could not have had a finer president. To us his words were law,
whether the honors of the class is placed in sports or studies, Larry is so good at both that
he alone would place the class honor at its highest point. He is a true friend to us all in an
equal way. High praise indeed from fellow students.
The athletic teams which competed for Fitchburg High
School in the 1922-1923 interscholastic year were truly amongst the finest to ever
compete for the Red and Gray. Names like Ervin Beach, Bart Hodge, Joe Miller,
“Anchor” Oksanen, Leo Boudreau, Joe Dooley, Alver Polson, and “Henny” Groop are
amongst Amiott’s most storied athletes, and front and center during that wonderful year
was Larry Hobbs. This magical season would begin in the fall of 1922 with a Red and
Gray squad going 10-1 with its only loss being to Proviso High of Illinois in an
intersectional match of great magnitude. Fitchburg took on the heavy weights of Eastern
Massachusetts, Brockton, Waltham, Lowell, Boston College High along with ancient
rivals, Leominster and Gardner, and all fell before the mighty Red and Gray machine.
Bart Hodge and Ervin Beach were accused of being illegal college players because of
their great size, but it was the uncanny play calling, nifty run and pinpoint passing of
Larry Hobbs which allowed the Red and Gray to roll through their magnificent season.
When the football season concluded, it was time to put
on the old high cuts and start the hoop season. What a season it would be! Fitchburg’s
regular season record was 17-3 and then they were invited to the Tufts Tournament which
was also called the Tech Tournament, and playing against schools from Vermont, Rhode
Island and Connecticut and final Northampton, the Red and Gray emerged victorious.
Then it was on to Chicago, and the National Basketball Championship. They would be
defeated in the second round, but their season had been remarkable. Once again Larry
Hobbs had been a key component of this tremendous squad. The Red and Gray
referred to Hobbs’ accurate shooting and all-round play which sparked the squad to
victory after victory.
Following the winter basketball campaign, Larry Hobbs
really got busy in the spring of 1923. When the snow melted at Crocker Field, Hobbs
could be seen shagging flies in right field during practice sessions, and then heading over
to the pole vault area. Larry could be observed sailing over the bar and landing into the
sawdust. In the 1920’s young athletes were allowed to compete in both baseball and track
and so young Mr. Hobbs saw no reason why he should not give it a try. Obviously he had
some idea about what he was doing. His teammates elected him baseball captain and a
key element on one of the state’s better track squads in 1923. And all this time young Mr.
Hobbs was earning excellent grades in the classroom.
When one looks at Fitchburg High athletics and the
contributions which Larry Hobbs made to that glorious year, one must remember that he
had been contributing to Red and Gray victories since his freshman year. During those
years, the Red and Gray took on the mighty from all across the northeast and Larry Hobbs
was at the center of the action. Earning a varsity letter in any sport was not an easy
accomplishment during the era of Clarence N. Amiott, but Larry Hobbs earned an
amazing sixteen varsity F’s, a truly unbelievable effort.
In the 1923 class book when the editors humorously
looked into Larry Hobbs’ future in life it was felt that Larry would be Coach Amiott’s
assistant. His classmates in a joking manner had truly hit upon the quality which
separated him from most other great athletes. Through his personal character,
intelligence and athletic prowess, Lawrence Hobbs was truly a coach on the field during
playing days at Fitchburg High.
When Clarence Amiott can look across twenty-five years
of glorious athletic excellence for Fitchburg High, which he orchestrated, and say that
Larry Hobbs was the best ever, that is truly a great honor for this kid named Hobbs. He
was truly Fitchburg High’s “Natural.” Eighty years after his graduation from FHS
Lawrence G. Hobbs will enter the Hall of Fame. All the Fitchburg High community is
honored to bestow this award. No one was ever more deserving.
Top Of The Page
Historically, swimming has been
considered a minor sport in most school systems unless you lived in the community of
Gardner, Massachusetts. Many area sports fans know that the Gardner Wildcats have
dominated swimming for nearly seventy years. Having the Greenwood Memorial
swimming facility was a tremendous advantage. Long before their girl’s squads began to
dominate the state, Wildcat boys were number one. But in the early 1960’s a group of
young swimmers from Fitchburg High led by two dedicated swim coaches began to
challenge that Wildcat domination.
In 1955 the Fitchburg YMCA opened a new facility on
Wallace Avenue which brought about an interest in competitive swimming which
resulted in FHS having a wonderful group of swimmers who would compete at the
highest state level. The centerpiece of the new “Y” was an ultra-modern 25-yard
swimming pool, and swimming competition began almost immediately. But
championship teams and championship swimmers are not created over night. A youth
swimming program was put into effect in the late 1950’s and by the early 1960’s was
beginning to bear fruit. A very young enthusiastic swimmer named Vince Herring was
placed in charge of the FHS swim program at the YMCA and soon the Fitchburg Sentinel
began to have reports that the young swimmers were capturing statewide competitions.
If you look closely at the results, there seemed to be a
family name which continually appeared in those swim results and the first name was not
always the same. The last name was McNamara, and they seemed to have lots of
swimmers in the family. Results showed that young swimmers, Mike, Tom and Richie
were doing quite well on the boy’s side and three young girls named Elly, Jane and Anne
seemed to be capturing blue ribbons on the female side. This rather amazing aquatic
family certainly was getting its money’s worth under the direction of Vince Herring.
Although the whole family seemed to be accomplishing a great deal, Michael McNamara
appeared to be the best. As the swimming medals began to pile up, the McNamara
swimmers were soon competing at the high school level. Coach Herring gave up the
coaching at FHS, but he was followed by another coach named Bob Christie. And the
quality of swimming by FHS began to challenge the best.
When Mike McNamara joined the Raider swim program,
kids like Les Meehan, Rick Haudel, Steve Holt, Joel Goldfarb and Steve Smith were all
making FHS a formidable swimming team. On December 21, 1964, the Fitchburg
Sentinel reported that the Red Raider swim team easily defeated Brockton 80-14 in
their first meet of the season. In its account of the event it was duly noted that freshman
Mike McNamara showed great promise by finishing second in the diving competition and
swimming the butterfly stroke for the victorious 160-yard medley team. A swimming
career had begun on a high note. Throughout his freshman season, Mike McNamara’s
major triumphs was to place from the diving board, but as he headed into his second year
of competition, Mike’s excellence in the pool would be noted.
