Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • February 25, 2021
Back In The Saddle: Seventh Grade Hooliganism And The Amazing Marlboroites Who Have Paid A Visit

Author’s note: This story will appear in sister sites BedrockSportsMarlboro.com and BedrockSportsHawaii.com. Warning, it might spark the interest of the Marlboro people quite a bit more than the Hawaii people. Sorry about that. Hawaii-based stories will return soon, too. I promise.

Writing is easy, right? Write! Right. Wright?

What up with that? Looks like it was written by a seventh grader.

Ahhhhhh, seventh grade. Fascinating blast from the past. Yes, I remember sitting in Mr. John O’Connell’s class at Marlboro Junior High School (sports nickname: Trojans!!!!) on Main St. in Mayberry RFD (a fond moniker for our beloved hometown, if you will). The year: 1973.

Hi Deb Hodgson (Berard)!! A Facebook friend now and a classmate in the division then. Remember divisions? Ours was 7-4, a number to designate your particular class of about 25 kids. We moved from room to room throughout the day together. Mr. Dalamangas was our homeroom teacher, he the one who owned (still owns?) Family House of Pizza on Maple St. Nice guy, he was — especially for doing such a great job putting up with me and Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Gomez and Stephen Lopez, et al. Wise guys to the core.

Luckily Mr. Downey, the homeroom teacher across the hall in 7-3, only had to deal with us in science class. That guy could take a (figurative) punch. I mean, we were hoolyganz (new spelling, hey, I can’t Wilbur and Orville Wright very well, right, write?)  It was Gomez and me who were the ringleaders on one particular day, sitting near the back on the fourth floor. Bored out of our absolute minds. It was either his or my idea to, hmmm, how do you put this, gently let go (not throw) books out the window so that they would, um, slide down the wall and um, gently, land on the dirt/grass below. The key word combo in that last sentence is “fourth floor.”

Yeah, it feels like my hand is on the book now, window open, holding it so very casually against the bricks outside. Not exactly sure why Mr. Downey put up with us standing up in the middle of class at the back of the room overlooking the Immaculate Conception Church across the street. It must have been study time or something. He probably told us to sit down a handful of times and then wondered why were smiling so much, since the books by now had made the thud.

 

The site of some book floating and the Immaculate Conception Church across the street. Actually,
Mr. Downey’s room was around the corner on the fourth floor of what is now the Walker Building.
Mr. Dalamangas’ room, our homeroom in 7-4, is at the top of the building.

 

What a bunch of idiots, looking back, I guess. I remember going down with Gomez to pick up the books. I think that was the only punishment, along with a nice request to not do it again.

Side note: I was with Carter in Mrs. Butler’s history class in that seventh grade year when we came across a list of U.S governors. We had a good chuckle when we saw the name of Georgia’s: Jimmy Carter, the future president. It was amazing. Same name. Jimmy. Not James. Incredible. And we had no idea at the time that the Southern peanut farmer had presidential aspirations — or even that he was a peanut farmer.

 

My friend Jimmy Carter and President Jimmy Carter. Also, Deb Hodgson Berard,
a classmate at Marlboro Junior High School, division 7-4 in 1973.

 

But that book story is not the focus of this article. Far from it. It does have to do with Marlboroites, though, and also about (amateur and professionale, accent added on that last ‘e’ for effect) writing, and so the ultimate trick will be to weave it all together somehow. Hey, we’ll get there. Stick with it and keep reading (or go float some books).

Well, let’s move into the writing part. It was in that seventh grade class where I remember trying to write a story for pretty much the first time. This was not a book report or anything, where you could research a subject first. Mr. O’Connell told us to use our imagination and write something fictional. Hmmm, what a difficult thing. I spit out something about an auto race (sports, it figures). I must have been in a good mood to even try it because I still have the warning slip from Mr. O’Connell that explicitly reads, “Nick does absolutely nothing.” I kind of look back on that now as a badge of honor, but my wife, the amazing Vince Abramo, cringes when I tell the story.

