“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club

New from Gary Larrabee……….

“Sensation at Salem:” The Legendary Babe Zaharias’s Historic 1954 U.S. Open Victory at Salem Country Club…

…is considered the greatest single tournament achievement by a woman professional golfer to this day.
The story of the week when Babe staged an amazing performance on a suburban Boston golf course while battling cancer and carrying a colostomy bag, defeating the field by 12 strokes, is chronicled like never before!

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Danvers Boys Cagers Begin Workouts Monday; Open State and NEC Title Defenses December 15; State Championship Banner Raising Ceremony Set for January 5

The defending Division 2 state champion Danvers High boys basketball team has an imposing schedule to deal with in the upcoming regular season, highlighted by elevation to the Northeastern Conference Large division, playing in tournaments at Saugus (Christmas) and Holliston (mid-February) and a special banner raising ceremony on January 5.

The Falcons, after becoming one of a very few state champion teams ever to go a perfect 27-0, in the process becoming only the fourth program to win three state titles in a four year span, kick off their 20-game regular season with consecutive road games at Revere and Lynn English on Tuesday December 15 and Friday December 18, both starting at 7 p.m. That’s the official start time for all 16 games not part of the Saugus and Holliston tournaments. The pairings and start times for those four-team events have not yet been determined.

The Revere and Lynn English games will mark the start of the Falcons’ quest to capture a fifth consecutive NEC “overall” title. They also won the last four NEC “small” division crowns. This time they will be after a “Large” title for the first time.

Practice officially begins on Monday.

Game 7 will be historic for what takes place before the game as much as for what occurs during it. That will be the night, Tuesday January 5, while hosting Beverly, that the MIAA Boys Division 2 state championship banner will be raised. It is hoped that last year’s captains will be joined by players from all five DHS squads coached by John Walsh, all of whom have achieved their own milestones and played significant roles during the most successful five years attained by any varsity team, in any sport, in Danvers High and North Shore major sports history.

The ceremony will take place immediately prior to the start of the varsity contest. A short but glorious moment that will hopefully be held in front of a full fieldhouse.

The Falcons, 105-19 in Coach John Walsh’s five-year tenure of dominance (an amazing 92-9 over the last 4 years), face a daunting task to record their fifth straight 20-win season after losing their three captains of a year ago to the college ranks. Two-time Globe All-Scholastic Devan Harris and NEC MVP Peter Merry are at Fitchburg State and Vinny Clifford, the best long-range shooter in the area last year, plays for Endicott.

But they do return an outstanding group of guards and small forwards, led by junior point man Devonn Allen, in this observer’s judgment the MVP of the Falcons’s state title run from last winter, as well as super sixth man Rashad Francois and defensive whiz Mike Nestor.

Two other returnees who played important roles coming off the bench last winter figure to give the Falcons the fastest starting group this time around — guards Tre Crittendon and Tahg Coakley. One looms as the sixth man, since newcomer Isiah Clark, at 6-5, 260 pounds, a transfer from Somerville, figures to play the middle.

If Crittendon and Coakley can handle the backcourt duties, Allen may slide down to play a wing to take best advantage of a dynamic ability to score from downtown or penetration and make the pass to an open teammate if bottled up by what will certainly be an Allen-conscious opposing defense, no matter who the team.

Only time will determine who might emerge from last year’s bench or freshman-jayvee teams to earn a spot in Walsh’s rotation. One possibility is junior forward Kieran Moriarty.

The Falcons, riding an unprecedented mini-dynasty, will not be favored to defend any title this winter. But most important, the Danvers Falcons, the winningest program in Massachusetts high school basketball the last four years, is gearing up for a season in which they will be feared by all and victorious over many.









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Another Amazing “Majors” Finish Looming At St. Andrews; Spieth Remains The No. 1 Story, In Grand Position To Win The Third Leg of the Grand Slam

A real quick comment on what’s taking place at St. Andrews and its context for what has been an amazing year for golf’s “majors.”

Jordan Spieth wins at Augusta. Spieth wins at Chambers Bay after a bizarre week and a tragic finish for Dustin Johnson. Now a logjam at the top of The Open Championship leaderboard with one round to go and a horde of fantastic story lines.

To wit:

An amateur from Dublin among the three leaders

Spieth, incredibly, one stroke off the pace with 18 to go as he shoots for the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Johnson, seeking the greatest redemption imaginable, still within reach, despite a horrid third round, of his first major after several failures

Jason Day, so close so many times in majors as well, potentially the next great personality in the game if he can win Monday

Easily a dozen players capable of winning the Claret Jug tomorrow at the home of golf, many already with a major championship under his belt

And, pray tell, where is Tiger???  Where he belongs, home in Florida

This scenario is a great reason to call in sick tomorrow!

Cheers. Enjoy every minute, starting at 6 a.m, on ESPN.

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Oops, Mea Culpa: Eric Martin Another Boston Globe Hoop All-Scholastic Oversight

I shall eventually get this Boston Globe All-Scholastic history regards Danvers High’s unimaginable — but true — team and individual performances of the past four years straight — all Northeastern Conference- and state championship-winning seasons.

Once and for all, for the accurate record, I hope:

Dana Skinner was Danvers’ first Globe Hoop All-Scholastic in 1973.

The next Globe All-Scholastic was George Merry, leader of the 2012 Northeastern Conference and Division 3 MIAA state champions.

Eric Martin made it two Globe All Scholastics in two years in 2013, when the Falcons successfully defended their NEC and MIAA titles.

Lastly, as noted recently in this same space, in another admission of my being asleep at the switch, Devan Harris, a new member of the team after moving to town from Hingham, took this Globe All-Scholastic business to another level over the next two years. He was named a back-to-back Boston Globe selection in 2014 (when the Falcons, in a pleasant surprise) went 20-3, and 2015, when DHS made all kinds of local, regional and state history by going 27-0, winning a fourth straight NEC title and a third state title in four years, this in Division 2.






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Devan Harris Repeats As Boston Globe All-Scholastic; Another DHS hoop first


It has been hard to overlook anything about Devan Harris since he made his debut as a Danvers High basketball player back on December 20, 2013. Word had gotten around town that the transfer from Hingham High used nifty footwork at the offensive end of the floor and an uncanny nose for the ball at both ends to grab rebounds ad infinitum.