In 1966 the Fitchburg High swim program under Coach
Christie came of age and Mike McNamara became a major contributor. Cambridge
Rindge and Latin, Leominster, Brookline, Worcester Academy and the Winchendon
School all fell before the Raiders, and then on February 20, 1966 the ultimate victory was
headlined in the Sentinel, “Fitchburg Mermen Capture Area Title by Edging
Gardner.” With their 50-45 victory over the powerful Wildcats, the Red and Gray had
climbed the highest mountain. Sophomore Mike McNamara had been immense in the
startling victory by capturing the 100-yard butterfly and 160-yard medley. Honors were
beginning to mount. Later the FHS sophomore finished fifth in the states and gave
promise of becoming a major player at the state level.
In Mike’s junior year at FHS, the Red Raiders did not
attain the lofty heights of 1966, but individually he had become dominant in his two
specialties, the butterfly and the 160-yard medley. Central Massachusetts swimmers
could not pace with the rapidly moving Raider. In the state meet held at UMass Amherst,
Mike captured a solid fourth place which was FHS’ top effort of the day. Things were
looking up for Mike as he approached his senior year as one of the Raider captains. As
America marched through that most dramatic of years, 1968, the Red and Gray returned
to dominate the local swimming squads with terrific victories over arch-rivals Leominster
and Gardner, and Mike McNamara would conclude his FHS swim career with a
remarkable season. Virtually unbeatable in his two events, Mike traveled to Brookline
High hoping to capture his first state title. And so it came to pass. Swimming in his final
high school competition, Mike McNamara reached for the gold. With a time of 58.3
seconds, he became a state champion. His truly remarkable swimming had come to a
magnificent conclusion. Mike would later finish third at the New Englands, but that was
somewhat anti-climatic. It should have been noted that Mike was part of an FHS
400-yard medley team which was second to Gardner, but in finishing second had smashed
the old state record.
Today Mike is a sales representative for Burk
Technology and when asked to name his hobbies, not surprisingly, he listed swimming.
For a short period of time in the late 1960’s, FHS enjoyed a Golden Age of swimming
and Mike McNamara was a leader in making FHS one of the best. Today he becomes a
member of the FHS Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
The early 1980’s saw the emergence of
women’s sports upon the American mind. Figure skaters who dazzled us with their pixie
like moves were not the only athletes who could compete. Title IX which had been
passed by Congress was beginning to take effect. Young ladies like Nancy Lieberman
and Cheryl Miller were beginning to show their expertise on the basketball court. Soccer
mothers were taking their daughters along to practice on Saturday morning as well as
Junior. In Central Massachusetts there could be seen the beginnings of serious
competition between softball, basketball, field hockey and track and field squads from
every high school. As was true with their male counter parts, certain schools began to
excel. Within a few years the St. Peter-Marian and Wachusett Regional basketball teams
were tooth and nail for Division I honors. The Guardians of St. Pete’s had great softball
with pitchers named Ashelton and Bishop who could throw bullets. Into this mix would
come a tall, shy young lady who would establish records in female athletics which are
still high water marks in 2003. Her name was Pam Briggs and today she is being
inducted into FHS’ Hall of Fame.
Pam Briggs entered Fitchburg High School in the fall of
1981 and almost immediately became involved with field hockey. During Pam’s four
years at FHS the Red and Gray field hockey squads’ difficulty against the Central
Massachusetts powerhouses, but her playing gained enough respect from opposing
coaches so that Pam was given all star honors in her senior year.
But basketball and softball were Pam Briggs’s two
natural sports during her Red Raider days. Standing five feet eleven inches tall was a
natural for the B-Ball game. Many girls who stood near six feet during this era were
merely large players who took up space under the board. Their movements very often
appeared awkward and clumsy. This was not Pam Briggs even as a freshman. She had
silky moves around the basketball with a wide assortment of head fakes which constantly
placed opponent’s centers into foul trouble. Plus Pam Briggs had a deadly fifteen footer
from the key which never touched net. Even during her freshman and sophomore years
Pam was consistently in double figures. In the winter of 1983-1984 Coach Tony Alario’s
girls stepped up their level of play. In earlier seasons, schools like St. Bernard’s and Holy
Name were easily defeating the Red and Gray, now the Raiders were coming out on top.
Players like Kelly Rice, Denise Caouette, Sharon Carriere, Leona Earley and Jen Larson
were making major contributions to the Red and Gray effort, but it was Pam Briggs who
was making Fitchburg tougher. Her efforts against the upper tier opponents was
particularly noticeable. Pam was tough against St. Peter’s and Wachusett Regional and
against Notre Damn Academy she hit for a career high 37 points. But her twenty-one
against Wachusett made her all-star caliber. One other opponent which Pam Briggs loved
to defeat was arch-rival Leominster. In Pam’s junior and senior years, the Red and Gray
never lost to the Devils.
As Pam Briggs approached her senior year at FHS there
were goals which she hoped to attain in her final season. She believed that the improved
Raiders could become a rival contender for the District Title against the likes of St.
Peter-Marian and Wachusett Regional, and she hoped that she could reach the 1000-point
career scoring mark. Both of these hopes and desires of 1985 were attained.
The Red and Gray rolled to an outstanding 16-5 record
which was the most successful in school history up to that time. The Boulder for
the Class of 1985 dwelt upon many of the teams’ outstanding victories but it was a loss
which really told the true story. Wachusett Regional had always been the Raiders
nemesis and as write-up said not only had FHS’ girls never defeated the Mountaineers,
but they had never been close. But the Raiders and Pam Briggs were ready in
mid-February of 1985 for the Green Wave. The tenacious Red and Gray defense harassed
the taller Wachusett girls throughout, allowing their ace, Pam Briggs, to take over the
offense. Sophomore Karen Lamarine tied the game 49-49 with forty seconds to go, but
alas the Mountaineers pulled out a heart breaking 51-49. Pam had been immense in
probably the biggest game of her career. Hall of Famers play big when it most counts and
Wachusett defenders could not stop Pam who scored 27 points in that huge contest.
