, Salem, MA

August 30, 2010

The Baron of Beverly

Walsh ushered in an era of greatness never before seen at Beverly High

By Phil Stacey
Sports editor

BEVERLY — Charlie Manuel remembers drawing the ire of his Beverly High football coach, Charlie Walsh, once.

It didn't happen a second time.

Almost 60 years later, the memory is seared into Manuel's brain like a branding iron on a steer. In recalling the details of that day with diamond-like clarity, Manuel chuckled at his teenage hubris while at the same time remembering full well the lesson he learned.

"It was a Monday afternoon and we had varsity practice at Cooney Field. My brother 'Skooma' (real name: Al) was playing junior varsity football for Briscoe (Junior High) against Everett at the adjacent field," said Manuel, a halfback and safety for BHS. "So a bunch of us got out there early before practice to watch the JV game, and soon my brother got hold of the ball and scored a touchdown. I was all thrilled, with him being a ninth grader and me being a senior and watching him score.

"I was so involved in the game," continued Manuel, "that I didn't hear Coach Walsh blow the whistle to start our practice. While I finally realized I was alone at the fence watching the JV game, I raced over to our practice. Coach blew his whistle again and said to the team, 'Our great star has decided to grace us with his presence.' "He then said to me, 'Mr. Manuel, I don't think we'll need you today. Go back and watch the game — or even go home.'

"I thought it was the worst thing I ever did in my life. But that was Charlie Walsh and how he ran things."

In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, when successful football coaches were held in the highest possible community standing — running neck-and-neck with, if not surpassing, that of the mayor — Walsh was the unquestioned leader of Beverly High football. He took a program that had been moribund for the better part of two decades and turned them into a powerhouse.

Hired away from Abington High School prior to the 1944 season, Walsh's teams took the Garden City by storm. Over the next 15 years he won 95 games, lost only 34 and tied eight in capturing four league championships and two state runner-up titles. His .723 winning percentage is far and away the best in Beverly High football history.

"He turned Beverly High football around in a whole new direction," said Bill Hamor, who played for Walsh and later coached the Panthers to glory himself. "There were some good teams previously, but when Charlie came in he just turned everything around — for the better."

Winning was his business

The story involving Manuel didn't end with Walsh throwing him out of practice. The next day, the legendary coach spoke to his players before practice began.

"'Boys, before you put your uniforms on today, I want to know something'," Manuel recalls Walsh saying. "He then asked them all to vote whether to keep me on the team or not. It didn't matter that I was a starting halfback or a three-year player or anything. That's the way it was with Charlie; you didn't fool around."

"He ran a serious ship," added Sandy Kessaris, another of Walsh's star halfbacks from the 1950s. "He never smiled or anything; he was there to win football games and did that very well. He had a great assistant coach in Charlie Pelonzi who kidded around with us, but Coach Walsh was all business."

And business was good. Prior to his arrival, Beverly had just one winning season in its previous seven. In Walsh's decade-and-a-half reign, the team suffered just one losing campaign — and followed that up by going 8-1 and 8-0-1 the next two years.

Within four years of Walsh's arrival, Beverly produced the first unbeaten, untied regular season in school history (9-0-0), losing only to Brockton, 14-6, in a postseason game known as the "Exchange Bowl" on Dec. 6 before an estimated 20,000 fans at Manning Bowl in Lynn.

The 1958 Golden Warriors (as Beverly was known as back then), his final team, were also unbeaten. Four other BHS squads lost just one game under Walsh and three more had only two losses.

Just as important to the denizens of Beverly, Walsh won the most important game on the schedule more often than not. His teams beat arch rival Salem High 10 out of 15 times on Thanksgiving Day, including nine of the last 11 meetings he patrolled the sidelines.

"He always preached to everyone about doing their 1/11th on the football field to help us win," said Tony DiVincenzo, who played on Walsh's final three teams (1956-58). "If you grew up in Beverly, you grew up with this great respect and awe for the man. And if you got to play for him ... that respect just grew and grew."

No nonsense

Walsh didn't just win football games; he cultivated an image and lived it to the fullest in the way that he dressed, how he handled himself and how he dealt with his players.

