By Peter Levine
Social Media bringing joy into my life! That joy was a Facebook post by Donny Roach (Malden High School 1976) reflecting on his first high school football experience at MHS, pre-season football camp at Winchendon, 50 years ago this year. Winchendon is in north-central Massachusetts – population around 10,000 in 44 square miles. Think about that for a moment. Malden is five square miles and despite what our official census may say, there are many, many more than 65,000 people living here. But I digress…
Don Roach was an athlete for the ages. Donny played any sport he wanted; better than most. Maldonians of a certain age will recognize the name, but as the years gallop on by, guys like Donny Roach are relegated to plaques on high school walls (of course, he is in the MHS Sports Hall of Fame). His baseball, hockey and football skills earned him that spot with the rest of the MHS sports immortals.
He wasn’t the best hoop player around, but he was a gamer. In the ninth grade he moved from Coburn Street to Malden Street right across from Devir Park. We let him play basketball with us, some thought only because he had two pretty sisters (Janet and Jean). I kid. Donny was super competitive in every sport, and many times he embarrassed us Devir Dawgs on the hoop court. I always loved the Roach family and after moving into Edgeworth, we proclaimed them/him as one of us. Although, as you will read, his heart lay deeply embedded at Lincoln and all his chums from Coburn Street
Okay, enough of my meandering preamble; let’s hear directly from somebody who I have always admired, not only as an athlete, but as a wonderful human being and a really good kid:
“I grew up on Coburn St down near Lincoln School. I moved to Malden St during summer between 8th and 9th grade, but the deal I made with my folks was if we were going to move to Beebe territory, I wanted to finish Jr High at Lincoln. They said ‘fine, but your responsible for getting yourself to and from school.’ So, I biked to Lincoln for most of that year (they cut me some slack and gave me a ride when it was snowing).
“I’m semi-retired now doing consulting for a software company where I worked for over 35 years. With my extra hours, my wife and I care for our granddaughter 2-3 days per week. Couldn’t be more thrilled and having a blast with her!
“I’ve been coaching hockey at Masconomet Regional HS for the past 12-13 years. That’s been a great experience and an awful lot of fun. Players have been receptive to an old-timer like me, and the competitive environment is something I still enjoy immensely.
“Living at hockey rinks for 4 months every year has caused numerous occasions for bumping into old Malden acquaintances. I had the distinct pleasure of coaching Steve and John Jesi’s sons, so I got to see them regularly over their boy’s years of playing, and the boy’s uncle Anthony (Jesi) was a regular attendee at games as well.
“Perry Verge and Michael Norton were sure to pop-up once or twice a year as referees for our games. This past season the off-ice official for our game against Malden Catholic was none other than John ‘Trixie’ Trischitta!
“Coach Bill McCormick’s grandson was an outstanding hockey player, and I would regularly run into coach not only at games, but he would also attend practices as well. His passion for hockey is still off-the-chart! And, currently, coach Billy Hanafin’s grandson is one of the top goalies in the state for Reading High, and I had the great pleasure of attending a game with him last season.
“I have four grown boys (now men) ranging from 31 to 38 years old, and a wonderful wife who is incredibly supportive of all that I do; although she’s growing a bit weary of all the old Malden stories, and is constantly amazed by the fact that I’m running into Maldonians wherever we go across the country (for instance, literally bumping into Brian Rutledge as we were each scrambling across O’Hare Airport Terminal to catch different connecting flights – and I’d not seen Brian for over 25 years!”
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – Donny Roach speaks: “50 years ago was a very special time for myself and roughly 50 other MHS Golden Tornado footballers. Can’t believe it was so long ago, but I remember it and the great memories spawned like it was yesterday.
“A new coaching staff was taking control of the program, and their first major decision was to institute a new pre-season, off-campus training camp. Head coach Paul Finn, assisted by Tom Kelly, Lou Racca, Billy Hanafin, Richie Cullen, Barry Fitzpatrick, and Doc Driscoll arranged for this great adventure conducted at Camp Forest Hills!! It was on this very day, those many years ago, that coach buses rolled up to Pearl Street Stadium and we had a send-off attended by families, generous benefactors, and public dignitaries (I believe Mayor Kelliher attended). And of course, Paul Lahey was there to record it all for the Malden Evening News.
“As an incoming sophomore it was an exciting but also a somewhat frightening introduction to high school football. In those days, freshmen were not part of the program, but rather, 9th graders attended Lincoln, Beebe, and Browne. So even before we attended a single day of school at MHS, we were heading off to compete with older, bigger, stronger, faster upperclassmen, many of who we’d never met. So, it was a reasonably intimidating situation.
“But our sophomore group was confident in the fact that we weren’t alone as individuals. We’d bonded together over many years of playing football and other sports together, and we knew we could trust our buddies in unsure and even difficult circumstances. That group included my Lincoln teammates: John Stanasek, Charlie Russell, Stanley Langston, Albert Junior Ford, Paul Trickett, Mike Freni, Tommy O’Brien, Scott Mallett and Stanley Gifford. From Beebe we were joined by Anthony Jesi, John Grenham, Rocco Saraceni, Steve Adorn, Bob Lenehan, Craig Pottle, Paul Skiffington, Ross Schifano, and Brian Carroll; and from Browne there was Tommy Littlewood, Steve DeFilippis, Steve Gaffey and Brendan McQuade.
“I have no recollection of exactly where the camp was located, but boy, was it remote and rustic!! It was essentially like camping in very spartan platform cabins with old, saggy, smelly cots. The “football field” was nothing more than a mowed meadow with lime football lines laid out. Come to think of it, I don’t recall there being any goal posts!
“So, there were challenges to be sure, but the coaching staff and the upperclassmen led by captains Danny Provitola, Tony Fermano and Bob Paolini couldn’t have been more welcoming and supportive. Being away from home in less-than-ideal environs undergoing physically demanding triple-session workouts each day in the hot August sun created a bonding experience that was remarkable.
“A team that hadn’t won a game the previous season improved throughout the season and culminated with a sweet Thanksgiving victory over heavily favored Medford, and the core group of guys noted above ascended to GBL championships in our junior and senior seasons. So many challenges overcome; so much hard work; so much fun and funny stories; so many great, lifetime friendships; so many memories that live on!!
“Thanks to all the guys in the classes of ’74, ’75, ’77 and ’78 in addition to my ’76 teammates above. You’ve all contributed to what was an amazing period in MHS history. Just so happy and thankful to have been a part of it. Best to you all after 50 years!!”
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – apropos of nothing… “Am I mortified!!” said in my best Jimmy Durante voice! Thursday, August 17 – the five o’clock whistle blows – I dash out of the office, straight to the Nissan Versa, put on WMEX AM 1510 (The Wonder of You – Elvis), then exit the parking garage on Jackson Street excited to get home and see the grandkids. Before you could say Jackie Robinson, BAM! Traffic jam/gridlock on Exchange Street! No accident, no police emergency, no Boda Borg bus parked in the middle of the street unloading youngsters eager to “experience the quest”! Halfway down Exchange I wish the Horseshoe Bar & Grille were still open. At that point I could have used a cold Gansett and hot dog. No kidding, 11 minutes later – which normally would be a 30 second drive – I am banging a left onto Main Street past the ghost of Jack in the Box. Gotta be honest, it ain’t like that every day, but it should never be 11 minutes for a 30 second drive. Just saying..