The 6-foot 3-inch Charles Barkley type, who tended to play the game with his mouth wide open, a most appealing aspect of his beguiling court personality, (remarkably, he never bit his tongue, I don’t think, in 50 games he played for the Falcons) became the second Falcon cager in three years to be selected a Boston Globe All-Scholastic.


Starting his junior year fully aware of the season-long absence of his friend Vinny Clifford, the lone returning starter from the Division 3 state champion team of the year previous, Harris led the overachieving Falcons to a surprising 20-3 record and a berth in the Division 2 North final, its first year as a Division 2 entry since moving down to Division 3 I don’t know how many years ago.. In the process Harris averaged 18.9 points and nine rebounds per game in the 17-2 regular season, then averaged 23.7 points and 14.5 rebounds in the 3-1 tournament run.


No wonder that he was named Northeastern Conference co-MVP after the Falcons won their third straight NEC Small and NEC overall titles and The Globe named him to their all-scholastic unit


Here’s where the oversight enters the picture.


Harris’s numbers were comparable this past season while pacing the Falcons to an unprecedented 27-0 record, more NEC titles and the Division 2 state championship. Among the highlights of his season were scoring 40 points on one occasion, sinking the clinching free throw with no time remaining in as exciting and tension-filled game of the 27-game season, a 79-78 victory at NEC Large champ Lynn English, and sinking the team’s final four points on 4-for-4 foul shooting at the state title-winning game (52-49) win over Marlborough at DCU Center.


For the second time The Globe named Harris’s coach, John Walsh, Division 2 coach of the year, and the publication once again named Harris to its all-scholastic team. That’s where we overlooked one of Harris’s greatest accomplishments.


This blogger’s apology and congratulations go out to the young man who sparkled at power forward at both ends of the floor for two unforgettable seasons. Thanks, Devan, for coming to Danvers. You gave we Falcon basketball fans a joy we surely would not have otherwise experienced.


We also thank his two star frontcourt teammates, Peter Merry and Vinny Clifford, for making quick friends with Devan while all three played on the same summer AAU team in 2013, which led to Harris’s move from Hingham, a hockey town, to Danvers, which he helped make into a powerhouse.


Harris finished with 936 points in his two seasons at DHS, finishing as the second-all-time scorer in program history, trailing only the late great Ed Gieras and his 1024 total.


Thus, Harris became the first back-to-back Globe all-scholastic in program history, when the only other DHS Globe hoop all-scholastics before him came in 1973 (Danvers Skinner) and George Merry (2012).



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Appreciating The Talents — and Courage — Of Danvers’ Ed Gieras

As the leading boys’ scorer in Danvers High basketball history – and the only boys’ player to surpass the magical 1000-point milestone (1024) — Ed Gieras has left a unique legacy in his beloved hometown. Just check out the 1000-point banner that hangs in the high school fieldhouse.


But with his passing last weekend at the age of 57 after a nine-year battle with Huntington’s Disease, one of the Falcons’ all-time great cagers has left an even greater legacy — his courage.


Well aware that he had a 50-50 chance of contracting the disease that killed his father, Dominic and two brothers, Jessie and Michael, Ed Gieras, one of Salem State University’s all-time basketball greats as well, confronted the condition head on.


Once the symptoms began to be visibly evident, then worsened significantly the last few years, Gieras was a true profile in courage to anyone with whom he came in contact.


“Ed lived his life to the fullest as long as he could, right up until a few months ago,” Mike Hennessey, his best friend, said. “Even when he lost most control of his body and the ability to speak, he made you aware that he was doing okay and enjoying whatever he could every day, especially his family and friends and being a sports fan.


“He never complained. He never hid from his many friends or the public. And he helped raise a good deal of money for Huntington’s research.”


Over the last several years Gieras had become in many ways Danvers’ Peter Frates, the former St. John’s Prep and Boston College baseball standout who has gained national fame during his extraordinary battle with and tireless efforts in raising money for, ALS.


In recent years Gieras, after the disease forced him to retire from a successful career as a food broker, was seen almost daily walking a three-mile route around the Woodvale neighborhood where he lived and through Danvers Square. He often did his “constitutional” twice a day with part of that regimen a stop at the downtown Dunkin’ Donuts.


During his walk he would happily acknowledge friends who waved through their car window or honked the horn.

“His walks were a vital part of his physical and mental therapy, even when he needed to use a walker to make them happen,” added Hennessey, who became close chums with Gieras once they became eighth grade basketball teammates. “Ed was just amazing. He knew what was happening to him but he kept his composure, kept his wits. He wanted to be like everybody else as long as possible. I’m just so proud of how he handled this right to the end.”


Gieras and Hennessey were key members of the 1975 Northeastern Conference-winning basketball team; the last NEC title team until the 2011-12 team under second-year coach John Walsh won the NEC and the program’s first state championship. Gieras was NEC MVP his senior year.


Gieras then moved on to Salem State, where he became one iof the top players in the history of that successful program. Gieras averaged 19.7 and 20.5 points per game his two seasons as a regular, spanning 1978-1980 and finished with 1211 careert points, rankin him eighth all-time. His senior year, 1979-80, he wqs a key performer as the Vikings won the MASCAC title and earned a berth in the Division 3 NCAA tournament.


After marrying college sweetheart Susan Carter, they raised three children, each of whom played youth sports and each of whom got the benefit of receiving coaching from their dad. Later Ed became a basketball official associated with IAABO Board 130.


“Sue has been ‘The Rock’ through all of this,” Hennessey declared. “She has been as amazing in her role as mother, wife and business person (running a small daycare center in her home) as Ed has been as the champion of courage.”


Gieras’s Danvers High coach, John McGrath shared the highest praise for his former all-star player. “Ed statistically was the greatest player in Danvers High history as far as I am concerned,” said McGrath, who guided the Falcons to NEC titles in 1964, 1970 and 1975. “He was a great passer and shooter and he was strong physically. Nobody pushed him away from the basket. He could score from most anywhere on the floor, He was one of the few players I ever had who I said could shoot whenever he wanted from wherever he wanted.