He was not only well respected by his players and the city at large, but was also paid handsomely, too, earning more money than the Beverly superintendent of schools at one point.

To be sure, Walsh could be hard and unflinching if he saw the situation called for it. "He'd just look at you and kids would be shaking," said Hamor. "He had that glare that made it seem like he was looking right through you."

He was the high school football embodiment of Teddy Roosevelt's famous proclamation nearly 50 years earlier: speak softly but carry a big stick — the stick, in this case, being the aura that surrounded the beloved coach.

But while he was no-nonsense, he made it a point to never, ever curse at his players.

"He knew how to motivate each kid differently. One player he might have to get on, another he might pat on the back. But he always said the right thing," said DiVincenzo.

"With Charlie, you always knew where he was coming from," added Manuel. "You didn't have to guess what his feelings were. There were no complainers on his teams; he instilled that work ethic in us as players that the only thing that mattered was the score at the end of the game."

Hamor, who grew up on Gardner Street right next to Walsh's Pearl Street home and played with the coach's sons, Billy and John, all the time as a youngster, recalls never seeing Walsh leave his house without a sports coat and tie on. "Everyone knew who he was," Hamor said.

The way he presented himself wasn't just for show, either. If someone else didn't follow his coaching code of ethics, Walsh knew how to best handle that situation, too.

Take the time that visiting Lawrence High came to Beverly for a scrimmage. Like the hosts, the Lancers were one of the top squads in the state and the contest figured to be beneficial to both programs.

Only problem was that Lawrence head coach Ed Buckley — a former Marine drill sergeant with a penchant (at least on this day) for using salty words — was none too pleased after Beverly quickly scored 4-5 touchdowns against his squad and let them have it.

"We scored bang-bang-bang-bang-bang against them, and Buckley was bull," remembered Hamor. "Next thing you know, fists are flying between the teams and our quarterback is getting piled on. Finally, Charlie goes up to Buckley and said, 'We've got all we need from this scrimmage, coach; I'm going to send my boys in to the locker room. But if you want to keep practicing here on our field, go right ahead.'"

"That was Charlie. He didn't want a riot, but he also knew his point — our point — had been made."

A team for all time

Walsh's own playing days saw him play tackle, guard and halfback at Abington High, then matriculate to Georgetown University. His coaching career began at Seneca Vocational High School in Buffalo; at the same time, Walsh played a season of pro football for the Buffalo Bears.

He eventually returned to his alma mater and coached at Abington High for 13 years, having great success on the South Shore. Those with a vested interested in Beverly High football noticed and made a pitch for Walsh, doing whatever it took to get their man.

"They went out of their way to get Charlie," said Hamor. "He had ties up this way in Haverhill, so that might've helped."

Walsh's first BHS edition, in 1944, went a respectable 4-4-1 with wins over Danvers, Amesbury, Lawrence and Marblehead plus a scoreless tie with Gloucester. For a team that had only won a single contest the previous fall, this was major progress.

The next season was even better despite having just 17 varsity players. Beverly went 7-2, pitched three shutouts and allowed just 39 points, with no team scoring more than eight points against the Golden Warriors.

The fickle fans of Beverly were already believers when the 1946 Panther squad went 7-2-1, followed by a so-so 5-5 campaign in 1947. But no one could have foreseen what happened in 1948.

With just one starter, tri-captain Mickey Abate at quarterback, back in the fold, Beverly took Eastern Mass. football by storm. Behind the great Billy Ransom (a transfer from Danvers) and Kessaris at the halfback spots, captains Mike Toomey and Don Berry and fullback George Accomando, not to mention a dominant line, Beverly crushed any and all opponents. It pitched six shutouts in nine games and gave up just 20 points (a BHS single season record) on the season while piling up 253 of their own.

Kessaris, a baseball and basketball star at BHS as a sophomore who didn't play football until his junior year because his parents feared he'd hurt his bad arm, can go reminisce six decades-plus and remember those games as if they occurred yesterday.

"It was just a wonderful season with a wonderful group of guys and great coaches (Walsh, Pelonzi and assistant John Bochynski)," he said. "A special time, indeed."

