MARBLEHEAD — Former state representative Steve Walsh, keynote speaker at Thursday night’s Item All-Star Football Dinner at Tedesco Country Club, asked the All-Stars present at the banquet: “What do you want your headline to be?”
Walsh, currently president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, served six terms in the Massachusetts House. He is also an active football referee who has officiated in several state playoff games as well as the annual Agganis football game, and he shared a humorous story about House Speaker Robert DeLeo, (D-Winthrop), and his reaction to a call Walsh made in a game involving the Vikings.
“I walked into the chamber,” Walsh told the audience, “and I’d never realized that Bob DeLeo, the speaker, was a big Winthrop football fan. So there he is, up on the dais, and he yells down to me, ‘that was not holding!'”
However, Walsh struck a mostly serious tone with the players, basing his remarks on headlines from local newspapers, including the Item, and paying particular attention to the exploits of the 25 Lynn-area players picked for the team.
“This talk really isn’t about football,” he said. “I want to talk about headlines.”
He told the players how they could write their own headlines by how they conducted themselves, both on the field and off, and how they handled the privilege of leadership bestowed upon them either by their abilities or their roles as captains.
“Before every game,” he said, “I tell the kids (at the coin toss) that they have been chosen as leaders on their team, and not only to conduct themselves accordingly, but to make sure their teammates do too.”
While he told the players he admired them very much for being able to do what he could never do very well (“I was a very lackluster football player”) he also went over some hard realties with them.
“Let’s say,” he said, “that 10 of you will play in Division III, six of you will play in Division II and two of you go Division I. I’ll wager none of you will play pro football.”
He drove that point home later in his talk.
“The Oxford Dictionary came out with its Word of the Year, and do you know what that word is? Toxic. Now is a very difficult time.
“We’re living in an age where the odds are more athletes will be hooked on opioids than will play pro ball. I graduated from (St. John’s Prep) in 1995, and that year there were only two gun-related deaths in schools. This year there were 55.”
He also said that one of the great things about being on an athletic team is how it equalized people.
“You put a helmet and a uniform on everybody and you don’t see many differences,” he said. “Just that you’re all on the same team.”
He urged the players to remember their coaches, and to honor all the people who helped them along the way.
“Which coach helped you?” he asked. “Are you going to pay it forward?
“Tonight,” he said, “is not about football. It’s about leadership. Don’t stop leading. Ever. And I ask you to remember one thing: What do you want your headline to be? Choose that very wisely.”
The dinner, in its 73rd year, was founded by the late Item publisher Peter Gamage. It honors the 25 best players on the North Shore as picked by the Item sports staff, with input from the area’s coaches.
Bill Newell, who broadcast a full slate of games this fall on the web-streaming service MSONEWSports, served as the master of ceremonies.
Special awards were presented to English High quarterback Matt Severance (Player of the Year), Brian St. Pierre of St. John’s Prep (Coach of the Year), Keith Ridley of Classical (Scholar-Athlete), Rayan Riazi of Revere (Special Teams Player of the Year), Emerson Ramirez of Lynn Tech (Defensive Player of the Year) and Wes Rockett of St. John’s Prep (Offensive Player of the Year).