Sara Thomas was a very special athlete
and student during her four years at Fitchburg High School. During the years from 1992
to 1996, Sara participated in field hockey, basketball and softball and she was an
individual star in each of those sports. But more importantly, Sara through her dedication
and determination made each program stronger during the four years. During Sara’s
years at FHS, the Red and Gray teams were powerhouses who were respected throughout
Until the early 1990’s FHS field hockey
had always been considered somewhat of a joke. Maybe it was just a coincidence that
poor records, and equally bad attitudes, changed on the field hockey pitch, when a
freshman named Sara Thomas began to wallop the ball around Crocker Field. Of course,
it did not hurt that there was excellent senior leadership from players like Cristen Welch,
Margie Pierce and Becky Seguin, and the underclassmen like Karen LaFreniere and Jill
Murray were emerging as league All Stars who could put the ball in the back of the net.
For the first time in twenty years the Red and Gray finished with a neat 9-3-3 record and
made the District play-offs.
The fall of 1994 found the Raiders a
Mid-Wach League powerhouse ready to take on the best. Jill Murray was one of the best
scorers in Central Mass., Mandie Hertel was tenacious in front of the goal, and
LaFreniere and Sara Thomas were athletic players who were all over the field and could
score when needed. The Red and Gray were very good with an 11-2-3 regular season
record and then defeated Leominster 4-2 in the play-offs only to fall to Notre Dame
Academy 3-0 in the semi-finals of the Districts. For her efforts Sara was named to the
Mid-Wach Field Hockey All Star team.
In Sara’s senior year, she was elected as
a captain by her teammates and helped lead the Red and Gray to a 9-1-6 record as she led
the Mid-Wach in scoring with 31 goals and was named the league’s MVP. In post season
play the Raiders defeated Doherty 3-2 and LHS 1-0 before running into a terrific Quabbin
squad in the District semi-finals. For her efforts during the season Sara was selected to
play in the “Best of 60” Field Hockey State All Star team to play at Fitton Field on the
campus of Holy Cross.
When the field hockey season was
completed and the sticks were put away for the winter months, Sara easily slipped into
her sneakers and was ready to play basketball. If you were to sit down with Sara, I
believe that she would tell you that basketball was her favorite. The former “Miss Biddy
– 8th grade” really had “game” as the street parlance goes today. Sara would become the
third one thousand point scorer in women’s basketball after Pam Briggs – Class of 1985
and Tracy Smith – Class of 1993, but there was much more to Sara’s game than just
points. She was a ferocious defender, who could drive the opponent’s best scorer nuts
with her “in your face” defense, and Sara was a terrific offensive and defensive rebounder
despite only standing five feet nine inches tall. During her four year varsity career on the
hardwoods for FHS, Sara may have scored one thousand points, but she was an assist
leader in each and every contest which showed her willingness to be a true team player.
But there was one shinning moment in
Sara’s junior basketball campaign which makes up for that lack of a district title. The
1994-1995 Red and Gray’s girl’s basketball team was not very big, but they played with
great heart. Kids like Brandee Burnap, Elena Pandiscio, Kristy Pappas and Bryna
McConarty played the game with a great deal of grit and guts and they loved wearing that
Red and Gray uniform. The team did lack height, and so they sometimes could be
overpowered. But the Raiders did have three skilled players in Karen LaFreniere, Shelly
Richard and Sara who were as good as anyone in Central Massachusetts. Mighty Holy
Name and their superstar Amy O’Brien would, sadly for the Naps, learn how good this
trio really was.
Entering the Holy Name gym as decided
underdogs, the Red and Gray put on a display of basketball which was nearly perfect in
its application. With Sara and Shelly blanketing Amy O’Brien with a tremendous man to
man defense, the Raiders ran the number one seeded Naps out of their own gym. Trailing
by a single point 25-24 the Raiders were magnificent in the second half. They raced to a
38-31 lead with Sara’s long three pointer being the key shot. When the Naps countered
with a rally of their own Sara Thomas went on her own 8-0 run, and the Cinderella
Raiders had a memorable victory. The dynamic trio of Karen, Sara and Shelly had
fifty-seven of the Raiders sixty-two points, but all would tell you it was a team victory
62-58. Following that victory the Raiders defeated Wachusett Regional 54-50 in which
Sara tallied seventeen points to lead the Red and Gray to the District finals. What is
worthy of note in that victory was that the Mountaineers had defeated the Red and Gray
earlier in the season by thirty points. The clock struck twelve for the Cinderella Raiders
when they were defeated by North Middlesex in the District finals, but they certainly had
been magnificent in the tournament. Sara would probably tell one and all that this was
her favorite FHS moment.
Following her senior year in basketball
Sara was named to the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association’s First Team All
Academic Basketball Team which was a well deserved honor. As good an athlete as Sara
Thomas was, she might have been an even better scholar. Sara Thomas was a Gold F
winner, a member of the National Honor Society and when she graduated in June of 1996
Sara ranked fourth in her class. If you were to ask Ms. Ann Capodagli about Sara
Thomas, the art student, Ann would tell you about a perfectionist who drove her crazy
with the slowness of her paintings, but whose finished products were simply wonderful.
But her academic excellence could be found in every branch of study. Sara was the
winner of the Yale University Book Prize in her junior year, the Advanced Biology
Award and the Spanish IV Award given to the top student. In her senior year Sara
Thomas was selected by FHS to represent Fitchburg at the National Women in Sport’s
Day held in Boston, Massachusetts.
When the spring rolled around Sara
could be found on Lowe Playground picking up ground balls and smashing doubles to left
center field for the Raiders softball squad. She was a four year starter for Coach Tony
Alario forming a great double play combination with Karen LaFreniere in many Raider
victories. Sara and her teammates had solid teams during her four years, but lacked that
dominant pitcher who could bring a District title. But individual awards did not elude
Sara on the diamond as she was a Mid-Wach, Sentinel and Enterprise All Star and
Worcester Telegram All Star in her junior and senior seasons. As graduation approached
Sara was named the 1996 Sentinel and Enterprise Scholar-Athlete for the academic year
Following her graduation from FHS,
Sara Thomas attended the College of Holy Cross where she played four years of varsity
softball while earning outstanding grades which consistently placed her on the Dean’s
List. She was named to the Patriot League All Academic Honor Roll in her last three
years at the Cross. During the season of 1998 the Cross captured the Patriot League
Championship with Sara playing flawless defense at first base. She graduated in 2000
with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and today is employed by Westar Contract Kitchen
and Bath where she is the lead sales coordinator in Phoenix, Arizona. Today we welcome
Sara Thomas to the FHS Hall of Fame. Congratulations Sara – you did it all at
Top Of The Page
Jimmy McCall probably holds as many
individual track and field records as any other athlete whoever donned the Red and Gray.
But the ordinary Red Raider sports fan remembers James McCall for one wild dash which
he made upon Doyle Field on Thanksgiving morning in the year 1994. It was the Turkey
Day Classic for the ages that ended with a 44-40 victory over the Blue Devils. FHS, led
by Ryan Keenan, who raced up and down Doyle Field, had finally pulled ahead when
Todd Steffanides hit James McCall for a thirty-four yard touchdown pass to make the
score 44-40. With only thirty seconds showing on the clock high fives were being
slapped all over Doyle Field by the Red and Gray faithful. But LHS' Bobby Raxasack
who was playing the game of his life was not done, just yet. From his own 34 yard line
Raxasack spotted Bryan Mazzaferro over the middle and the Blue Devils' brilliant wide
receiver caught the pass in full stride and headed down the sideline. A Leominster
touchdown looked like a sure bet, but then a Raider wearing number one could be seen
sprinting toward Mazzaferro. It was McCall. As the Blue and White receiver neared the
goal line, Jimmy tackled him inside the five yard line. When a Leominster running play
was stuffed at the one yard line the clock ran out, and FHS had a glorious victory. It was
a heroic and Hall of Fame type of play.
