More Than a Sports Memory to Me
by Lois Sockol
Thanksgiving Day 1982. The stands at Needham’s Memorial Park field were packed, sardine-like. A five feet deep overflow hovered along the sidelines as hundreds more carpeted the hill that rose to the high school building. Some judged the crowd to be upwards of eight thousand. Usual attendance at ordinary seasonal games hovered around 80 or so.
This noteworthy day marked the 100th anniversary of the oldest public High School football rivalry in New England. The Needham-Wellesley rivalry, the angry child of an acrimonious split in 1881 when, after 250 years of union, West Needham separated itself from East Needham, tookits high school with it, and became Wellesley. That bitter split, was the genesis of this century old high school rivalry. Today the crisp, clear fall air bristled in anticipation. As old as it was, this rivalry had never lost its tinge of enmity.
“A 100th anniversary deserves the effort,” said Ron Sockol, who, during his Pop Warner coaching days, had instructed most of Needham’s varsity team. For almost a year promoting, he worked tirelessly to promote the event, rounding up surviving alumni players to be honored on the field.
Among the thousands who came were National TV cameramen and media reporters. This day would take its rightful place in High School sport’s history.
As the teams lined up, a sudden hush fell. Even the air seemed tensed and focused.
Needham won the toss and opted to receive. Wellesley’s kickoff was low and forceful, deep into Needham territory. A collective rumble followed the wide receiver who caught the ball on his own two-yard line and started racing down the field, dodging would-be tacklers, as if predestined to score. The rumble grew louder with each yard gained, each tackle avoided, exploding into a roar as the receiver crossed the goal line. A 98-yard run, the longest kick off return in Needham’s long history. A fitting beginning for a centennial game.
During the ensuing battle for yardage, Needham held its own and led at half time. The Needham supporters joyfully exchanged thumbs up and hugs. A small group of teens near the thirty-yard line danced a jig. I spied a TV cameraman and a reporter heading toward the wide receiver who had made the initial dramatic run. I was not close enough to hear the interview and could only imagine what was said . It was not until the televised evening news that I heard their exchange.
“So, young man, how did it feel to run back that kick-off and score the first touchdown?”
“Well, uh, Charlie Walsh opened a hole, and I just put the wheels on.”
I was thrilled when he scored, just as any mother would be, but it was hearing Jim’s humble words that permanently etched this memorable day into my heart.
“I’ve been blessed with a marriage of 65 years. We raised four boys we are proud of and enjoy the reward of 9 grandchildren. I taught public school for 25 years, published an instructional manual to aid teachers in teaching children who are high risk for learning to read, and conducted seminars on the teaching of reading. I have been active in Needham for 36 years as a Library Trustee and a Town Meeting member. And now, I have the joy of being a member of BOLLI!”