“On a personal matter,” McGrath said, “I was honored, after Ed’s father died, when his mother asked me to keep an eye on Ed as he continued his high school years; make sure he behaved himself, applied himself to his studies. From that directive Ed and I became very close. He confided in me like I was his second father. That was a great honor. He did fine and made us all proud at Salem State and beyond.”


These have been bittersweet times for Danvers High boys basketball. In the last two months two of the program’s all-time greats have passed. First Jeff Ryback, who led the Falcons to the ’64 NEC title, died in February at 66 after a successful career as a writer and sctor. Now the DHS hoop family has lost Gieras. All while the Falcons just concluded the first undefeated (27-0) season in program history while winning their first Division 2 state title and third state title in four years.

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State Champion Danvers High Boys Basketball Team Saluted In Style

The greatest championship journey by a boys’ basketball team in North Shore history was celebrated Monday night at Spinelli’s function facility in Lynnfield.

The Danvers High Falcons — the Fantastic, Fabulous Fenomenal Falcons — the first 27-0 squad in the region’s annals — was honored in high style by the Boys Basketball Boosters, led by President Brenda Clifford, top assistant Kim Merry and their band of loyal players’ mothers.

Serenaded as they entered the grand front door by noted trumpeter Bo Winiker and photographed throughout the evening by ace shooter Barbara Lynch, the Northeastern Conference and MIAA Division 2 kings enjoyed their most deserved accolades from many.

Among those reminding the boys of their extraordinary accomplishments this past season were this humble blogger, privileged to serve as the emcee; Massachusetts State Representative Ted Speliotis and Massachusetts State Senator Joan Lovely — ’tis rarely you attract these two devoted servants of the North Shore populace to the same event — DHS Principal Susan Ambrozavitch, Athletic Director Andrew St. Pierre, Assistant Principal Mark Strout, and, by congratulatory letter read by yours truly, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Also noted was the proclamation, initiated by member Dan Bennett presented to the team by the Board of Selectman at a recent Board meeting, as an expression of the town of Danvers’ appreciation for all the happiness and pride they have created with their astounding winning run this season and in recent seasons

Following the presentation of awards by freshman coach Peter Spiros and junior varsity coach Bob McKenna, head coach John Walsh took the podium and recounted the wonders of the season just concluded, the highlight victories of the 27 and key contributions made by the “Sensational Seven” —  Vinny Clifford, Devan Harris, Peter Merry, Mike Nestor, Devonn Allen, Rashad Francois and Tre Crittendon.

Accompanying his comments, Walsh made several award presentations. Merry, Clifford and Harris shared the MVP award. Crittendon received the Coaches’ award. Nestor was named top defensive player, Francois was tabbed top offensive player and Allen received the Best All-Around Player award.

Note that only the three MVPs graduate. Walsh has an impressive nucleus returning in Allen, a leading NEC MVP candidate after Merry (this year) and Harris (in 2014) received the award most recently, Francois, Nestor and Crittendon.

The evening, which was also accented by a delicious State Chamnpions Cake, concluded with a most entertaining season highlights video compiled and presented by Liam Callahan of Buzzer Beater Basketball.

“It was a terrific, terrific evening for all in attendance, especially appreciated by us coaches and the players,” Walsh said. “The Boosters did a wonderful job in celebrating what truly was an un believable season; one we might have hoped we could pull off, but never one you expect to accomplish. Not 27 wins without a loss. And with several narrow escapes. But the kids always had what it took to get over the top by game’s end; probably their greatest attribute.

“I cannot stress how hard the kids worked every day in season and many days leading up to the season, to give them the very best chance to have the very best season possible,” added Walsh, who in five seasons has posted a 22-2 tournament record, a 105-19 overall record whiles winning four NEC titles and three state titles the last four years; one of only four schools in the state to attain the last feat since the MIAA went to division tourney play in 1974. “And that includes the kids who were not in our regular game rotation but worked incredibly hard in practices to make the top seven that much better. We owe them a great deal as well.

“They knew they had a target on their backs every game and they responded no matter what the situation. And the fact we had five different players each have at least one game where he scored at least 21 points shows we had different players step up when the situation required it. Anyone could carry the load in any given game.”

Lastly, Walsh did another superb job preparing his team in practices and scrimmages and coaching his team come game time. He will be the first to admit the Fabulous, Fantastic, Fenomenal Falcons dodged more than one bullet during the regular season, such as the two-point Salem win and the six- and three-point wins over Marblehead.

But his brilliance as the team’s leader was never more evident than in the four final tension-packed tourney victories over Brighton (by 7, but anyone’s game with three minutes left), Arlington (by 3), Bishop Feehan (by 11 but much closer than the final score suggests) and the state title game over Marlborough (by 3; thank you, Peter Merry, for the biggest block/deflection of your high school career in the last minute).

Now it’s off to college for the three starting graduating seniors, plus senior teammates Tom Gillespie, Andrew Dunn and Stephen Medeiros. Time for the non-seniors and seniors-to-come to take over and keep this winning tradition, unprecedented on the North Shore, going.

As has been the custom during the Walsh era, the Boosters presented the sub-varsity players with special tee shirt gifts, while the varsity players received a 140-page commemorative scrapbook based on newspaper and internet stories that covered the team’s 27-0 campaign. They also received commemorative tee shirts, one long-sleeved, one short.

The blue short-sleeved tee shirts read:

On the front –  “2014-2015 Undefeated Season, 27-0 Perfect, Danvers Falcons, NEC Champs”

On the back was the 27 game won-lost record with scores and the Final line: “MIAA State Champions”

The white long-sleeved shirts read:

On the front —  2015 MIAA State Tournament Champions, Danvers Falcons, Undefeated Season, 27-0″

On the back — “Danvers Dynasty 2012-2015, Overall Record 92-9, Northeastern Conference Record 57-5, State Tournament Record 20-1, Northeastern Conference Champions 2012-2013-2014-2015, State Tournament Champions 2012-2013-2015







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Danvers–Hamilton-Wenham Battle Of The Unbeatens Would Be A Classic For All Time; A Game For The Ages

It’s not going to happen in reality, so let’s make it happen using our educated imagination.