James McCall and his family moved to
Fitchburg from Akron, Ohio, when brother Zack was in the eight grade and younger
brother James was only a sixth grader. Within weeks FHS sport's fans were hearing
about this basketball player at Memorial Junior High School. That would be Zack
McCall who would become a legendary Hall of Famer at FHS for his football and
basketball exploits. But there was also the younger brother named James who would
have to struggle to make his own legacy and try to escape the very large shadow of
brother Zack. The excitable James came to FHS in the fall of 1990, and soon would be
found playing J.V. basketball for the Red and Gray with some success. The comparisons
with his older brother were inevitable, and the conclusions reached by observers could be
tough on the kid. But then James McCall found an athletic guru who would alter his
That guru was Chris Woods who was the
FHS outdoor and indoor track and field coach, and he convinced James that his athletic
future lie in track and field rather than basketball. And it was under the gentle prodding
of Coach Woods that James' innate running, hurdling and leaping abilities flourished.
Within a very short time James was capturing District championships in the hurdles and
the long jump for both the outdoor and indoor track squads. When the spring months
rolled around, James was also a pretty good triple jumper who could give the Red and
Gray solid point totals in dual meets.
It was in the spring of James McCall's
sophomore season that local sport's fans began to read about the other McCall if they
followed the local newspapers closely. At the District E Track and Field championships
James made his first big splash upon the local scene. And a big splash it truly was!
James captured his first District title with a leap of 42 feet 8 ½ inches in the triple jump
and immediately the name McCall became associated with track and field excellence,
James McCall that is. The Red and Gray sophomore also placed third in the 300
intermediate hurdles in that same District E championships. Ironically it would be in the
hurdles that James McCall would make most of his track and field noise during his final
two years of track and field.
When Jimmy entered his junior year at
FHS his track and field abilities seemed to improve dramatically and so school records
were being regularly eclipsed and James McCall's name began to appear prominently at
State and New England Competitions. He finished second in the Class C 60 yard hurdles
at the state indoor championships and then just a week later James finished third in the
long jump with a sensational leap of 21 feet 10 ½ inches. His versatility was quite
obvious in these two very highly regarded competitions, and James McCall was well on
his way to an outstanding track and field career.
As the snows began to melt on the track
at Crocker Field in early April of 1994 James McCall was prepared to emerge as the most
versatile and explosive track and field competitor in Central Mass., if not the whole
Commonwealth. Early in the season in a dual meet against Mid-Wach rival Shrewsbury,
James captured four firsts in the long jump (20' ½") triple jump (43' 6") 120 meter high
hurdles (15.3 seconds) and the intermediate hurdles (40.7 seconds). But his amazing
individual accomplishments continued at the Mid-Wach League championships when
James won all four events once again with better distances and times in all of the events.
At the Central Mass. All-Class, Jimmy
did not do as well, only because rules only allowed him to compete in three events. But
his amazing efforts continued as he captured the high hurdles, placed second in the long
jump and ran a leg on the 4th place mile relay team, and thus was awarded with the John
Wallace Award which is given to the meet's outstanding performer. As the month of June
approached James moved onto the State Track and Field championships where he leaped
over twenty-two feet to finish second to Rich Woodbury of New Bedford and then
finished fifth in the high hurdle's finals after establishing a school record in the
But still James McCall's amazing 1994
Campaign was not finished. Still a little miffed at his second place finish at the states,
Jimmy let it all hang out at the New England Track and Field championships held at
Brown University. He fairly flew all afternoon with three leaps over twenty-two feet
which awed his competitors. His winning effort of 22 feet 3 ¾ inches captured the gold
to conclude James McCall's fabulous junior season.
How do you top such a wonderful junior
season? First, you make that game saving tackle, just after you have scored the game
winning touchdown pass in one of the greatest Turkey Day Classics ever played. Then
you help your Red and Gray track team capture third place in the Class C indoor state
championships held at Harvard University by winning the 60 meter hurdles race, placing
third in the high jump and finally running a key leg on the mile relay team's fifth place
finish. Then, James would be nipped by a blazer from Norwalk, Connecticut by two one
hundredths of a second in the New England's, but his efforts continued to amaze all track
and field fans. Despite nursing an injured heel, Jimmy was able to capture the triple jump
and the high hurdles in the Central Massachusetts Class Championships.
When James McCall was a young
sophomore just emerging as a superstar track and field performer, he told the Sentinel and
Enterprise's reporter Ken Carty that, "basketball was my brother Zack's thing and track is
my thing." James will admit that he still had that younger brother complex, but by June
of 1995 he had established his own Hall of Fame legacy.
Today James McCall lives in Gardner,
Massachusetts with his wife Bonnie (McKenna) and his three young daughters, Abrianna,
Amaya and Alisha, he is a proud member of the Fitchburg Police Department with his
teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Ryan Keenan. When his coach Chris Woods
nominated James for the Hall of Fame he said that James had told him that he desired to
give something back to the community that had aided his development so greatly. Chris
truly feels that James McCall who has overcome many adversities in life has truly
established himself as a role model for the youngsters of Fitchburg. Tonight we honor
Jimmy McCall's deeds with his induction into the FHS Hall of Fame. Congratulations,
Top Of The Page
Karen (LaFrenier) Berry was a somewhat shy
student who quietly walked the corridors of the old Fitchburg High School on Academy
Street who might occasionally be overlooked by her teachers, and even her fellow
students. But I can tell you one group of people who never overlooked Karen (LaFrenier) Berry,
and they were the opposing coaches who had to play against Fitchburg High from 1991 to
1995. Karen (LaFrenier) Berry was a tremendous three sport athlete who will be inducted into
the FHS Hall of Fame this evening in her very first year of eligibility. The Hall of Fame
committee recognized that this was a very special athlete who brought excellence to
Fitchburg High sports during the 1990's. The Red and Gray were blessed to have a group
of young ladies who could compete with the very best on a field hockey field, basketball
court or a softball diamond and Karen (LaFrenier) Berry might well have been the best
overall athlete. Unfortunately the Fitchburg High trophy case does not have many
District III or Mid-Wach League championship trophies from the mid-1990's because the
ladies had to face teams with super fast softball pitchers like Robyn King, or extremely
tall centers like Jessica Vessey or field hockey juggernauts like Wachusett Regional or
Notre Dame Academy. But the girls like Karen and her teammates Jill Murray, Sara
Thomas, Shelley Richard, Marcie Cheries and Amy Robichaud were very very good.
Most people who watch Karen (LaFrenier) Berry
compete for the Red and Gray for four years will tell you that her best sport was softball.
Certainly that is what the college coaches believed. Karen was recruited by the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst to play softball. If you are at all familiar with
UMass softball, then you know that this is a very big deal. The Minutemen softball team
annually can be found in any national poll in the top twenty. When Karen went to UMass
in the mid-1990's the Minutemen were probably the strongest team in the Northwestern
United States. That was the quality of Karen's softball ability. Her softball coach Tony
Alario, who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame this evening, would tell you that
Karen was the finest fielding infielder that he observed in over 500 softball games. Karen
was not a spectacular infielder, she was just silky smooth. If the ball was hit in her
direction, you knew that the opponent was a dead duck.
