Third Class, October 9, 2005

INDUCTEES

Arthur “Bucker” Shea
1948
Chris Petrides
1969
Craig Cormier
1990
Dave Caputi
1977
Dennis LeBlanc
1961
Dick Boutwell
1957

Jimmy Leo
1936
Joe Spagnuola
1964
Loring "Bud" Stevenson
1949
Marco Landon
Coach
Mike Connolly
1985
Mike Conry
1958

Ralph Howard
Faculty Manager
Football Team
1972
Tracy Smith
1993
Walter “Buzzy” Congram
1958
Zack McCall
1993

Arthur “Bucker” Shea
1948

In the fall of 1945 America was living in the afterglow of victory in World War, and her young men had returned home to begin their lives anew. The G.I. Bill was sending millions of young men and women off to college and its wonderful opportunities. With a devastated Europe, American industry was able to flex its muscles. New England’s industrial communities continued to thrive, and so towns like Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner were bursting with energy. Historians have called the period between 1945 and 1950 the Good Years. And in the city along the river, that boundless energy was transferred to the athletes of FHS. The athletic teams for the Red and Gray were loaded with excellent players who brought glory to their school. One such athlete was a scrappy Irish kid from the Teacher’s College area named Arthur Paul Shea Jr. But to friend and foe alike, Mr. Shea was always “Bucker”.

When “Bucker” Shea is discussed by his contemporaries, one aspect of his play is always discussed. “Bucker” was a tough guy whether he was throwing a block on a defensive end, clearing a rebound on the defensive backboard to initiate a fast break down the basketball court or digging in at home plate. The Boulder of the Class of 1948 may have said it best with the words, “A mixture of red hair, pep and many moods.” Classmate and fellow Hall of Famer Bob Duncan told a great story which symbolized the fire which burned in the belly of “Bucker” Shea. When the Raiders went on the road during the winter months to compete against the likes of Leominster, Athol, or Nashua, opposing public address announcers when naming the Raider starting five would never introduce “Bucker” by his nickname. And so Arthur Paul Shea Jr. would refuse to run to center court for the introduction. He would wait for the opening tip-off, and then explode into action. Finesse might be the name of the game for the likes of Bob Duncan, Johnny Gates or “Corky” Ervin, “Bucker” Shea’s job was to grind under the boards, and get that rebound. His efforts helped the Red and Gray reach the western Massachusetts championship tournament in both 1947 and 1948.

But really baseball and basketball were two sports which “Bucker” competed in when FHS wasn’t competing in football. Number eighty-nine was born to play on Crocker Field during the autumn months. He was a varsity starter for the Red and Gray for three years. Coach Marty McDonough and Coach Eddie Sullivan loved the banty rooster attitude of “Bucker” Shea. Teammates today will tell you that “Bucker” would have played varsity his freshman year if he hadn’t been a student at Teacher’s College Junior High School. T.C. kids were ineligible to compete at FHS. During the post-war years, FHS played a very challenging schedule against teams like Brookline, Woburn, Watertown plus traditional rivals Gardner, Leominster, and St. Bernard’s. The competition in the trenches could get very intense, but “Bucker” loved every minute of it.

In “Bucker’s” junior campaign this is how the Fitchburg Sentinel discussed his effort in a 19-7 loss against powerful Eastern Mass. powerhouse, Brookline: This standout tackle is truly the man for the opposition to “get” in the Fitchburg forward wall. A never-say-die redhead with a heart of a lion, Shea is probably the most aggressive lineman for this year. He also took more than his share of punishment from a big Brookline eleven, but was in there at the finish, setting up the only FHS score.

In that same junior year Coach Marty McDonough named “Bucker” Shea his acting captain. Following the 13-6 victory Coach McDonough said “Bucker” earned this nod for his outstanding ability as a field leader who led his teammates to an inspired victory. His defensive play was spectacular who always performed like a seasoned veteran.

During his senior season against an extremely strong Marlboro High squad which was riding high in 1941, “Bucker” made two spectacular plays which led to Raider’s 19-6 victory. First, “Bucker” caught a nifty pass from Mike Martin and quickly lateraled to big “Corky” Ervin who burst into the end zone from about 40 yards out. Later he intercepted a Marlboro pass and waltzed into the end one for another Red Raider score. “Bucker” continued his excellent play throughout his season especially in a 20-0 victory over Watertown who were the defending Class B Eastern Massachusetts champions. “Bucker” and the Raiders of 1947 could certainly play with the best.

But “Bucker” Shea saved his best for last. Leominster led by the likes of Joe Comiskey, Jim D’Innocenzo and superstar Marco Landon had been nearly unbeatable in 1947. Everybody in the Comb City expected that the Blue Devils would march triumphantly on Thanksgiving morning at sun lit Doyle Field. But Coach Marty McDonough and his gang of Red Raiders had other ideas. Thanksgiving would be a Red and Gray morning. With backs like Bob Duncan, Alcide “Mike” Martin, Joe Cushing and Roland Balaban, Marty decided to open up his bag of tricks. And one of his best tricks involved “Bucker” Shea and his stable mate “Corky” Ervin; it was the end around pass. Early in the first half an Ervin to “Bucker” pass for 37 yards set up a Joe Cushing touchdown run. Then late in the contest “Bucker” stuck the fatal dagger into the Blue Devil’s heart. When Jim D’Innocenzo attempt to pass the Devils back into the contest, the tall red head named Shea leaped into the air, intercepted the ball and raced unimpeded into the end zone clinching the Raider victory. One other note regarding that Turkey Day triumph was the chippiness of both squads which led to on field confrontations. Of course, “Bucker” Shea was right in the middle standing up for his Red Raider cause.

For his efforts in 1947 “Bucker” Shea was named first team all-star for north Worcester County along with teammates Ervin, Cushing and Han Thoma. During his outstanding junior campaign “Bucker” had been selected as a second team all star. The sportswriters knew an outstanding player when they saw one.

Following graduation “Bucker” Shea enrolled at St. Michael’s College, but when the Korean War broke out in June, 1950, he enlisted in the United States Army and served with honor in the Korean conflict. He saw frontline duty in that difficult Asian conflict earning a battlefield commission. Following seven years in the Army “Bucker” left the military but after a few years he enlisted in the United States Air Force serving thirteen years, many in Europe during the height of the Cold War.

He was married to Virginia, now deceased, and had three children, Shawn, Patricia (Shea) Stowell and Tracy Shea. In the early 1990’s “Bucker” contracted cancer and died in 1993. Those that knew “Bucker” said that he fought the dreaded disease to the very end. That was the “Bucker” Shea who had thrilled Raider faithful in the late 1940’s and now enters the FHS Hall of Fame.


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Chris Petrides
1969

Back in the 1930’s John Tunis and Clair Bee used to write sports novels, which were read endlessly by young teenage boys with great enthusiasm. Every kid wanted to be like Chip Hilton who threw the winning touchdown pass, hit the key jump shot in the championship game, or smacked the home run in the bottom of the ninth. Chip Hilton also got good grades in school, and was usually elected class president. We won’t mention that he usually dated the prettiest girl in the school. Of course, it was only fiction. But sometimes kids can come close to the ideal that was Chip Hilton. One such student who might easily have fit that category was Chris Petrides from the FHS Class of 1969.

In the fall of 1966 a young sophomore quarterback named Chris Petrides stood over the center barking out offensive signals. Chris and his fellow classmates like Tom DiGeronimo, “Yogi” DiPasquale, Gary Arsenault and Clyde Hutchins had come to the varsity with high expectations. FHS in 1965 had suffered through an extremely difficult varsity football campaign. Meanwhile the freshman squad had swept all before it, and so Raider faithful were hoping for the best. Chris Petrides, who had guided those undefeated frosh, was a known quantity to many Fitchburg area sport’s fans. He had been very successful at Pop Warner, and so they felt he would step right into the slot and success would follow. Teaming with Tom DiGeronimo, Chris immediately made opponents aware that the Raiders could put the ball in the air in 1966. But the Raiders were playing the likes of Nashua and the 1960’s Wildcats of Gardner, and so the steps sometimes could be small in that initial campaign. The Raiders played an outstanding Thanksgiving game against the Blue Devils losing 14-12, and hope springs eternal. Chris had acquitted himself very well, and the coaches and fans looked forward to next season.

Chris Petrides was too busy putting on his sneakers to worry about next year’s football season. During his sophomore year Chris split time between Squad B and the varsity. He was the ace point guard on the Junior Varsity getting ready to move forward. His time would come soon. Next would come the baseball season, and Chris had the pleasure of playing with his brother, Dennis, who was the captain of the Raider squad. The sophomore year was completed and Chris Petrides had received three varsity letters. Not a bad beginning to a Hall of Fame career. The Red and Gray began their 1967 season with Chris Petrides in command of the offense, and he soon showed that he was becoming one of the area’s better QB’s. The Petrides-DiGeronimo combo was becoming dynamic. Chris’ accurate arm opened up enemy defenses, and the Raiders would score choice victories over Gardner and Nashua as they marched to a victorious 7-2 season. But, to Chris and many of his teammates, the season was a disappointment when they were stopped by the Blue Devils 14-0 on Thanksgiving morning. As the Class of 1969 walked out of Doyle Field, they silently pledged to themselves that next year would be different.

The 1968 basketball season brought a dramatic change in the athletic career of Chris Petrides of FHS. Ted Paulauskas of Assumption College had been selected to be the Raider’s new varsity basketball coach, and he immediately installed Chris as his point guard to lead the Red and Gray offense. It was a match made in heaven as Chris prospered in Teddy P’s up tempo offense. The Red and Gray played an exciting brand of ball which featured Chris’ sharp-shooting from the perimeter and his crisp passes to Tom DiGeronimo and “Mo” Lagasse under the hoop. The Raiders had a solid 13-5 record in the regular season which was highlighted by a great victory over the powerful Bernardians led by Jimmy and Danny Small at packed FHS. Chris was rewarded for his efforts, which helped send the Red and Gray into post-season play, with his selection to the North Worcester County All Star Team.

As the summer months came to a close in 1968, there was excitement in the air concerning Red Raider football. Coach Marco Landon was returning a veteran squad with lots of experience and star power. In his offensive line, Marco could call upon outstanding players like Leo LaRoche, Gary Arsenault and Tommy D. with help from sophomores Roger LaRoche and Mike Thibeault. And Chris Petrides triggered an offense with Richie Boudreau and “Yogi” DiPasquale and his pass catching threat and buddy, DiGeronimo. The Raiders were very good and soon opponents began to fall. When the smoke would clear in late November the Red and Gray’s record stood at 7-1. If you look quickly, the record does not look quite that impressive. But there were extenuating circumstances. First, there was the cancellation of a contest because of snow early in November, and then there was that officiating in Holman Stadium up in Nashua. With hundreds of fans from FHS screaming in the stands, the men in the striped uniforms took away the contest. Chris Petrides, tossing to Tommy, was brilliant, but it’s tough to top bad officials. The personal highlight of Chris’ senior campaign might well have been the victory over Athol when he and Tom personally dismantled the Tool Towner’s with pin point passing leading to a 42-14 Raider victory. Chris was injured before the Thanksgiving contest, but cheered loudly as his Class of 1969 gave the Raiders a cherished victory over the Devils. For his efforts Chris was named to the North County All Star squad.

Once again Chris was a key player as the Raiders completed a successful senior basketball season and a slot in the District tournament. The Raiders fought with determination against the very best on their schedule like defending state champion Lexington, but a lack of size always hurt. The shooting ability of Chris Petrides and his teammates was never in question, but size was. He was an All Star for a second year in a row.

Now it was time to think about college. Chris Petrides was a natural for Amherst College. He was an excellent athlete who had been an All Star in two sports, a Gold F student and class treasurer in his last two years at FHS. So Chris Petrides went off to Amherst where he concentrated on basketball. Under Coaches Rick Wilson and Tracy Mehr, Chris was the starting point guard in his last two seasons. He led the team in assists and foul shooting percentage, and was elected captain in his senior season. He later played professional basketball in England retiring in 1981. Following a coaching career at Westfield State and Easthampton High, Chris began his own house painting company. He is married to the former Sally Rubenstone and they have an eight year old son, Jack. Chris loves coaching his youngster and watching him compete in youth leagues. Chris Petrides now becomes a member of the FHS Hall of Fame; congratulations Chris.