Danvers, 27-0, MIAA Division 2 state champs, versus neighboring Hamilton-Wenham, 25-0, MIAA Division 4 state champs, in a jam-packed Salem High field house, 3000 strong, benefitting the Jimmy Fund. I only wish.

Anyhow, why not? Both programs undefeated for the very first time. Two outstanding coaches: 61-year-old Doug Hoak for H-W, a coaching legend in the region, who has now won state titles in two sports and is in the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. And John Walsh, 35, who in five years has established all kinds of seemingly impossible records that no future DHS cage coach could ever match. Of course, we never thought Walsh would accomplish all this —  three state titles the last four years, four straight 20-plus win seasons, a 105-18 record in five seasons, 22-2 in the post-season. Out of this world.

So let’s match them up in a game for the ages. The Generals, who first became a small division/Cape Ann League power under the late, great Sherm Kinney, are deeper than Danvers. They can go eight deep comfortably. While Danvers, miraculously, survived a grueling final 10 games or so, and the entire 27-game season actually, playing six guys, with a seventh, backup point guard Tre Crittendon, an occasional reliable replacement for sophomore sensation Devonn Allen.

H-W has a fabulous sophomore twins combination in Marcus Zegarowski, a point guard that already has drawn the interest of college scouts, and Max, a 6-5 forward with a deadly three-point shot and tons of potential. Half-brother Michael Carter-Williams played one year for H-W before moving on to private school hoops, two years of Syracuse college competition and nows plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, his second season in the NBA.

They are complemented by forward Jimmy Campbell, forward Nikos Lara, guard Nick DiMarino, center Nolan Wilson and subs Austen Michel (guard) and backup center Nico Serpa.

The Generals, who won their 25 games by an average of 24 points and won a mere four games by less than double figures, have an ideal mix of size and quickness.

The Falcons enjoyed a perfectly cohesive, cover-for-each-other, six-player package that complemented each other ideally. As talented as they are, the whole far exceeded the sun of the individual parts. Whenever somebody had to come up with a big play at either end, somebody did.

The Generals would have their hands full with 6-10 center Peter Merry, the Northeastern Conference MVP, 6-5 power forward Devan Harris and 6-4 long-range shooting (and versatile all-around) forward Vinny Clifford. We should have a pre-game three-point shooting contest involving Clifford, Max Z., Allen, sixth man Rashad Francois and a few other H-W entries of Hoak’s choice.

H-W would have to zone Danvers and force the Falcons to bomb away from the perimeter. Danvers had some great games from out there and won many of its biggest games keyed by the trey. But if they tightened up their defense, that would leave many openings for Danvers to feed there ball into Merry and Harris, another scenario for a General demise.

On the other hand, H-W’s quickness and ability to get scoring from six, seven players could makes things mighty uncomfortable for the region’s ranking dynasty.

So many players could step up and assume heroic roles in a game like this. Both teams are rock solid from the foul line. Both teams have coaches with the best of credentials.

Could the Falcons contain the 1-2 Zegarowski punch? Could H-W control Merry-Harris?  Danvers defensive whiz Mike Nestor would surely make Marcus Z. work for every point.

What a game this could be. As I have said for several weeks, H-W is a Division 2 team in Division 4 uniforms, determined by the school’s male enrollment. The Generals could give the Falcons a fantastic run for their money.

But I surmise Danvers’s inside game and four-player three-point offensive threat might be too much for the Generals to handle.

Final dream score: Danvers 63, Hamilton-Wenham 59.

After H-W and Danvers seasons for the ages, this matchup would be a game for the ages.

Final thought: Congratulations to Coaches Hoak and Walsh and players on both sides for delivering history-making seasons which will never be forgotten.

As an aside: nobody played these two state champions tougher than Coach Mike Giardi’s Marblehead squad: two near misses against Danvers, both going right down to the wire, and an overtime defeat to H-W.  The Headers could very easily have gone 3-0 against these behemoths.

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John Walsh: The Modest Coach-Turned-Legend In His Own Time — With A Hall of Fame Record To Boot

When John Walsh, a baby in the business at the age of 30, was appointed the new boys’ basketball coach in June 2010, few Danvers High sports fans took notice. Maybe the players and the parents for the 2010-11 team were paying attention, but few other people were.

The program had been in the doldrums so long that the changing of the coaching guard meant little to most DHS sports fans in town, even those of us who had connections with the team for two years or 52 years.

But to Principal Sue Ambrozavitch, Athletic Director John Sullivan and their screening committee, the appointment of the new coach meant a great deal. For they saw special qualities in Walsh, one of 25 candidates for the position, that gave them hope for the program’s future.

“We liked John’s basketball background and knowledge to begin with,” says Sullivan, now retired after an exemplary career as an educator and coach. “He was very dedicated to young athletes, whether he was coaching basketball or football. He had an enthusiasm that impressed us, as well as organized goals that he convinced us could help create a championship program.”

Yet, after two games they might have had second thoughts about their choice. At the conclusion of the varsity’s second game of the season, Walsh had a verbal exchange with a fan on the field house court. Walsh was handed a two-game suspension and most of us casual observers were wondering what kind of fellow this Walsh was. We wondered if he’d last the season, or at best be a one-and-done coach.

In hindsight, some of those involved with the process feel Walsh may have been unfairly disciplined for the incident in question. But he accepted the ruling and moved on.

Little did we know what kind of coaching legend he would become in a few short years.

We found out soon enough. Once he got his bearings, and after a discouraging 2-6 start, Walsh, ridiculously new at this stuff, guided the Falcons to an stunning 11-3 finish, a 13-9 record, two MIAA tournament wins for the first time in school history and maybe, just maybe, the start of a turnaround in Falcon hoop fortunes.

Turnaround? How about mini-dynasty? For that’s what the Falcons became over the next four seasons, climaxed by what they just accomplished: an unprecedented 27-0 record, only the second in North Shore high school basketball history, their first MIAA State Division 2 title and their third MIAA state title in four years, the first two being Division 3 titles in 2012 and 2013.

The numbers are numbing; numbers not even Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach, Bill Belichick, Scotty Bowman, Casey Stengal or Joe Torre can match.