Later as the season drew to a close, Pam calmly stood at
the foul line and sank her 1000th point. During her final season Pam Briggs averaged 20
points, 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots per game. As those statistics
suggest she was extremely active in every contest. For her efforts in eighty-five Pam was
selected to the Telegram and Gazette All Star Team honoring the very best in Central
But Coach Tony Alario always said that Pam’s best sport
was softball. To put it simply, Pam could hit and she could hit with power. During her
high school career, Pam Briggs saw an evolution in girl’s softball. When Pam started as a
freshman for Coach Alario, most softball pitcher threw the ball underhand at medium, but
by her senior year Pam had seen the advent of the modern softball hurler who could
whirlwind the pitch at sixty plus. It really did not make a major difference to Pam, she
just was a hitter. During her four years at FHS, Pam’s overall batting average was .367
and career slugging percentage regarding home runs, RBI’s and extra bases was
tremendous. She hit twelve four baggers, drove in 87 RBI’s, had 87 hits and led the Red
and Gray to a 53-23 record with two District finals. During Pam’s last season the Red
and Gray made it to the District finals only to lose to St. Peter-Marian and the all time
pitcher Rachel Bishop. FHS softball had risen to the top during Pam’s career.
Following her Red and Gray days, Pam attended Keene
State College where she played basketball. Today she works for the Sonoco Packaging
Company at the Devens Complex where she is a supervising manager. She was truly one
of the pioneers of female athletic excellence at FHS. Many more female athletes from
FHS will enter the Hall of Fame, but Pam Briggs can say she was a pioneer.
Top Of The Page
On March 12, 1990, the Sentinel and
Enterprise reported in huge headlines that the Red Raiders of Fitchburg had stunned
top-seeded Holy Name 44-40 to capture their first ever District E Division I girls
basketball title at Harrington Auditorium. Next to the account of the game was a
photograph of Paula Goodchild which was entitle “Runs the Show.” Truer words were
never spoken. During that magical month in 1990 in which an unheralded group of girls
named Baxter, Sweeney, Normandin, Smith and Rosebush marched to the state final at
the Worcester Centrum, it was the steady hand of number twenty-four who guided the
Raiders to victory.
During that wonderful three week period in which the
underdog Red and Gray shocked the high school basketball world, Paula was the kid who
got the clutch rebound, sunk the tie-breaking foul shot or sunk the key three pointer.
When Coach Tony Alario needed a defensive stalwart to shut down Holy Name’s All
Stater, Anne Marie Olson, it was Paula Goodchild who was called upon to make the
defensive stop. When the Red and Gray traveled to Springfield to take on an undefeated
and heavily favored Agawam five, it was Paula Goodchild who controlled the contest.
The Raiders had raced to an early lead which shocked the 5000 plus fans screaming in the
stands, but in the second half, Agawam made its expected run at FHS. As the Red and
Gray’s lead began to disappear, there stood the Raider point guard calmly dribbling the
ball at the top of the key. Ice water seemed to be passing through her veins and her
teammates could sense their leader’s calmness. Soon the final buzzer would ring and
Fitchburg’s gang of underdogs would head to the state finals. It may well have been
Paula Goodchild’s finest hour in the Red and Gray uniform, but that is difficult to say,
because her career at FHS was filled with so many great moments.
Late in her senior year as Paula competed for the Red
and Gray, her softball and basketball coach, Tony Alario, talked about his four year star.
Coach Alario talked about her versatility in both sports, but then he talked about Paula
Goodchild as a winner and a leader. During that spring season, Paula had missed a game
because of illness and he coached stating that this was the first game or practice which
she had missed in four years. That is the type of athlete which every coach dreams about
having on his squad. Paula Goodchild was truly a coaches dream. Paula may be best
remembered for her exploits on the basketball court, but Coach Alario stated that, “She
was the best third baseman I had ever coached and one of the best I had ever seen. She’s
got quick hands, charges the bunt well and is an excellent hitter, whose career average
was over .400.”
But points per game, batting average, rebounds or extra
base hits were not what Paula Goodchild was all about during her four years at Fitchburg
High School. It was not a coincidence that the Fitchburg High girls teams had some of
their most successful years during Paula’s four years at Academy Street. There is a
sport’s cliché that teams do not have the letter I, and you will notice that neither does
Paula. During the period from 1986 through 1990 the FHS girls were constantly fighting
for championships in softball and basketball. Many good athletes competed, but Paula
Goodchild was always in the middle of the mix. Individual awards would be presented to
Paula. For instance, following her great senior year, Paula was named the Central
Massachusetts Division I Player of the Year and her name was found on the all star
softball teams in her junior and senior years. But it was the winning that always counted.
As has been stated earlier Paula was a four year starter
on both the basketball and softball squads, but she was also a four year player on the field
hockey team. During her years at FHS the field hockey team grew progressively stronger
and by her senior year, Paula had become one of the better players in the region. Field
hockey was used to get prepared for the basketball which she loved, but the true athlete
seems to excel in whatever they attempt.
During her four years at Fitchburg High School, Paula
Goodchild’s name would continually be found upon the school’s honor roll. Class work
was considered important to Paula just as sports were. Following graduation from FHS
in 1990, Paula enrolled at Worcester State College to further her education. While at
Worcester, Paula concentrated on basketball and started four years for the Lancers. Her
leadership helped the Worcester squad attain post-season play-off status. During this
period Paula was named to a number of all star teams in the state college league. Paula
was named her team’s MVP in her junior year at Worcester State.
In 1994, Paula Goodchild graduated from Worcester
State college with a teaching degree specializing in special education and has taught in
the Fitchburg Public School System for the last nine years at the Crocker School and the
Goodrich Street School. She is married to Greg Gastonguay and they have an eighteen
month named Samantha. Paula will tell you that Samantha is her greatest achievement.
Title IX was enacted in 1972, and now the Fitchburg
Hall of Fame has Debbie Dion, Class of 1972, Pam Briggs, Class of 1985, Paula
Goodchild, Class of 1990, and the 1989 Girl’s State Cross-Country Champions as
members. Thank goodness for Title Nine!
Paula Goodchild quietly entered the halls of FHS from
the tiny St. Joseph School and established an athletic career which will be remembered
for many years to come. Welcome to the Hall of Fame Paula Goodchild.
