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1939: The First BHS Football Squad

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, October 2, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 015)


The 25 young men seated or standing in a group before the new plush curtains of the stage in the Burlington High School gymnasium looked directly into the camera lens. Sporting uniforms never used before and numbered from one to 24, they looked alert and confident. Those boys made up the first football team that Burlington High School had even fielded and they were proud of that fact, The year was 1939 and the Town of Burlington had just opened the doors of its new and first high school.

The coach was a Boston University senior and all-around athlete named Russ Lawry, whose football background was Weston High School and the varsity team at BU. He had met his small group of players the previous spring at an organizational meeting held in the Union School.

Of the nine seniors who played that season, eight had attended the 11th grade in Lexington the previous year. Seven of the juniors on the team had just completed the 10th grade in Concord. The two sophomores had spent the previous year as students in Bedford Junior High School. Only the baby of the team – the only freshman – simply moved up from Burlington’s Union School.

From such a diverse background and with no experience of playing together as members of any one school did Mr. Lawry mold a fighting team which functioned remarkably well that first season. He must have felt gratified to have his inexperienced team set a record of one win, three losses and three ties. With only three preliminary scrimmages, two with Reading High and one with Weston, that team beat Acton 24-13, tied Dracut, Millis and Hopkinton, lost to Billerica only by a score of 6-0, and then to the powerhouses of the time, North Andover and Wilmington by scores of 27-0 and 20-7 respectively. Nothing really to brag about, but taking everything into consideration, that record wasn’t a bad beginning.

The first of many future athletic banquets was held that year sponsored by enthusiastic supporters who donated 25 cents each to help various organizations in town support it. It was held December 28 in the high school cafeteria. The first Suburban Lowell Football Conference also was organized that year by representatives from Dracut, Tewksbury, Burlington, North Andover and Chelmsford. Coach Lawry, Athletic Director Harold Norton and Principal Donald Dunnan represented Burlington, which had the unenviable distinction of being the smallest school in the Conference from point of view of enrollment.

It was a great start for Burlington athletics, but world affairs were in an uproar that year and that roar was to reach even a little town like Burlington in a very short time. Germany invaded Poland the first of September and a World War initiated by a madman burst upon the world and grew with frightening speed. The United States adopted peacetime conscription for the first time in its history by the Selective Training and Service Act of September 1940.

But some of the Burlington boys mentioned here did not wait. Maurie O’Connor and Chet Hayward left before graduation to join the Army, and Cooney, Piper and Carey were in the service before the end of 1941, with eight more under arms before the end of 1942, and four more of that 1939 football team enlisting in 1943.

Shortly before eight o’clock on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Stationed at Hickham Field that morning was a Burlington boy, Private Lawrence Carey, U.S. Army Corps.

Larry Carey had the distinction of being the first boy who ever captained a Burlington High School football team. He also had the distinction of having been the captain-elect of the 1939 Lexington team, an honor the Burlington boy was unable to hold because the local school did open that year. It was reported that he was a powerhouse on the defense, on offense his passing was exceptional, and his leadership was inspirational. It was that leadership which kept that first season from being a total disaster.

A casualty of the straffing at Hickham, Private Carey was invalided home early in 1942. To show what his hometown thought of him, the newly organized Burlington High School Alunmi Association, with the whole hearted support of such town organizations as the Grange, Civic Club, Catholic Womens’ Guild, Ladies Benevolent Society, P.T.A. and others, sponsored a Testimonial Dinner to Burlington’s first casualty of the war. It was held at the Burlington Country Club in July of 1942. The toastmaster was Lt. Kenneth Dobbins, then a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Hostesses for the affair were Mrs. Mary Bennett, chairlady; Miss Evelyn Bamberg, Miss Elaine Bowman and Miss Mary Plummer.

Because of the war, no football team was organized in 1942 and the sport was not placed into the athletic program again until 1945. The Athletic Association did not function either during ’42 and ’43 but was reorganized in 1944 primarily to recognize those youngsters who played basketball. As Harold Norton said in his report for 1942, “Already the boys who have left this school before graduating are stationed in far distant battlefields from the jungles of New Guinea to recently occupied North Africa.” Although none of that 1939 team was killed in action, Burlington was to lose 12 of its sons before the fighting ceased.

Now, 40 years later, Burlington’s total school population has grown from 566 to 5745 students, the high school enrollment has jumped from 149 to 2079 and, the number of boys out for football this year reached the staggering total of 158. On the original team there were 10 seniors, 12 juniors, two sophomores and one freshman. Today Coach Bill O’Donnell has 30 seniors, 37 juniors, 40 sophomores and 51 freshmen. From what information is available, the football team Burlington put on the field in 1939 saw Martikke playing full- back, Verville playing tackle; Drapeau and Marchi were guards; the rest played end or line or where needed for both offense and defense.

Today’s Varsity Football Roster lists four captains – Kevin McGonagle, Charles Ferguson, Paul Christiansen and Doug Metcalf. Five boys are listed as wide receivers, a position never mentioned in 1939. Now Coach O’Donnell, with the help of his assistant coaches, four of whom are Burlington High School graduates, can make any number of changes to place an excellent offensive team on the field and replace it with just as good a defensive team when needed.