St. Mary’s Sports History
by John Vellante, St. Mary’s Class of 1962
The last touchdown has been scored…the last pitch thrown…the last basketball dribbled. And now all that remains are memories. Good memories.
Ah, yes, memories. Memories of the Boston Garden where little St. Mary’s High of Waltham thrilled thousands with its cinderella-like basketball heroics. Memories of those sunbaked afternoons at Bicycle Park and Stony Batter where the baseball teams toiled. And at the Athletic Field where the football teams performed in peaks and valleys.
Basketball, baseball, football. Major sports to be sure and St. Mary’s took home championship trophies in each. Track, golf, and yes, even hockey for a brief period, were all part of the athletic program.
For the tiny parochial school, there were two eras. The era of LaSalle and the era of St. Mary’s. Each had its own special triumphs. Veteran baseball expert Joseph Nipper” Maher remembers the highlight of his years at the school when it was known as LaSalle. It was 1919,” recalled Nipper. A Wednesday, and we were playing Waltham High. It was just after World War I and Jack Leary returned from the Navy to coach Waltham. We played at the Athletic Field and believe it or not there were 1500 or so watching. Most of them were veterans back from the war.
“We were trailing in the last inning, 10-6, but somehow we rallied for five runs and won 11-10. For the team and the school it was a time for great celebration and we did just that on the Waltham Common that night.”
LaSalle baseball had some great performers, whose names will be familiar to old-time fans and athletes. All of them later had police careers. They were William (Bouncer) Carmody, former chief, John Stanton and Tom Rooney of the Waltham Police. Dept. and Edward (Ned) Connolly, who became superintendent of the MDC.
For St. Mary’s, that extra special triumph had to come in 1961 when its underdog basketball team shaded a much taller Braintree team, 50-48, to win the Class B Tech Tournament, the first Catholic school ever to accomplish that.
It was unheralded guard Joe Driscoll experiencing the thrill of a lifetime when his 35-foot desperation set shot at the buzzer found the mark and sent the 13,909 Garden fans into a frenzy. His Merriwell shot capped a rally which saw St. Mary’s trailing by as much as seven points midway through the final period.
The proud history of St. Mary’s athletics officially began in 1924 when the school appointed 18-year-old Herman Ferrick to coach its first representative football team. Prior to that, St. Mary’s had played on an informal basis.
It didn’t take long to establish itself as a power. In 1925, Ferrick, then just 19, directed St. Mary’s to wins over the likes of Concord, Saugus, Milford, Maynard, and South Boston. The only blemish on the record was a 0-0 tie with B.C. High and a 7-0 loss to LaSalle Academy. That was some football team,recalled Ferrick. My quarterback was Walter Coleman at 5-11 and 155 pounds. In the backfield were Danny Neilon, Buzzy Daniels and Johnny Powers, who later went to Manhattan. In the line we had John Chisholm, “Bockie” McVarish, John Mahoney, Franny Frechette, Eddie Quinn, Fran O’Grady, Tim Kinchla, Bill Higgins, Leo Coleman, Lawrence “Pie” Fahey, Chet Surrette and Fran Harvey.”
After the 1928 season, it wasnt until 1933 that St. Mary’s fielded another squad. The coach this time was Billy Sullivan, a St. Mary’s graduate who transferred from Newton High.
Success again came swiftly. After three consecutive ties, St. Mary’s blanked in succession St. Clements, Cathedral and Sacred Heart. A 7-6 loss to cross-town rival St. Charles and 25-0 setback to DeLaSalle closed the season.
After a so-so year in 1934, St. Mary’s chalked up an 8-1 slate in ’35 with the likes of quarterback Hack Poirier and halfback Tony Yankowski. Included among the eight wins were seven straight shutouts. Only a 19-7 loss to powerhouse Malden Catholic marred an otherwise perfect season.
In 1936, St. Mary’s and Sullivan put together what many consider to be the finest team in the school’s history. Four straight shutouts opened the season before a stunning 8-6 loss to Immaculate Conception. St. Mary’s rebounded by beating Malden Catholic, 6-0, on Poirier’s long touchdown run and then posted its sixth shutout of the year against Cathedral to finish with a 6-1 record and a share of the league championship.
Poirier, center Lenny Bates, tackle Joe “Bud” O’Malley, and halfback Ev Paulin were named All-Catholic that year.
1936 and 1937 were lean years, but in 1938, a lad named Will Vellante hit the scene and St. Mary’s was back on top.