Where everyone knows your name

The 1949 season was disappointing in that almost everyone was back from the previous year, but Beverly lost two of its final three games, including a huge upset by Salem, to finish at 6-2-1. A similar mark went into the record books at the start of the new decade before Walsh's squad ramped it up again in 1951, losing only to Haverhill on opening day to finish at 8-1.

"And we should have never, ever lost that game," said Manuel, a senior on that team who still burns at the memory of that setback. He played in a BHS backfield that included fellow halfback Pinky Scobey, junior fullback Red Wallace and Jimmy Duffy at QB. "We had two dropped passes in the end zone and ended the game on their 2-yard line. We had no business losing; it should have been an undefeated season."

Like many of Walsh's former players, Manuel believes a good deal of the team's success should be directed Pelonzi's way. An assistant for all 15 years of the head coach's tenure, the two Charlies formed a football bond that resulted in getting the absolute maximum out of their players, resulting in a majority of wins on game days.

"Charlie Pelonzi would go out and scout our next opponent," said Manuel, "and come back on Monday and give us everything we needed to know about the other team — including their underwear sizes. Charlie (Walsh) respected his knowledge and wasn't afraid to use (it)."

With Hurd Stadium filled to the brim every week, there was no doubt pressure on Walsh that only manifested itself with each passing year. But the coach always found ways to suit his system to fit the talent he had.

"Half of Beverly worked at the United Shoe (Machinery Corporation) back in those days," Hamor recalled, "and everyone, it seemed, had a kid who played football, so everyone talked football. Charlie was like a god to those people; he made believers out of them pretty quickly."

One of the great thrills of Hamor's life as a youngster was when he'd be playing junior high football at Briscoe and walk the back road home past the BHS clubhouse, where he'd encounter Walsh and Pelonzi.

"Coach Walsh would say, 'Hello there, Mr. Hamor'," he remembered. "Just knowing that he knew who I was and that I loved football, wow, that was just great to me."

Going out in style

Beverly won back-to-back North Shore League titles in 1954 (8-1) and '55 (5-1-1) before Walsh suffered his only losing season the following fall (3-5-1). Many sophomores played on that '56 team and gained valuable varsity experience, which paid off when they went a combined 16-1-1 as juniors and seniors.

Five players from those teams — Gordon Reid, Mike Tomeo, John Ryan, Hamor and DiVincenzo — are in the Beverly High Athletic Hall of Fame. Some of their teammates such as Joe Hutchinson, Jimmy Gibbons, Joe Starks, Larry McConnell, Bob Fabri, Peter Cicchetti, George Gallagher and Leo Allen could one day join them there.

"It was fitting that that group of kids went unbeaten in Charlie's last season," said DiVincenzo. "He stayed with us and found a way to put the right pegs in the right holes." If the players had an inkling that 1958 would be his last season, Walsh never let on. Even on Thanksgiving Day, when Salem scored three quick touchdowns in the first half to take a 19-6 lead (before Beverly got two back to take a 20-19 edge into halftime), he never revealed his hand.

"He just talked at halftime about playing our best in the second half; he never brought (retirement) up," said DiVincenzo. "Charlie Pelonzi may have said something about it, but Coach Walsh never did.

"Of course, we went out and had quite a second half, beating them 47-19. So Coach Walsh went out on a good game."

The legend grows

Walsh finally retired from the sidelines before the 1959 season, handing over the reins to Roy Norden. He established his own great legacy, winning 87 games over 16 seasons as Walsh settled in as the Beverly High athletic director for another 16 years, finally retiring in 1974.

His legend and stature in town only grew as time went on, and when he died in 1992 at the age of 86, four generations of Beverly High players and fans felt an empty void with his passing.

"I think Charlie definitely could have coached today and been very successful," said DiVincenzo. "He'd have a lot more assistant coaches, that's for sure. But his personal approach to coaching and his ability to adapt would make him a great coach in any area. I truly believe that."


2 — Unbeaten seasons at Beverly High (1948 and 1958)

95 — Wins at Beverly High, most in school history

.723 — Winning percentage at Beverly High, best in school history