OK, so my first attempt at fiction writing really sucked, but I can credit Mr. O’Connell for at least pushing the imagination button somewhere deep in the back of my cranium. Even though I did “nothing” in that class as far as output goes, I was somehow listening and a lot of what he said stuck with me. He played a record of the live broadcast adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 book “War of the Worlds” (narrated and directed by Orson Welles in 1938) that, when it originally aired on the radio, scared the wits out of innocent listeners all over the country who were fooled into thinking that an alien attack was occurring.

In that class, we also went over such classics as “The Time Machine” by Wells (no kidding, to this day, my mind immediately wants to blend Orson Welles (of “Citizen Kane” fame) and H.G. Wells into one person, even though I know it’s two different people; in other words, it takes me about a second to separate the two instead of that immediate knowledge that it’s two people) and “A Separate Peace” by (just looked it up) John Knowles. Also, we went by bus on a field trip to see “Sounder,” a hit movie about the dog of a sharecropper (I knew it was about a dog in the South, but just read on the Interweb-o-matic of the sharecropper part; Cicely Tyson was the star of the show) at the Fine Arts Theatre in Maynard — which is still showing movies, by the by, some 47 years later.

Weird. If someone at the time asked which company would be here 47 years later in the blue-collar outpost of Maynard, I would have said Digital Equipment Corporation over the Fine Arts Theatre. And it’s interesting to note that the headquarters of that long gone (1957-1992) major computer player was in a former wool mill. Somewhere along the line, we sold our coats for tech savviness. Did I just right that?

Another story Mr. O’Connell told sticks with me, but I don’t remember how it applied to English or literature. But he gave us a vivid description of the infamous Coconut Grove fire. I’m pretty sure his point was how that incident led to fire laws and maintaining proper and safer exits.

So, where shall this rambling, frolicking tale go next? Well, I guess the point right now is that somehow, even though it seemed pretty impossible back then, I became a writer. And it pays (paid) the bills. So, you little (and big) ones out there, remember that just because something seems hard, don’t stop. Or more to the point: Just because you aren’t capable of doing something in seventh grade, you could be quite capable of doing it later in life. I was fortunate to attend Worcester State College, where I developed a love for writing due to a handful of super caring, passionate professors, none more important to my career path than Leonard Farrey, but that is a story for another day. Oh, and I also luckily stumbled upon my first job under Ralph Grasso at the Marlboro/Hudson Enterprise-Sun. He gave me, a 21-year-old punk, the chance and taught me so, so much.

And then what could possibly come next in this story?

Well, this part is a bit tougher to tell. Let’s go back, for a moment, to the lead sentence: “Writing is easy.”

Well, yes, it can be. It can flow, like it’s doing right now. But in order for it to flow, you have to be filled up with ideas and, also, ready, willing and able to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). For me, a recent low ebb in the writing output department was around longer than usual. Things got kind of busy here in the homestead. We moved across town and the unpacking of boxes and readying the home for habitation was a daily thing for about a month. Actually, it’s still happening.

It got to the point where I was sort of wondering when the passion to sit down and let it roll from the fingertips would come back. Day after day, more boxes, more stuff to buy, more sense of “everything else, including my livelihood, can wait.”

So, there we go, back to the main frame of the screed: I’m back doing what I love to do after a pretty slow period. And, hopefully, this article will slingshot me to that familiar regularity. There are many, many stories I want to tell (from Marlboro and in Hawaii, where I live now) and the list of ideas continues to grow. Some of you reading this right now could be part of an upcoming story or even the main focus of the next one.

Totally random side tangent: Since I mentioned Wilbur and Orville, I wanted to point out that 17 years ago in 2003, I read their story/biography about how they worked diligently to make airplane flight became a reality. Completely fascinating. Bicycle owners and repairmen. They had a grander vision. It had only been 100 years since that dramatic Kitty Hawk flight. Now it’s 117. Time, pardon the pun, flies.

And if it hasn’t dawned on you, the reader, yet, I want to make it clear: Sometimes you don’t have to write a complete, tight, focused story. It can ramble. And this one does.

