MARBLEHEAD — Veteran high school football official Bill Claffey was invited to be the guest speaker at the 52nd annual Marblehead-Swampscott Old-Timers event last night at the Gerry 5 Club.
It’s fair to say he never would have been invited if it hadn’t been for the late William “Esso” Haines, Marblehead’s No. 1 fan and one of the founding fathers of the Marblehead Magicians Gridiron Club.
“I met Esso first as a baseball umpire. I took the exam with the North Shore board and passed it,” Claffey said before addressing a room full of former Marblehead and Swampscott football players. “Esso mentored me. The next year he made me take the football exam. I was with him a lot and learned a lot from him.”
Claffey, a 1969 Salem High graduate, understands the tradition of Thanksgiving football rivalries here on the North Shore, but he has a different perspective. He admitted to having seen only two of his alma mater’s holiday games against Beverly, and he was reffing in both of those contests.
This year, when he puts on the stripes for the 39th holiday meeting between Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham, it will be his 42nd time officiating a Thanksgiving Day game.
“It’s always special,” Claffey said. “In 42 years, before every game whether it’s varsity, JV or freshman, I still get butterflies. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it and I was trained well by some of the best — George MacDonald and Esso and Carl Siegel.”
Haines served as the Marblehead Magicians Gridiron Club president for many years before passing away at age 82 in July.
New Gridiron Club president Emo Harris knew many people would be remembering Esso last night, and he also wanted to keep the same spirit of the event that made it one of Haines’ favorite nights of the year.