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Craig Cormier
1990

It was Memorial Day and Crocker Field was almost completely deserted. From across River Street viewer could see two lonely figures circling the track at the ancient facility. One was FHS runner, Jamie Cascio, who was working out with his buddy Craig Cormier, who seemed to be a picture of extreme concentration. Just a few days earlier Craig had put in poor effort, according to his standards against track rival, St. John’s which he felt had cost his Raiders the Class A District title. According to the athletic ethic of Craig Cormier, this was simply not acceptable. Craig Cormier’s sport’s career was marked by grit, determination and versatility. He would always try to outwork his opponent to bring about triumph. Those guys from St. John’s might be sitting around the family background enjoying a nice Memorial Day barbecue, but Craig Cormier was plotting for the next encounter.

St. John’s always is the favorite, so Chris Woods and his captain knew that the ultimate effort would be necessary for that District E championship. And as they say in “Casey at Bat”, things did not look good in Mudville. The Red and Gray were trailing by 13 points to the Pioneers as the day’s two final events were to be contested. Fitchburg needed a superior effort from their two-milers and they would get it. That Memorial Day practice reaped great rewards for the old Red and Gray. Making sure that no little foul-ups which occur, as the gun sounded Craig Cormier leaped to the front in the two mile and was never headed. His buddy, Jamie Cascio, ran a solid race to capture 4th place with its valuable points. Now the Raiders were in the driver’s seat and it was up to his teammates, Jason Desmarais, Darren Bennett, Brandon Auger and Evol Stewart to come out on top in the 4x400 and they did just that. Final Score: Fitchburg 68 St. John’s 65.

Craig Cormier won tons of races running for the Red and Gray during his FHS career. Long time track fans favorably compare his record and his ability with that of people like Dennis LeBlanc, Norman “Red” Goguen, Peter Bergeron and Ray Ablondi which is pretty good company. But it was toughness which always impressed his coaches Ed Gastonguay and Chris Woods. Like a good boxing champion, Craig Cormier could always take a good body punch, and get off the floor. He would not stay down. That’s the way he played basketball for Coach Grutchfield. His fighting spirit would win Craig the defensive player award in his senior year. That attitude was brought to the cross-country course and indoor and outdoor tracks during Craig’s running career.

In Craig’s junior cross country season he had simply been the best runner in Central Massachusetts, and he had raced rather easily through the competition in the early weeks of his senior season. But early in November Craig had picked up a virus which gradually took away his energy. So when the Raider faithful gathered on the hills of Gardner on Veteran’s Day in 1989, they expected their ace to run away from the competition. As the runners appeared at the head of the long stretch Craig Cormier could be seen near the head of the pack, but all did not look well. His usual vim and vigor seemed to be lacking, and soon all could see that Craig was in serious trouble. Through guts and determination Craig struggled to the finish line in fourth place. For most competitors this would have been acceptable, but that was not Craig Cormier’s style. He was crestfallen, but still the flu persisted.

One week later on that Gardner course, Craig returned. The flu was still raging in his system. He had not practiced all week long. During the days leading to the meet he had gone down to the gymnasium to shoot hoops. Nobody, including Craig himself, did not know what was in store. Coach Ed Gastonguay spoke to his star and cautioned about the early pace which would be established by the Eastern Mass. runners. Ed told Craig that they would pay the price, and then he could make his move. But the question of the virus still hung in the air. The starting pistol sounded, and the runners were off. Craig settled into the end of the lead pack still a little unsure about his conditioning. Off they went into the hills, and a few minutes later they would return. As they reached the home stretch which is about 500 yards long, Craig Cormier stood around 10th and Coach Gastonguay thought that he had made a gallant effort, and a top ten finish would be fine.

But Craig Cormier possessed a fire within which separates the good from the great. This would most likely be his last race wearing the Red and Gray colors which he had done for four years, and his effort had to be all out. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner came forth. All those hours of hard work came to the forefront. Craig’s step picked up and the runners began to come back to the guy in the red jersey. Craig was moving forward and the Cormier family screamed with delight, and Ed Gastonguay roared for his star. As the finish line approached, Craig roared toward the front then burst across the line 4th best in the state of Massachusetts. Many wondered what would have happened if Craig had not been ill, or what if the course was four hundred yards longer? That will never be known but Craig Cormier had shown that he has the athletic heart of a lion.

Another comeback from adversity occurred during Craig’s sophomore year when he was a member of a terrific Raider cross-country squad which went into the Districts undefeated. They had conquered all including those dastardly Pioneers from St. John’s, but then Mother Nature was cruel to the Raiders. An early November snow storm covered Gardner’s Golf Course, so the championship would be held on the roads. Craig, Tim and Mike Trainor, Ashraf Awad, David Gagne and Dave Beaulac were powerful on the hills, not the roads. As so the District championship eluded the 1987 Raider’s and Coach Gastonguay. Did they feel bad for themselves? No, they did not. In 32 degree temperatures at Northfield Craig led the Raiders to 4th place finish in the States while St. John’s finished 11th. Oh, what could have been!

Craig Cormier can fill a scrapbook with stories of his victories in District championship competitions and show you medals and trophies. Following his graduation from FHS in 1990 Craig went to UMass on an athletic scholarship. He would become a captain of both the outdoor track and cross-country teams earning All Atlantic – 10 honors for both sports. He also showed his versatility by becoming the Eastern Conference Steeplechase champion.

Today he works for Fidelity Investments as a conversion analyst and is married to the former Jennifer Libby and the Cormier’s reside in Fitchburg. Craig was a true Red Raider who is now welcomed to the FHS Hall of Fame.


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Dave Caputi
1977

The six foot two inch quarterback stood tall in the pocket as enemy tacklers buzzed all around him. Suddenly number fourteen launched a bullet pass down field to a Raider wide receiver who gathered in the pass on the opponent’s twenty-five yard line. The Red and Gray were on the march toward the enemy end zone. During the 1975 and 1976 football campaigns for Fitchburg High, number fourteen was an extremely talented player named Dave Caputi.

Unfortunately during that period the Raiders were not having great success on the gridiron, but the quarterback was being noticed by college scouts for his outstanding arm, and overall athleticism. Soon Dave would catch the eye of the football staff at Middlebury College, and they convinced “Caputs” that Burlington, Vermont would be a great place to continue his football career. Because Dave Caputi was an excellent athlete, an excellent student, and a good school citizen, he was a perfect fit for Middlebury.

David Caputi would spend his autumn years between 1977 and 1980 firing that pigskin down the field for Middlebury College with a great deal of success. When his career was completed, Dave ranked very high on the school’s list for touchdown passes, completion percentage, and passing yardage. When he received his diploma, Dave was still very interested in continuing his involvement with football, so naturally he gravitated to coaching. Being with a coaching job at Tufts University, Dave gradually moved up the coaching ladder until he landed a coaching plum at Williams College. The Ephs were a Division III football powerhouse which was beginning to skyrocket under the leadership of Coach Dick Farley, and Dave established himself as an integral member of Farley’s staff. Dave started as a quarterback coach at Williams College, but soon he moved up to be offensive coordinator. During its long history of intercollegiate football, Williams College has had few decades as successful as the 1990’s. When the Ephs took on the likes of Amherst, Wesleyan, Tufts, or Trinity, they played an exciting brand of football which dazzled opponents. Dave’s contributions were soon noticed, and other schools became interested in expertise. In 2000 Dave took the head coaching job at Bowdoin College in Maine where he hoped to revive their program. He enters his sixth year as Bowdoin’s head football coach as the 2005 season begins.

Surprisingly football was not the sport at Fitchburg High in which David Caputi achieved his greatest success. During Dave’s three years at FHS, the Raiders under Coach Doug Grutchfield were becoming one of Central Massachusetts’ dominant hoop powers. With his size, strength and athletic ability, Dave Caputi fit extremely well into “Grutch’s” program. From his sophomore year on, Dave was a valuable member of the teams which went to District finals and state championship games. With players like Joe DiZuzio, Mike Petrides, Doug Romano, Ray Spagnoula, Tony Jones, Lauri Rahnasto, Dan Emma and Ricky Tienhaara, the Raiders were always in the fight for the top slot. And Dave Caputi fit the mold of a Grutchfield player during this terrific era.

Coach Grutchfield always held a soft spot in his heart for players who sacrificed personal glory for the good of the team. Dave Caputi was just such an athlete. In his final season for FHS in 1977, Dave was surrounded by some very large teammates who could really score from underneath. Teammates Lauri Rahnasto, Tony Jones and Rick Tienhaara were all natural forwards, so Dave Caputi was being squeezed out of his natural position. Doug Grutchfield went to his senior, and explained that he would use a single point guard, Dan Emma, to bring the ball up the court for FHS’ offense. He asked Dave if he would play the off-guard position for the sake of the squad. This position was quite unnatural for a kid of Dave Caputi’s size, but he told the coach he would give it his best. Some kids would sulk and complain, but Dave Caputi just did his job, getting loose rebounds, hitting the outside jump shot and playing tough defense. That is the kind of pieces which create a championship puzzle. The coach’s offensive scheme and Dave’s unselfish attitude seem to work out well for the Raiders as they captured the Division I Central Massachusetts District title. Following their victory at WPI, the Red and Gray played a memorable state semi-final game against Durfee High of Fall River, in which they were just nipped at the end. The Raiders finished that 1977 campaign with a nifty 22-3 record.

Dave Caputi had been extremely unselfish in his last year for team goals, but every season has games which bring back memories in later years. During this era, FHS had huge rivalries with teams like St. John’s, Doherty, Leominster and Holy Name, but the contests against Notre Dame High were probably the most memorable. The Crusaders from 1974 to 1976 had great squads which had captured two or three Division III state titles. But by 1977 they had begun to recruit players from outside the district, and the rivalry became white hot. It was arranged that FHS and N.D. would play a game at the Wallace Civic Center on a court which was better suited for tennis than basketball. That did not matter to the fans as nearly 3000 packed every corner of the Civic Center. It was a tremendous contest as the two titans battled tooth and nail on the court. The ball game went into overtime, and as the clock ran down, Dave Caputi, the silent star, hit a key jump shot to bring victory to the Red Raiders.

When the spring months came around, Dave Caputi could be found at Crocker Field working out with the track and field team. With that strong right arm which could unleash that fifty yard pass down the football field, Dave was a natural for the javelin. He would become one of the Raider’s most proficient competitors with tosses well over one hundred fifty feet. He was the type of kid who participated athletically the whole year round. It was the natural thing for a kid to do in 1977.

Today the autumn months are filled with activity as Dave guides the Bowdoin College football team as it attempts to defeat his old college, Middlebury, Williams where he coached for so many years, and his two interstate rivals, Colby and Bates. He married his wife Beth, when they were involved with athletics at Williams College and they have four children, Mac – 13, Maggie – 12, Lydia – 10, Claire – 8, who are growing by leaps and bounds every day. Today Dave calls , Maine, home, but he will always have great feelings for Fitchburg High School, and now he joins its illustrious Hall of Fame. Congratulations David Caputi – Class of 1977.


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Dennis LeBlanc
1961

The legendary Fitchburg High School track coach, Erkki Koutonen, said to his young assistant coach, Ed Gastonguay, that he had been blessed to coach many outstanding track competitors during years at FHS, and that Dennis LeBlanc was the very best he had encountered. Erkki said that LeBlanc was his best runner in 1961 from the hundred yard dash to the two mile. The old coach might have been exaggerating a bit, but Erkki was not a guy to make up stories. If you look at the old Fitchburg Sentinel photographs of Dennis LeBlanc, you see determination and pure physical strength as the Raider ace charges to the finish line.

In the spring of 1959, young Joe Hannon began to work with his veteran track squad which included the likes of Dick Berger, Roger Kielty and Bob Bennett, and he liked what he was observing. One individual was really beginning to show great promise, and that was sophomore, Dennis LeBlanc. The dynamo-like runner was showing great speed and endurance as Coach Hannon pushed his squad with new running techniques which were being preached by Australian and Eastern European coaches. The more Hannon pushed the young kid, the more the kid gave. When the campaign began LeBlanc electrified track fans with his brilliant times in the low 4:40’s. Today we might say, “What’s the big deal!” Don’t forget that Doyle Field, Stone Field and beloved Crocker Field were not exactly Olympic venues with their cinders from the 1920’s. Soon opponents began to hold Dennis LeBlanc in aware for his running skills. Late in the year a Leominster athlete, Brian McCarthy, sort of ambushed Dennis in the North County meet and captured the mile run. For his effort, LHS honored the miler with an award honoring the LHS’ single most outstanding achievement. That award tells you what people thought of Fitchburg’s prize sophomore. His coach felt highly of Dennis also. LeBlanc was named co-captain of the track team in his sophomore season.