As a sophomore, Vellante joined Gerry Lane, Fran McGuire and Bob Delorey in the backfield and St. Mary’s went on to a 5-1 record and a share of the league title with Malden Catholic. That year, Lane, Delorey and Vellante were All-Catholic.
In 39 and 40, Vellante, called by one observer “the most exciting player ever out of St. Mary’s football history,” had banner years as St. Mary’s went 7-3-1 and 6-3-1. In those years, Vellante, who later went to Manhattan had 88 and 76 points for a three-year total of 178 points, a school record.
The forties were up and-down years as St. Mary’s played less than .500 football. Lack of manpower, increased injuries and rising costs finally caught up with St. Mary’s in the mid-fifties and after losing 15 straight through 1955-57, the school dropped football from its program.
Basketball, perhaps, has been St. Mary’s most successful sport. The school has won its share of Catholic League honors and at one time or another, added E. Mass. and New England championships. Three teams, though, are remembered best — the squads of 1942, 1961, and 1965.
Its first team was in 1938 with Brother C. James as coach. Leo Shaughnessy, out of Waltham High, coached the 1939 team, before Brother James took over in 1940. Jack Vallely, Martin Hansberry, Jim Diskin, Bill Coughlin and Charlie Malloy were members of that first 38 team.
Brother James moved quickly and within two years had established St. Mary’s as a schoolboy power. He struggled through the 40 season with a 4-13 record, but with the likes of John Furdon, Pat Ryan, Tom Norton, Tom Clancy and Lou Arsenault, he laid his foundation for future powers. In 1941, Clancy, Norton and Ryan were All-Catholic and St. Mary’s improved its record to 14-6.
In 1942, Brother James and St. Mary’s put it all together with a 21-4 record. St. Mary’s dropped its first three games that year, but then reeled off 21 straight wins before losing to St. Johns of Worcester, 41-28, in the final of the New England Catholic Interscholastic Tournament.
Dick Kinchla was the star of that team and was awarded the Henry McGuiness Trophy as the outstanding athlete scholar of the Greater Boston League. Clancy, Dick Fahey, Arsenault, and Art Devlin were the other starters on that standout team.
Fran Rooney, Julian Demeo, Joe Sullivan, Jim Kenney, Sal Mazzarini, Lou Nocera, Eddie McGovern, Dick Rosse, Al Finney, Charlie BusterOConnell, Frank Curry, Joe Harrington, and Joe Quagliozzi were the big names the rest of the decade as St. Mary’s continued on the winning trail.
In 1946, Nocera received the McGuiness Trophy and in 1947, O’Connell was chosen MVP in the New England Catholic Tournament.
During the fifties, St. Mary’s produced many outstanding teams and year after year, qualified for the Tech Tournament. Stars of that period were Joe Tebeau, Tim Good, John Martin, Jim Duffy, Tom Lee, John Higgins, Jim Vanderslice, Terry Frechette, John Gill, Frank Clasby, and Tom O’Callaghan. Lee’s 447 points in the 1954-55 season are the highest in the school’s history.
Never, though, could St. Mary’s take the big prize at Boston Garden. Not until 1961. The coach that year was Bob Harrington, who in 12 years at the helm, won 220 games and lost 125. The most successful coach in the schools years.
St. Mary’s raced through its first 14 games that year before being upset by Cathedral, 52-38. Then came the Catholic Tournament and St. Mary’s was a heavy favorite to win. Holy Name of Worcester proved the roadblock, however, and eliminated the Catholic Central League champs, 49-46.
The Tech Tournament opened and St. Mary’s wasn’t seeded. It was forced to play a preliminary game despite its 15-2 record. The opposition was a much taller Jamaica Plain High. St. Mary’s won, 48-42, to gain the quarterfinals. Then Catholic Memorial fell, 60-56 in overtime. Needham was the semifinal victim, 62-49. Then came Braintree and the final.
The rest is history.
Bobby Furbush, with 411 points that season, was All-Catholic, as was Paul Sullivan. Others on that standout team were Jerry Bowes, Frank Bergin, Driscoll, and sixth-man Ron Shepard.
