By Jean DePlacido
---- — Beverly lost one of the greatest running backs to ever play for the high school when Harold ‘Billy’ Ransom passed away last week at age 81.
Ransom, who came to Beverly High from Danvers during the spring of his sophomore year in 1948, formed a dynamic 1-2 backfield punch with teammate Sandy Kessaris. Together, they led the 1948 BHS squad to the school’s first unbeaten and untied season and were later both inducted into the initial Beverly High Athletic Hall of Fame class in 2003.
“Sandy was a year older than Billy; they were both outstanding,” said Al Cloyd, who graduated from Beverly High in the Class of 1950 along with Ransom. “That was one of the best teams Beverly ever had (scoring 253 points while allowing just 20 all season).
“Billy was at our 60th reunion at the Danversport Yacht Club in 2010 with some of the other guys on the football team. He was a good classman, and we had a great time that night.”
One of Ransom’s many highlights came on Thanksgiving Day 1948, when he took the game’s opening play 88 yards for a score en route to a 38-0 whipping of archrival Salem in the 50th playing of ‘The Game.’
Ransom was a three-sport star; in addition to his gridiron exploits, he was a center fielder for the Panthers’ baseball team while setting state track records in both the 50 and 100-yard dash.
Paul Weir was one of Ransom’s closest friends, both in high school and throughout his life. Weir was a football teammate (tight end/linebacker) and classmate.
“We had lost contact for 10-12 years,” said Weir. “I got married and Billy had a couple of scholarships to college. He went in the Marines and served in the Korean War, but we ran into each other at a ski shop. We talked, began skiing together ... and did it up until five years ago when his legs gave out.
“He built a ski chalet in New Hampshire, and at that time I had just started skiing. I used to go up to ski at Loon and stay at his chalet. He’d come up later Friday night with his wife and two kids. By that time I’d have the fire going, and we’d always have a wonderful weekend skiing. Those were great times together.”
Ransom, who was called ‘Billy’ by everybody in Beverly, grew up in Danvers and spent a little more than a year-and-a-half there before attending Beverly High. According to his bio in the Beverly Athletic Hall of Fame, Ransom accumulated more than 4,000 rushing yards in his varsity football career between Danvers and Beverly.
After he came out of the service, he attended the University of Rhode Island before transferring to Boston University, graduating in 1960. Ransom got his Master’s degree in education and was a teacher/coach in Woburn, Gloucester and Conway, N.H., but most of his career was spent at Malden Catholic.
“He was a wonderful person and really enjoyed teaching,” said Beverly sports legend LeRoy ‘Red’ Hutt. “Billy was a fantastic athlete, a real natural.”
George Gagnan was a former St. John’s Prep football captain who went on to become the defensive coordinator at Malden Catholic under Ransom and remembers him fondly.
“Billy was a dear, dear friend. He was a disciplinarian and all the kids respected him,” Gagnan. “He was all about offense, but like Ted Williams (with hitting), everything came so easily for Billy that he couldn’t understand why others couldn’t do it.
“Last week I went to Dr. (Leon) Remis to have my eyes checked and got to talking football while I had drops put in my eyes. A man in the next cubicle overheard the conversation about Billy, who had just passed away. He told me he was 81, had played for Swampscott and said Billy was the fastest player he ever saw on the field.”
Weir has fond memories of Beverly’s 1948 football season, when a huge crowd (listed at 20,000) filled Manning Bowl in Lynn for Beverly’s postseason matchup with Brockton.
“We wound up losing a very close game,” said Weir. “Those were the days when people lined up to buy tickets to all the games. After that Brockton went to Florida to play a game down there, and all the Beverly citizens raised money to send our team on the train to Florida around New Year’s. Boy, did we have fun. It was a train trip, and we stopped in Washington, D.C. to go to a few museums. We saw West Palm Beach, the Orange Bowl parade and attended the (New Year’s Day) football game between Texas and Georgia.
“Every morning we’d line up and the coaches would give us a little spending money for the day from what the good people in Beverly had collected to send us on the trip. We had a great time, and the camaraderie was something I won’t forget. We sang songs and had the best time.
“The next year (when Ransom was a senior) we had another good team; we lost two games to Marblehead and Salem We went up to Nashua, N.H. and beat a strong team by quite a few points. We should have won all our games again that year.”
After their skiing days ended, Weir and Ransom kept close ties. Ransom developed Alzheimer’s and could no longer drive, so Weir went to get him.
“I used to pick him up and we’d go for fried clams and chowder,” said Weir. “We had a heck of a good time together, and I’m going to miss him.
“Everybody that knew Billy would say the same thing: he was a great guy.”