In 1959 FHS initiated cross-country under the leadership of Erkki Koutonen, and Dennis LeBlanc had an immediate impact. Running on the wooded Burbank Hospital course, the Raiders were undefeated in their first season. The Raider squad was solid, but their junior star was sensational. His strength and speed were outstanding. Today’s cross-country fans who have been around for a while would love to have seen Dennis LeBlanc sprinting across the Golf Course in Gardner. That year, Dennis traveled to White Stadium in Franklin Park and placed fourth behind Art DuLong of Holy Cross fame in the Class B competition. A few weeks later Dennis finished 7th in the New England championship held in Maine. He could truly be called the initiator of cross-country excellence which distinguishes FHS today. His efforts lay the ground work for later excellence by Raiders named Cormier and Laakso.

In the fall of 1960, Dennis was able to lead the Red and Gray harriers to the top of the mountain. Running in the Class B race the Raiders easily outdistanced schools like Lexington, Lawrence, Central Catholic and Melrose to capture the state title. Dennis would finish sixth overall to be followed by teammates Bill Matesowicz, Dickie Caron, Tim Kandianis and Jimmy LeBlanc who all finished in the top thirty in the race. The Raiders had 75 points to second place Lexington’s 144. Folks, in cross-country running that is a romp. One interesting aspect of the race was that David Fournier of Worcester South was overall individual Class B champion. That must have bothered Dennis’ pride a little bit because later on he would top the state champ in a mile competition. The truly great one’s don’t like to be beaten ever!

Dennis LeBlanc’s final outdoor season as a track competitor was going to be one for the ages. As we look back four decades Dennis’ efforts continue to be a bit mind boggling. Remember that Dennis’ times were being recorded on an oddly shaped cinder track at Crocker Field. Running under the lights in a dual meet against cross-town rival Notre Dame Dennis LeBlanc ran a 1:59.8 half mile. This established a new field record which had been established by Mike Conry two years earlier. Look at that time, folks. That was a run for the ages. Just one week earlier Dennis had run a 2:01.1 against arch-rival Gardner. But Dennis LeBlanc’s most outstanding accomplishment was still yet to come.

Red Raider athletes who are over the age of fifty like to discuss the accomplishments on the gridiron, basketball court or baseball diamond, but they really like to talk about their times in the Senior-Junior Relay. From the early 1920’s to the mid 1970’s the Relay race was the second most important athletic event after the Turkey Day Classic. Members of the Class of 1965 will gladly talk about the day that 30 runners averaged under 2:17 to break 33’s record. They will talk about guys from 1948 like John Bennett and Ray Ablondi who raced around Crocker Field. But Dennis LeBlanc was the guy that established the standard.

He not only broke Jimmy Gallagher – Class of 1948’s record, he smashed it. The runners in the Senior-Junior Relay Race could not wear spiked running shoes. You had to compete in sneakers, so your time would probably be slower. When Dennis took the baton in the 29th spot, he was on a mission. The senior class had a huge lead over the juniors and so the race was a foregone conclusion. The eyes of the crowd in packed Crocker Field were on the five foot nine inch dynamo blazing around the track. As Dennis crossed the finish line for the first time, the true track fans looked at their stop watches in amazement. He was running well under one minute, and seemed to be gaining momentum. Dennis raced past the backstop of the baseball field and set sail for the flag pole. People were on their feet, for they knew they were watching history. Still the dynamo continued onward. Classmate Billy Corliss was waiting at the line awaiting the baton pass. Dennis LeBlanc sprinted down the race as the concrete stands exploded with applause. Following the victory Dennis rightfully would be carried off on the shoulders of his teammates. Next day the Sentinel proclaimed: Dennis LeBlanc Breaks Individual Mark, 200.4; Senior’s 1:12.40 Wins.

Dennis LeBlanc established so many stands that they are almost too long to list. His overall body of work was the stuff of champions. He participated in track at Kent State University with personal bests of 4:19 in the mile and 1:55.1 in the half before a back injury curtailed his running career.

Dennis received his Bachelor of Science degree from Fitchburg State College in Human Services and Masters in Education from FSC also. Between 1988 to 2003 Dennis was a counselor and Program Leader at West Boylston High retiring in 2003. He is married to Susan Brinkman LeBlanc and now resides in Westminster.

FHS has a legacy of historic track competitors, and Dennis LeBlanc is always found on the top of that list. Welcome to the FHS Hall of Fame, Dennis LeBlanc.


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Dick Boutwell
1957

Number fifty-two slowly jogged to the sidelines, exhausted but undaunted, on that cold and crisp Thanksgiving morning in 1956. Coach Ed Sullivan walked over to his gladiator, and gave him a solid pat on the shoulders as Dick Boutwell looked to the scoreboard. At that moment, loyal Red Raider fans in Sections Eight and Nine rose in unison to give their gridiron warrior a standing ovation. Dick Boutwell had given one of the grittiest and gutsiest performances that ever the Turkey Day Classic has ever seen. The scoreboard read Leominster 44 Fitchburg 13 as the final seconds wound down, but that was not indicative of FHS’ Thanksgiving effort.

When the Raider faithful entered Crocker Field so many seasons ago, it was said that they were four touchdown underdogs to the Blue Devils of LHS. But Dick Boutwell would have nothing to do with that prediction. Throughout the first half consistently broke through to Devil’s offensive line, and brought down with smashing tackles LHS’ duo of Palazzi and Robichaud. He was aided by sterling play from his fellow Ashburnhamit, Joe Fortin, who returned an intercepted pass thirty-two yards for a Red and Gray touchdown. When the gun sounded for half time, the astonished fans at Crocker Field noted the score FHS 13 LHS 13. The dream victory was not to be, as the Devils rolled in the second half, but Boutwell’s effort never waned. Following the contest Dick Boutwell received the Bernard W. St. Germain Memorial Trophy which was awarded by the media to FHS outstanding Thanksgiving performer.

The “Mayor of Ashburnham” as he was called in the Red and Gray in his junior year was never lucky enough to play football for a strong Fitchburg High team. Raider football in the mid-1950’s was not up to the caliber of gridiron squads of earlier or later decades. But that never stopped Boutwell from giving his very best on every single play. Against superior squads from that era Dick Boutwell was always sure to give as much as he took. He played some of his best games against Raider rivals like Gardner and St. Bernard’s. Coach Ed Sullivan always said that Dick Boutwell was the type of player who made everyone around him better. That certainly was proved on Crocker Field nearly fifty years ago when Boutwell the gladiator battled the arch-rival Blue Devils.

Football may well have been Dick Boutwell’s best sport and the sport which he most liked to play, but it was on the basketball court where he achieved the greatest team success. During Dick’s junior and senior years the Red Raiders were North Worcester County champions and his hustling style contributed greatly to the Red and Gray’s success. He was never the leading scorer for the Raiders. That task was given to players like Paul Kendra, Bob Musgrove, Dave King, Ron Boudreau or Ralph Anttonen, but Dick could put the ball through the hoop when it was needed. His greatest importance for the hoop squad was all the little things which do not show up in the scorebook, but win ball games.

Although he stood only six foot one inch tall, Dick Boutwell was a ferocious rebounder on both the offensive and defensive boards. When you watched the Raiders, Dick Boutwell would often out leap opponents, who were four or five inches taller than he, to get the ball for FHS. His favorite play was to get a defensive rebound and lead the fast break himself. Not many high school centers can accomplish that feat, but Dick Boutwell loved that type of play. It showed his toughness and determination along with athletic skill.

During Dick Boutwell’s senior season the Red and Gray were the classiest basketball squad in the North County. Following an early season loss to arch-rival Leominster in May A. Gallagher “swimming pool” Dick led a young Raider squad to a neat 13-1 regular season record with choice victories over Nashua, Notre Dame and Gardner which led to a post-season invitation to the old Western Mass. tournament held at Springfield College. Young Dave King became the Raider’s leading scorer, but Dick Boutwell scored in double figures frequently during the season. His clutch efforts against a strong Nashua squad and cross-town rival Notre Dame might have been his most important contribution.

But the victory over Leominster on George Washington’s Birthday might have been the most memorable. Leominster had humiliated the Raiders early and feelings were running high as the final game of the season approached. Leominster was very large and bulky under the board, and so they would have to be challenged. Dick Boutwell was up to the task. Bodies were flying all around the Brickyard on Academy Street when an altercation broke out at mid court. Dick Boutwell won that one also, and even got his picture in the New York Daily News. The Raiders were defeated in the first round in Springfield, but all in all Dick Boutwell’s gang had a great year. For his efforts on the gridiron and the basketball court in his senior year at FHS, Dick Boutwell was named to the North Worcester County Sportswriters Association’s first team all stars.

When the spring came around Dick could be found on the track competing for the Red and Gray. He was the captain of the squad in his senior year, and specialized in the field events. But the competitor in Dick Boutwell would raise to the fore. When Coach Joe Hannon asked Dick to run the 400 meter race against teammate Mike Conry and N.D. sensation, he was only glad to help. His efforts “helped” Conry defeat Gastonguay. He was always a great team player.

Following high school, Dick enlisted in the Coast Guard and served two years, and returned to Ashburnham to work in the family business, Boutwell’s Garage. Soon he would marry Paula Badstiibner – Class of 1959 – and they had three children, Marcy (Boutwell) Smith, Kimberly (Boutwell) Loomis and Rick Boutwell. Today Dick and Paula have eight wonderful grandchildren.

It has been nearly 50 years since Dick Boutwell graced the athletic fields of Fitchburg High, but his determination and spirit have not been forgotten. Now he is a new member of the FHS Hall of Fame. Congratulations, Dick.


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Jimmy Leo
1936

As the Great Depression ravaged America, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the New Deal of the 1930’s, Fitchburg High School was enjoying a period of athletic excellence which few, if any other school in the Commonwealth, would ever match. Young men with names like Savitt, Whelan, MacLean, Mackie, Fellows, Blake, Allen, Shattuck and Belliveau had put the “Red Rioters” on the interscholastic. Any roll of call of Fitchburg High’s greats must include Hall of Famer, Jimmy Leo – Class of 1936.

Under James Joseph Leo’s yearbook picture in The Boulder could be found a quote which so correctly identifies the big strong Italian kid raised in the Water Street area: Strength of body and of character. Thus was Jimmy Leo of Fitchburg High. Jimmy Leo was a big kid: yearbooks would picture a broad shoulder youngster with the great athletic physique. In an era in which the average football player or basketball player might weigh 165 pounds and stand five foot nine, Jimmy Leo weighed close to 195 pounds and stood well over six feet tall. And his athletic heart was greater than his physique.

In the fall of 1933 Coach Clarence N. Amiott fielded a gridiron squad which old timers will tell you was the greatest to ever perform on the sod of Crocker Field. This team led by the likes of Bill Mackie, Felix and Stanley Esielionis, “Dub” Mologhan, John Chalmers and Larry Shattuck swept through the opposite with a spotless 11-0. When the final gun was fired at Doyle Field on Thanksgiving morning of 1933, and the Red and Gray had defeated previously unbeaten LHS 20-12, Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe declared FHS the mythical state champions. Holding down the end position was a very young sophomore, and he had shown that he could play with the very best. His name was Jimmy Leo, and a fabulous high school career had begun.

As soon as the gridiron season ended in 1933, Jimmy Leo put on those basketball sneakers and joined the Raider’s basketball squad which was mentored by the great Amiott. With his size and surprising soft touch, Jimmy Leo immediately became a factor on the senior-laden squad which marched to the finals of the M.I.T. tournament which was the unofficial state championship in the 1930’s. Many Raider fans of that era would tell you that Jimmy Leo’s best sport could very well have been basketball. He was a three year starter leading the Raiders deep into the Tech Tourney every single season. In an era when most squads would barely score thirty points in a game, Jimmy averaged in double figures in his last two basketball campaigns.