  •  4 – straight Northeastern Conference (NEC) Small Division titles
  • 4 – straight NEC overall titles
  • 4 – straight 20-win seasons
  • 3 – MIAA state titles in four years, a feat accomplished by only three other schools since the division format was introduced in the early 1970s
  • 105 – wins in five years against 18 losses
  • 22 – wins against 2 losses in five years of MIAA state tournament play

Walsh, a top-notch guard at Malden Catholic, spent five years as a varsity assistant to his cousin, the head coach at Watertown High, then felt he was ready to secure a head coaching gig of his own.

“John wasn’t kidding when he expressed such dedication to the basketball program in his interview,” Sullivan added. “He showed that dedication as soon as he got hired. He got involved with the summer program and had kids feeling positive about the team long before the season started (keeping in mind the prior season had been a 3-17 record). Then when the season did start he worked not only with the varsity, but attended jayvee and freshman practices; showed the kids he cared about their progress, their games, too, not just his varsity team’s. He even stopped by the girls’ practices, got immediately acquainted with Pat Veilleux, the girls’ coach, and welcomed the chance to work with Pat and his squad, at Pat’s encouraging. Fact is John Walsh’s dedication to Danvers High basketball, in my estimation, has been unbelievable.”

Walsh calls it a lucky situation he fell into, one in which the high school program was starting to benefit from the youth program. Probably true. And he is the first to make note of two significant transfer players who played major roles the last few years – Nick McKenna from St. John’s Prep and Devan Harris from Hingham.

“It’s all happened because of the fine players I’ve had,” Walsh has said over and over again, “like the Merry brothers. How many coaches get that fortunate?”

Agreed, coach. George and Peter Merry have had major hands in all three state titles and the four consecutive Northeastern Conference titles. Hell, Danvers had won only three NEC titles in the 70-plus year history of the loop until their dominance started in 2012.

I have called it serendipity; a perfect storm, if you will, of two groups of players being led by one outstanding young basketball coaching mind. The first group nucleus won NEC and Division 2 state titles in 2012 and 2013. The second group of players overachieved last year at 20-3 without one of their star players, Vinny Clifford, sidelined for the season with a bad knee, then went P-E-R-F-E-C-T-O this season with a 27-0 mark, topped off with a Division 2 state championship.

Yes, the players make the shots, steal the passes, grab the rebounds, sink the clinching free throws. But without the right leader directing them from the bench, I argue that no team, no matter how talented, would win a championship.

So John Walsh’s presence has made all the difference in the world in creating this statewide powerhouse.

He knows how to deal with his players, how to prepare them in practice, how to handle them during games with the proper substitutions, the proper strategy, when to call timeouts and when not to.

Years ago I might agree with this statement: you can call winning one state title a fluke. But no more. There are too many good teams to defeat in your bracket and in your Section. Moreover there are no soft opponents once you reach the state semifinal in TD Garden and the state final at the DCU Center.

One highly respected coach told me this year’s batch of Division 2 teams was as strong a group as he has seen in many years.

So say what you will about winning one state title and you still may be laughed out of the room. But when the team with the same coach wins a second state title in a row, then moves up from Division 3 to Division 2 the very next year and advances, with a completely new cast, to the Section final minus one of your two most important players, then the following year, with the same nucleus and your missing player from a year ago back in the fold, goes a perfect 27-0 and wins the Division 2 state title, you’ve got a mastermind in charge.

Simple as that.Walsh, husband and the father of three young children, takes his job as coach very seriously. Surely just as seriously as his day job as assistant executive director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

We see him follow his team onto the floor for pre-game warmups accompanied by his assistants. He always wears a white dress shirt and tie. He usually watches not only his own team take warmups at the far end of the court, but the opposing team shooting right in front of him.

He spends much of the game in a baseball catcher’s crouch, looking courtward or turning back and consulting his assistants, usually first with Mark Garrity, his varsity assistant.


When he’s not crouching he’s shouting instructions to a player or discussing a point with an official. He is well respected by the officials or they would not give him as much opportunity to state his case. Another example of what makes an effective coach.

When there’s a timeout, he sits his players on the bench and resumes the crouching position, offering his advice singularly and collectively.

During all these celebration poses the team has provided for photographers the last four years in Lowell, Boston and Worcester, Walsh has acted almost like an accidental observer who has mistakenly walked into the picture; like he’d rather have the kids get their picture taken without him. He reluctantly leans in from one end of the shot.

“It’s their day,” he seems to be thinking. “It’s their picture. I’ve done my job and that’s all I need.”

Maybe it’s all John Walsh needs. But it’s not what his players need, nor what the thousands of DHS hoop fans need. They need to acknowledge John Walsh, the Rembrandt of this masterpiece of a four-year championship run (not forgetting Year 1 was important in re-establishing a winning tradition that had been missing for more years than anyone wishes to remember).

Maybe it’s time to name the playing surface in the Danvers High field house Walsh Court. What finer tribute could a school and town bestow upon the greatest coaching performance in the history of Danvers High athletics (with apologies to Roger Day)? The statue can come later.





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Danvers High’s Fabulous, Fantastic Fenomenal Falcons Had Questions Galore At Season’s Start, Then Answered Them All With An Emphatic ‘Yes’

Great Expectations.

The name of a famous Dickens novel, of course, but also the cloud that hung over the heads of every coach and player on the 2014-2015 Danvers High basketball team.

Four years of unprecedented success had brought coach John Walsh and his three-time defending Northeastern Conference champions to opening day of practice on Monday, December 1, 2014.

Bottom line: Could the Falcons, with virtually the same starting team as a year ago that had gone 20-3 and advanced to the Division 2 North final before falling to New Mission, all achieved without the injured Vinny Clifford, meet the expectations of the Falcon Faithful?  TRhat expectation was another NEC title, possibly another state title (the third in four years) and — oh hell, why not say it — an undefeated season.

Incredibly, they reached all those goals and attained arguably the greatest achievement in Danvers High sports history — combined, a 27-0 record and their third state title in four years, something only three other high schools have accomplished since the state tournament went to the division format 43 years ago.

This all coming together in a program that as of 2011 had not won a conference title since 1975, let alone had any kind of impact on the tournament — ever.

