The enduring Harry Agganis legacy is celebrated anew

Marcus Taylor of Lynn Tech heard all about the Agganis legacy from his family. His great-grandfather, Charles Panias, was a teammate at Classical. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Charles Panias was a teammate of Harry Agganis at Lynn Classical High School in the 1940s — something he has obviously cherished through the years.

This year, his great-grandson, Marcus Taylor, has fulfilled a dream he’s had since he was 10 years old: to play in the football game named for his great-grandfather’s teammate.

That’s when he first heard of Harry Agganis and the Agganis All-Star games. It’s also when he first got into football.

Thursday night, he will take the field as a defensive back on the North squad that will be coached by his high school coach, Lynn Tech’s James Runner. He’s itching to go.

Agganis was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at Classical who later starred on gridiron at Boston University. After college, he played with the Boston Red Sox. But he developed a lung infection in June of 1955, and a pulmonary embolism killed him on June 27.

His death shocked the City of Lynn to its core. As attorney Thomas Demakis, chairman of the Agganis Foundation said Sunday at the awards ceremony that precedes the week of athletic events in Agganis’ honor, “there wasn’t a funeral home large enough for a wake. It had to be held at the Greek church (St. George’s on the Lynn Common).”

The foundation was established shortly after Agganis’ death at the behest of Demakis’ father, Charles, by The Item and the Red Sox.

This will be the 57th football game, which, for years, served as the principal fundraiser for the foundation that has, including this year, awarded 964 scholarships totaling $1,955,000. Baseball was added 24 years ago, and the other seven games in the years following.

“I always heard that (Agganis) was the best man you’d ever want to meet,” said Taylor. “And that he was an amazing athlete, humble, and a great man to have as your teammate. A real role model.

“All I wanted to do was be a captain of my team, win a title, and play in this game. Now, I’m going to be able to do all three.”

Taylor was captain of last fall’s Tech team that went 12-1 and won the state vocational title.

“We had a bit of a chip on our shoulders this year because we felt that the rest of the city looked down on us,” said Taylor. “But they can’t do that now. Not after the season we had.”

Taylor was injured, still recovering from a shoulder separation, when Tech lost its only game, a Division 8 North final to Cathedral.

“That tore my heart out,” he said. “I said to my teammates the next day that I never wanted to feel that way again. Let’s go out and finish the season strong.”

Tech won the two state vocational playoff games to take the title.

Taylor will join hundreds of athletes over the course of the week who will take part in nine different sports to commemorate Agganis’ legacy. Softball and baseball were played Sunday. Also on top are girls and boys basketball (tonight, 6 and 7:15 at St. Mary’s Tony Conigliaro Gym), boys and girls soccer (Tuesday, 5:30 and 7 at Manning Field), girls and boys lacrosse (Wednesday, same venue and times) and football (Thursday, Manning, 7).

Sunday’s ceremony was also given over to five new inductees into the Agganis Hall of Fame: Peter C. Pedro (posthumously) received the Elmo Benedetto Athletics Award, Councilor-at-large Buzzy Barton the Paul F. Cavanagh Award, the Salem News’ Matt Williams the David C. Weidner Media Award; Steven Antonakes the Charles Demakis Heritage Award, and James Baldini the Harold O. Zimman Foundation Award.

The Benedetto Award is of special significance for the family of Pedro, who died two months ago. Pedro was one of Lynn’s most celebrated athletes.

“He’d be so proud, and so honored,” said his daughter, Helen Brown, who accepted on her father’s behalf. “He always loved these games, and he was so dedicated to the youth in Lynn, both his own children and grandchildren, and those throughout the city.”

Antonakes, executive vice president for enterprise risk management at Eastern Bank, said, “it’s wonderful to be part of this program. It’s a great honor.

“Harry was larger than life,” said Antonakes. “Growing up at St. George’s, everybody knew about Harry. We all played basketball at the church, and of course, the tournament in April was a really big deal. We grew up knowing all about Harry and his legacy.”

Williams, 33 (“same as Harry’s number,” he quipped) has covered the Agganis games for nearly a decade with the News.

“I always look forward to these games,” he said. “I love to see the teams exchange patches. How else could you get a kid from Salem to wear the Panther Paw of Beverly?

“I was never good enough to be in this game, but I’d go to see my buddies play in it. Now, I’m in a job where I can write about it. What could be better?”

Barton, who coached both girls and boys basketball at English in addition to his duties as councilor, said the biggest honor for him is that “I knew Paul Cavanagh. He was a wonderful person, and a real role model for guys like myself. He was someone you could look up to all your life.

“I go way back with the Cavanagh family,” said Barton. “I’m honored to be in the company I’m in.”

Baldini last year endowed two scholarships in his name to Lynn students going on to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects in college.

“This foundation has served the area very well,” said Baldini. “I had this in mind because I think it’s important for for kids to have the tools to climb the economic and social ladder, especially kids from Lynn. I grew up in Lynn and there were all kinds of people who helped me.”

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