By Jean DePlacido
---- — This will not be Ken Perrone’s first Hall of Fame induction; in fact, it’s his eighth.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a very special — and long overdue — honor for the former Salem High football coach.
With 151 victories with the Witches and five Northeastern Conference titles, Perrone is finally headed into the Salem High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I am very humbled, but at the same time I feel I deserve this honor,” said Perrone, who coached the Witches for 22 years from 1973-94, and had a .696 winning percentage, including Super Bowl trips in 1974 and 1994.
Perrone’s overall record at Salem was 151-64-7; he is tied with one of the state’s most legendary football coaches, Bill Broderick, for the most in school history.
It has been 19 years since Perrone was fired, along with his coaching staff, for continuing to coach the football team after being ordered not to by Salem superintendent of schools Ed Curtin and Mayor Neil Harrington because the Salem teachers were on strike. Perrone and his staff coached Salem to a win in Swampscott in a battle of unbeatens, then over Winthrop and Beverly to reach the Super Bowl against Whitman-Hanson.
The subsequent firing touched off a controversy in the city that remained for years — even though Perrone had the blessings of the Salem Teachers’ Union to continue coaching, since the coaches’ contract was not tied in with the teachers’.
Perrone has never regretted his commitment to his team and the players he stood by. In fact, he said if there had been no strike, who knows — he might still be coaching the Witches.
While saying he never lost any sleep over it, Perrone admits being “shocked” when he got the call from Salem High softball coach Dan Bertone, a member of the Hall of Fame committee, telling him he would be inducted in this year’s class.
“My best memories of those days as Salem football coach are all the wonderful kids and families I worked with. The kids I coached are my Hall of Fame,” he said. “My players, coaches, and the families I met along the way remain so dear and important in my life.
“My only regret is that the strike happened during my tenure. My loyalty was to my fellow teachers, and I marched with them. I never crossed their line, but the school days would be made up while the football games would be forfeited. I owed a loyalty to my players. If it happened again tomorrow I’d do the same thing.”
Perrone said he was so fortunate to have great assistant coaches Tim Marcoulier, Dave Wilbur and Al Giardi with him for all 22 years at Salem.
“He certainly deserves this honor, but it’s long overdue,” said Marcoulier, who played for Perrone at John Bapst High School in Bangor, Maine, then coached with him for 25 years (including three in Maine).
“Ken is definitely a players’ coach through and through. He has a remarkable memory and never forgets anybody, even if they played for him 30 years ago. What made him so successful was having a system and a philosophy. We ran a multiple offense and defense, and had a veteran staff that was on the same page.”
Giardi coached with Perrone from 1973-93. “I’m very happy for Ken and his family,” said Giardi. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’ve been to three of his Hall of Fame inductions already.
“The kids always enjoyed playing for Ken, and they trusted him and the rest of the coaches. We always felt every time we went out on the field we could win. He had a great offense that was easy for the kids to learn, and our multiple defense worked well, too. Ken always had a lot of great ideas, and that showed in his record. His coaching staff was together for such a long time that we knew the whole system inside out, and we didn’t have to have a lot of meetings.”
Football and baseball teams coached by Perrone have won a grand total of 1,413 games, 49 championships, six state titles, a New England crown and recorded six unbeaten seasons. He has been selected Coach of the Year 16 times (for football and baseball). He is a member of seven other Hall of Fames, including Massachusetts High School Football Coaches (1992), State of Maine All Sports (2009), Southern Connecticut Diamond (2010), Greater New Haven Legends (2011), John Bapst High School (2011), Hamden High in Connecticut (2012), and Salem State University (2012), where he was the baseball coach for 25 years before retiring at the end of last season.
“I think what made a big difference was the fact that our coaching staff all worked in the Salem school system,” said Perrone. “We knew all our kids so we didn’t rebuild, we reloaded each year. The Pop Warner teams used to practice after we got off the field, and many of them came early to watch us. It was one big family up there (at Bertram Field). We’d all march together in the Heritage Day parades.”
“I’m grateful for Tom Furey, who has been like a pit bull trying to get me into the Hall of Fame for the past 19 years. He just wouldn’t give up.”