Top Of The Page
Larry Hobbs, Class of 1923, received
sixteen varsity letters during his four years at Fitchburg High School. This 2003 Hall of
Fame inductee was named by the legendary coach Clarence N. Amiott as his greatest all
round athlete. I believe Mr. Amiott would have enjoyed meeting Peter Bergeron, Class of
1978, who will be inducted into the Hall with his all timer – Larry Hobbs. Peter Bergeron
would receive nine varsity letters in football, outdoor and indoor track and field and
basketball. But classmates, coaches and opponents will tell you that Peter could have
received six varsity letters in a single season if he had been allowed to compete. He never
played a single inning of baseball at Fitchburg High, but local Little League and Babe
Ruth League coaches will tell you that Peter Bergeron was the best of his age group.
During his years while competing for FHS, Peter could well have been the model for such
fictional sport’s heroes like Frank Merriwell and Chip Hilton. This is Peter Bergeron –
Fitchburg High School, Hall of Famer.
Before Mr. Bergeron entered FHS, he passed through the
corridors of B.F. Brown Junior High where he received the Gentleman-Scholar-Athlete
Award which is given to the outstanding ninth grader. In his information page for the
Hall, Peter stated that his parents, George and Theresa, were his biggest supporters,
biggest influences and greatest role model. George and Theresa did a terrific job.
With his strength, speed and competitiveness, Peter was
a perfect candidate for the Red and Gray football squad in the fall of 1975, and soon the
young sophomore found himself a regular in Marco Landon’s defensive backfield and
getting frequent opportunities to show his running skills on offense. During these
seasons, the Red and Gray had winning seasons, but they were not spectacular. When
Peter returned to Crocker Field in the fall of 1976, the junior running back was selected to
the go-to-guy in Coach Landon’s offense and the long-striding halfback became one of
the best in Central Massachusetts as the Raiders showed signs of major improvement, but
the overall record was barely above five hundred.
In the fall of 1977 a new regime was begun by appointed
head coach David Horgan, and within days there were reports circulating around
Fitchburg that the Red and Gray could be extremely tough in the fall of 1977. Names like
Jimmy Pappas, Ricky Jones, Les Ricks, Kevin Conway, Shaun Tienharra, and Terry
Enwright began to be discussed on talk radio and in the coffee shops. But the coaches
and the kids on the squad knew that Peter Bergeron would be their main man in 1977.
Soon the leaves of autumn began to turn and the Red and Gray football squad became the
talk of the town along the Nashua River. The offensive backfield of Bergeron, Pappas,
Atkinson and Conway were rolling through and around enemy defenders.
The undefeated Raiders met St. John’s at Pioneer Field
in the middle of October in what could be only called a classic shootout between gridiron
giants. Hundreds of fans had traveled down from Fitchburg to watch this Horgan football
squad and they did not disappoint. High powered offenses marched up and down the
field only to be challenged by stalwart defenders. Jim Pappas and Captain Peter Bergeron
were simply wonderful for the Raiders. When the dust had settled the Red and Gray had
a tremendous one-touchdown victory. Later Fitchburg would lose a difficult 21-20
contest to an excellent Bedford High squad, but redeem themselves against a powerful
Milford eleven with a large defensive tackle named Howie Long. In that contest
“Apples” Atkinson would break his leg late in the contest and that would prove to be very
important on Thanksgiving morning. Fitchburg dominated the Devils on Thanksgiving,
but a first half touchdown drive which would have given the lead was foiled by an
unfortunate fumble. Peter Bergeron was all over Doyle Field, but when the final whistle
sounded, FHS had been defeated 7-0. At the end of the football season, Peter Bergeron
was named to the Central Massachusetts Super Team and he was awarded a four-year
athletic scholarship to the University of New Hampshire.
But the gridiron game might well not have been Peter
Bergeron’s best sport, that would be track and field. Peter Bergeron was simply a
monster in a track uniform whether he was throwing the javelin, sprinting in the 220 and
440 or blazing in his specialty, the half-mile. Coach Ed Gastonguay loves to tell a great
story about Peter’s athletic ability. In 1977-1978 a young Norwegian exchange student
named Eric Hansen entered FHS and asked if he might participate in cross-country.
Considering the fact that he was on Norway’s Junior Olympic squad, Ed thought that was
alright. Late in August Eric and Peter went out to jog on the cross-country course. Of
course it was going to be a race, not a jog. As the two runners emerged from the woods,
Ed was amazed to see the tall muscular football player leading the kid from Norway.
Peter Bergeron never ran cross-country, he was too busy starring on the football field.
Twenty-five years have passed since Peter Bergeron last
stepped on the track at Crocker field and he still holds the half-mile record with a time of
1:57.4 which is truly amazing considering that he was running on a fifty-year-old cinder
track. Peter was also a part of a mile relay squad which in 1977 ran a record setting time
of 3:28.7. That squad consisted of Tim Biliouris, Brian Zanghi, Steve Romano and Peter.
He also holds the indoor record in the 1000 in a blazing time of 2:18.6 which helped
Fitchburg capture the state Class C championship in his senior year at FHS. He was also
awarded the student-athlete award in his senior year at Fitchburg.
Peter Bergeron’s record was extremely impressive at the
University of New Hampshire where he was Yankee Conference All Star Defensive in his
junior season and given the 12th Player Award in his final season. Peter was also All
Yankee Conference for Indoor Track in 1981. He was a terrific Wildcat. Today Peter is
the assistant principal at the James Mastricola Middle School in Merrimack, New
Hampshire and lives in Goffstown, N.H. with his wife, Heidi and their three children
Matthew, Haley and Hannah. Fitchburg’s All American kid is now a Hall of
Top Of The Page
Kids grow up wanting to be the star
quarterback who flings the game winning touchdown against the arch-rival, or hits the
key three point shot to bring the District championship back to the old alma mater. That
same kid wants to stand on the mound, and hopes that he can throw that sharp breaking
curveball over the outside corner to bring down the defending state champion. Instead
that kid becomes an All-American cross-country runner at the University of
Massachusetts, and the Division I NCAA Cross-Country Coach of the Year 2000-2001.
That kid would be Randy Thomas who will be inducted into the Fitchburg High School
Hall of Fame in 2003.