When Karen came to bat for the Red and
Gray, she was usually hitting in the key third or fourth spots in the batting order, so
opposing pitchers were going to be giving her their best stuff. Despite that Karen's
batting average could always be found at the top of any Mid-Wach statistics. During her
four year varsity career Karen batted very close to .400 which ain't hay in any league. She
was a solid line drive hitter who could smack out that double to left centerfield to drive in
the key runs which would insure victory for the Red and Gray in many a contest. She
exuded a quiet confidence which seemed to rub off onto her teammates. Naturally, in her
senior softball campaign Karen was a unanimous choice to be the captain of the Red and
Gray. She was not a loud rah-rah competitor, but Coach Alario and her teammates knew
leadership when they saw it. So did the opposing coaches and the region's sport's writers
understood the excellence of Karen (LaFrenier) Berry. She was named a Mid-Wach A all star in
both her junior and senior years and was selected by the Telegram and Gazette to their
Super Team in her senior season.
When Karen entered FHS field hockey
was not a highly regarded sport at the school. By the time her senior season rolled
around, Karen and her teammates Jill Murray, Carrie Donohue, Shelley Richard, Mandie
Hertel, Jane Parillo and Sara Thomas had made the Red and Gray a major force in Central
Mass. field hockey. Once again Karen had been recognized by her teammates and Coach
Sue Tourigney as a team leader and thus named team tri-captain with Murray and
Donahue. The Raiders had a great regular season going 11-2-3 losing two excruciatingly
tough contests against powerful Wachusett Regional.
Following the regular season, FHS
knocked off arch-rival Leominster for the third victory in the season over the defending
District champions. Early in the second half with the score tied at 1-1, Karen made a key
strike from 25 yards which was stopped by the LHS goalie, but the deflection landed on
sophomore Shelley Richard's stick and the youngster banged it into the net. Subsequently
the Raiders would roll to a very satisfying 4-2 victory over the Devils. This victory was
almost symbolic of the long hill that Karen and her teammates had climbed to make FHS
field hockey respectable. Unfortunately the 800 pound gorilla awaited the Raiders in the
second round, and that would be Notre Dame Academy of Worcester. The Red and Gray
squad fell to NDA 3-0, but when the final whistle blew the ladies of Fitchburg High field
hockey could hold their heads high. As the old television advertisement had said,
"You've come a long way, baby." At the conclusion of the year Karen was named to the
Mid-Wach A League All Star team and also as a Sentinel and Enterprise All Star. All
Star recognition had almost become a foregone conclusion for Karen (LaFrenier) Berry when the
seasons were concluded.
If you were to ask Karen (LaFrenier) Berry about
her favorite moment athletically at FHS, my bet would be that she would quietly talk
about an early March evening in 1995 at Holy Name High School. Sixth seeded FHS
entered the den of the defending District I champions as a decided underdog, and they
shocked the world. The Naps of Holy Name had two Division I college recruits, Amy
O'Brien and Brooke Renkens, and the Red and Gray countered with a
sophomore-junior-senior trio who would prove they could play with any one. Their
names were Shelley Richard, Sara Thomas and Captain Karen (LaFrenier) Berry and they were
all magnificent in that contest played nearly a dozen years ago. Coach Tony Alario asked
his sensational sophomore and the captain to defend Holy Name's All Stater O'Brien, and
that is just what they did. O'Brien would score 21 points, but she never dominated the
contest. The two Raiders, particularly the captain, drove O'Brien with a belly to belly
defense which drove her to distraction. Karen, Sara and Shelley who had fifty seven of
the Raiders points all had Hall of Fame performances. It was a glorious victory for Coach
Tony Alario and his squad, but the 1995 Raiders were not done shining.
In early January Wachusett Regional had
annihilated the Raiders 70-42, but in early February FHS had rebounded with a stunning
68-58 upset to institute a seven-game winning streak which shocked Central Mass.
basketball. Coach Alario's little team was standing very tall as they faced Wachusett in
the rubber match which also was the District semi-finals. When the smoke had cleared at
WPI's Harrington Auditorium the Raiders had a great 54-50 victory. How did our Hall of
Famer do in this semi-final contest? She took a beating fighting for rebounds against the
Mountaineer's very tall front court, but she never quit. When the game was on the line in
the final four minutes, the quiet, but always calm Raider captain sank eight clutch foul
shots to insure another Raider victory on its way to an improbable spot in the District
finals. Karen (LaFrenier) Berry had proved her unselfishness against the Wachusett squad, and
that brought victory back to Academy Street. The Raiders lost to the taller North
Middlesex squad in the finals, but their District run will be recalled for many, many cold
winter evenings. In that wonderful season in which Karen (LaFrenier) Berry helped the Raiders
rise from the ashes.
Today Karen (LaFrenier) Berry is a stay at
home mom, residing with her husband, Ken Berry, Class of 1995, and two future FHS All Stars, Bryce aged five,
and Drew aged four. When Karen filled out the Hall of Fame information sheet, when asked to explain her current
position she proudly exclaimed, "Mom", and when talking to this writer recently Karen
told me that the kids are already showing excellent athletic ability. It's in the genes,
A truly nice human being, Karen (LaFrenier) Berry
is warmly welcomed to our Hall of Fame. A good student and a great
athlete, Karen (LaFrenier) Berry is a true Hall of Famer.
Top Of The Page
If you are from West Fitchburg, and your
last name happens to be Keenan, then you were born to wear the Red and Gray, and Ryan
Keenan, Class of 1994, wore the Red and Gray with pride and excellence. He was the
type of kid who coaches loved to coach, and teammates would follow to the ends of the
world. During his four years at Fitchburg High School, Ryan Keenan excelled in football,
basketball and outdoor track and field, and in his senior year he was named captain of
each and every one of those teams. His was the desire that every coach wants to see from
his players and every teammate admires.
Ryan Keenan was truly an athletic "Man
for all Seasons" during his four years at Fitchburg High School, but it was the time of the
year in which the leaves begin to fall from the trees, and a little nip of cold air descends
upon New England, that Ryan Keenan rose to his greatest heights. But it was never easy,
and Ryan was never handed anything on a silver platter. He earned every honor which
was bestowed upon him as a football player honestly, just as he earned every yard that he
gained while wearing that Red and Gray uniform. Ryan Keenan played behind FHS'
future Hall of Famer, Zack McCall, during his sophomore and junior seasons, and it must
have been difficult knowing that you could do the job, but also knowing that Zack would
be the starter, and rightly so.
Did Ryan Keenan sulk and pout about
his situation? That was not the West Fitchburg way, nor was it the way of the Keenan
family. He would find other ways to help the Red Raiders be a successful football team
while he quietly waited for his time to step into the spotlight. During the first two varsity
seasons Ryan Keenan became a solid defensive back on Raider squads which were
amongst the best teams in Central Massachusetts. In fact, after sustaining a difficult
21-19 loss to North Middlesex, FHS marched onto Doyle Field determined to take down
the Blue Devils. When the final whistle blew, for the first time in six seasons the Red
and Gray would march home triumphant on Turkey Day 14-0. Young Ryan Keenan had
been an integral part of that Raider defense which had stopped LHS cold from his
position in the defensive backfield. Ryan Keenan would return to Doyle Field two more
years, and put on a performance of running back which will be happily recalled for many
years. Ten days later Ryan Keenan and his teammates would capture Fitchburg's first
Super Bowl victory in twenty years when they knocked off their old nemesis North
Middlesex 22-6. The spotlight did not yet shine brightly on Ryan Keenan, but he had
been an important member of a championship season.
