By Dan Shine
WHHS Football 1968
An Autumn to Remember
Teamwork is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there. ~Virginia Burden
Every story begins somewhere: From the time Tom Lavery was six or seven, most of his free time was devoted to sports: in summer, it was baseball; during the cooler months, it was football. The kids in his Terrace Avenue neighborhood didn’t need uniforms or any other equipment—they couldn’t afford much anyway—they played ball in vacant lots until their mothers called them home for lunch; later they returned, and played until suppertime. If it was still light out after they finished supper, they went back out and played some more, until darkness prevailed and the streetlights came on—which in those days was the signal that it was time to go home.
Back in the Fifties, the proliferation of organized youth sports was years away, and daytime television had little to offer. And the kids of that era had an enormous amount of freedom to come and go as they pleased. Tom Lavery sums it up by saying, “Even though we didn’t have much, we had everything.”
By the time Tom was eleven, he had gotten very serious about football, and as the neighborhood boys grew older, one neighborhood group would challenge another neighborhood to a friendly game of tackle football. They would meet on a Saturday: they needed no helmets, no protective padding, just a ball and a vacant lot. To them, playing sandlot football was far more interesting than watching professional football on television.
Tom’s years of practice games, diligence and sincere effort eventually paid off: he was made the starting WHHS halfback on the 1968 team; for his years of preparation in sandlot football had taught him sportsmanship and teamwork, and it had developed in him that competitive edge that is so necessary to excelling as an athlete.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, and unbeknownst to Tom, Steve Johnson was preparing himself in a similar manner; and over on Savin Avenue, Bert Siclari was doing the same; and likewise, over in the West Shore, Burt Cohen, Art Nugent and Ed Francis were also doing what boys do: horsing around in a Jones Hill Road sandlot, playing football, and having fun.
All that any of them knew was that they were having a good time with their friends; little did they know that in their own way, they were all laying the groundwork for a momentous, unforgettable season that lay just a few years ahead.
And ultimately, they would make sports headlines, and the crowds would cheer, and Westies would be proud to be associated with this team; and their story would echo down through the years, to be told and retold, again and again.
We would like to thank Bert Siclari, Burt Cohen, Ed Francis, Steve Johnson, Ted Williams and especially Tom Lavery for their patient assistance in the creation of this column, and the retelling of this tale.