Growing up on Hawes Street, young Randy would hike
over the hill to Crocker Field to watch the Red Raiders led by guys named MacLean and
Muir win another glorious victory for FHS. In the spring of 1966, that same kid now in
junior high would go to cold and damp Crocker Field to watch his older brother Scott
playing centerfield for a Raider squad which go to the District finals. His father, John,
made sure that his kids, Scott, Randy and Jason, had red and gray flowing through their
In the fall of 1968, a tall gangly sophomore decided that
he was going to give cross-county a try. The Red and Gray at that time were coached by
the gentle giant, Erkki Koutonen, who had guided the Raiders to many great victories.
Young Randy Thomas had not done much long distance running, but under the
encouraging hand of Coach Koutonen, Randy improved every day and found that he had
an aptitude for long distance running. Sophomore year brought some success on the hills
of Fitchburg, but Randy decided to go for the gold as he entered his junior season. He
could be seen running the hills of Fitchburg as he prepared for competition. Baseball and
basketball may well have been his first loves in sport, but Randy Thomas began to realize
that the loneliness of the long distance runner might be his game. The fall of 1969 was a
break out year at the high school level. Running against outstanding squads from
Wachusett Regional and Gardner, Randy soon showed that he could compete with the
best. That fall he qualified for the state championship to be run at Franklin Park and
finished twelfth in the state. Randy’s senior year at FHS was sure to be a triumph.
Disaster struck in the summer of 1970. As Randy
trained arduously on the hills of Fitchburg during July and August, he noticed that he was
becoming more and more fatigued after every practice session. He thought nothing of his
fatigue and continued his training. Finally he could barely get himself out of the bed in
the morning, and a doctor’s appointment was made. The doctor’s findings were
devastating to the young athlete. Randy had contracted a serious case of “Mono” which
can be horrible for any athlete particularly long distant runners. The young athlete’s
dreaming of championships in his senior season were destroyed and no college coach
would be breaking down the doors on Hawes Street to offer scholarships. Randy’s
cross-country season was gone. Randy spoke jokingly of his victory at the last indoor
track meet when his illness had subsided. He was victorious in a twenty-two-lap
one-mile race and the yearbook pictured a less than svelte runner crossing the finish line
in the FHS basketball gym. Randy, who was an honor student at FHS, was accepted to
UMass, but there was no athletic scholarship.
In the fall of 1971, Randy Thomas asked to speak to the
cross-country coach, Ken O’Brien, about joining the cross-country squad. Coach O’Brien
took one look at Randy and was immediately skeptical. His walk-on was twenty-five
pounds over weight and was nicknamed “Fitchburg Fats” by Coach O’Brien. Soon
O’Brien learned that he had a diamond in the rough. “Fats” was outdistancing his
teammates as the pounds disappeared and the running legs returned. By 1974, “Fitchburg
Fats” had become somewhat of a running legend at UMass. Yankee Conference, Eastern
Regional and the national championship trophies began to find their way back to
Amherst. Randy Thomas had become a nationally known champion. In 1974 Randy was
named an All American, but he was only just beginning.
Randy will tell you himself that Carl Lewis was never
threatened by his foot speed in the 100-yard dash, but Mr. Lewis would not have
challenged Randy in any event over 800 meters. Between 1977-1980 “Fitchburg Fats”
was a long distance running machine who seriously challenged track’s record book.
When you read the list of Randy’s records you will be simply amazed. Amongst his
records at the time, Randy ran the fastest 10,000 meters, 15,000 meters, 20,000 meters,
30,000 meters, ten mile race and half-marathon in American track history. Also in 1978
Randy Thomas finished fifth in the Boston Marathon with the fastest debut marathon in
American track. In that same season Randy Thomas was the fifth ranked marathoner in
the world and was listed as the World’s 8th fastest Road Runner. His times in the
ten-mile (46.36) and 30,000 meters (1:30.34) were also World Records. As the old
television commercial stated, Mr. Thomas of Fitchburg “had come a long way, baby!” In
1982, Randy Thomas was inducted into the University of Massachusetts Hall of Fame.
Ken O’Brien certainly discovered a diamond in the rough on that fall afternoon over
thirty years ago.
As Randy’s running career began to wind down in the
mid-1980’s and adulthood became a little more serious, Randy Thomas decided to get
involved in coaching. Following UMass he resided in the Boston area so that he could
train with great runners like Rodgers, Meyers and Salazar. Boston College was basking
in the post-Flutie era and was attempting to upgrade their sport’s programs at all levels.
In 1987 the Eagles made a wise decision. Randy was selected first to be head
cross-country coach and assistant track and field coach. In the following sixteen years
that has evolved so that Randy is in charge of almost all of B.C.’s track programs. Maybe
the fact that he was made Coach of the Year for New England in 1992 and 1993 and the
Big East in 2000 would cause the Jesuit fathers to select the kid from Fitchburg.
Finally in 2000-2001 Randy was selected the Division I
Coach of the Year in Women’s Cross-Country. That is simply wonderful. Today Randy
lives in Medway, Massachusetts with his wife Marcia Evans Thomas of Nashoba
Regional – Class of 1971 and his two children, Ian and Benjamin. Welcome to the Red
Raider Hall of Fame.
Top Of The Page
Early in January, 1960, a group of
anxious and nervous Senior English students sat in their seats awaiting the arrival of the
venerable Miss Lillian Taylor to emerge from her office so that class could begin. Miss
Taylor’s entrances were always things of beauty as she stormed toward her desk to begin
another classic lesson. On this particular day, Miss Taylor appeared to be a little more
agitated than usual. It seems that a group of former FHS athletes had gotten their names
in the paper for some mischief over Christmas Holiday. One did not besmirch the
reputation of FHS as far as Miss Taylor was concerned. In her one-person dialogue she
said that real men and athletes did not harm their school’s reputation with childish
behavior, real athletic men always acted like Ray Ablondi from the Class of 1948. This
member of that English class had to find out who this Ray Ablondi character was. Over
the passing years, I have discovered that Mr. Ray Ablondi was one of FHS’ finest athletes
from the 1940’s and one of our most distinguished graduates ever. And today Ray
Ablondi has found his place into our Hall of Fame.