But “Ossie” MacLean would tell you that Jimmy Leo’s very best sport was baseball. The FHS Hall of Famer said that Jimmy hit the baseball as hard as player of his era. In 1936 Coach Loring Stevenson which just dominated the opposition. Led by Jimmy Flynn, the Torcoletti brothers, Tito and Joe, Guy DiBenedetto and MacLean, the Red and Gray just smashed the opposition. Scoring double figures in nearly every contest, they were feared by pitchers throughout Central Mass. People said that Jim Leo hit balls in Crocker Field which reached an area in the park thought unreachable. His prowess with the stick captured the attention of one and all. When Jimmy went to Providence College, his favorite college professor, Father Quinn, asked him if he would be interested in working for the good father’s father. Father Quinn’s father, Bob, happened to own the Boston Braves. That’s how good the slugger from Fitchburg really was. But during the 1930’s football was the true king of Fitchburg, and Jimmy Leo was in the middle of the mix. In 1994 when asked to reminisce about his years of playing football for his alma mater, Jimmy recalled 1. Being a member of the undefeated team of 1933, 2. Being a member of the 1934 team that only lost to Leominster and Brockton, 3. Being a member of the 1935 team that went 10-1 only losing to Brockton. If you do your math, that means that Jimmy Leo’s squads were 28-3-1 in his varsity years.

But he does not tell you about his individual accomplishments. Whenever the big games were on the line against the likes of Brockton, Gardner or Leominster, Jimmy Leo was a favorite target of tailbacks like Bill Mackie and “Ossie” MacLean. But on the defensive side of the line Jimmy Leo made the bone-crunching tackles on opposing halfbacks or fullbacks.

When Jimmy Leo graduated from FHS in 1936, he was recruited by Providence College to continue his athletic career and to get a solid liberal arts education. Many in his old hometown wondered which sport Jimmy would concentrate upon while at Providence. There was no problem there. Jimmy Leo earned nine varsity letters while competing in football, basketball and baseball for the Friars. Remember the aforementioned Father Quinn and his admiration of Jimmy Leo’s baseball skills. At his graduation Jimmy was given the MAL Brown Athletic Award which was given for an individual who best epitomized honesty, integrity, and loyalty. His attitude certainly made a great impression upon the good fathers of P.C.

After receiving his B.A. from Providence, Jimmy accepted a teaching and coaching position at Sacred Heart Academy in Falls Church, Rhode Island. But soon his nation was calling upon Jimmy Leo as a member of the Greatest Generation. He would take his place in the military shortly after the attack upon Pearl Harbor, and would find himself training to be a combat engineer for the 43rd Division. In late 1943, he was shipped to the Asian Theatre in the Pacific where he would serve twenty two months. For his work in the Army Engineering Corps, Mr. Leo would receive five battle stars.

In October of 1945 Jimmy accepted a coaching and teaching position in Manassas, Virginia, and the next stage of his life began. He would remain in the classroom for nine years and then was appointed vice-principal at Osbourne High School. After twelve years Jimmy was appointed middle school principal and then was appointed the first Superintendent of Schools for the town of Manassas, Virginia. In 1981 after 40 years of education Jimmy Leo decided to retire from education, but his community wanted to honor their beloved educator. April 10, 1981 was officially named “James J. Leo Day” and five trees were planted at the five schools in the school district which pleased him greatly because he possessed a wonderful “green thumb”. Later the school community would further honor FHS’ native son by naming Osbourne’s athletic stadium “The James J. Leo Stadium.”

Today, Jimmy Leo resides in Manassas, Virginia as he approaches his ninetieth birthday. His beloved wife Mary Hope Smith Leo has passed on, but Jimmy has two daughters Robie (Leo) Arnold and Ann (Leo) Toothman and three grandchildren. We welcome one of Fitchburg High’s greatest to the Hall of Fame. The honor is ours.


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Joe Spagnuola
1964

When veteran NBA watchers talk about the outstanding scorers from twenty or thirty years ago, they recall the amazing exploits of “Pistol Pete” Maravich, “Earl the Pearl” Monroe or George “The Ice Man” Gervin. Today, when old time Fitchburg High School basketball fans talk gathered around the old hot stove, they discuss the exploits of Joey “Spags.”

Joe Spagnuola has to be seen to be believed. His jump shot, from twenty feet and beyond, would leave his finger tips and begin its long arcing flight toward the basket in the Brickyard on Academy Street. There would then be a pronounced swish and two more points would be added to the Red Raider’s total. Joe had come to Fitchburg High in the fall of 1958 with a reputation of basketball excellence which verged upon amazing. Tales were told of youth league contests in which Joey’s totals would be well beyond forty points. He was expected to bring the Raiders back to basketball glory. In the winter of 1960 Raider fans began to see some of the ability which the young sophomore possessed. His totals began to gradually climb into double figures, and the Raider fans began to think about what might happen in his junior and senior seasons.

Joe Spagnuola was a big strapping kid as we used to say in the 1960’s. He stood six foot two inches tall and weighed close to one hundred eighty pounds which meant he was a big kid. Usually those types of basketball players would play under the hoop, and use their superior size to power the ball into the hoop. The big kid from the Water Street area of Fitchburg was not a power forward, he was a point guard. That was usually the job for the five foot eight inch water bug with superior quickness, not a kid Joey’s size. His size would completely dominate the smaller guards who had to play him, and so opposing coaches would have to put their forwards on him, and Joey would just drive by them to the basket. In many ways Joey’s play was similar to the “Big O’s” in the National Basketball Association.

In the winter of 1960-1961 Coach John Oliva had high hopes for his Raider squad. John DiGeronimo was a strong force at the power position, and he was aided by junior forward Barry MacLean who was beginning to show athletic ability on the hardwood court as he had shown on Crocker Field. The guard position was manned by a young George Barnicle who was showing potential while Joey Spagnuola was listed as the center, but sort of played a rover position on offense. The sixth man on offense was another up and coming forward, Lee Drury who was dramatically improving every contest. The Raiders would be good this season with a solid 11-5 regular season record. But they just did not seem capable of getting past the big time opposition. Loses to Nashua and New Bedford had put a bit of a damper on the Raiders efforts. Still, all in all, Joey Spagnuola had a breakout campaign in 60-61. He averaged nearly twenty points a game to lead the north county in scoring. In the season’s opener against Brockton High, Joey had poured in 23 points as the Raiders upset the Eastern Massachusetts power 45-31. He had outplayed Brockton’s ace, Steve Sarantoupolus who was later establishing many scoring records at the old Tech Tourney in Boston Gardens.

The Raiders did not receive an invitation to the tournament in Western Mass. at Springfield College which disappointed many Raider faithful and the players. This was just before the establishment of the tournaments with which we are familiar today. The Raiders took solace in accepting an invitation to the short-lived Fitchburg State College tourney and they triumphed quite easily. Joey and teammate John DiGeronimo were accepted to the all tourney team. Following the 1961 campaign Joey was a unanimous selection for the North Worcester County All Star Team.

But the 1961 campaign was only a prelude to the season that was to become 1962. Fitchburg High School basketball believed that it would make its mark in their upcoming season. Expectations amongst the players were high and the kids wanted to reach the ultimate, playing in the Boston Garden as the Western Mass. representative in the old New England tournament. They expected to run the regular season slate, but they ran into some questionable officiating in Beverly, and a slippery floor at Notre Dame. Still the Raiders were loaded for bear. Seniors were going to dominate this squad.

Big Larry Shattuck was a huge force under the offensive and defensive boards as he cleared the way for the scorers. Dave Rissanen was the inside guy who picked up the loose balls and averaged close to ten points a contest. Lee Drury was a sweet-shooting guard who could play solid defense on the opponents leading scorer. Barry MacLean was the all around athlete who could score in double figures, help Shattuck on the boards, and play great defense. And then there was Joey Spagnuola.

Joey was the most spectacular player in Central Massachusetts. Maybe Athol High School newspaper The Little Red Schoolhouse said it best: “They (FHS) were led by one of the best schoolboy basketball players in the state…The great Joe Spagnuola poured in 22 points, led the defensive attack, and thrilled the crowd with his display of ball handling.” During this glorious regular season Joey averaged 22.6 points per contest with many of his points coming from way downtown. Imagine if there had been a three point line. Of course, he was selected to several All Star squads.

With their 14-2 record FHS was selected for play in the newly organized District Tournament. After early round victory, FHS was stopped by a solid Worcester Classical squad led by George Riddick, but they could gain a spot in the Western Mass. tourney with a third place victory. Trailing early against Worcester Commerce, the Raiders rallied behind Joey’s scoring and tough play from the rest of the “Iron Five.” It was onto Springfield.

The old Springfield Field House rocked as the Raiders led by Joey “Spags’” sensation easily defeated Drury High and then upset Springfield Commerce led by the great Henry Payne. MacLean, Shattuck, Rissanen, Drury and Joey Spagnuola showed one and all that the Red and Gray were the real deal. Next came the finals against Pittsfield and Mark Belanger, and the Raiders just came up short. It had been a wonderful run.

Joey Spagnuola played some high school baseball and one memorable Thanksgiving contest, but basketball was his game. Following his high school years Joey began working for a small company called Digital, and would continue with Dek for 25 years. From his marriage, Joey had three daughters, Lisa Nash, Lynn Powell, and Lori Keohan who have given him five wonderful grandchildren. Joey “Spags” suffered a terrible stroke much too young in life, but he has still maintained his wonderful personality, and today we honor Joey Spagnuola as a member of the FHS Hall of Fame.


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Loring "Bud" Stevenson
1949

One of the most difficult tasks in all of sports is to be the child of a superstar. And Loring Stevenson Sr. was a Fitchburg High School superstar from the Class of 1915. With his distinctive red curly hair Loring Sr. had been a star on the very first teams coached by the legendary Clarence N. Amiott. The 135 pound whiz had quarterbacked the Red and Gray to victory after victory, and then turned to basketball to key the FHS offense. In the spring of 1915 Loring Sr. had captained the baseball nine to a near perfect record and then helped the track team capture the county track championship with great efforts in the long jump and dashes.

Starting in the early 1920’s the elder Stevenson returned to Fitchburg where he became a beloved assistant to Coach Amiott and head baseball coach. His 1936 undefeated baseball team featuring “Ossie” MacLean, Jimmy Leo and Jimmy Flynn was one of FHS’ best. Then he succeeded the legendary Amiott as athletic director in the late 1930’s when Noah Amiott became ill. So it was quite a legacy which followed Loring “Bud” Stevenson Jr. when he entered the halls of Fitchburg High School in the autumn of 1949. He would be a candidate for positions on the football, basketball and baseball squads, but he would also be the kid of the athletic director. And sometimes people can be cruel to fifteen and sixteen year olds.

John Connolly of the Fitchburg Sentinel spoke to that particular situation after “Bud” Stevenson’s final football game, a glorious 13 to 7 victory over arch-rival Leominster on Thanksgiving morning. The sportswriter had apparently been cognizant of the tricky situation and felt that he should mention the situation following the Raider’s penultimate victory. Mr. Connolly wrote:

    Speaking of this year’s team and its determination, such a column would be incomplete if we didn’t mention something that we felt throughout the season, but decided to refrain from saying until this campaign ended. It’s about Loring “Buddy” Stevenson who played an entire season under the greatest of handicaps – the fact that his father is athletic director of FHS. He didn’t need any boost from his conscientious and honest dad, and he didn’t get any. Yesterday more so than any other time in ’48, he proved his worth to the Red and Gray squad.

So you can see that it very often can be difficult to follow in your father’s footsteps. Just ask professionals like Brian Griese and Chris Sims.

During “Bud” Stevenson’s years at FHS, the Raider athletic teams were populated with excellent athletes in almost every position on every squad. The competition for playing time on any sport’s team was quite vigorous. During “Buddy’s” senior football season Coach Marty McDonough used nine different individuals in his offensive backfield, and they were all quite skilled. Guys like Art Capone, “Chuckin Charlie” Bowen, Herb Pandiscio and Dick Erickson could have starred for football squads in Central Massachusetts, and this was “Bud’s” competition.

When the Raiders opened their 1948 campaign by traveling up the Mohawk Trail to North Adams to play against Drury High, Coach McDonough handed over the reins of the offense to his skilled passing quarterback, “Bud” Stevenson, and the kid had quite an opening game. Following a scoreless first half, “Bud” hit Norman “Red” Goguen over the middle, and FHS’ electrifying sprinter raced 66 yards into the end zone for the Red and Gray’s initial score. Later in the contest “Bud” caught a twenty-five yard touchdown pass from Charlie Bowen on Coach McDonough’s favorite play, the end around. Later he would intercept a Drury pass, and return the interception nearly fifty yards to Drury’s twenty yard line. “Bud” Stevenson had been everywhere in the Raider’s opening game victory.