So what were those questions that hovered above the heads of key players and the coaching staff, especially head coach Walsh, as the new season got under way?

Here they are, while we remember the Falcons most likely would not have won the state championship — yet again!!!!!!  — without each and every one of these vital contributors.

1. After sitting out his entire junior year because of knee surgery, how effectively  could the aforementioned Clifford bounce back to form? Quite effectively as it turned out. The 6-3 senior forward hit 5 of 11 threes in his debut game at Winthrop and the knee seemed to hold up well. The one concern was the frequency with which Walsh sat down Clifford in the first half of the regular season schedule. Was Vinny’s knee bothering him to a major degree? No. It was the game plan Walsh and Clifford agreed upon to get the knee gradually back into full-throttle mode. By the Revere game, in which Clifford hit 6 of 7 threes, he was playing full time. He admitted later that it was mostly a case of mind over matter; of getting used to playing with minimal to moderate discomfort in the surgical area. Fact is the knee held up beautifully for all 27 games. Vinny will be the first to admit that his outside shooting was hot and cold, especially late in the regular season and in the tournament. But when he was needed most, he delivered big time. Exhibit A: He blocked Salem’s last-second three-point shot with Danvers protecting a 39-37 lead at home to preserve the victory. Exhibit B: Clifford’s 28-point effort in the Falcons’ epic 79-78 victory at Lynn English, in which he hit 8 of 14 three-pointers, giving him 17 treys in his last 32 attempts. He was 23-for-42 in threes after going 6-for-10 at Rockland, then, in his final game for the Falcons, following a blanked first half, Vinny scored eight vital second half points (Danvers scored only 19 total) in the 52-49 state title game win over Marlborough. Clifford’s senior campaign had been a rousing success, accented by the final two quarters in his farewell showing on the biggest stage.

2. What kind of encore season could senior Devan Harris deliver after his debut year for the Falcons had earned him MVP honors in the Northeastern Conference? A beauty of a season. The 6-5 power forward, a Charles Barkley clone if I ever saw one, answered the query immediately, opening the season scoring 18, 27 and 25 points his first three games en route to a season that would give the Cincinnati and Hingham transplant 952 points in two years, a team record.  Harris had nine 20-plus point games, the biggest coming in the 53-47 road win at Marblehead (21) and in back-to-back 26-pointers against Brighton and Arlington on the road to the state title. He was a clutch foul shooter, hitting the one free throw with no time remaining that beat Lynn English and making 4 of 4 in the last 23 seconds that clinched the state championship game at Worcester. His patented spin move close-in produced a ton of points and foul shots. His three-point shot delivered many a timely three. His quick first step to the basket led to countless penetration drives to the basket against slower defenders. Defensively he and center Peter Merry created a formidable inside presence and rebounding dominance, among the best in the state. He hit double figures in 23 of his 27 games.

3. Would Peter Merry be able to improve his game to a level that would make him the dominant inside player necessary to, in turn, raise his team’s overall defensive standard to state championship level? To coins phrase from Sarah Palin, “You betcha!” Need I say more than the fact the spindly 6-10 pivot was named Most Valuable Player by Northeastern Conference coaches? He wasn’t flashy, but Merry was there in the middle of the Danvers defense four 27 games, intimidating any opposing player who ventured down the lane, near the basket. He was the Bill Russell of the North Shore, averaging five blocks and 11 rebounds a game while diverting countless rival shots. The impact his defensive play had night in and night out cannot be overstated. His defense is why he was named NEC MVP. His offense came and went because he was usually the fourth option in an offense full of solid shooters and penetrators, i.e. Clifford, Harris, Devonn Allen, Rudy Rashad Francois. But his offensive showing in the 67-56 home court win over Lynn Classical represents the highest scoring night by any Falcon. Peter played like an unstoppable Bill Walton in his prime (look him up, youngsters), hitting his first 10 shots from all around the paint, finishing with a team season-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 6 blocks. And no one should forget his fingertip deflection of a Chris Doherty inside shot in the closing minute in the state title game against Marlborough. Following in the footsteps of brother George, who led the Falcons to their very first state title in 2012, Peter became the ideal second act of the “Merry Brothers.” There would be two less state title trophies resting in the glass case outside the field house without George and Peter.

4.Could sophomore Devonn Allen (what are the chances? 2 devon/devanns on the same team???) make the gigantic jump from third guard to starting point guard/quarterback on a team projected as a state title contender; a team that would be facing imposing defensive pressure night after night? You better believe it, but Walsh and company knew Devonnn would be a work in progress for a fair chunk of the session, and he was. He had shaky games that turned into routs, plus steady games that were even bigger routs. But, most critically, he handled the pressure like a veteran when the chips were down. Never was that more evident for the first time than in the 39-37 home court nail-biting win over Salem in Game 8. The game where neither team scored in the last 2:30. The game that easily could have fallen in the Salem “W” column except for several missed shots, a few late turnovers and a spectacular fourth quarter from the youngest player on the Danvers side of the floor —  Devonn Allen. Devonn, whom Walsh has already projected as a future scholarship player (he might get the same accolade before too long from baseball coach Roger Day), led Danvers scorers with 10 points, the last six in the tense fourth quarter on slashing penetration drives down the lane when the Falcons couldn’t make a jumper to save their lives. Devonn also grabbed two super-timely offensive rebounds off missed DHS free throws in the last couple minutes. Devonn became a prime time player with this performance. He only got better after that. He became Mr. Cool in all the tight finishes. He was “The Man” asked to bring the ball up the floor against all kinds of pressure in all the down-to-the-wire games that followed against Marblehead, Bp. Feehan (twice), Lynn English, Brighton, Arlington and Marlborough. He seemed like a solitary figure for most of the 32 minutes every night, dribbling the ball up court, getting help when necessary from a teammate, but usually getting the job done solo. Additionally, Allen’s long-range shooting seemed to improve as the season progressed to the point he was as consistent a three-point bomber as they had next to Clifford. His steady all-around play was clearly valued by the Comcast/Arbella Board 27 Tournament officials, who named Allen their Most Valuable Player of the Division 2 competition, which Danvers won with wins over Bp. Feehan and Malden Catholic (Walsh’s alma mater).