During his junior year Ryan Keenan
once again found himself as a backup to Zack McCall, but he had become a key in the
defensive backfield as the powerful Raiders rolled through their schedule. Following a
difficult 7-6 loss to North Middlesex, FHS needed a victory over a good Westboro squad
to reach the Super bowl for the third straight year. It did not look good early for the
Raiders as Westboro sprinted out to an early lead and then in the third quarter McCall
was injured and carried off the field. The Fitchburg faithful were down cast and the
Westboro fans shouted with glee. But junior tailback named Ryan Keenan would soon
turn Westboro's happiness to sadness. The Raider offense did not miss a beat, and Ryan
Keenan showed one and all that he could lug the leather for FHS. Ryan scored two
touchdowns and two vital conversions as the Raiders eked out a 29-27 victory in
overtime. Ryan Keenan had arrived, but he would still have to wait since McCall
recovered to play on Thanksgiving morning and in the Super Bowl.
When the 1993 campaign began, many
Fitchburg faithful felt that their boys could be in for a very long season, but Coach Ray
Cosenza was confident that his kids would rise to the occasion, and the coach felt that he
had a secret weapon named Ryan Keenan who could take over the running load from
Zack McCall and Bobby Williams. That is exactly what happened. After a slow start
against Oakmont and Milford when the Raider offense sputtered, Coach Cosenza
installed Todd Steffanides and put Mike Beaulac at fullback and Ryan Keenan exploded.
Averaging over 150 yards per game, Keenan sparked FHS to a huge upset over powerful
Brockton 22-19, led a rout of Marlboro and then carried the Red and Gray to an excellent
victory 14-11 against Foxboro on a cold October evening.
Then there was that Thanksgiving
Classic for the ages. The Red and Gray and the Blue Devils put forth an offensive show
which will be remembered for decades. Todd Steffanides, Clarence Yarbrough, Mike
Beaulac and James McCall all made great plays for the FHS cause, but it was the
determined brilliance of number 32, Ryan Keenan, which shone over all else. He rushed
for more than two hundred yards while scoring three touchdowns and two extra point
conversions, as he dazzled Leominster's defenders throughout the contest. It was one of
the greatest individual performances in the long history of the Turkey Day Classic. For
his season long efforts Ryan was named to the Telegram and Gazette Super Team and
probably in his mind given the most important award, the MVP of the Red Raiders. After
all Ryan Keenan is a Red Raider first and foremost.
But Ryan Keenan's athletic career at
FHS did not just entail football. He was a solid player on those outstanding Red Raider
basketball squads of the 1990's. Coach Doug Grutchfield could always count on the West
Fitchburg kid to play solid defense against the opponent's best scorer. He was awarded
the Raider's best defensive award in his senior year and was also named a Mid-Wach
League All Star. And then there was track and field. Ryan Keenan was one of the finest
pole vaulters in the history of Fitchburg High School. As a freshman Ryan vaulted over
eleven feet in the District meet and he just continued to soar throughout his high school
years. He was District champion with a vault of 12 feet 6 inches which established a new
FHS record in his junior year and then topped that vault with a new record vault in his
senior campaign of 13 feet 1 inch. He was named a Mid-Wach, Sentinel and Telegram
All Star for his efforts in the pole vaulting pit.
While Ryan Keenan was creating an
athletic legacy from 1990-1994, he was also carrying on another Keenan tradition in the
classroom. During his four years at FHS Ryan's name could be found on the special or
high honor rolls, and he was selected to the National Honor Society in his junior year.
Ryan was a hard working student who was always held in the highest regard by his
teachers. Praise in the field of athletics was important, but good grades were an absolute
necessity at the Keenan household.
Following his graduation from Fitchburg
High in 1994 Ryan enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he
graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a minor in
criminal justice. He is currently serving as a Fitchburg Police Officer following in the
footsteps of his grandfather Captain Bernard Keenan.
Ryan is married to the former Jill Crotty
from Leominster: can you believe it! and they have twins, Mia and Michael who just
recently turned one year old. Ryan Keenan may have had to wait three years before
earning that starting tailback position, but the wait was well worth it. Today Ryan
Keenan can call himself a Fitchburg High School Hall of Famer. You did West Fitchburg
Top Of The Page
As the 1986 basketball season
approached, Coach Doug Grutchfield was making a fateful decision which would affect
his star player Scott Wirtanen. In the previous season "Grutch's" team had fought its way
to the Division I State Championship contest which featured a well-balanced offense
which had six or seven individuals who could share the scoring load. The coach knew
that he could count on Danny Barry, Richie Gilchrest, Harvey Earley, "Spike" Carlson,
Mike Connelly or Scott Wirtanen to hit for double figures in any particular contest and
that they would get the job done. But now they were all graduated except for Wirtanen,
so Doug Grutchfield decided to make a radical change for any Grutchfield coached squad.
The Raiders in 1986 were going to feature Scott Wirtanen as their man, and it would be
his teammate's responsibility to get the ball in Scott's hands so he could take the first shot
anytime the Raiders went on offense. No longer would the center like a David Marshall
or Rick Tienhaara set up in the low post, it was going to be bombs away from long
distances by Scott Wirtanen.
That is a great deal of pressure to put on
a seventeen year old athlete, but it was an assignment which Scott Wirtanen came to
relish and one environment in which he thrived. Did his younger and less experienced
teammates question Coach Grutchfield's decision? No, they did not. First you did not
question the decisions of "Grutch", and secondly they did have supreme confidence in the
abilities of their superstar. He had repaid his coach's faith in him be averaging over
twenty-two points per game throughout the regular season. The Red and Gray barely
made the District tourney, and their Hall of Fame coach was hospitalized with a heart
condition. But his assistant John Cordio along with Scott Wirtanen's superb overall play
was able to coax FHS into the Districts. Cordio was able to get the young Raiders to rise
to the occasion in the first contest against Shrewsbury which they won rather easily.
Next it was onto the Marlboro Field
House and the number one seed, the Marlboro Panthers, who had twice stopped the Red
and Gray during the regular season. Coach Grutchfield was still ill at home and listening
to the game on WEIM as his trusty assistant John Cordio guided FHS from the sidelines.
There is an old sports expression "that it is difficult to defeat a good team three straight
times." That is particularly true if that team has a Scott Wirtanen playing for it. Playing
an up-tempo contest with Scott and Norbert Pickett pouring in the points, the Red and
Gray played the favored Panthers to a stand still. And then with the contest tied and less
than twenty seconds on the clock Coach John Cordio, said to the young Raiders to "get
the ball to Scottie at half court and then clear out one side of the floor". Everyone's eyes
were transfixed upon number twenty-two as he patiently dribbled the ball near mid-court.
The crowd was near hysteria as Scott tricky dribbled toward the basket with the Marlboro
squad falling to the rear, then he stopped and leaped high and released a soft 15-foot
jumper toward the hoop. Swish and the number one seed's players fell crestfallen to the
floor. That's what Hall of Fame players can do to opponents.