The last part of this piece has to do with the segment of the headline that reads: “The Amazing Marlboroites Who Have Paid A Visit.”

When I woke up this morning, I had the idea to write about all the hometown people who have visited me in Hawaii since I moved here in 1989, including some super close friends and others who I grew up with that were just passing through and gave me the word that they were in town.

It starts with Peter Reynolds (grew up on Front St.), who was my roommate in Marlboro in 1989. He also moved to Hawaii, in 1991, with Ronnie Vacca (from Everett), who had moved in with Peter in Marlboro after I moved out. Peter’s girlfriend at the time (and now his wife) Robin (Scheuer) also moved out. They had planned to live here temporarily all along, but those plans speeded up after Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai in 1992, and so they returned to Mayberry.

Ronnie, who I spoke with on the phone a few days ago, is still living on the Garden Isle. I moved over to Oahu in 2000 and have been here ever since.

Another early visitor was Matt Gardner, another Marlboro roommate, and his girlfriend (and now wife) Robin Sugar. Matt came out twice, maybe three times.

David “Doc” Lively, who was always looking for (and finding) fun and adventure in the sun in his short life (1961-2017), visited three times. The first time, he came with Ralphie Grasso (son of Ralph Sr.), his and Peter’s classmate at Hudson Catholic (Class of 1980). The second time, he came with his whole family — Laura, his wife at the time, and whichever of his six kids were already born by then, and even his mom, Marion Lively, who was one of the great parents who guided our crew growing up on Grace Circle.

The last time Doc visited was in 2009 and he brought his girlfriend at the time, Elisa Wilson (Marlboro High Class of 1982). Elisa, who grew up closer to Kingsview Rd., and her sister (Dana Wilson) would hang out with the Grace Circle gang from time to time in the mid-1970s.

In the early 1990s, Matt’s brother Timmy (of the Ellis Ave. Gardner family) visited. He was on his honeymoon at the time.

And I can’t forget that Johnny Sullivan (of the Sully’s First Edition Pub lineage) flew out and moved in with Peter and Ronnie for a couple of years. For some time, people had been telling me how good at golf John had gotten and then I got to see it at Poipu Bay Golf Course, the same place I was fortunate enough to cover, interview, write about and introduce myself to Tiger Woods, who was on the island for the the PGA Grand Slam of Golf about five times through the years. I still have a few tees that I picked up after his Tiger’s drives.

Part 1 of a tangent: While covering the Marlboro Classic PGA Senior Tour event in 1983 at MCC, I watched Arnold Palmer’s practice round and wrote about what was an amazing occurrence. He teed off on the Par 5 11th hole and hammered it down the left side (over the infamous stream) and under the willow tree on the left. Then he hammered an iron that landed 40 feet from the hole, to the right side of the green. He walked up to the ball and sent it scurrying across the green, and, no lie, it went right in for an eagle.

In a word: GREATNESS.

Part 2 of a tangent: While covering the PGA Grand Grand Slam of Golf in 1997, Tiger’s first appearance in Hawaii, I saw Woods crush a drive during his practice round on the Par-5 second hole. He slammed his second shot on to the green and sank the putt for an eagle.

In a word: GREATNESS.

 

A photo of a photo by The Garden Island newspaper’s Dennis Fujimoto. Tiger Woods
teeing off. The author, wearing a San Diego Padres cap, is at bottom left.

 

Where were we? Oh yeah, visitors. I hope I don’t leave anyone out.

Lynn Santospago (from Westboro), a friend from the fabulous mid-1980s, and her husband met me and my wife and dog Yaki for dinner and a beach tour.