5. Would defensive wizard Mike Nestor develop into the sixth man required of a team gunning for a state title? No question about it. In fact, his presence loomed even larger once he was inserted into the starting lineup and fifth starter Rudy Rashad Francois became the sixth man in order to provide more offensive punch off the bench. The switch worked beautifully. Nestor grew more and more comfortable in the starter’s role, became an even fiercer defensive ace guarding the No. 1 or 2 scorer on the opposing team. And, he hit an occasional shot here or there as well as a few clutch free throws and hauled in timely rebounds, all in crunch time. His star never shone brighter than in the ultimate tester against Marlborough, where Mike was given the assignment of guarding 6-6 freshman sensation Chris Doherty, who had scored 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Panthers’ state semifinal win over South Hadley. Giving away five inches, the feisty Nestor gave Doherty all he could handle the first half. Doherty scored two points by intermission, committed several turnovers while trying to force the issue offensively and found his team trailing 33-15. Nestor got weak side help from frontcourters Merry, Harris or Clifford. Doherty led Marlboro’s third quarter comeback, cutting the deficit to nine heading into the fourth quarter, but then scored only two points the last eight minutes. Nestor had emerged once again as a subliminal hero, similiar to his contribution  the prior game against Bp. Feehan when he corralled rival forward Frank Oftring. Watch for him to be vastly improved offensively next season while retaining his rep as one of the toughest 1-on-1 defenders on the North Shore.

6. Could Rudy Rashad Francois reach his potential and use his obvious athleticism to contribute reliably as a spark plug at both ends of the floor? No doubt about it. He was a starter the first half of the season and played crucial roles in the wins over Somerville (overall floor play), Marblehead (huge 3-pointer when trailing 43-41 in the final minute), Beverly (21 points, 5 3-pointerds) and Winthrop (15 points, 3 threes). But his greatest value surfaced when he switched roles with Nestor and assumed the sixth man assignment. The change first paid major dividends in the fourth quarter of the 60-56 Arbella/Comcast tourney win over Bishop Feehan, where a clutch three-pointer and steady floor play loomed large after Merry and Harris had both fouled out. Coincidentally, that also was Nestor’s first strong game as a starter. Rashad broke out of his scoring slump with 12 points off the bench in the next game, a 20-point rout of Malden Catholic, and the one after that, when he had 11 against Lynn English. He continued his strong bench play with 12 against Wakefield in the MIAA tourney opener and eight against Brighton. He then came up big-time in the Marlboro grand finale, scoring 11 points, all in the first half, powered by three three-pointers. Rashad projects as one of the most exciting players in the Conference next year, possibly as one of the top scorers.

Seventh man Tre Cittendown played sporadically but played several effective minutes in several games, especially in support of Allen in the frantic fourth quarter against Brighton. He, Francois and Allen give Walsh a strong 1-2-3 nucleus around which to build next year’s squad.

A tip of the cap too, to the non-playing bench players. They got playing time once the outcome was determined and showed promise among those players returning next year. But, most important, they gave the regulars battles in practice every day, a quality coaches are infinitely grateful for. Congrats, men.

One last comment about the regulars. They achieved perfection in a second vein. They never got hurt. According to this observer, they played every necessary minute of every game. They took care of themselves and Walsh gave them adequate amounts of rest during games and at the end of routs. An extraordinary accomplishment in itself. Zero injury minutes over 27 games. Unheard of.

8. Would Coach John Walsh be able to push the right buttons, instill enough motivation and keep his players hungry for the long grind ahead? A grind sprinkled with too many blowouts and not enough tough challenges, often an unavoidable condition that leads to upset losses. Almost happened, but never did.

We’ll answer that question with an in-depth look at Walsh’s season in our next blog. Thanks for reading,


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Salem Cagers Were, Like 2015 Danvers Falcons, Perfect in 1980, ’90 and ’95

The historic season recently completed by the Danvers High boys’ basketball team (27-0, Div. 2 state title, third state title in four years) brought back memories for this hoops chronicler of three state champion teams from Salem High, all of whom went undefeated as well. A brief reflection of each team follows.

Thirty-five years ago Marie Grant and the Tim Shea-coached Salem High girls’ basketball team won their first state championship, posting the only perfect record in program history. That was 1980. Happy 35th anniversary.

Ten years later the Salem boys’ cagers got into the act, winning their first state title since 1926 behind the eclectic coaching of Jack O’Brien and the brilliant play of future NBA standout Rick Brunson. Happy 25th anniversary.

Then five years later, the Witches’ boys, after previously going 64 years between state championships (1926-90), pulled off the feat yet again, this time behind the bench leadership of Paul Garrity and the exciting all-around play of mercurial point guard James “Scoonie” Penn. Happy 20th anniversary.

Salem High School has enjoyed outstanding teams on the hardcourt before and since this triple crown achievement. But nothing to compare with what these teams accomplished in a 15-year period. All of which merits a brief look back at each team’s championship season.

The 1980 Salem High Girls (27-0)

Former Salem High standout Tim Shea had returned to his alma mater and in his first year as head coach of the SHS girls, in 1979, directed them to the Division 1 North final, where they lost to Cambridge and its star, Medina Dixon. But 1980 was a different story.

The Lady Witches defeated all challengers in 1979-80, finishing undefeated (27-0) and beating prime rival Newton North both during the season and in the state title game at Bentley College. Shea coached the SHS girls for three seasons, finishing 70-3 collectively.

“Marie was the focal point of our team at both ends of the floor,” Shea recalled. “She and Dixon were the two premier girls players in Greater Boston. Marie could do it all as our center. At six feet tall she was a dominant rebounder and defender with an unstoppable semi-hook. She was a good passer and ball-handler.

“She had some terrific teammates, too,” Shea added. “Sue Richard, like Marie, was All-Boston Globe. Then there was Doreen Thibeault, Alison Daley, Holly Brennan and Evie Oquendo among our other key players.

“They were a cocky group, a proud group who knew what it was like to win, but also to lose the big game. They weren’t going to let that happen in 1980.

“I must add,” Shea said, “that the program was thriving before I arrived thanks to the coaching of Sandy Provost. I just kept the ball rolling and we put it all together that one year.”