When the passing attack slowed in losses to Clinton and Marlboro, Coach McDonough turned to his running game which featured Art Capone and Herb Pandiscio. “Bud” was sort of placed on the back-burner, but he did not complain. He would spend much time perfecting his defensive back field play which would be invaluable later in the campaign. The 1948 Raiders were a squad which grew as the season progressed. Following a 12-12 against favored Gardner squad, the Red and Gray record stood at 1-2-1, and the future was bleak. But the Raiders never lost faith and they would win six close contests against teams like Brookline, Woburn and Watertown. Led by Hugh McCann, Jim Meredith and sophomore Ralph DiGeronimo, the Raiders defense rose to the occasion. “Bud” Stevenson’s defensive back field play keyed that effort.

Thanksgiving morning found Charlie Broderick of LHS and Marty McDonough of FHS both downplaying their chances. Actually LHS never had a chance. Their superstar, Bob Mercier, broke a 55 yard touchdown run, but the Devils were smothered by the dominating Raider defense. “Bud” played a key part for the defense. Leominster’s passing attack was stopped cold by “Bud” and his mates. “Bud” had a key interception in the second half, and The Sentinel showed a picture of “Bud” knocking down the final LHS pass attempt to clinch the victory. The A.D.’s kid did okay.

“Bud” Stevenson played football, basketball and baseball during his last three years at FHS. He would have great moments of success on the gridiron and the basketball court, but “Bud” would probably tell you that his greatest thrill came on the baseball diamond. He was the starting center field during his junior and senior seasons with a solid .300 average at the plate. But the big hit came against arch-rival Leominster. The Raiders were down by one run to LHS with two outs in the ninth inning when “Bud” Stevenson came to the plate. He smacked one out of the park to tie the contest which the Red and Gray won in the 12th inning. When his father retired two years later, he recounted “Bud’s” home run as one of his biggest thrills.

Following graduation “Bud” Stevenson attended Fitchburg State College playing baseball and basketball and receiving his degree in 1953. His teaching career began in Holyoke in 1955, but “Bud” eventually worked in Winchendon, Massachusetts, from 1958 to 1981 as a classroom teacher, elementary supervisor and principal until his retirement from education. He later became involved with antiques and auctioneering. Which he continues to carry up to the present. During the Korean War “Bud” served in the United States Army.

He married Pauline Peters Stevenson, and they had four children Loring Stevenson, Lisa Stevenson, David Stevenson and Chris Stevenson. Today they reside in Palm Coast, Florida where “Bud” and Pauline both continue to work in the auctioneering business. The son of the athletic director, Loring “Bud” Stevenson had a heck of a career at FHS, and today he enters our Hall of Fame. Congratulations “Bud.”


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Marco Landon
Coach

Coach Marco Landon quietly stood along the sidelines at Springfield College as his victorious Raiders gleefully celebrated at mid-field. Fitchburg High School had captured the first ever Super Bowl championship and the “quiet” Dean Vallis was riding on his teammate’s shoulders holding the winning trophy over his head. The FHS cheerleaders and bands were cheering wildly as the Red and Gray was played jubilantly. Spectators sang the words, “All hail to our Alma Mater, all hail to the Red and Gray” as they jumped for joy. Slowly number ten moved away from the mob and walked toward the coach. He shook the coach’s hand, and then gave Marco Landon a big hug. Number ten was Tom Landon, who could now share this ultimate moment of happiness quietly with his father, as the Raider faithful shouted with glee. The Boulder for the Class of 1973 might well have given one of the true pictures of Marco Landon when it said, “Experience, patience, perseverance – Coach of the Year” to honor their Super Bowl coach.

Marco Landon had come to Fitchburg High School in the fall of 1962 to become an assistant coach under Eddie Sullivan after serving a number of years in New Britain, Connecticut. But Marco Landon was not an unknown commodity to the faithful of Fitchburg High. During the late 1940’s, Marco Landon had been one of the premier football players in Central Massachusetts playing for Charlie Broderick’s Blue Devils of LHS. He was one of two players who were selected to the old North Worcester County All Star Team for three consecutive seasons. The other was Barry MacLean of Fitchburg High. Playing at 160 pounds, Marco had been a dynamo on both sides of the line. Old-timers in Leominster can recall the individual exploits of Marco nearly a half century later. Following his graduation from LHS, Marco spent a year at Worcester Academy and then it was onto Boston University to play under Coach “Buff” Donelli. Today, football is not even played at B.U., but in the early 1950’s Boston University was playing big time football. They were led by the legendary “Golden Greek” from Lynn, Massachusetts, Harry Agganis made the Terriers big time, and they were playing major schools like Miami, Maryland and Syracuse. Marco and his old FHS rival, Jim Meredith, were stalwarts on the Terrier defensive line. Imagine that – a college lineman weighing 165 pounds. Marco established an NCAA record in the Orange Bowl by recording two safeties in one contest against the Hurricanes. That record still stands today.

Following his graduation, Marco joined the U.S. Army and served in Germany for two years. Before he went to Germany he married his beloved Isabel Rahaim, and they would have a wonderful marriage for more than four decades. Next came Marco’s short tenure in New Britain, and then he became an assistant at FHS. Stan Goode succeeded Ed Sullivan in 1963, and immediately made Marco his line coach. This was an extremely fortunate decision, since Marco got a chance to impart some of his vast football knowledge to a group of eager kids. Those kids, Jack Jerszyk, Dennis Belliveau, Howie Shane, Bob Girouard, Dennis Daulton and Les Meehan would be the basis of the unit that would open the holes for Warren Muir when the Raiders went 7-0-2 in the fall of 1964.

When Stan Goode was appointed principal of Fitchburg High in the summer of 1965, Marco was appointed head varsity coach. The first campaign was difficult. Most of the starters from the unbeaten squad had graduated, and so the cupboard was bare. But starting in the fall of 1966, Coach Landon was going to have a steady influx of players named LaRoche, Petrides, Glenny, Boudreau, Gates, Logan, DiGeronimo, Ciccolini, Thibeault, Vallis, Landon and so many others that the Raiders would become a gridiron force once again in the north county, and beyond.

In the pre-Super Bowl era, Fitchburg battled against the likes of Nashua, Gardner, and, of course, the Blue Devils led by Marco’s old teammate, Leon “Huck” Hannigan. There were some excellent seasons during this era including the 1969 squad led by the super offensive attack which featured Alan Glenny and Richie and Ralph Boudreau which finished with a great 8-1 record. But many old-timers, and maybe Marco himself, will tell you that the 1968 squad led by Chris Petrides, Tom DiGeronimo, Leo LaRoche and Company was the best.

This squad only played eight contests and went 7-1, and that is a shame because the Raiders were not only good, they were exciting. The only Raider loss in that 1968 season came against Nashua at Holman Stadium on a Friday night in October. As they used to say in Brooklyn in the 1940’s, “We wuz robbed.” Marco Landon was and continues to be a true gentleman of sport. You would really have to work hard to get Marco Landon to say a bad thing about anyone. Even Marco exploded along the sidelines at that contest in Holman Stadium. That was a great shame because Marco and his Red Raiders of the 1968 season deserved to go undefeated.

But those Raiders will always have fond memories of the 1968 Turkey Day Classic. As the thousands entered Crocker Field on a raw dank morning with the threat of sleet in the air, great drama was happening in the clubhouse. The Raider’s quarterback Chris Petrides had injured himself shortly before the Classic, and on Thanksgiving morning Marco Landon had to make a major decision. Chris could not go, so Alan Glenny would get the start. Obviously the Raiders were lucky, because Alan was very capable.

Leominster had come to Crocker Field loaded for bear. They were a decided underdog, but Mother Nature must have been wearing blue. The weather slowed down the Raider attack and so battle royal ensued. With seconds to go the Raiders held onto a slim lead, and the Devils were lined up for a field goal attempt which would win it for Leominster. But Leo LaRoche crashed and Randy Palmer slipped through the line and blocked the attempt. Coach Landon and his gang had a great victory.

That victory and the Super Bowl of 1972 certainly were coaching highlights for Marco who would retire with a 62-45-3 record. Later Marco would be inducted into the Massachusetts Football Coaches Hall of Fame which has to be the ultimate honor for a coach.

But Marco Landon would probably disagree with that assessment. For Marco, the day to day coaching of individual kids was the greatest gift that he could receive in coaching. To watch a Dennis Belliveau or Bobby Gordon throw a key block to spring Warren Muir or Mike Lasorsa for a long touchdown run was the greatest gift. Marco Landon truly liked his kids and they returned that feeling. It is only appropriate that Marco is being inducted into the Fitchburg High School Hall of Fame with his Super Bowl winners of 1972. Good guys do finish first. Congratulations Coach Landon.


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Mike Connolly
1985

The rafters of the Hart Center on the College of the Holy Cross were filled with the basketball fanatic of Central Massachusetts who had come to watch a classic high school match up. In March of 1983 it did not get much better than St. John’s versus Fitchburg High School. The contest had all the drama of an opening night on Broadway. Head Coaches Doug Grutchfield and Bob Foley prowled the sidelines imploring their players to give their all as they snarled at each and every officials call. The Pioneers were led by their indomitable super star Matt Palazzi who could score from any spots on the floor. The Red and Gray countered with a well balanced attack led by their senior leaders John Connolly and Mike LeBlanc who were ably assisted by juniors Paul DiGeronimo and rising star David Marshall. The open whistle signaled the beginning of the contest and the titans went to battle. The players did not disappoint their screaming faithful fans as the game evolved into a classic.

Somewhere in the Bible it says that a child shall lead them. Thus it was to be for the Red and Gray, as this tremendous game drew to a conclusion. As the foul calls began to take their toll on the Raiders, Coach Grutchfield turned to Michael Connolly to run the Raider offense as the contest came toward its conclusion. Barely sixteen years of age Mike calmly dribbled the ball up court as thousands of voices screamed in the packed stands. The kid was unfazed as he dished the ball to his teammates to maintain their offensive flow. As the clock ticked below fifteen seconds the contest was tied and the Red and Gray were crashing the St. John’s boards with Marshall, LeBlanc and DiGeronimo. The ball caromed out to Mike Connolly standing close to the foul line, he calmly grabbed it, jumped into the air, and sent the ball on its way toward the basket. Swish and the Red and Gray were District Champions of 1983. The box score would record that Mike Connolly had scored two points, but Red and Gray fans knew that this was a special athlete.

The trite coach’s expression that there is no I in team, should not there also be no I in Connolly. Doug Grutchfield does not like to compare his many outstanding basketball players that he coached at FHS over three decades, but if you really corner him, Doug will tell you that Michael Connolly was a special type of player who is held in the highest regard by the old coach. You will not find Michael Connolly’s name on any list of all time leading scorers for the Red and Gray, but if you look at the pictures of championship basketball and football squads from the mid-1980’s, his face is quite prominent. Victories seemed to follow Michael Connolly, and so does the title of captain.

From 1983 to 1985 Fitchburg High School basketball was a joy to watch as the Raiders took on the very best with their tenacious “Chinese” defense which drove opposing teams to distraction. If you look up the word tenacious in your Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary it is defined as being adhesive, sticky and tough. They should have Michael Connolly’s picture in a basketball uniform next to that definition. Teammates like David Marshall, Mike LeBlanc, Danny Barry and Richie Gilchrest would do the bulk of the Raider scoring, but they would always have high praise for their teammate, Michael Connolly, and his spirited efforts. How good were Michael Connolly and his teammates during this era? They were simply outstanding.

In the previously chronicled 1983 season the Raiders won the Division I District title, but could not compete for the state championship because of financial constraints brought on by Proposition 2 ½. That was a real crime as far as the Raiders were concerned. To this day “Grutch” and his players will tell you that they might have gone all the way. In 1984 the Red Raiders went to the finals once again only to lose to St. John’s and Matt Palazzi. Then there was the 1985 squad.

