Debbie Barror Larson was "rightfully excited" to learn she would be one of 15 inductees at the Beverly High School Sports Hall of Fame dinner, being held Saturday, April ,5 at the Danversport Yacht Club.
The best available information on Larson is that she was very special as a track and field athlete. She was a veritable pioneer: a sprinter and long jumper who personally had a role in establishing the Panthers as a perennial title contender in the Northeastern Conference.
Larson led Beverly to the NEC girls title in the mid 1970s in only its second year of varsity status. She was the centerpiece, the spirit of the girls movement in athletics at BHS.
Now living in Fairfield, Conn., the 51-year-old Larson is as humble as ever.
"I was surprised when I got the All-Around Senior Athlete Award (in 1975). It was the first time it was given to a female. I was shocked," she said.
"Actually, I wasn't as excited and enthused for myself in the Hall of Fame as I would have been for anyone else in our class who would be recognized from the track program. If not me, the whole team. It was a unique experience for those seniors who were members of the first two varsity teams," she said.
Some 33 years after she graduated high school, her 50-yard indoor dash record of 6.1 seconds is still up on the board at the Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse. It'll remain there, as the sprint is no longer in yards, but now measured in meters.
She was the MVP and captain for BHS track in 1974 and 1975. Larson was also runner-up in the long jump at the Olympic Trial meet and the Eastern Mass. high school 50-yard dash. She anchored a BHS relay victory at the Holiday Invitational Meet, and went on to compete at Springfield College.
"There were only three grades at the high school then, and I played softball my sophomore year because there was no track," said Larson. "But I had plenty of coaching from collective mentors.
"Fred Hammond, the boys track coach, helped recruit for the girls team. Jack Hilton coached me in Junior High. Bob Bamberger, a marathoner, came to us my sophomore year and became the varsity coach. Gary Smith did a lot of work with us. Dean Eastman, Dick Buckley (an ardent supporter) and Lou Gemellaro were others."
"We didn't know the rules, the protocol, we'd never run a relay, and had to learn all the techniques," continued Larson. "Those people were responsible for all that in intramurals and pre-high school. They gave us enormous time."
She called track "a breakthrough" and a statement for female athletics at BHS, since basketball was the only varsity female sport that was available at the time.
"It was important that women get recognized. Beverly was a huge football town; always has been," Larson said. "To win a conference crown was monumental for the girls' program."
The Beverly girls track team in those formative years didn't wear track uniforms. "We wore gym uniforms, almost like bloomers. You couldn't pay a girl to run in those things today," Larson said. "They were just blue snap-up gym outfits."
Larson said she wasn't a feminist, but felt it was time for female sports to share some of the sports spotlight at the high school.
Debbie Campbell, Ann-Marie Cassel, Beth Tonneson, Chris Paul, Claire Coombs and Debbie Geary were some of the track teammates that Larson recalled. A Swedish exchange student was also a member of the team.
She couldn't recollect all the details, but thought Beverly won the NEC crown in the Danvers High fieldhouse.
"We were like the Bad News Bears, always the underdog," she said.
It will be like Old Home Week for Larson, the second of nine children of Patricia and Bill Barror, who raised one of Beverly's most respected and best known families. Five boys all played football at BHS. Debbie's brother Pat, a quarterback, preceded Larson into the Beverly Hall of Fame by one year.
Bruce Nardella (Class of '75), who nominated Larson, will also be inducted. Larson was the maid of honor when Bruce and Pam Nardella were married.
John Morency (Class of '86), is another familiar inductee; the former football, basketball and baseball standout is Larson's cousin.
Inductee Dan Geary was one of her coaches along the line.
Emily Morency, a first-year inductee who once scored 50 points in a BHS basketball game, is another relative (and John's mother).
Larson must have felt especially proud to learn that two other females will be inducted in this year's HOF: JoAnna O'Gorman Mooney (Class of 1982, for track and field) and Kathy Peeples Symonds (Class of 1962, for field hockey, softball, and basketball, mostly as a volunteer of organizing those sports in an intramural capacity).
Mooney, a fitness instructor at the Sterling Center YMCA, set a BHS shot put record of 31 feet 2 inches as a sophomore; was captain in her senior year, No. 1 in the NEC as a shot putter. She threw 35-6 as the leadoff when BHS won the state relays in the shot with a state record, won a North Shore all-star meet as well as the Methuen Invitational; had success at the state level in the discus and was the 1982 Norman Boudreau Track Scholarship recipient.
"Two of my classmates, Darla Parisi and Kelly Lecomte, are in the Hall of Fame. We had some great athletes in that class who would be deserving, like Maureen O'Reilly," Mooney said.
"I never thought I'd get in, with so many athletes which the school produced. My husband didn't tell me until after I got the phone call that it was he who nominated me."
Symonds was a gym teacher in the middle and elementary schools in Beverly for 32 years, coached field hockey and softball in the 1970s, and captained the basketball team twice. She also was a volunteer coach for junior high cheerleading, softball and field hockey for 11 years and coached volleyball at the high school. She was voted best athlete in her graduating class.
Symonds was also generous with her community service.
"I ran the intramurals at the high school and even helped print the scheduling for the varsity teams because I knew the athletic directors, Charlie Walsh, and Roy Norden, didn't like doing it," Symonds said.
She said her 32 years in education were a sheer joy. "Where else can go you and get paid to play games all day?" Symonds asked.
She proudly recalled that the kids used to call her "Swish" for shooting accuracy in basketball.
Beverly High Hall of Fame Class of 2008
Name Class Sport(s)
Deborah Barror Larson 1975 indoor & outdoor track
Charlie Bulger 1968 football, baseball, basketball, hockey
Mike Deering 1971 hockey, player & coach
Tim Gannon 1977 cross country, track
Dan Geary 1971 track coach
Tim Kimball 1977 hockey, soccer, track, baseball
Josh Landman 1992 soccer
Peanuts MacDonald 1948 track, cross country, basketball
JoAnna O'Gorman Mooney 1982 track & field
John Morency 1986 football, basketball, baseball
Bruce Nardella 1975 football, basketball, track
Chris Peters 1986 football, hockey, baseball
Russ Rollins, Sr. 1956 football, basketball, track, cross country, tennis
Kathy Peeples Symonds 1962 field hockey, softball, basketball coach
Harry "Red" Trowt 1936 basketball, football, baseball, track