Why had Coach Grutchfield made that
fateful decision before the 1986 season? He knew and trusted Scott Wirtanen. "Grutch"
always told people that Scott was one of the very best athletes he ever coached. During
the Red and Gray's championship run to the State Championship game when Scott was a
junior, "Grutch" was never afraid to insert his junior into key situations in tense contests.
Scott Wirtanen always had the aura of a champion when he put on that Red and Gray
But basketball was not the only sport
which Scott starred for during his years at FHS. For three years he was an outstanding
football star for the Red and Gray. When Scott's junior season rolled around Coach John
Dubzinski was ready to use the talents of his talented wide receiver. Following a difficult
7-6 loss to Doherty in the opening game of 1984, "Dubba" decided that Scott Wirtanen
would be a key factor in his offense as the Raiders primary receiver. Soon the Raider
combination of Craig Lareau to Wirtanen became Central Massachusetts' deadliest
passing combo. Wirtanen was deadly from any location on the field as his TD catches
against St. Peter-Marian, Wachusett, Holy Name and St. John's excited all Raider faithful
in attendance. Scott would be named as a Central Mass. Conference All Star for his
pass-catching prowess, but he was also a tiger in the defensive backfield as his
interceptions against Bedford clearly revealed.
But Scott Wirtanen's most memorable
gridiron moment did not occur on a pass reception or on an interception, but rather when
Scott was called upon by Coach Dubzinski to throw a pass against Leominster.
Thanksgiving Day - 1984 - was a perfect Red and Gray morning. The brilliant sun
engulfed Crocker Field as the thousands poured into the game. The Red and Gray led by
Chuck Sandburg and Ed Bever on defense and Lareau, Brown, Morrilly and Wirtanen had
rolled to eight straight victories and expectations were high. This would be the year! The
covered stands were a sea of red and the boys did not disappoint: Raiders 29 Leominster
2. Phil Morrilly and Dave Brown easily found their way into the end zone, but it was
another play which will forever live in the hearts of Raider faithful. Coach Dubzinski
called for an end around in which Scott Wirtanen took a reverse hand off in the backfield
and then stood tall and threw a perfect pass to little used Dan Doiron - Class of 1985. It
was Dan's only reception of the year, and when Dan caught the perfect pass and raced into
the end zone, the covered grandstands exploded with happiness and joy. The hard
working substitute had been given his golden moment in the glorious sun. It was almost
storybook in its quality, and Scott Wirtanen had been perfect on the play.
The senior campaign on the gridiron for
Scott Wirtanen saw the personal accolades continue to pile up, but the season of the
Raiders was somewhat disappointing particularly that Turkey Day loss at Doyle Field in
the driving snowstorm. Despite a second Wirtanen Thanksgiving touchdown in the
blizzard-like conditions, the Raiders fell to LHS 13-6 to conclude a disappointing season
which had begun with such high hopes. Once again Scott was selected as a CMC All star
and later in the school year he was selected to play in the prestigious Shriner's All Star
During his senior year Scott began to
look for a college where he could continue his athletic career and further his education.
Soon the corridors would be visited by Coach Wally Halas of Clark University who was
very interested in Scott playing basketball for the powerful Cougars. Coach Halas had
had great success with John Pappas, another FHS Hall of Famer, and he felt that Scott
would be a perfect fit for Clark University. During his years at Fitchburg High Scott had
achieved excellent grades, and so he was accepted into Clark. He would play varsity
basketball at Clark for four years, starting for his last three campaigns. Scott is very
proud of the fact that he was a member of the Clark squad which reached the NCAA
Final Four in Division III in 1987 and that he was elected co-captain in his senior year.
During his years at Clark Scott continued his fine scoring ability scoring 975 points
during his career.
Following his graduation from Clark
University in 1991 Scott joined the United States Army and served two years specializing
in electronics and computers during his service time. Living in Quincy, Massachusetts,
Scott is a regional sales manager for Jet Edge, a company he has worked with since 1994.
Today we would like to welcome Scott
Wirtanen, one of FHS' finest athletes of the 1980's, into Fitchburg High's Hall of
Top Of The Page
As a young sophomore, Paul
DiGeronimo, stood in the end zone of Doyle Field, and listened as the Blue Devil faithful
hurled insults, and a few other things down upon Paul and his fellow sophomore starter,
Larry Shattuck. The two youngsters looked at each other and said, "Well, I guess this is
what Fitchburg versus Leominster on Turkey Day really means." Paul, who stood around
six feet two inches tall in his first Red and Gray football season, played an outstanding
defensive game in the Raider's secondary. Fitchburg built a 12-7 halftime lead as their
faithful went crazy with glee, but LHS eventually came back to down the Raiders. This
was Paul DiGeronimo's first major encounter against the Blue Devil's during his Hall of
Fame career, and the result's had been quite good.
When Paul entered his junior football
season, Coach John Dubzinski switched him to the quarterback position, and "Pudge"
immediately opened a few eyes with his excellent passing particularly to split end
"Slanky" LeBlanc. The Raiders ran off six consecutive victories before suffering a tough
loss to Quincy High. After tying Bedford and knocking off Milford High, the Raiders'
record was 7-1-1 and the Raiders eagerly awaited the Thanksgiving Game against an
outstanding Blue Devil squad. The Devils were dominant, but Paul's outstanding effort in
the contest earned him the Bernard St. Germaine Award as the Raider's outstanding
competitor on Thanksgiving morning. For his outstanding efforts in his junior season
"Pudge" was named to Central Massachusetts Conference All Star team.
As Paul and the Raiders entered the 1983
football season there was a buzz in the community that FHS would have an excellent
season, and the team started with seven straight impressive victories. But the Raider's 7th
straight victory had been costly as the Raiders lost their chief running back Larry Shattuck
with a leg injury. Now the Raider offense fell almost completely onto the shoulders of
Paul DiGeronimo. The cities of Fitchburg and Leominster were extremely excited as the
annual Thanksgiving Classic approached since this would be the 100th game played
between the rivals.
Ten thousand people packed Doyle Field
on Thanksgiving morning as the arch-rivals took the field. Early in the contest Paul was
hit high and low by the Blue Devil defense, and he remained on the turf. Coach
Dubzinski came out to inspect his fallen star and then they slowly walked to the sidelines.
Paul had suffered a bad concussion and his Thanksgiving Game was finished. The
Raiders went down to a tough 28-12 defeat on this dark and drizzly morning. Following
the Thanksgiving Game, Paul was named to the Telegram and Gazette Super Team as a
defensive back. But more importantly Paul received a call from Boston College and he
was given a four year athletic full scholarship to play for the B.C. Eagles.