In 1965, St. Mary’s very nearly scored a sweep of post-season honors. That team, defeated twice during the regular season by Mission High, turned the tables in the final of the Catholic Tournament with a convincing 67-51 win over that same Mission team. After two-point wins over Braintree and Lexington in the Tech Tournament, St. Mary’s fell to Middlesex League power-house Wakefield, 48-35, in the final. Tommy Sullivan, Paul’ brother, Tommy Furbush, Bob’s brother, Dave Walsh, Al Fidler, Bill Harrington, the coach’s son, and Justin Grimes were the sparkplugs of that team. St. Mary’s made its final appearance in the Tech in 1969 and lost to Lynn Trade 74-55.
Baseball in the 1920’s had a sterling performer in Tom Walsh, superb centerfielder, now the Rev. Thomas J. Walsh, S.J., of the Holy Cross faculty.
St. Mary’s High had its share of 400 or better hitters in the thirties in Len Lawless, Jim Geoghegan, Owen Teletchea, O’Connell, Ed Shaughnessy, and Fran McGuire, but couldn’t quite put it all together. It wasn’t until 1945, that it shared its first Catholic League title with Cathedral, both with 11-3 records. Sullivan and McCusker were the big guns on that team.
Frank Young (1b), Tom Keefe (cf), Bill Magee (rf) and Joe Barnicle (ss) were standouts on the 47 team despite a 3-7 record.
Through the fifties until 1961, St. Mary’s had many lean years. In ’61, though, the Furbush-Sullivan-Driscoll-Bergin-Shepard-Kelley-Bates-Bowes-Guthrie team fell one game short of winning the Catholic Suburban League title. Second place was good enough for an EMass Tourney berth, however, and St. Mary’s went to the semis before being eliminated by Medfield, 8-6.
In 1962, a freshman pitcher named Bill Close hit the scene and it wasn’t long before St. Mary’s reached the top. His freshman year ’62, Close was 3-4 and in ’63, he went 6-3. In 1964, Close, a hard-throwing righty, was joined by southpaw Bob Vellante, and things began to happen.
The next two years were a coachs delight. In 64, Close was 9-2, Vellante 7-0 and St. Mary’s had its first outright Catholic League crown tucked safely away. That year, Tommy Furbush batted a hefty .554 for a school record.
The next year was a near repeat. Close was 8-2, Vellante 5-0 and St. Mary’s retained its league title. The Close-Vellante duo was the most successful in the school’s history. Close’s 26-11 record made him the winningest righty and Vellante’s 12-0 slate was the most ever by a lefty. Furbush swung a pretty big bat that year, too, sticking at .473.
Hockey had two brief flings, but never quite made it.
In 1929, 30 and 31, St. Mary’s shared the ice behind the old Waltham High School with the Waltham High team.
We weren’t too fancy in those days, recalled 1931 Capt. Len Lawless. No fancy uniforms, just plain running pants and a sweat shirt. How many games we played depended upon how cold the winter was. In ’31, we had a real cold winter and we played our most games.”
Lawless recollected that Brother Francis was the coach during those years and Jim Monaco the manager.
Lawless remembered some of his mates as Warren Kelly, Paul LaValle, Joe McGann, Norwal Royel, Mike Connolly, Edgar Cormier, Art Leger, Bill Trainor, Fran Glynn, Dan Loughry and Bill Ryan.
The rising costs of ice time and equipment forced St. Mary’s to drop hockey after the ’31 season. In the late forties, the sport was revived, but only briefly. Bob Baker was the coach and some of the players Dennis Birmingham, Stanley Walazak, Dick Halleran, Fran Gallant, Bob Pickett, John Grainger, Dick Martin and Joe “Red” McCarthy. Again rising costs and lack of facilities forced St. Mary’s to drop the sport.
One of the track highlights in the 20’s was the performance of a relay team consisting of Tony West, Joe Burke, Johnny Chisholm, and Lawrence “Pie” Fahey. Entered in the N.E. Regional schoolboy preview of the Triangular Meet at Mechanics Building, Boston, it tied on a time basis with Dorchester. St. Mary’s in that era also had a N.E. champion javelin thrower in Leroy Fay of Auburndale.
More recently, St. Mary’s has had standouts such as miler Larry Rawson, who later set the record at Boston College and hurdler-high jumper Paul Edry, who left his mark at Brandeis.
Brother Edmund organized the schools first golf teams, also in the mid-fifties. The sport was quite poular among the boys. Informal interscholastic competition marked the initial years, and eventually the C.Y.O. established a league.
Mike Farina, now the manager and pro at the Wayland Country Club, was outstanding. Joe Curley, another great, gained fame as the “coach” of Waltham’s national blind golf champion, Joe Lazaro.