Doug Grutchfield as the new athletic director gave Doug Grutchfield basketball coach a brutal schedule in 1985. He knew the squad with Dan Barry, Rich Gilchrest, Harvey Earley, “Spike” Carlson, Scott Wirtanen and captained by Michael Connolly would be excellent, so he challenged them. They faced powerful squads from eastern Massachusetts like Brockton and Cambridge Rindge and Latin who were led by Rumeal Robinson. The Raiders regular season record was not sensational. The Red and Gray were only 15-5, but they knew they could play with anyone. Dan Barry and Rich Gilchrest were the scorers, but during crunch time, they turned to and listened to their leader, Captain Connolly. Michael and his teammates shocked all the experts when they marched to the District title. Particularly memorable were last minute victories over Doherty High and Leominster in which the never-say-die Raiders came back from the brink of defeat. The Raiders knocked off the Western Mass. champion and rolled into the Centrum to face Brockton who had handled FHS easily in the regular season. Mike and his teammates put up a great fight only to lose in the final forty-five seconds.

Earlier in his senior year Mike had been selected as a captain of the Raider football team. The 1984 Red and Gray football squad was a bit of a mystery. Excellent players had graduated, and many faithful were worried. After an opening game loss 7-6 to Doherty, things looked somewhat bleak, but Coach John Dubzinski was able to rally the troops. Led by a terrific defense which was headed by Chuck Sandberg, Eddie Bever, Scott Wirtanen, and Captain Mike Connolly, the Raiders began to roll. In their fifth game FHS faced undefeated Holy Name, and the experts said the Red and Gray would be taken down. Running backs Dave Brown and Phil Morrilly ran wild, and now everyone took the Raiders seriously. The Raiders could be a wild bunch at times, but their captain kept the boys under control.

Thanksgiving morning 1984: Final Score – FHS 29 LHS 2 – Captain Mike Connolly and his teammates had slain the dragon. It was onto the Super Bowl where the Red and Gray were stopped by an excellent Westboro squad. But, all in all, 1984 had been a great season for the Red and Gray.

Throughout his years at Fitchburg High, Mike had been that student who all the teachers admired. His effort was always visible and so his name was always found on the honor roll. Following his graduation from FHS, Mike enrolled at Fitchburg State College where he played basketball and football. Not surprisingly he was selected as a captain in both sports; in fact, he was the basketball captain for three seasons. That speaks loudly of leadership. He would graduate with a B.S. in history with a 3.5 grade point average. Later he would get his Masters of Education at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., with a 3.9 cumulative. Mike Connolly did well in the classroom as well as on the athletic fields.

Following his graduation Mike worked as a history teacher in FHS for two years, but then he moved to the Old Rochester Regional School District where he has taught for the last decade. Fitchburg’s loss – Rochester’s gain. His academic honors, coaching duties are really too long to list. Today he and his wife Linda live in Stoughton, Massachusetts with their three children, Shawn, Michelle and Angela. Today all Red and Gray fans are pleased to welcome Michael Connolly to the FHS Hall of Fame. Congratulations.


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Mike Conry
1958

The Red and Gray athletes straggled into Crocker Field preparing to compete in the North Central Massachusetts Conference track championship to be held early in June of 1958. Many of the older Raiders are yawning showing the effects of a long night at the Fitchburg High School senior prom. One Raider competitor seems to be no worse for the wear. That is super middle distance runner, Mike Conry, who has foregone an evening of dancing and watching the sunrise from Mt. Wachusett. Is Mike Conry anti-social, did he not have a date for the prom? The answer to that question is no! He had made a personal sacrifice for his old high school. If the Red and Gray are to conquer schools like Leominster, Gardner, or Notre Dame this Saturday morning in 1958, then their ace, Mike Conry, has to be in peak condition.

But as the stands at Crocker Field filled up slowly with track fans, they were completely unaware that Joe Hannon, the young Raider coach, had asked his star to make a great sacrifice for the good of the team. Mike Conry was the finest half-miler in Central Massachusetts in the spring of 1958. Against Notre Dame, Mike had run a 2:01 half under the lights, temporary lights. Coach Hannon had a little bit of P.T. Barnum in him, and the night track meet had packed Crocker Field. Remember folks, that 2:01 was run on a cinder track nearly fifty years ago! Mike had also dueled against Charlie Breau of Leominster and come out on top. Breau and Mike had a little history. They had gotten to know each other on Thanksgiving morning when Mike was a Raider defensive back and Charlie was a wide receiver. Their duels were things of beauty and the kid from West Fitchburg had come out on top each time. But now Mike was being asked to run in the mile against the best in the north county. Mike had never run competitively in the mile. Just one year previously, he had been running the quarter mile and the half seemed quite a stretch at that time.

Joe Hannon had brought the subject up to Mike a few days before the meet. Hannon was a man way ahead of his time. His track techniques were modern for his day and the kids had really responded to his youthful demeanor. But the coach told Mike that he would let his ace make the decision. Early in the meet, Mike Conry spoke to his coach and said that he would like to give the mile a go. The spectators realized that something was cooking when you did not report to the starting line for the half mile. “What’s wrong with Conry?” You seemed to be okay, but you were not running. Then the contestants for the mile competition approached the starting line and there stood Mike Conry, all 130 pounds of him. He was going to run the mile. If I might I would like to give you the Fitchburg Sentinel’s John Connolly’s analysis of the events of the day:

    That’s why what you did Saturday comes under the heading of real sportsmanship and the height of team spirit. You made a decision at great personal sacrifice, which marks you as a true son of the Red and Gray. The rest, of course, is NCMC history. You out legged a lot of kids who have been running the longer distances all year, as well as in other seasons. You did it in real dramatic fashion, too. If you ever knew what you looked like as you left the field at the far turn. You were galloping like a scared rabbit as you propelled past the famous Crocker Field flag pole. Everyone had to admire your kind of spunk, your spirit. That’s why you got such a tremendous ovation – from friends and foe alike…you won a place in the hearts of FHS followers that is a tribute to you and yours. You made a healthy contribution to FHS athletics, to your class (1958), to your family and to yourself in your last days at FHS. You’re a runner who came to run, and we guess you know everybody’s proud of you.

John Connolly’s great article emphasized the fire and spunk of the Irish kid from West Fitchburg. That fiery competitive spirit could get a yellow flag on the football field or a confrontation at Faculty-Senior basketball game, but it made you a Hall of Famer.

Mike Conry’s valiant effort in the North County meet might be the most memorable for Red and Gray fans, but less than one week later he may well have accomplished a more noteworthy achievement. Running at White Stadium located in Franklin Park, Mike Conry captured the Class B 880 yard race with a time of 2:02.5. Very few athletes can say that they were true champions, but Mike Conry – Class of 1958 – can.

But if you ever sat down with Mike Conry and asked him what his happiest moment in sports was, my bet would be Thanksgiving morning of 1957 at approximately 12:25 p.m. At that exact moment the black and white striped officials picked up the pigskin and for the first time in five years the Red and Gray could celebrate victory. A three touchdown underdog FHS had emerged victorious 20-14. “Buzzy” Congram could be seen with his arms in the air and number fifty-two stood next to him hugging a teammate. That was the tough little Irish kid from West Fitchburg.

Following high school Mike Conry joined the United States Marine Corps in 1959 and served fourteen months in Okinawa later serving at Camp Pendleton and China Lake in California. The highlight of his time in the Marines had to be his selection as a marine honor guard for President John F. Kennedy who was visiting the China Lake facility. He was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1963 and returned to his hometown, and took a job at Weyerhaeuser. This was a family tradition since his father, Tom Sr., had worked for Crocker Burbank for 52 years. Later Mike would join the Fitchburg Fire Department serving from 1975 to 2003. In 1961 Mike made one of the most important decisions of his life when he asked for Judy Leo’s hand in marriage. This week they will be observing their 44th wedding anniversary. The Conry’s had two children, Patricia and Joseph, who have made Mike and Judy proud grandparents five times over.

On that Saturday morning, oh so many years ago, Mike Conry was establishing a degree of heart and grit which has led directly to the Fitchburg High School Hall of Fame. Congratulations for your entry, Mike.


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Ralph Howard
Faculty Manager

The young athletes of Fitchburg High School stare at the lens of the camera. They are members of the National Champion basketball squad of 1926, and their names are Myllykangas, Maffeo, Oliva, Fanos and Allan. In the upper right of the second row stands their leader, the legendary Clarence N. Amiott, but who is the gentleman standing at the extreme left? His name is Ralph Howard who has the title of business manager and also secretary-treasurer of the FHS Athletic Association. It is nearly ten years later, and the Fitchburg Sentinel announces on its Page 8 sports page that Fitchburg High will be facing the Gardner Wildcats at Crocker Field, and that general admission tickets can be purchased from Ralph Howard at the Circle Street gate for 25 cents.

Now we move ahead twenty-five years, and the Sentinel has a small item announcing that tickets for the 1961 Thanksgiving Game will be available at Fitchburg High at the business offices located on the third floor. Any Red and Gray fan should contact Ralph Howard if they are interested. Cost of the tickets will be three dollars. For more than forty years Ralph Howard was an individual who was vitally involved with Fitchburg High, and its athletics, and known by all the community.

Who was Ralph Howard? If one goes back to the class book of 1915, one would see the picture of young Ralph who was known for his frolicsome attitude and getting into minor trouble around the corridors of FHS. This does not sound like an individual who would be involved with education for nearly one half a century. But that is exactly what would happen. Ironically Ralph’s graduation year was the exact same year that Clarence Amiott began his coaching career. This partnership which would later develop did not seem possible in 1915. During the years of World War I, Ralph worked at FHS as a substitute teacher and following his graduation from Salem State Teachers College he was appointed a regular member of the FHS faculty in 1920. Within a decade Mr. Howard would be appointed the head of FHS’ commercial department, and would hold that position for more than three decades. Even later, Ralph Howard was appointed assistant principal in charge of business affairs. That was Ralph Howard’s professional position, but to the citizens of Fitchburg, and the students of FHS he was the “Guy who sold the tickets.”

And in the years before television that was a very big job in the community. In 1949 the Fitchburg Sentinel and its sport’s editor, John Connolly, put together a wonderful football guide which gave endless information about FHS football. One section told about attendance at Crocker Field from 1935 to 1948. Games against Gardner, St. Bernard’s, Arlington, Brockton, Watertown, Woburn, and, of course, Leominster often were attended by four and five thousand fans. Keeping track was Ralph Howard’s job and he did a wonderful job.

As a student of the Class of 1915 Ralph Howard had participated in the Junior-Senior Relay Race which took place between Worcester and Fitchburg. When the race was later contested at Crocker Field in which thirty students from the junior and senior classes ran one half mile, Ralph Howard could always be seen at the official’s table keeping track of the individual runner’s times. This was a job which Ralph Howard took year after year with glee.

Ralph Howard worked closely with his great friend Coach Amiott to develop the Fitchburg High School Athletic Association which is still a key element in making FHS one of the best run programs in the state. His foresight and hard work done those many years ago can still be seen today. The FHSAA allowed Fitchburg football squads to play intersectional football games against schools like West Technical High in Cleveland, Ohio, and Proviso High of Maywood, Illinois, which is located just outside of Chicago. It was after the Proviso game in 1924 that Coach Amiott and Ralph Howard brought the kids to the White House to meet the silent man from Massachusetts, President Calvin Coolidge. That was the type of influence which the FHSAA controlled during this era, and Ralph Howard was at the epicenter of the action.

John Connolly, the renowned Sentinel sports writer during the forties, fifties and sixties, wrote in the pre-season football guide that Ralph Howard was Red and Gray all the way. Mr. Connolly hit the nail right on the head. Ralph Howard was omnipresent at all FHS activities whether they were football and basketball games, Senior Class plays, competitive plays or Junior-Senior Proms. One thing which he greatly enjoyed was setting up the Grand Promenade at the Senior Prom when the Senior Class and their dates marched around the gymnasium at Fitchburg High. He always felt that the kids were showing what was great about FHS. And to Ralph Howard that was extremely important.

In 1949 the aforementioned John Connolly stated that Ralph Howard was as well known in area schoolboy sports as most of the top coaching personalities. When you consider that coaching giants like Charlie Broderick of Leominster, Walt Dubzinski of Gardner and FHS’ Marty McDonough were on the scene at that time, that was a wonderful compliment given to Ralph Howard.