When Ray Ablondi is discussed, the first word that
comes to mind is speed. He was possessed with mind-boggling speed which would serve
him well upon the gridirons of Central Massachusetts and upon running tracks all across
the New England region. And it was this blazing speed which would separate from other
athletes of his era. Post-World War II, Fitchburg was a community of factories and
thousands of lunch pail workers. And as we emerged out of the conflict of World War II,
FHS would be graced by the presence of outstanding athletes with names like “Bucker”
Shea, “Corky” Irwin, Joe Cushing, Bob Duncan, Jim Meredith, Mike Martin, Dick
Erickson, Charlie Bowen, Art Capone and small buzz saw from the State College area
named Ray Ablondi. One of the proudest accomplishments of the Class of 1948 was that
they never lost to Leominster on Turkey Day.
That was where the athletic heroics of Ray Ablondi first
came to the attention of his Fitchburg. Nineteen forty-five is one of the world’s most
famous years. World War II came to an end and the American heroes returned home.
Once again people could concentrate upon their own lives and that was a true part of the
city along the Nashua. The Red and Gray football team was young and it was good and
victories began to return to Crocker Field. During the late 1930’s and the war years,
Charlie Broderick’s Blue Devils had begun to dominate the Turkey Day Classic. The Red
and Gray of 1945 wanted to put a stop to that. On Thanksgiving morning 1945, it rained
and then it rained some more. The underdog Raiders slogged it out in the mud against
large opponents. Sophomore Mike Martin’s punts kept the Blue Devils backed up against
their end zone and then the Raiders got strong field position. The ball was pitched to
Ablondi, his offensive tackle, Gene Casassa, got a solid block on the linebacker and Mike
Martin threw the key block on the last defender and Ablondi streaked into the end zone
form fifty yards out. Thirty-five years later Ray Ablondi would only remember the block
thrown by his diminutive teammate, Martin. He did not talk about the blazing speed of
the halfback who scored the touchdown which allowed the young Raiders to tie LHS 6-6.
Following his dynamic sophomore year at FHS, he
would become a marked man for enemy defenses in his next two gridiron seasons. When
Ray was healthy he was always capable of going the whole distance which he did with
great frequency, but the injury jinx would hound him continually. But the Raiders
continued to flourish in the late 1940’s with an explosive offense and tough linemen who
made it difficult for their opponents. Despite his injuries, Ray was an integral member of
those squads in the Post-War era.
In football, the big guys try to knock down the little
guys, but in track and field the sprinters can let it fly. And Ray Ablondi could really
blaze. Under the watchful eyes of his two coaches, Steve Woodbury and Jim Chalmers,
Ablondi prospered on the cinder track at Crocker Field. He was an excellent hundred
yard man who would consistently capture first place in dual and district meets, but it was
the 220 which would become Ray Ablondi’s event. By his senior year, Ray had become
unbeatable at his chosen distance. One warm May afternoon he blazed to victory in the
unbelievable time of 22.00 for the sprint. Track officials at Crocker Field had to check
their watches to make sure that no mistakes had been made. Fifty-five years later that
record still stands as the all time best ever at Crocker Field.
Ray Ablondi was not done in that spring of 1948. In
early June he competed in the New England Track and Field Championships and was
victorious once again in his specialty, the 220-yard dash. But that was not the only
victory for FHS at the New Englands. Teaming with teammates Norman Goguen, Ronald
Balaban and Henry Brunell, Ray anchored the Red and Gray to the New England
Ray Ablondi was an all star on the athletic field, but he
was a superstar at Fitchburg High School. His classmates selected him as their class
president during junior and senior year and he was awarded a Gold F for academic
excellence. When it came to select the Class of 1948’s General Excellence winner,
Raymond Ablondi was the logical choice. When you scan the 1948 Boulder one notices
immediately that Ray Ablondi was always willing to perform in class plays or in speech
competitions. He was FHS’ Renaissance Guy.
Following his graduation, Ray Ablondi enrolled at
Middlebury College in Vermont and competed in track and field for four years, and in his
senior year he was elected co-captain. He was selected to the President Men’s
Undergraduate Association and was the recipient of the Dutton Fellowship for Study
Abroad. In 1955 he received his Ph D. from the London School of Economics from the
University of London. He spent thirty-five years with Ford Motor Company and from
1980 to 1990 he was the Director of Market Research for North America. His work
helped Ford introduce a new line of products which included the Taurus, Thunderbird,
Explorer and Ford Truck.
He married Shirley Aaltonen, Class of 1949, and had
three children, Christine, Lynn and Chip. The Ablondi’s are enjoying their retirement
years in Simpsonville, South Carolina. Ray Ablondi – a true Hall of Famer – FHS is
proud of your achievements.
Top Of The Page
In the spring of 1959, the Fitchburg High
School baseball team, under the direction of first year coach Jerry O’Rourke, was having
an excellent season which surprised many observers in the north county. The Red and
Gray had graduated a number of veteran players from the Class of 1958, lost Billy
Mundie in a tragic car accident and lost a promising prospect when Doug King,
considered the finest hitter developed in the area in 20 years, moved away from
Fitchburg. But when the season opened, the Red and Gray began to win immediately.
During that spring, FHS was winning with two sophomore starting pitchers and an infield
of mainly untested sophomores and juniors. But that squad had one mainstay who would
make all the difference in 1959. His name was Ronnie Thompson, and many believe that
he was the finest baseball player developed in the Fitchburg area in the last fifty years.
During his first two seasons playing for the Red and Gray, Thompson had batted well
over .400, but 1959 would be his finest hour.
Hall of Fame inductee, Ronnie Thompson was the
captain, the leader who led by example on and off the field. His defensive play behind
the plate in 1959 was flawless. Enemy base runners did not steal on Ronnie Thompson
and his teammates will tell you even today that Thompson did not have a single pass ball
in his senior season. And then there was Captain Thompson’s handling of the pitching
staff that season. The sophomore’s Vic Helin and Alan Thompson, Ronnie’s younger
brother, had great stuff, but they could be a little wild. Thompson handled the pitchers
with ease, and the field generally led his squad toward the District play offs.