If football had been Paul DiGeronimo's
number one sport at FHS, then basketball had brought the most success to Paul and his
teammates under the tutelage of Doug Grutchfield. During Paul's sophomore season, he
had played J.V. basketball for Coach John Cordio, but the mid-season found him moving
up to the varsity. The 1983 and 1984 basketball seasons were two of FHS' very best
seasons ever and "Pudge" DiGeronimo had been an integral part of those squads. In the
1983 season the Red and Gray squad with David Marshall, Mike LeBlanc and Rich
Gilchrist had a huge front court which dominated most opponents. Paul played the
off-guard position and his major job was to feed the ball inside to the big guys Marshall
and LeBlanc. This is sort of a thankless job, but Paul carried out "Grutch's" orders with a
very selfless attitude. His job was to help the team with precise passes and he carried out
his assignment almost perfectly. This does not get you headlines in the local papers, but
helps teams win games. And that 1983 squad rolled through the opposition with an 18-2
record, and then it was onto the District playoffs with an inevitable clash with St. John's
in the finals. The two titans advanced to the finals at the Hart Center on the campus of
Holy Cross. The gym was packed with over 4000 screaming fans as the two squads
battled tooth and nail. Paul had the difficult task in the Raider defense of closely
guarding St. John's brilliant Matt Palazzi, and he did his job superbly. You did not stop
Palazzi, you just tried to slow him down and control his offensive output. David
Marshall, Mike LeBlanc and John Connolly provided most of the Raider offense, but Paul
made two clutch foul shots down the stretch to ensure the Raiders first District title in six
As the final buzzer blared the Red
Raiders were the Central Massachusetts Division I champions. Their season was finished
because there was no state championship in 1983 due to the results of Proposition 2 ½.
Coach Grutchfield always felt that this squad could have delivered that long sough after
Division I State Championship. Paul and his teammates were deprived of an opportunity
to go for the gold.
The 1984 Red and Gray were loaded for
bear as the season began. Mike LeBlanc had moved onto Syracuse, but his front court
position had been taken rather effortlessly by Danny Barry and the Raiders were almost
invincible. Once again Paul DiGeronimo was being asked to carry out the thankless tasks
which make for winning teams. Play hard defense, get the tough rebounds, make those
great assists and occasionally hit that fifteen foot jump shot were Paul's assignments on
that terrific 1984 basketball squad. Rolling to an 18-1 regular season, FHS was poised to
capture their second consecutive District title and then tried to capture that elusive state
title from which they were denied in 1983. Once again the Hart Center saw an
outstanding championship contest between FHS and St. John's. Unfortunately there was
a bad incident involving fans in the second half which halted a Raider surge and the
Raiders lost by two points in that final. The team had lost two games by a total of three
points. Paul DiGeronimo certainly had been an important cog in a Raider basketball
machine in 1983 and 1984.
When the spring months rolled around
Paul DiGeronimo took his considerable athletic talents down to Crocker Field to compete
on the track and field squads. Paul was an outstanding dash man who ran the 100 yard
dash and 220 yard dash with a great deal of success. He remembers with great pride
capturing the 100 against the powerful St. John's track and field squad. But his coaches
could count on Paul to give any event a try if it would help FHS win a meet. He will
laughingly tell you that he scored key points in dual meets in such events as the high jump
and the shot put. But this truly revealed his overall athletic excellence.
Following his 1984 graduation Paul
enrolled at Boston College where he competed for four years on the Eagles football
squad. Highlights of his career were playing the Cotton Bowl squad led by Doug Flutie's
Lambert Trophy winning team, playing in the 1987 Hall of Fame Bowl in which B.C.
defeated Georgia and playing in Ireland against Army in 1988. Paul received his
Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications in 1989. He then returned to Fitchburg High
School where he became an invaluable member of Coach Ray Cosenza's coaching staff
helping the Raiders win Super Bowl titles and capturing twelve out of thirteen
Thanksgiving contests. His Raider spirit was always visible on the sidelines. He took
over as the head basketball coach in 2004 and is currently helping to revive the Raider
hoop program. Paul is married to the former Suzanne LaPointe - Class of 1985 - and they
have two sons Dylan - 13 and Drew - 11.
Paul DiGeronimo was a throwback three
sport athlete at FHS, and he helped lead the Red and Gray to great victories on the soil of
Crocker Field and the hardwood of the Brickyard. Today we welcome Paul to the FHS
Hall of Fame where he will join his older brother Tom - Class of 1982. Congratulations
Paul - you are truly a man of the Red and Gray.
Top Of The Page
As the football season of 1971 approached, the prospects
for the Red and Gray did not appear good for even the most optimistic of long
time Raider fans. It was felt by many of the faithful that Coach Marco Landon and his
kids were going to suffer through an extremely tough campaign in the autumn of 1971.
But apparently someone had forgotten to
get that message of impeding doom to Steve Ciccolini who would struggle mightily in the
early stages of the year, but then rise to the heights on Saturday morning. The key to that
extremely fulfilling season for the team, coaching staff and loyal Red and Gray fans was
the tough kid who wore the number fifty-one with distinction and glory. We honor Steve
Ciccolini for that fiery determination that he brought to the gridiron, each and every
During his junior season at FHS, Steve
had been a major contributor to an outstanding Raider squad which went 7-2 and defeated
outstanding teams. Coach Landon knew that he had a gem in Steve Ciccolini and that he
would have to build his squad, particularly on defense, around number fifty-one. Tom
Landon and Dean Vallis started on the Raider defense along with Ciccolini in 1970
although they were only 160 pound sophomores, so they were expected to contribute in
the fall of 1971. But they would be joined by members of the Class of 1973 who would
join Ciccolini to make the Red Raiders a potent force by November of 1971.
The 1971 season started slowly as it took
time to mesh the veteran players with the underclassmen. The Raiders lost their first
three contests to three excellent teams, Manchester Memorial, Nashua and St. Peter's, but
in each contest number fifty-one had been the best player on the field as he made
bone-crushing tackles from sideline to sideline. The Raider faithful were getting restless,
but Coach Landon could see progress being made each contest, and they knew that they
had a true stud in Ciccolini who would soon bring victory back to the Raiders. In week
four, the Raiders travelled to Stone Field in Gardner to take on their ancient rival in the
Chair City. Before a packed-crowd, the rejuvenated Raiders shocked one and all with a
victory over the Wildcats. Junior tailback Mike Lasorsa made the key play with a 40 yard
touchdown run. Lasorsa and Lloyd LeBlanc were beginning to form an excellent running
combination which was being added by an improving offensive line. But it was the
Ciccolini-led defense which was keeping the Raiders in each contest.
Now it was onto mighty Brockton and
local speculation was that the Red and Gray were going to get crushed. After all the
outstanding 1970 squad had been easily handled by the Boxers 24-0, and so the worst was
expected. But the Raiders shocked the world! Led by a stifling defense, the Red and
Gray held the superstar Brockton offense scoreless as the contest ended in a 0-0 tie. The
Raiders completely outplayed Armand Columbo's high-powered offense as Ciccolini
raced from sideline to sideline making bone-crushing tackles which were intimidating the
so-called Boxer superstars. Late in the first half, "Chicky" hurt his hand making a tough
tackle and it looked as if it could well be broken. Coach Crank did a rather unique taping
job along the sidelines and Steve was ready to go as the second half began. Throughout
the second half Ciccolini and his cohorts pounded the shocked Boxers. The Raiders were
now arriving on the scene, and the faithful returned in droves to Crocker Field.
The Red and Gray captured easy
victories over St. Bernard's and Athol and then they were badly defeated by an excellent
Bishop Guertin squad, so the optimism waned as Thanksgiving approached. The Blue
Devils led by a quarterback named Masciarelli had an excellent 6-2 as the Turkey Day
Classic approached. Talk in the two communities was that "Huck" Hannigan's squad was
too experienced and too large for the up and coming Raiders.
As the snow fell at the rate of an inch an
hour on Thanksgiving morning, Rupert L'Ecuyer told the arriving Raiders like Dean
Vallis that they should return home because the game had been postponed until Saturday
morning. With a herculean effort the city of Leominster cleared the field and as the
thousands poured into Doyle Field on a dark and dank Saturday morning, the playing
field was ready.