Bob McMahon, one of my oldest and best Grace Circle/Cetrina Drive friends, flew out in January 1993, not long after Hurricane Iniki. He saw Kauai in all of its devastation and, of course, natural beauty. Bob came out to Kauai again in 2013. His sister Cindy had found a place in Poipu for their whole family to rent to celebrate the 80th birthday of their dad, Joe McMahon, who still is, to this day, probably the finest gentleman I have ever met. Me and my family flew over from Oahu to spend a few days with the McMahons and I was able to get reacquainted with all of them (and their pile of kids) again — Bob’s wife Suzanne Jordan, his sister Cindy and husband Jim McStay, sister Carly, sister Donna and her husband Buddy Santella, and brother Joe.

With the younger Joe, we reminisced about some of the great times growing up. With the older Joe and Buddy, we talked about those grand old days of Marlboro hockey.

Who else came out here? Oh yeah, Maureen MacKinnon along with California friend Rebecca LaRue. Maureen (from Hudson) also moved out to Hawaii for a few years in the mid-1990s for a few years. I think of her every time I watch the movie “Fletch” or hear the B52s song “Is that you Mo-Dean?

Johnny Sullivan’s brother Guy visitied Hawaii about five (or 10) years ago, but we didn’t get together as planned. Somehow, he had the wrong phone number for me, but we spoke on the phone a couple of times before and after the visit.

And Bobby Davis (Marlboro wrestler, Class of 1981) visited me on Kauai in the mid-1990s. He was living on the Big Island at the time. I recall hearing about Bobby living in Hawaii soon after he graduated high school. I also remember his red Volkswagen back in the day.

Another visitor in the 1990s: Richard Rice (of Richard Rice Photography!!!) and his girlfriend at the time. I think we went camping (in a cabin at Kokee) and I remember he told me about a place called Sam’s Club, a warehouse full of goods to buy, which was a new thing then, but still years away from Kauai.

In recent years, there were some delightful visits with lots of reminiscing from John Valianti and his family (including his guitar playing/singing and cross country running son Nick), Nick Nasuti (whose cousin Ronnie is a chef at a Waikiki restaurant, Tiki’s Grill and Bar) and his wife, as well as Karen Williams (from Southboro), and Joe Modugno (mid-1970s Marlboro High soccer center halfback).

Two others were on different islands within the last few years and somehow we didn’t get to meet up — Joan Butler DiCenco, whose cousin runs a Kauai restaurant, and Aldo Torre, a Grace Circle original who was visiting the Big Island.

I know I’m forgetting somebody.

Modugno reminded me how good Lenny Fulham was for MHS soccer and how he was taken too soon. We also talked about the old days of playing kickball during recess at Sgt. Charles J. Jaworek Elementary School.

Nasuti — the owner of Back Bay Sandwich in Boston, a place I would love to visit some day for lunch if he opens up again after COVID-19 — has a ton of stories to tell about his days in print and electronic journalism and going to places like the Cannes Film Festival. Expect to see some of those Nasuti tales here at Bedrock Sports Marlboro some day.

Valianti told me he was part of the group that worked courageously at saving Fenway Park when the owners were planning to tear it down. Interesting side note: I wrote a letter to the Boston Globe at the time (around 2001) of that strangeness, saying how horrendous an idea that would be. My letter was published and signed with a Kauai address. Some reader actually wrote me a letter saying how stupid I was and that I didn’t have any say in it because I was from Hawaii. Gee, my bad (don’t you just love when Pete Davidson, in the role of Chad, says “My Bad” on SNL?; he says “OK” a lot more, but “My Bad” really cracks me up). The sucky writer in me forgot to mention in my letter to the Globe that I grew up in Marlboro and that I watched the Red Sox come close but not quite win it all in 1967, 1972 (finished a half game out of first behind Detroit), 1975, 1978 (Bucky Dent) and 1986 and how Fenway was the glue that held all of those great moments together. The amazing park. The gathering place. The magnificent wall. History. They wanted it to tumble down. Incredible. Sounds blasphemous now, but it may have happened with only minor tears if people like Valianti didn’t stand up and fight.

Well, Valianti (a former Marlboro City Councilor) knew better. And so did I. I have the clip of that letter to the Globe somewhere (perhaps in the boxes still unpacked from the move) and I also have that letter from the annoyed fan. For posterity.