After more than forty years in education, Ralph Howard retired in 1962 having given most of his adult life to the students of his beloved Fitchburg High. Mr. Howard is no longer with us, but today he will join the Hall of Fame of FHS alongside many of the athletes he had seen perform wearing the uniform of the Red and Gray. Ralph Howard became a member of the Hall in which his great friend Clarence N. Amiott who was inducted in 2001. Both Red Raiders would be pleased. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Mr. Ralph Howard.


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Football Team
1972

The 1972 football season began rather inauspiciously for the Red Raiders as they fell 20-7 to the Guardians of St. Peter’s. As the Red and Gray faithful filed slowly out of Crocker Field, dismay could be seen upon their faces. This season was supposed to be one filled with gridiron glory which would be provided by a talented squad of veterans. If the opening game loss had upset the faithful in Section 8, it disappointed and angered the coaching staff, and most importantly, the players themselves. Their final campaign was supposed to be a ride to glory, and now that had seemed to disappear. But a magnificent comeback would make that opening day loss just a minor footnote in the championship season that was Red Raider in the season of 1972.

The 1972 football season would be dominated by the senior members of the FHS Class of 1973. To be sure invaluable contributions would be made by guys like Larry Bizzotto, Bob Paradise, Billy Clements, Jim Vallis and Shaun Keenan, but it would be the senior leadership which would lead FHS to Springfield College on that glorious sunny Saturday in early December.

Many Raider fans and the players themselves would tell you that the construction of this Super Bowl champion began on the rocky fields located behind B.F. Brown and Memorial Junior High. It was there that kids from the Class of 1973 first began to jell as football players under the coaching of Ron Mazzaferro and Bill Dooley. Dean Vallis, John Brasili, Bobby Gordon, “Chipper” Bellio and David Boudreau banging heads in the dust of Lowe Playground to ready themselves for contests against the likes of Carter and May A. Gallagher. Meanwhile Mike Lasorsa, Jim Katon, Bill McIntosh, Bob Wotton and Joel Kaddy were doing the exact same thing in the rock pile behind Memorial. Of course, those kids could hardly wait until Veteran’s Day weekend when they would test each other upon the sacred soil of Crocker Field. I believe that Dean Vallis can tell you that the B.F. Brown Rebels were victorious back in 1969. These ninth graders would be the foundation of the 1972 squad.

In 1971 the Red and Gray had entered their season without great expectations. Gone from the Raiders were stalwarts like Roger LaRoche, Mike Thibeault, John Marabello, Gary LeBlanc and Mike Pucko who had been two and three year standouts. Little was expected from the Raiders, and that was exactly what occurred in the early contests. Then senior leaders like Steve Ciccolini, Bill Gamache, Steve Richards and an emerging tailback named Lloyd LeBlanc began to rally the troops. The Raiders began to jell. They traveled to Brockton and, lo and behold, they held the mighty Boxers to a scoreless tie. The gang of 1972 will tell you today that they played the Columbo squad right off their feet. Then on Thanksgiving morning it snowed and the Raiders had to wait 48 hours to spring their trap. The final score was 12 to 7 and Raiders were delirious with joy. In that victory guys named Landon, Vallis, Gordon, Brasili, Lasorsa and Katon had begun to emerge.

So that opening day loss had been so devastating, but these guys of 1972 were made of stern stuff. They regrouped and began their season anew. First to fall was Lynn English who were stopped by the Raiders 13-7. Next on the schedule were the Purple of Nashua High who traditionally had been a New Hampshire powerhouse with players named Greg Landry. The Raider offense exploded by the line play of Dave Secino, Bob Gordon, Dave Boudreau, Wayne Gendron, Bill McIntosh, Jim Katon, and Joel Kaddy and their backs leaped through the huge holes. Mike Lasorsa and his slashing style came to the fore behind solid blocks from Gary Chalifoux. When Lasorsa wasn’t carrying the ball, Bob Wotton was placing the pigskin into John Brasili’s reliable hands. Wotton was hitting his Jim Katon and Tom Landon with an occasional short to medium range pass to keep the opponents off balance.

In game four the Raiders took on ancient rival, Gardner, and their crushing defense began to emerge. Dean Vallis and Tom Landon had been starting on the defensive line since their sophomore season. They were perfect bookends, the steady Landon and the excitable Vallis; you did not go around the Raider flanks. In the middle was the beef, Larry Bizzotto, Bill Clements, Ricky Cruz and Bob Paradise. These guys were big and they would put you on your backside. Backing up the front four was an extraordinary line backing group, Mark LeBlanc, Mr. Steady, Jim Vallis, the sophomore hitter, Bob Gordon, the quiet man and Ricky Viens, the assassin, who truly dominated contests. In the defensive backfield Leon “Chipper” Bellio was the quiet senior leader. Gardner would fall 7-0 and then the Raiders began to roll on all cylinders. Holy Name, St. Bernard’s, Athol and Shrewsbury were taken care of in short order. Next came the Thanksgiving Classic which truly looked to be one of the best ever.

The Raiders came in with a 7-1 record as did the Blue Devils from the south side of the F&L car barn. The MIAA had just instituted the concept of the Super Bowl and the winner of this 88th Turkey Day Classic would represent Central Massachusetts. The rivals were playing for all the marbles, and the kids played a classic. The final score would be 27 to 19, but the Raiders truly dominated the contest. LHS’ big full back broke away on a 90 yard touchdown gallop early in the second period, but the Raider defense was stellar all morning long. Big Ricky Cruz subbing for an injured Larry Bizzotto was playing the game of his life while Ricky Viens was hitting anything which wore blue. Two LHS cheerleaders received first aid along the sidelines: just kidding. Dean Vallis and kid brother were furious in their defensive play. Mr. Steady, Mark LeBlanc, was steady.

And then there was Number 44 on offense. The 155 pound whirling-dervish was simply wild as he slashed through the Blue Devils defenses continually. Mid-way in the final quarter, the speedster dashed into the end zone, and the Red and Gray had completed their day in the sun. As the faithful filed out of Crocker Field with grins, the looked to the scoreboard and saw the final score: FHS 27 LHS 19. All was well in the city along the river.

Onto Springfield College went Coach Marco Landon’s warriors. The staff, Tom Crank, Mike Bourque, Bob Paul and Bob Girouard along with Marco, had the kids ready to play. It would be more of the same. Play that stifling defense and look for opportunities for your quick halfbacks to penetrate Greenfield’s defenses. Greenfield had an excellent running back named Dave Duvarjian who challenged the Raider’s defense. They would bend, but really never break. And Mike Lasorsa had a game for the ages. As the faithful screamed Mike consistently broke into the open. Everyone was a hero on that sunny Saturday in December of 1972. Fitchburg High School was the first Super Bowl champion, and today that squad enters our Hall of Fame.


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Tracey Smith
1993

For hundreds of high school athletes across America, their happiest moment occurs when they walk across the stage of their high school auditorium to accept their letter from their coach. Tracey Smith, who will be entering the FHS Hall of Fame today, took that walk twelve separate times. From the moment Tracey entered the halls of FHS on Academy Street, she was a major athletic force. It is somewhat mind-boggling to think of an individual collecting twelve varsity letters, but that is exactly what the future Hall of Famer accomplished.

When asked to name her favorite athletic moment at Fitchburg High School, Tracey did not dwell upon individual accomplishments; instead she recalled a team moment. In her freshman year, Tracey earned a starting position on a veteran squad which had a great amount of experience and excellent skills. Teammates like Paula Goodchild, Megan Normandin, Tara Sweeney and Deanna Baxter had challenged the best squads in Central Massachusetts for two or three seasons, but they had always come up a little short. Coach Tony Alario felt that the tall freshman center could provide the Red and Gray with a low post presence which would get them over the hump. During the regular season the squad had a solid 15-5 record which placed them in the middle of the seeds when the Districts were to begin.

Then the Raiders went on a major roll knocking off St. Peter-Marian, Marlboro and finally Holy Name in the District finals. Tracey had been a huge factor as she deftly gathered in neat passes from Paula Goodchild and hit with short jump shots and twisting lay-ups. She was also terrific on the boards, and the Raiders were now in the state semi-finals. FHS was a decided underdog when the referees tossed up the ball for the opening tap at the Springfield Civic Center. Hundreds of Raider fans in attendance marveled when they jumped into the early lead against previously undefeated Agawam. Tara Sweeney was hitting her medium jumper, Paula was being the perfect field general, and the youngster, Tracey Smith, was giving Agawam’s front court all they could handle. Agawam made second half change, but Windy Rosebush went wild with nine points. As the final seconds wound off the clock, the Raiders went wild, and a young freshman named Smith was heading to the state finals.

The clock would strike twelve at the Centrum for the Red and Gray, but it had been one heck of a ride. FHS’ rookie had shown that she was going to be a major force for the next three seasons. And Tracey Smith had begun her march toward Fitchburg High’s all time scoring record held by Hall of Famer, Pam Briggs. Unfortunately for Tracey and her teammates lightning did not strike twice. The Red and Gray and their ace were always strong contenders for that elusive District championship, but they seemed to come up a little short. The Raiders were also a little unlucky. It seemed that every season a bad sprain or a case of the flu would strike the Raiders in early March.

Individually, Tracey Smith had become a low post scoring machine. Averaging nearly twenty points a game in her sophomore season Tracey was named to the prestigious Telegram and Gazette All Star squad in her sophomore season. Certainly people were beginning to pay attention to the Red Raider center as she continued her career. In 1992, Tracey’s junior season, with the scoring continuing its rapid pace, she was once again selected by the T&G as one of the region’s very best basketball players. As Tracey’s junior campaign drew to a close, she was nearly at that 1000 point barrier. Also the Sentinel and Enterprise had not only selected Tracey as an All Star, they had selected her as their honorary captain, not bad for a junior. Early in the 1992-1993 season Tracey achieved that 1000 point barrier, and the points continued to grow. When the final contest was finished Tracey Smith had accumulated 1,403 points which would remain the Raider standout until it was broken by Beth Richards in 2003.

With her excellent play at FHS and for her AAU team the Central Mass. Cougars, Tracey became a prized Division One prospect. College scouts could be seen in the old Brickyard throughout Tracey’s senior season. She decided that she would accept a full athletic scholarship to Division One Hofstra University located on Long Island.

Her basketball and softball coach, Tony Alario, loved Tracey as a basketball player, but he felt that her softball skills were comparable. As was true in field hockey and basketball, Tracey immediately stepped into Coach Alario’s starting nine in her very first season. Tracey had great skills. She could hit with power, was a slick fielder and had an excellent throwing arm. She also could stretch those long legs to make doubles become triples. When Tracey left FHS, she held the all time stolen base record.

Tracey was a member of solid Raider squads with excellent players like Karen LaFrenier, Sara Thomas, Marci Cheries and Melanie Creamer, but they always lacked the fast ball hurler which could ensure a District title. In her junior and senior years Tracey batted well over .300, but her squad could not get by the semi-finals.

During years at FHS Tracey did more than play sports. When the honor roll would appear in the Sentinel and Enterprise, you could be sure that Tracey had achieved high honors. Her academic efforts earned Tracey Smith membership into the National Honor Society which is the highest honor given to students across America. In 1993 the local newspaper instituted a new award which recognized both athletics and academic achievement. Their first honoree for the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel Enterprise “Student Athlete of the Year Award” for 1993 was our new FHS Hall of Famer, Tracey Smith.

When Tracey graduated from FHS in June of 1993, she had complied one of the most distinguished athletic careers in the annals of FHS sport. Now it was time to go to Hofstra to pursue her basketball career and achieve a career in sport’s medicine. During her career at Hofstra Tracey impressed her coach, Leslie Schlegel, and her teammates to such a degree that she was elected basketball captain in both her junior and senior campaigns. Since receiving her degree in 1998, Tracey had worked in the field of Sport’s Medicine with Island Sports Medicine Associates from 1998 to 2003, and with Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City for the last two years. Tracey became involved with the Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc. which is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to teaching therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with disabilities. The Shriners Burn Hospital for Children in Boston was another organization that Tracey worked with in recent years. She is giving back to the community.

Today we welcome Tracey to the Fitchburg High School Hall of Fame. Many young ladies will follow Tracey into the Hall, but her accomplishments have established a very high bar. Congratulations to one of the best – Tracey Smith.


