How likely would it be for representatives from the four Athol High School undefeated football teams, spanning 52 years, to gather together for a photograph and a trip down memory lane? Particularly with the oldest being 98 years old?
While the odds would seem unlikely, the meeting did take place in September at the Gardner apartment complex of Claude Marchegiani, a halfback on the undefeated 1932 team, the first in school history and the first to defeat, ironically, Gardner.
Representing the 1949 team in the photo was guard Gene May of Winchendon. Quarterback Rocky Stone was to represent the 1962 team but had to cancel at the last minute due to the funeral of a close friend and was replaced by guard Bill Page and halfback Dennis Paquet. Tight end Larry McLaughlin and guard Bill Page Jr. represented the 1984 team, the last to be undefeated.
Despite the broad range of ages, the old Red Raiders made instant contact, sharing an Athol background, a football camaraderie, and a pride in what they had done. The sports chatter extended for more than an hour.
The centerpiece, of course, was Marchegiani, whom local realtor Jerry Godin of the 1949 team credits as “one tough, strong guy” in the tradition of the family cobbler shop on Exchange Street in Athol. He was, in a way, like finding a missing treasure. Everyone had assumed that no member of that 1932 team could still be alive. They would be wrong.
A retired Gardner grocery store manager, Marchegiani still exhibits a sharp mind and memory, a surprising physical mobility, and a genuine human warmth. He greets a visitor with a firm two-handed shake and a friendly smile. This man has some stories to tell.
Teams from that time period, for example, changed into uniforms at the YMCA before marching down Main Street to Fish Park for practices and played games at Brookside Park between Athol and Orange. “There used to be a park there,” he recalls, “but it’s now grown over.” (“The location of Brookside Park was just over the Orange town line,” says Stone in an earlier conversation. “The park not only hosted football games but also baseball games and big band concerts. It was located on the trolley line between Athol and Orange. The park was destroyed by the ’38 hurricane. If you visited the site now, you’d never imagine what a gem of a place it was at one time.”) In Marchegiani’s senior year, the team moved uptown to games at the fairgrounds in front of the old covered wooden grandstand, still the site of Athol home games, minus the grandstand. “I played in the very first game up there,” he says.
May, a retired manager of metal cutting tool plants, including the Union Twist Drill in Athol, remembers that grandstand as well.
“Oh, sure. Athol used to have an annual town fair. They used to have harness racing up there. The grandstand would be filled for our games, with six or seven deep on the sidelines. We had big high school football crowds.”
“There used to be roller skating and dancing below the grandstand,” adds Marchegiani. “They tried lots of things (on that enclosed hardwood floor).”
Stone, first a player and later a teacher and coach at Athol High, still coaches part-time at Narragansett Regional. Old habits die hard. He is a living library of Athol sports lore. He originally agreed to represent his team at the photo op before having to excuse himself, but he is a bit sensitive to all the attention going to the quarterback when others played such important roles.
Finally, McLaughlin, now an attorney in Athol, sums up a special bond between members of an unbeaten team, even years later. “It’s unspoken,” he says. “You see each other on the street and you grin. You know what the other one is thinking. ‘We did something special. We had fun doing it.’ Just a grin and a nod.”