In a sand touch football game at the famous Waimea Bay (home of the famous Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surf contest) a few years ago, I remember throwing the winning touchdown pass to Nick Valianti. My sons E.J. and Nicholas (two more cross country runners) also played in that game.

The rock at Waimea Bay, a place where swimmers often jump off into the ocean 40 or 50 feet below. To the right
of that, not in photo, is one of the most famous surf breaks in the world, where the Eddie Aikau Big Wave
Invitational is held. Less than 200 yards in the foreground (not in photo) is the site of a touch football
game involving the Abramos and the Valiantis a few years ago.

 

And speaking of saving ballparks, things have a way of coming full circle. And since I’m a master at making short stories long (in print and speaking), I must start this last segment with Trey Beamon, who played for the Kauai Emeralds in Hawaii Winter Baseball. It was a minor league circuit in the early 1990s, a training ground — so to speak — for future stars to get extra work in. This was the real deal, even though attendance was low. Ichiro Suzuki and Jason Giambi are just two of the HWB players who made it huge. Craig Counsell, who won two World Series and is now the Milwaukee Brewers manager, was another one.

My recollection of watching Giambi, by the way, was that he consistently hit hard line drives for extra bases and not home runs, which he was famous for doing when he got to the majors.

But what does Trey Beamon have to do with this? In 1997, I went to San Diego to visit Bob McMahon, and as a side highlight to the trip, I went to cover a Padres game. I think it was Fernando Valenzuela’s last MLB start, a 9-0 loss to the Houston Astros and pitcher Darryl Kile.

The idea to cover a game while on the San Diego trip came about because earlier that year I had covered the Padres vs. Cardinals three-game set at Aloha Stadium, historic because those were the first regular season MLB games ever in Hawaii. (Side note: In the Sunday finale of that “Paradise Series,” Ron Gant hit an inside-the-park homer and I’m pretty sure Rickey Henderson stole one of his 1,406 career bases.

So here I am in San Diego (with the idea to write about Beamon for Kauai readers at The Garden Island newspaper, where I was the sports editor), and the Padres’ public relations people just happened to be so friendly that they set me up for an interview with general manager Larry Lucchino.

And with Bob (who I got a press pass for, as my assistant reporter) by my side, we listened to Lucchino talk about the upcoming San Diego downtown ballpark. Lucchino previously had been a pioneer of the Orioles’ Camden Yards when he was the GM in Baltimore.

Later, we all know now, Lucchino came to Boston!!!! And as the GM with the Red Sox, he had a big hand in constructing their first World Series championship team since 1918 — in 2004. He also was the man behind “SAVING and ENHANCING” (quotation marks because I stole those superbly descriptive words from in Internet site) Fenway despite a movement to tear it down. Remember, we can thank guys like Lucchino (and, hey, don’t forget John Valianti!!!) for winning the fight.

Was it a coincidence that two Marlboro boys met Lucchino in San Diego in 1997 and talked about his inspiration for new ballparks just seven years before every Red Sox fan’s dream came true due to Lucchino’s fine tailoring of the hometown lineup and his amazing ability to show passion for the old grand dame we know as Fenway?
 
No, I like to think it was serendipity. Like-minded people on the same wavelength. Eh, but you can call it a coincidence if you want.
 
How ironic in a way, though, write? To hammer the point home, the man who was all about bringing old-time charm to NEW parks and ending the trend of metal and concrete caverns with artificial turf that were all the rage in the 1970s was also instrumental in keeping tradition alive at OLD parks.

So, remember, writing can be easy when you get rolling. It sure is a long way from the barometer of my scholastic-ness in 1973: “Nick does absolutely nothing.”

Thanks Mr. O’Connell, Mr. Farrey and Mr. Grasso.

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RELATED STORY FROM THE BEDROCK SPORTS SISTER SITES IN MARLBORO AND HAWAII: No 2020 Marlboro Vs. Hudson Thanksgiving Day Game; Are You Kidding ME????!!!!
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