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Walter “Buzzy Congram
1958

During the mid-1950’s Fitchburg High School football had gone through a rather serious drought. The Red Raiders had generally finished below .500 and had lost five straight contests to arch-rival Leominster. But Head Coach Ed Sullivan had begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the 1956 football season came to a conclusion. The Raiders had defeated Athol and Hudson who were not football powerhouses, and the Raiders had played a strong first half against the very powerful LHS. The Red Raiders were returning veteran running backs Pete Stephens, Ken Rostedt and Norm Dooley. Veteran linemen Harry Karis, Howie Marvell and Brian Sullivan were to be joined by younger players like Roger Kielty, Allen Muir, Dana Valiton, Pat Monteverde and Gene Archambault. Coach “Sully” had high hopes for this group, and he also felt that Mike Conry and Bill McNally would be excellent in the defensive backfield. But Coach Sullivan and his new assistant, Jim Meredith, felt that a solid quarterback was needed to trigger the Raider offense.

Walter “Buzzy” Congram had come to Fitchburg High School in his sophomore year from T.C. Junior High School, and immediately made a strong impression as a basketball player for the Raiders. He was a solid shooter and could play a strong inside game. Along with his fellow classmate Dave King, “Buzzy” had been a solid contributor to the Raider quad which had won the North Worcester County championship, and gone to the Western Mass. tourney. He had also been an excellent competitor for the track squad with excellent sprint speed, and good ability in field events like the high jump and long jump. Obviously he was an athlete. But he had never played football. Why? It was a bit of a mystery which we will not investigate here. Classmates who played football began trying to get “Buzzy” to give football a shot as did the coaches. Somewhere between his junior and senior year, Congram decided to give quarterback a try. In the summer of 1957, “captain’s practices” were held in the open fields of “Buzzy” Congram’s Ashburnham home. Slowly the intricacies of the QB position began to be learned by the new kid on the block. Confidence grew in the Red and Gray squad as the 1957 campaign approached. FHS would open against cross town rival Notre Dame, who had been developing a solid program.

Then disaster struck. Junior Roger Kielty was injured in a freak accident just before the first contest, and then the Raiders traveled to the Bernardian Bowl, and played poorly. “Buzzy” had a tough first game, and some felt that the experiment would fail. But against a tough Nashua eleven there was marked improvement, but the Raiders fell 13-0. Due to a flu epidemic the annual Gardner game was cancelled. “Buzzy” and his teammates were furious. They truly believed they were going to knock off the mighty Wildcats. The Raiders fell to Marlboro 27-19, but the Panthers had a twenty game winning streak and “Buzzy” Congram was really beginning to show sparks of excellence. He had developed a nice rapport with his basketball teammate Dave King who was also a first year player.

People did not realize it, but Fitchburg would not lose another football game in 1957. St. Bernard’s, Hudson and Athol easily fell before the rapidly improving Red Raiders. Each week “Buzzy” became more and more comfortable at the quarterback position. But all the skeptics said, “Wait until they face the Blue Devils and Dick Robichaud.” Thanksgiving dawned cool and crisp. The contest began, and LHS’ star came as advertised, but the Red and Gray were holding their own. Ken Rostedt and Pete Stephens were running freely against the Blue Devil defense and the Raiders were excellent defense. “Buzzy” Congram was handling the offense like a veteran field general, and the Raider loyalists were loving the effort.

As the clock at Doyle Field wound down, the impossible seemed to be occurring, the three touchdown underdog was continuing to lead the contest. The referee stood over the ball, and the Raider sideline erupted with joy. Final score FHS 20 LHS 14: for his efforts in the Turkey Day Classic “Buzzy” Congram was awarded the Bernard St. Germain Trophy as the Raider’s most valuable player. This was quite an accomplishment for a first year football player. How good was the Raider quarterback?

Coach Jim Meredith, who was an original Hall of Fame inductee in 2001, had just joined his former coach Eddie Sullivan as an assistant coach. When “Jungle Jim” graduated, he went to Boston University to play football for the Boston University Terriers who were coached by Angelo “Buff” Donelli. These were the famous Terriers who were led by the legendary Harry Agganis. One of Jim’s teammates was Marco Landon from Leominster High. “Sully” and Coach Meredith felt that “Buzzy” Congram was a legitimate college prospect, so they contacted Coach Donelli who was now coaching at Columbia University. They told “Buff” that they had a kid with limited experience who could truly develop at the next level. “Buzzy” Congram was raw, but his upside was tremendous.

Coach Donelli listened to Jim and “Sully” and so in the fall of 1958 Walter Congram Jr. appeared at the entrance of Columbia University at 116th Street and Broadway. Within a short period of time, the Columbia coaching staff decided that “Buzzy” would probably not be their quarterback, but his athletic ability had impressed them enough to look for a new position for the former Raider. This is where “Buzzy’s” basketball ability and natural physical strength came into play. Soon he found himself playing on the Lion’s offensive line at the tight end position. Columbia University in the 1980’s and 1990’s was subject to ridicule because of its poor won-loss record, but the Columbia Lions of “Buzzy” Congram’s era were no laughing stock. The modern Ivy League was created in 1947, and in the nearly sixty years of its existence, Columbia University has only captured one league title and that was in the fall of 1961. The starting offensive end on that squad was “Buzzy” Congram of Fitchburg High School.

In the spring of 1962, “Buzzy” made a fateful decision. Since his football career was completed, he decided to go out for the crew squad of the university. He immediately took to this new challenge, and soon the sport of crew would become a major factor in his life. During the last forty years coaching crew has become a central factor in “Buzzy” Congram’s life. He would tell you that only his family has a greater priority. His coaching career would take “Buzzy” to many educational locations all along the East Coast, but he is probably most identified with Northeastern University.

For nearly a quarter of a century “Buzzy” led N.U., and he helped N.U. become highly competitive with the likes of Harvard, Yale and Princeton which was not an easy task. His reputation has reached the international rowing community with his connection to the Olympics. Following his leaving Northeastern in 2001, “Buzzy” coached at M.I.T. Just recently he accepted a coaching position at Dartmouth College. Good decision in 1962 to try out for the crew team, “Buzzy.”

Today “Buzzy” is married to the former Aina Josefsson of Sweden, and has two children, Will Congram aged 19 and Sofia aged 2, and will soon undertake a new adventure at Dartmouth College. Football and rowing have been good to Walter “Buzzy” Congram and now he is a FHS Hall of Famer.


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Zack McCall
1993

In the long and storied history of Fitchburg High School sports, there have been athletes with names like MacLean, Muir, Mackie, Whelan, Glenny, DiGeronimo, Oliva and Myllykangas, who thrilled the faithful. When you talk to many of the fans who have observed Raider sports for decades, thy will tell you that Zack McCall was the equal to one and all.

Early in 1989 there began to circulate amongst the Raider faithful a rumor regarding an eighth grade phenom from Akron, Ohio, who was playing basketball at Memorial Middle School. The stories said that the kid named Zack McCall could slam dunk the basketball with ease, and that physically he looked like a college sophomore. Veteran Red and Gray fans had heard similar rumors over the years, so naturally they were a little skeptical. They would have to be shown before they would truly believe the stories. In September of 1989 Zack McCall would begin his athletic odyssey through FHS, and four years later there would be few disbelievers.

Coach Ray Cosenza had arrived at Fitchburg High in the fall of 1989 hoping to revive the football fortunes of the Red and Gray. Ray understood that a good program needed to be strong with lots of kids who wanted to play the game. He knew that there were young players like Mark Pawlak, Derek Gendron, Rob Rebovich, and Rodney Dean already beginning to claim their spots on the varsity. And he knew that the freshman class had kids like John Sallila, Robert Williams and David Sousa who could be very good performers down the road. He pushed to get the new kid out for the football team, and so Zack McCall found himself in the Raider’s backfield very early in his high school career. Progress was a bit slow the first two seasons with the record standing at 10-10, but there had been improvement. On an early November evening in 1990 the North Middlesex Patriots arrived at Crocker Field on a serious roll. They had won more than 20+ contests in a row with two straight Super Bowl victories. The Patriots were large and they were excellent, but the Raiders were not to be intimidated. As the packed stands roared with delight the young Raiders matched punch for punch. The Middlesex option offense moved up and down Crocker Field, but so did the Red and Gray. Zack McCall had risen to the occasion as the slashed through and around Patriot defenders. When Bill Paskell plunged into the end zone in overtime to give the Raiders a one point victory against North Middlesex, Raider fans began to think of glory days again. Coach Ray Cosenza knew he had a real jewel in his backfield named Zack McCall.

The Big Red Machine arrived with real force in 1992. Many of those young sophomores from 1989 had developed into a cohesive group of veteran seniors led by Gendron, Pawlak, Rebovich and Dean. Those young freshmen had become outstanding starters led by Sallila on the offensive line and Zack McCall out of the tailback slot. They had stopped mighty Brockton at Marciano Field, and the locals began to talk about a return to the glory days. McCall had attracted the attention of the big town sportswriters with athletic skills and hard charging style. The Raiders stumbled against Middlesex, but on Thanksgiving morning victory belonged to the Red Raiders 14-0. Raider control of the contest had begun. Zack McCall was easily the outstanding running during that Turkey Day Classic. Then came the Super Bowl rematch with North Middlesex. On a bright sunny afternoon at Bartlett High’s field in Webster, the big running slashed through the Patriots defense to help lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory. For his efforts he was named to the Mid-Wach All Stars and the Super Team of the Worcester Telegram. College scouts were looking.

In Zack’s senior campaign the Raiders continued to pile up the victories as he continued to find the end zone. Bob Williams and Zack formed a dynamic backfield duo which could score from any spot on the field. The Raiders lost a difficult contest at Brockton in which a referee’s call halted a touchdown drive in the last second. Coach Cosenza’s still looking for that holding call on game film. But Zack was immense with 125 yards on the ground which made him game star. The Raiders rolled over Leominster on Thanksgiving Day as the Devils were unable to stop FHS’ ace. Unfortunately the Red and Gray were stopped in the Super Bowl by a tough Patriot’s crew from Middlesex. Zack McCall finished his high school football career with an outstanding 4260 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns which established new school records. He was a Super Team All Star in his senior season, MVP in the Mid-Wach League and selected to play in the Shriner’s Game.

Zack McCall was one of Fitchburg’s greatest running backs, but his game was really basketball. He was selected to play on the varsity in his freshman season, but his duty was somewhat limited because the Raiders were a veteran squad marching to the District finals. But his flashes of brilliance as he slashed to the hoop or grabbed a defensive rebound excited the Raider fans. Wait til next year was the battle cry. The faithful were correct. During the winter months from 1991 through 1993, the old Brickyard on Academy Street was a happening place as the faithful filled the stands to capacity to watch the Red and Gray and Zack McCall.

Every night Zack McCall would make a move which was just a little unique and the faithful would be whipped into a frenzy. Zack McCall would score 1506 points to establish a new Fitchburg High scoring record, but two contests symbolized Zack McCall the basketball player at FHS. In his junior season Zack teamed with a crafty point guard named Jeff Scott and his buddy, Ish Gelpi to lead the Raiders to resounding victory in the Districts over the chief rival, St. John’s. Next the Grutchfield gang would take on Springfield Central, the defending state champions in the Centrum. Central and their star, Edgar Padilla, had won 49 straight, and were huge favorites.

Late in the first half a Central player had made a slam dunk against FHS with extra emphasis. As Jeff Scott approached mid-court he spotted Zack calling for the ball in the corner. Zack drove the baseline and gave it the old tomahawk slam and turned to Central and said, “I can do that too!” The stands went nuts and when Jeff Scott sunk two foul shots with less than 10 seconds on the clock, FHS was in the state finals. What can you say about Zack McCall in the final against South Boston? The Raiders would lose in overtime, but Zack had registered forty three points. Many said it was the greatest individual performance in a Division I State final. That was FHS’ Zack McCall.

Zack McCall accepted a football scholarship to Syracuse University after his graduation, but decided that basketball was still his first love and decided to leave, and entered Northfield-Mount Herman. He was given a basketball scholarship at Marquette University, and competed in the NCAA tournament in his sophomore year. Later he would play basketball in Huron College in South Dakota from 1997 through 1999. He was selected as a second team All American in the NAIA in 1999.

Today Zack works for Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was recently married to Angela Anderson. He has three children Alexis Hebert aged 12, Devonte’ aged 7 and Jayla aged 5. He loves spending time with his family and writing poetry. Zack McCall has traveled a long journey and that trek today places him in the FHS Hall of Fame.


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