The Raiders emerged from the clubhouse
and raced onto the field led by their leader number fifty-one who was about to play one of
the greatest games ever played by a Raider in the Turkey Day Classic. When you look at
Steve Ciccolini's plaque for the Hall of Fame, you will see number fifty-one entering with
his teammates, and thirty-five years later, you can almost feel the intensity. This was to
be Steve Ciccolini's greatest day as a Raider as he concluded his Hall of Fame career.
Fearing the emerging Raider defense which featured "Chicky's" bone-crushing tackles,
"Huck" Hannigan let his quarterback Rich Masciarelli throw the pigskin. It was a
mistake! Early in the contest with the Blue Devils deep in their own territory Masciarelli
attempted a short pass toward the sidelines, and up leaped number fifty-one. Steve
Ciccolini was living the dream of a defensive lineman as he rolled into the LHS end zone
with an intercepted pass, FHS 6 LHS 0.
So it was up to the defense to protect the
lead. Number fifty-one was all over the field and co-captain Steve Richard was patrolling
the Raider secondary with great success. Steve would pick off Masciarelli late in the
contest, and victory belonged to the Raiders. It was a glorious Saturday morning for all
Raiders young and old. Ciccolini had been a man amongst the boys, and his efforts are
still recalled with joy 35 years later.
Following his outstanding football
season Steve Ciccolini turned to his second love in athletics, baseball. Steve loves to tell
his friends that he was an excellent baseball player at FHS, and they all, especially Dave
Secino and "Bo" Brasili kind of laugh. But "Chicky" was an excellent hitter who on
occasion could really give the ball a long ride. Four or five times during his senior
season, Steve Ciccolini launched 400 foot blasts which either landed in the stands at
Crocker Field or far beyond the outfielders at fields in Marlboro, Gardner and
Leominster. In his senior year at FHS Steve was named a league all-star and could be
found on All Star teams named by the Telegram and Gazette and the Fitchburg Sentinel.
Following his graduation in June, 1972,
Steve chose to attend Worcester Academy and then he selected the University of
Massachusetts of Amherst to continue his education and his football career. Playing at
UMass under Coach Dick McPherson Steve had an outstanding collegiate career
achieving all star status in the Yankee Conference in 1975. That tough bone-crunching
style which he developed at FHS served him well at the college level.
When Steve graduated from UMass, he
tried coaching for a few years, but in 1980 he and his wife Sue Kibling Ciccolini moved
to California where he got involved with Infomedix Medical Videos and Audios. Later
he would work in the 1990's for Mosby Medical Books and today he is the president of
S&S Medical Books out of Florida. Steve and Sue had two daughters, Stacy and Ashley
who are twenty and eighteen respectively. Steve was always proud to wear the Red
Raider uniform, and he is very proud that his younger brothers, Dave and Chris, also put
on the football pads for old FHS. Chris who graduated in 1987 and later would go to
Yale University and distinguish himself academically. Steve Ciccolini loves to talk about
his smart younger brother. Welcome to the FHS Hall of Fame Steve Ciccolini; you and
your teammates of 1971 did us all proud.
Top Of The Page
It had been a week of turmoil for the Red
Raider football team of 1968. As the Turkey Day Classic approached, the prospects for
FHS had been on a roller coaster ride. Their triggerman, Chris Petrides, who had guided
the Red and Gray football fortunes since his sophomore season, had severely sprained his
ankle while playing a pick up game of basketball on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
His status was up in the air and the city of Fitchburg was abuzz with speculation as the
big game approached. Coach Marco Landon and his staff had to set up two game plans
depending on Petrides' condition on Game Day. But the coaches were confident that their
1968 version of Red Raider football could rise to the occasion. This was a special team
loaded with great players from both the junior and senior classes, and they had rolled
through the opposition throughout most of the fall. And Coach Landon's back up
quarterback Allen Glenny was very capable of stepping in for Petrides.
But this fabulous Thanksgiving Day
contest would have an ending which was similar to the 1994 classic with a somewhat
unexpected hero creating victory for the Red and Gray. Randy Palmer had been a solid
performer for the Red Raiders playing at the end position, but the players who garnered
the headlines in the Fitchburg Sentinel were named Tom DiGeronimo, Chris Petrides,
Richie and Ralph Boudreau and occasionally the defensive standout Leo LaRoche. The
Petrides to DiGeronimo passing combination had been sensational and the Boudreau
twins with their exciting running styles were exceptional. Thanksgiving morning dawned
with gray and gloomy skies with a forecast of possible rain and sleet by mid-morning.
The attitude in the clubhouse at Crocker Field was about as gloomy as the weather.
Coach Landon had been told by the doctors that his star quarterback, Petrides, would not
be able to go. Allen Glenny would take over the helm for FHS.
Leominster was a decided underdog as
the two squads came onto Crocker Field, but they were led by a fiery Greg Piccuci who
would be a thorn in the side of the Red and Gray all morning. The slippery conditions
seemed to favor the Blue Devils, as the brilliant passing attack of FHS which featured
DiGeronimo was kept under control although Glenny was brilliant throughout. With the
Raiders leading 16-14 the Blue Devils began a slow but steady march toward the covered
grandstands and the end zone of FHS as the clock steadily moved forward. Grimly the
Raider defense dug in, until the LHS drive was stopped just inside the ten yard line.
Coach Leon "Huck" Hannigan called timeout as a steady drizzle of cold rain fell on
Crocker Field. The ten thousand fans, half wearing red and the other half wearing blue,
knew what was coming next. Piccuci had kicked a number of field goals earlier in the
season, and this looked like an easy chip shot. It was grim for the Red and Gray as they
lined up to try to block the field goal try. Brothers Leo and Roger LaRoche readied
themselves for the snap. Next to Leo was junior linebacker Randy Palmer who lurked.
The ball was snapped, Leo LaRoche blasted a hole in the Blue Devil line, number
eighty-one burst through the hole arms raised, Piccuci kicked a low line drive and the ball
smacked against Randy Palmer's out stretched arms. The ball fell to the soil and the
grandstands on the Red and Gray side went wild with joy. Victory belonged to the valiant
FHS eleven and Randy Palmer's block became part of Red and Gray athletic lore.
But there was much more to Randy
Palmer's athletic career at Academy Street than this single glorious moment. Coming out
of West Fitchburg with a solid reputation as a three sport athlete, Randy entered FHS in
his sophomore year and immediately had an impact upon the Fitchburg baseball program.
Barely sixteen years old the hard throwing right hander so impressed his varsity coach
Jerry O'Rourke that he was immediately thrown into the starting lineup as the ace of the
pitching staff. Playing with teammates named Petrides, Glenny, DiPasquale and
Pandiscio, Randy was all star-like in his very first season. Coach O'Rourke was not
afraid to throw Randy against the iron of the Raider's schedule like Gardner, Leominster
and Athol and with his sinking fastball, sharp curve and excellent control, the kid soon
was racking up the victories. He was a three year varsity starter for the FHS baseball
team and earned letters in each of those seasons. In his senior season Randy was selected
by his teammates and new coach Pete Ford to be the captain of the Red and Gray nine.
