hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 17, 2013

Resuscitating our Sports Hall of Fame

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — After three decades of obscurity and neglect, our Haverhill Sports Hall of Fame may see new light.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, it may once again find itself in a hallowed spot — the first time since 1982 when it was abandoned.

Every high school should house its own Hall-of-Fame, honor its venerable for service well done, and showcase it as part of the community’s historical lore.

If the school wishes not to follow this pursuit, then by golly, it’s up to the city to give credit where it’s due.

I know what you’re thinking — that too much time, space and money are given to athletics and not scholastics. Why not an Academic Hall of Fame honoring our intellectuals? Good point.

But here’s another thing to consider. We already had a Sports Hall of Fame in place from 1980 to 1982 before it drifted aimlessly away. Thirty-three inductees were enshrined, from prominent individuals to athletic teams.

As a Gazette sportswriter for 18 years, I knew half of these elite. And somewhere along the line, I wrote stories on the others, with the exception of maybe the 1904 Haverhill New England League Baseball Team.

But thanks to the Hall of Fame, I caught up with that club and gave it the respect it deserves. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

It is incumbent upon us as a fair-minded city to honor our best and use them as an inspiration for others to follow. History dies only when people forget about it.

In this age of financial constraints and user fees, Haverhill is weathering the storm, thanks to some aggressive efforts by Athletic Director Tom O’Brien. Aside from providing for the welfare of some 50 Hillie teams, the head honcho wants to reactivate the Haverhill Sports Hall of Fame.

He has done this for other cities where he has worked. A new committee is being formed and new members will be inducted annually.

You may know some of the honorees: Walter “Budger” Wysocki, Leo Thomas, Don White, Pat McCarthy, Mike Sargent, Roger Buchika, Paul Moran, Ann Sampson, Mike Ryan, Eugene Goodreault, Al Emilio, Joanne Goodwin and Gerry Ashworth.

All of them hallowed in their time. All of them worthy candidates. Picking one over the other for supremacy would be like favoring your own child over the siblings. Each commands their own respect and vestibule.

I see the Haverhill High football team of 1920 enshrined, as well as the St. James football team of 1924, but what happened to the Haverhill High football team of 1936 that gave up only one touchdown all season? Guys like Leo Thomas must have felt deprived.

So where did they go? Why wasn’t this perpetuated? Who dropped the ball? It’s been the city’s 30-year mystery. People have gone looking for it like a prospector panning for gold.

Well, it’s been found — lying in boxes inside the Buttonwoods Museum after once being obscurely housed at the Citizens Center, which is open primarily to our city’s elderly. The items were donated by former City Councilor and prominent journalist/talk show host Billy Pike.

Pike stepped forward 10 years after the last induction and it’s been silenced ever since.

Kicking off this renaissance are Haverhill High history teacher E. Philip Brown and English teacher Jules Kahn. The two are spearheading the Haverhill Sports Hall of Fame and Trivia Book with Kahn’s sports writing class.

Brown was eager to give a hand with this project because his History of Haverhill class had difficulty finding sports trivia when students revised the Pat Garwich Haverhill Trivia Book last year.

A visit to Garwich’s class years ago unveiled a collection of history. Pat made teaching fun and always had a photo opportunity waiting. I did not know about her trivia book until now, but it doesn’t surprise me.

According to Brown, Haverhill has a great history when it comes to sports.

“We need to keep better track of our accomplishments so we can share them with future generations,” he tells us.

Proceeds from sponsorships, ad sales and book receipts will go toward reducing Haverhill school sports fees. A gifted athlete should not be made to pay, especially those from needy families in our community. None of these Hall-of-Famers had to cope with such financial duress.

In fact, for many it was the opportunity to earn a college scholarship and create a better environment for themselves and their families.

Tom O’Brien’s intention is to someday eliminate sports fees by organizing annual fund-raisers. An annual induction ceremony and sports yearbook will be good ways to raise funds.

Let’s bring this back with dignity. Let’s revive our Hall of Fame and put it right on Monument Street at Haverhill High School where it belongs with all our other banners of glory.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.