During that spring there was added pressure on Ronnie
because he was being closely scrutinized by the scouts who were flocking to Crocker
Field to watch this prospect. Middle-aged men with small notebooks sat quietly in the
stands and watched every move which Ronnie made during the contests. It did not fluster
the young catcher in the least. He continued to rip the cover off the ball, driving in runs
at a very rapid pace, and his teammates began to follow his lead. Kids like Doug Prevost,
Bill Burke and John DiGeronimo began smacking the ball over Crocker Field and the
wins continued for the Raiders. Late in May, the Raiders ran off eight straight victories
as squads from Gardner, Leominster, Athol and Clinton fell before the surprising Red and
Gray squad. And the invitation to play in the Districts arrived.
The four schools selected to play in the tourney were
Gardner, Northbridge, St. Stephen’s of Worcester and FHS and early in June a single
elimination tourney was played at Fuller Field in Clinton when the pairings were
announced, FHS’ opponent was the Wildcats of Gardner High. During the regular season
the Raiders and Wildcats had split two closely contested games. With young Vic Helin
pitching a wonderful game, the surprising Raiders pounded Gardner to bring about a 10-2
victory. As was the case throughout the season, Ronnie Thompson led the hit parade with
three solid base knocks including a base clearing triple. But unfortunately Cinderella’s
ride came to an end against St. Stephen’s who were the defending state champions. But
even in defeat, Ronnie Thompson had held up his portion of the bargain with two hits in a
Ronnie Thompson’s high school career was concluded,
but June 1959 held more thrills for FHS’ all-star catcher. On the evening of June 12,
1959, as his fellow classmates hurried off to graduation parties following their FHS
graduation ceremony, Ron Thompson returned to his home at 93 Highland Avenue to
meet with officials of the Boston Red Sox. With his proud parents and younger brother,
Alan, looking on, Ronnie signed a major league contract. His life long dream had been
But there is much more about Ronnie Thompson’s
athletic career at Fitchburg High. He was one of those typical three sport athletes which
produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But unlike many FHS athletes who traditionally
played football, basketball and baseball, Ronnie’s third sport was hockey. When Ronnie
and his family moved to Fitchburg from Woburn, Ronnie already had a background in
hockey so it was only correct that he would undertake hockey when FHS started its
program in 1958. When schools begin new programs the first years can be difficult, and
they were for FHS. As the Raiders took their licks against squads from Marlboro,
Auburn and Hudson, their one standout was the kid from Woburn, Ronnie Thompson. In
1959 Ronnie was selected to the All Star team from the Central Massachusetts Hockey
During Ronnie’s years at FHS, the gridiron team which
had slumped during the mid-1950’s had begun a revival under Head Coach Ed Sullivan
and assistants Stan Goode and Jim Meredith. In 1957 the Red and Gray had shocked
Leominster 20-14 and as the 1958 season began hopes ran high. Coach Sullivan had a
major hole to fill in his offensive backfield. “Buzzy” Congram who had led the Raiders
in 1957 had graduated, so Coach Sullivan turned to Ronnie Thompson. How did the
baseball catcher do? He did quite well, thank you. The Red and Gray in 1958 were led
by veterans Allen Muir and Roger Kielty and they would be the mainstays. Fitchburg
would finish their season with a fine 6-3 record which included a convincing victory over
archrival Leominster. One vivid memory of that cold Thanksgiving morning was Ronnie
Thompson standing tall in the pocket firing a bullet to Dana Valiton to give the Raiders
an early lead. Following the 1958 season, Ronnie Thompson was named first team all
star for the old North Worcester County Sportswriters football team. Quite an honor for
an old baseball player.
Following his graduation, Ronnie Thompson played in
the Red Sox farm system which was highlighted by his selection to the All Star Team in
the Sophomore League in Texas while playing for the Alpine Cowboys. That season
Thompson batted .310, hit 24 home runs and drove in 112 RBI’s. In 1963 Ronnie
stopped playing baseball. For the last twenty-one years, he has been a tool and dye maker
for 3M corporation in Columbia, Missouri. He married Joan Crawley from Leominster
and they had two children, Dave and Susan, and five grandchildren. Welcome to the FHS
Hall of Fame – Ronnie Thompson.
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During the late 1960’s, Fitchburg High
School had a number of athletes with names like Glenny, Petrides, LaRoche, Boudreau,
Marabello, and Palmer who would distinguish themselves upon the playing fields. But
the consensus of most observers from that period is that of Tom DiGeronimo, Class of
1969, the single most outstanding individual. Tom DiGeronimo, who stood barely six
feet tall and weighed no more than 180 pounds, was a terror on the football field,
basketball court and baseball diamond.
In the fall of 1966, Coach Marco Landon greeted his Red
Raider squad at Crocker Field late in August and looked out upon a sea of young anxious
faces. Fitchburg High was coming off a very discouraging campaign from 1965, but there
seemed to be some hope for the future as the squad met for the first time. The Class of
1969 had completed a spectacular freshman campaign in which they had dazzled their
opponents, and that team was supposedly loaded with prospects. Coach Landon soon
found this to be true as the newcomers shone in early practices. One player in particular
seemed to outplay everyone on the field and he was a wide receiver named Tom
DiGeronimo. Whenever the quarterbacks threw the ball in DiGeronimo’s direction, the
talented kid would reach up and grab the pigskin and head down field. Defensive backs
found him almost impossible to tackle and Coach Landon soon had him penciled in as a
starter. Tom DiGeronimo was tremendous on defense and his ferocious hits had
old-timers talking about superstars from the 1930’s and 1940’s.
The Red and Gray squad was very young in that fall of
1966, but they gained a reputation for all out effort and a “never say die” attitude. The
Red and Gray traveled to Stone Field to take on powerful Gardner and the young
sophomore was the best player on the field. The young Raider squad won some and lost
some in that fall of 1966, but the youngsters were getting stronger every contest.
Opponents were having difficulty with Tom DiGeronimo whenever he had his hands on
the ball and enemy halfbacks constantly looked for the hard-tackling sophomore.