If you look at the pictures of the
aforementioned block of the field goal in the 1968 Thanksgiving Day contest, you will
notice that Randy Palmer would be wearing number eighty-one because in his junior
football season he played offensive end and linebacker. But as the 1969 season rolled
around Coach Landon realized that his offensive line had lost a number of quality players
from the 1968 squad, and it needed new blood. He decided to put Randy Palmer at the
center position to fill one hole and thus Randy's senior number was "52". Randy accepted
the change without complaint. The offensive center is almost invisible to the ordinary
fan, but all football coaches understood its importance. Coach Landon knew what type of
kid Randy Palmer was and he knew that the change would be made for the good of the
team. Coach Landon, his staff and Randy's teammates also knew what they had in Randy
Palmer and so he was elected as tri-captain of that Red and Gray squad. The 1969 team
rolled through the opposition taking down traditional powerhouses like Gardner and
Nashua and rolled into Thanksgiving undefeated, only to be stopped by the Blue Devils.
Captain Randy Palmer had been a major keystone on an exceptional Raider squad, and
his leadership had helped glue this rather querulous group throughout the season.
During the senior season Randy was
awarded the prestigious Salminen Award as the most valuable player in the Gardner
contest which resulted in a convincing 33-8 victory for FHS. For his efforts in 1968
Randy was named to the North Worcester County All Star Team by the region's sport's
writers. But Randy would probably tell you that he would return those football awards if
the Raiders could replay that Thanksgiving Day contest. During his three years at FHS,
Randy had earned a varsity letter playing for the Red and Gray. Also in his senior year
Randy was selected co-captain of the Red and Gray basketball team along with Mike
Kelley. If you do the arithmetic quickly you see eight varsity letters and three captaincies.
Those three captaincies during Randy's
senior year revealed the regard that his teammates held for him, and his election as Senior
Class Treasurer revealed that all his classmates respected his leadership abilities. During
his FHS years Randy Palmer's name could be found upon the honor roll, and when June
of 1970 rolled around Randy was selected the Exchange Club's Scholar-Athlete Award
which showed his abilities in the classroom as well as on the athletic field.
Following his graduation from Fitchburg
High School in 1970, Randy enrolled in Providence College where he continued to play
football at the club level. He graduated from P.C. in 1974 and became a guidance
director at Thayer High School in Winchester, New Hampshire from 1975 to 1978, then
served as a Vice Principal of Memorial Junior High School for a single year. Today he
serves as the program Coordinator in the CAPS Educational Collaborative in Gardner as
he has for the last seven years. He is married to the former Debra Neville and they have
two children Erica and Tarin, and he resides in Rutland, Massachusetts.
Randy Palmer was a three sport athlete
who was elected captain of the three teams that he played for in his senior year. His
leadership qualities as a student were recognized by his classmates who elected him as a
class officer. He was an outstanding athlete who had excellent leadership qualities and
today we welcome him to the FHS Hall of Fame. Congratulations Randy Palmer.
Top Of The Page
In the fall of 1965, the Fitchburg High faithful
agonized through a very difficult football season, in which the Raiders were not able
to capture a single victory. But the ever optimistic and faithful Raider fans looked to an
undefeated freshman squad and said to themselves, "help is on the way." Those members
of the Class of 1969 would become the mainstays of FHS athletics for the next three
years. Kids like Chris Petrides and Tom DiGeronimo would reach Hall of Fame status
during the three varsity gridiron seasons at FHS, and teammates like Clyde Hutchins,
Dave Rheaume, "Yogi" DiPasquale and John Arminio would be selected to various
Central Massachusetts all star squads. But if you were to talk to any Red Raider from the
Class of 1969 and asked them to name the toughest football player they ever saw, most
would tell you immediately "that was Leo LaRoche." He was always FHS' Braveheart
who could be counted upon to make the great play to save the day for the Red and Gray.
Talk to his teammates like Don Logan, Mike Thibault, Richie Boudreau, Tommy
DiGeronimo or Chris Petrides, and ask them to give you one word to describe Leo
LaRoche, the word would have to be tough. He was simply a rock. Just ask Randy
Palmer about that blocked kick in the 1968 Thanksgiving Game and he will tell you about
Leo LaRoche who stood next to him on that memorable morning, and blasted a hole in
the Blue Devils offensive line so that Randy Palmer could burst through and make that
memorable block. Ironically Randy and Leo will both enter the Fitchburg High School
Hall of Fame this evening. Maybe that is only fitting.
Leo LaRoche was a big rawboned kid
who never asked for a break on a football field, and never gave an opponent a break on
that same field. His coaches, Marco Landon, Tom Crank, and Ken Rostedt, loved his
never say die attitude. Every play whether it was a Wednesday afternoon practice or a
Saturday game at Crocker Field saw Leo LaRoche laying down hard blocks or tackles.
Usually when you go to a football game, you know what the quarterbacks, running backs
or the wide receivers do on a play, but never do you notice the guy playing tackle. That
was not true at Fitchburg High in the late 1960's. You had to watch Leo LaRoche
because he was most likely to make a spectacular block or a bone-crunching tackle. He
usually was the very best lineman on the field in every football game that he played at
FHS in his three year career. Gardner, Nashua, Leominster and St. Bernard's players were
good, Leo LaRoche was simply better. He was truly a man amongst boys.
Leo stood around six foot one inch tall
when he stood on his tippy toes and weighed around 210 pounds. Does not sound like
much when compared to the 250 pounder who played in 2007, but Leo was all muscle
and speed. In The Boulder next to Leo's class picture it says "LaRock…Herculean
stature." The kids knew how to describe their classmate who shone upon the gridiron.
During Leo's high school career there was no post-season Super Bowl for the kids who
played at the high school level so the players probably received less recognition, and that
was a great shame. The 1968 Red and Gray team had a superb record of 7-1, but it could
have been better. Two contests against Notre Dame High and Worcester South were
cancelled so most likely the Raiders were deprived of two other wins. That was a shame
because these Raiders deserved a chance to showcase their abilities.
When the football season was completed
Leo LaRoche decided to compete for the indoor and outdoor track and field teams. As
you might expect his specialty was the shot put since Leo was extremely strong and
possessed explosive speed. In those days there was no Grutchfield Fieldhouse for the
track athletes, so they ran the corridors of the old FHS for practice and threw the shot put
in the gym. Despite limited facilities, Leo LaRoche was able to capture the State
Championship with a terrific toss of 53 feet 2 ¼ inches which is certainly a Hall of Fame
accomplishment. Earlier in the year throwing on the hardwood of the Fitchburg High
gym Leo had tossed the shot put 53 feet 11 ¾ inches which is still the all time FHS record
nearly four decades later. Amazingly if Coach Ed Gastonguay needed a sprinter to run in
a relay race, Leo LaRoche could get the job done. That is how versatile the football
player and track star was.
Besides that State Championship in
indoor track Leo was honored as a two-time north county all star by the sports writers of
the newspapers of the region. In his senior football season Leo was a unanimous choice
as an All Star. People understood just how good this kid was. As one reads through The
Boulder one comes upon a comment made by the sports editor of the class book which
stated that the Raiders were victorious despite the fact that Leo and some of his
teammates lost time due to injury. Few people remember today, but Leo LaRoche played
most of his senior football season in excruciating pain from a bad back injury, and yet he
was still the best lineman in almost every single football game.
Following his graduation in 1969, Leo
went to a junior college to continue playing football and then he enrolled at the University
of Montana to play under Grizzly Coach Jack Swarthout who at that time had won twenty
three games consecutively. He immediately was placed into the starting defensive lineup
and had a solid season for the Grizzlies who played in the Mountain West Conference
which included excellent teams like Boise State, Weber State and Montana State.