“We had a good team that year alright,” remembers Grant, who lives in Freeport, Maine and works for Wayside Publishing following a 20-year career in social work in the New York Catskills. “But it still surprises me after all these years that we went undefeated. How hard is that? But we had a great coach and the players all fit nicely with each other.

“People forget we came close the year before and the year after,” Grant added. “We list the Division 1 North final both times. All those years we worked and played hard, had a lot of fun and best of all created wonderful memories those years.”

Grant went on to play at Boston University and Boston College as Salem’s first scholarship player.

Shea went on to coach the Salem State women to unprecedented success spanning 30 years, with 24 NCAA appearances, including capturing the 1986 NCAA Division 3 title in their home gym. Shea retires as the Salem State athletic director later this year.

The 1990 Salem Boys (25-0)

A dynamic coach (O’Brien) and a multi-talented player (Brunson) sparked the 1990 boys’ team to the Division 2 state title, the first of six O’Brien would win (five more came from coaching Charlestown).

An ideal supporting cast made it easier for O’Brien and Brunson to carry the Witches to the promised land.

“We had a great motivator in Coach O’Brien,” said starting center Mike Giardi, who had starring roles that year on the 9-1 football team as the quarterback and on the Eastern Mass. title game runnerup baseball team as the ace pitcher, one year after the Witches won the state title with future major league pitcher Jeff Juden.

“O’Brien found a way to drive every single player on that team; to make them the best support to our star they could be. He pushed us all to greatness because many of us had not played much, if at all, the year before. But he moved us around in the early parts of the season until he liked what he saw and stuck with that. Like in my case, I’d been a guard the year before, but coach moved me to center and it worked out fine.”

Giardi and Brunson were joined in the regular rotation by George McDonald, Mike Fritz, Eric Leibowitz, Pedro Jimenez and Tommy Doyle, the current SHS varsity coach, came off the bench.

“All good guys,” Giardi said. “We knew our roles, knew how to play with Rick and we went all the way.”

The most memorable wins in the tournament, Giardi said, came against East Boston, then against Bishop Feehan in the Eastern Mass. final in the old Boston Garden. The state title game win over Gardner in Worcester was not anticlimactic, he added, but even that one could not top the Eastie and Feehan triumphs.

“We had the star and the rest of us were grinders,” Giardi said.

Giardi described Brunson as a well-rounded player who worked hard and never took his God-given talent for granted. “Rick could take over a game and he often did,” Giardi noted.

Brunson, a 6-3 guard/forward for the Witches, went on to an outstanding college career as the Temple point guard, then forged an 11-year NBA playing career and several more years as an NBA assistant coach. Brunson’s son Jalen, a nationally ranked high school senior, has signed a letter of intent to play for Villanova.

Giardi has gone on to exceptional success as well. He was a three-year starting quarterback at Harvard, pitched and was a two-time All-Ivy League shortstop for the Crimson baseball team and played for three years in the minor leagues (Yankees, Astros and Giants systems).

He will mark his 20th season working Harvard football radio broadcasts this fall. He teaches in the Marblehead school system, is head basketball coach and assistant football coach for the Headers and runs summer baseball camps.

The 1995 Salem High Boys (25-0)

 It seems that as soon as Brunson left for the college big time, another wunderkind appeared on the Salem hoop landscape in the form of James “Scoonie” Penn. He was several inches smaller than Brunson, a pure point guard with breathtaking moves to the basket. Like Brunson, he proved to be the Real Deal, his SHS playing career topped off by a spectacular, undefeated senior season.

Penn capped the team’s 20-0 regular season with arguably his finest individual performance, a 38-point effort in which he rallied the Witches to a last-minute victory over rival Peabody.

“I had my moments, but I had some great teammates that year,” Penn, now 38 and a member of the Big Ten network’s television crew, said. “Jamal Camah went on to play at Providence. Frank Gioia, Saul Mateo, Matt Marengi and Phil Downes all were clutch players. I was lucky to have them as my teammates.”

And they were doubly lucky to have Penn as their headline player. “They were such a good group of kids who all got along, all worked hard, all cared for each other, challenged each other, hung out with each other,” says Paul Garrity. “But we would all agree, all these years later, that we were something very special that year because of Scoonie’s star presence and star power on the court. I have never seen a more competitive player, a player who welcomed every challenge to come his way like Scoonie.”

The Witches survived several epic games on the way to the state title, among them the aforementioned Peabody joust, a last-second win in the Division 2 North final over Belmont at UMass-Boston and a tense Eastern Mass. final victory over Milton.

“Great wins all,” said Garrity, who was a dominating 93-22 in five years coaching the Witches and now either watches the Danvers High boys, where son Mark is the varsity assistant to John Walsh, or his daughter Kelsey, the starting guard for the UMass-Dartmouth women. “It was a season that people remember for a lifetime, not just the players and coaches, but the parents and fans, and we had a great following that year.”

“I was confident we could get to the states,” Penn, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his family, said. “I remember telling the senior not to buy their class rings in the fall because we were going to win state championship rings in the winter. And we did.

“A lot of positive factors figured into that season. One was the fact Coach Garrity gave me the flexibility to do my own things on the court. I could freelance when I thought the opportunity was there. He wasn’t extremely strict with any of us. He wanted us to be able to express ourselves on the court. It was different, of course, in tight games late. That’s when he’d calm us down, talk us through the situation and we’d get through it just fine.”

Penn stressed that, unlike the perception of some, “I had to work hard, very hard, for whatever I wanted on the court. It was great that I could start for four years, but nothing was given to me. I earned everything I received. I was plenty motivated, too.”

Penn enjoyed a dreamlike playing career after graduating from SHS. He played two years for Jim O’Brien at Boston College, was Big East Rookie of the Year, Big East Tournament MVP as a sophomore when he led the Eagles to the title, followed O’Brien to Ohio State for his final two years, being named Big Ten Player of the Year as a junior, MVP of the NCAA South Regional final his senior year when he led the Buckeyes to the Final Four. He also was a two-time second team All-American.

He played 11 years professionally in Europe before returning to Columbus, where he and wife Niki are raising four children while Scoonie does TV and also works in sales and serves as a motivational speaker.


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