Thanksgiving morning of 1966 was bright and sunny as
ten thousand fans converged upon Crocker Field to watch a highly favored Leominster
Blue Devils take on the young Red Raiders. Little did they realize that they would be
watching a coming out party for Tom DiGeronimo. Coach Landon and his assistants
realized that their young squad could not slug it out with the large Devils squad, so they
decided to open up their offense. Reverses were going to be run out of spread formations,
and the ball was going to get into Tom DiGeronimo’s hands. As the ball flew all around
Crocker Field the sophomore end made one spectacular catch after another. When the
final whistle blew Leominster had eked out a 14-12 victory, and Fitchburg High had
themselves a superstar. For his individual efforts, Tom was awarded the St. Germaine
Trophy which was given to the Raider’s MVP in the Turkey Day Classic. He would
receive the same trophy in his junior season against the Blue Devils. Following his
sophomore year, Tom was named to the North Worcester County All Star Team by the
Sentinel. He would receive that award in his junior and senior years also, making him
one of the few to ever accomplish that feat.
When the football season ended, Tom DiGeronimo
would head to the basketball gym on Academy Street where he starred on the varsity
squad for three years. During his junior and senior years Tom spearheaded an exciting
basketball squad under the leadership of Ted Paulauskas which saw the Raiders battle all
the best in Central Massachusetts. Particularly memorable were the contests played
against St. Bernard’s at the old Brickyard on Academy Street. The Blue and Gold were in
the midst of a great basketball run with players like Ron Gabriel and Danny Small. The
Raiders were much smaller than St. Bernard’s so it was up to Tom DiGeronimo to battle
the Bernardians under the board. Tom stood barely six-feet tall, but he could jump
through the roof and was strong as an ox. The Raiders and Bernardians split four games
back in 1968 and 1969, and old timers still remember DiGeronimo and Small under the
boards. It was the stuff of legends. During his junior and senior years Tom was selected
for an all county all star squad for his efforts.
In the fall of 1968 the Fitchburg football squad was
loaded with kids like Chris Petrides, Leo LaRoche, Yogi Dipasquale, Alan Glenny, Mike
Thibeault, Roger LaRoche and others, but Tom DiGeronimo was the key. Due to a
weather-shortened schedule and bad officials in Nashua, the Red Raiders record was only
7-1. This team could have played anybody. Tom DiGeronimo was all over the field in
every contest. Late in the season FHS played an undefeated Athol squad and the coaches
decided to go to Tom. When the dust settled FHS had a 41-6 victory and DiGeronimo
had caught a dozen passes.
Tom DiGeronimo concluded his high school career with
a victory over Leominster. Alan Glenny, playing for an injured Petrides, got the ball to
Tom and with Randy Palmer’s block of LHS’ kick, FHS had their win.
Tom DiGeronimo was an excellent baseball player for FHS in his sophomore and senior
years and ran track in his junior year. He certainly was an all-round athlete during his
FHS years and deserves his Hall of Fame selection. During his high school years, Tom
did not neglect his studies, making the honor roll with great regularity. He then went to
Harvard University where his college career was ended by injuries. For the last fifteen
years Dr. Thomas DiGeronimo has practiced medicine in Florida and he is married with
four children, Elliot, Ryan Cristina and Vivian. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Tom
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During the period between World War I
and World War II the super weapon which all nations were trying to develop was the
modern battleship. With their mighty guns and steel plated armor, the so-called
Dreadnaughts were considered invincible. In 1930 and 1931 the Fitchburg High School
football squad had an 18-2-1 record against some of Massachusetts’ finest elevens. The
only squad which defeated the Red and Gray during that period was mighty Brockton
which almost never lost. You might wonder why these two pieces of information were
placed together in this Hall of Fame booklet. Well, the Boulder of 1932 will give you the
Next to the name William Earle Whelan are the
following comments: First; Victories that are easy are cheap and Secondly; “Battleship
Bill,” as the sportswriters call him, is our broadest smiles. There would be something
very wrong indeed, if Bill emerged from a scrimmage on the gridiron, on the basketball
court, or an equation test without a wide grin. He has a happy go-lucky way about him,
and seems to take everything as being in a day’s work. Being one of Fitchburg High’s all
time greats was something which “Battleship Bill” seemed to take as the norm. In the
Red and Gray a football is shown trying to escape a very large foot and the caption states,
“Bill is getting such a rugged reputation that even the ball resorts to flight.” If you grew
up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and listened to your father or other Red and Gray athletes and
fans talk about Bill Whelan, they would talk about him as a very special player. In those
two football seasons FHS’ juggernaut scored four hundred forty-five points while only
allowing sixty. And who was the hub of the squad, “Battleship Bill” Whelan. He played
center on offense and defensive tackle, and nobody moved him.
During his years playing for Fitchburg on the gridiron he
was generally considered to be one of the finest football players in the state. But football
may not have been his finest sport. Bill Whelan was a three-letter man on Amiott’s great
basketball squads which annually contended for the title at the MIT tournament which
was comparable to today’s state championship. In Whelan’s senior year he was elected
team captain for the squad which went to the finals of the Tech Tourney only to lose to
Brockton 20-19. As we true in football, FHS and Brockton were the great basketball
squads of that era. The two squads had split two regular season games and then the state
final was decided by one point, and Bill Whelan was in the middle of it. His rugged
rebounding style allowed fast moving players like Paavo Lahti, Reino Fillback and Ray
Belliveau in Amiott’s quick passing offense. His tremendous physique was able to shed
opponents easily so that he could capture the rebounds for the Red and Gray.
In Whelan’s junior season he spearheaded a defense
which shut off nine of their eleven opponents which was truly an amazing
accomplishment considering the competition. The efforts of the defense was almost as
outstanding in “Battleship Bill’s” senior season. To give an idea of his importance I
would like to quote a part of a poem honoring the 1931 squad written by an Eero Cooke,
Class of 1932 entitled A Likely Lot.
Whelan comes next in our hall of fame
Or “Fighting Bill” his better known name.
He believes, as you have probably heard,
That a tackle should not be seen, but heard.
Following his graduation in 1932 Bill Whelan enrolled at
Manhattan College which was playing big time football at the time against the likes of
Fordham, Georgetown, Providence and Rutgers. Bill Whelan and his exploits on Crocker
Field were even known about in the Big Apple. He returned to the area and began
working at the Norton Company in Worcester. In 1950 at the young age of 38 Bill
Whelan was struck down by a sudden heart attack which shocked his community of
Fitchburg. More than fifty years after “Battleship Bill” Whelan’s tragic early death, his
alma mater is placing him in its Hall of Fame where he rightly belongs.
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