By STEVE KRAUSE
On Sept. 2, 1918, just over two months before World War I would end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Cpl. John Enos Blocksidge of Swampscott, who had enlisted into the U.S. Army the previous April, was killed in action by enemy shell fire at the Battle of Juvigny, north of Soissons, in France.His body, initially buried in the American cemetery in Aisne, was returned to the United States in 1921 and reinterred in the Swampscott Cemetery with military honors.
In 1935, Town Meeting voted to build a football field at Phillips Park, and a year later, bleachers were constructed. That field became known as Blocksidge Field, and also became the nexus of as much athletic history as any venue on the North Shore.
The common thread, of course, was the legendary Stan Bondelevitch, who came to town as the football coach in 1953 and almost immediately changed the mascot of the school from Sculpin (a “bottom-feeder,” as he called it) to the “Big Blue.”
Under Bondy’s direction, and with the help of such luminaries as Dick Lynch and Frank DeFelice, the Big Blue had a long and storied heyday — all of it played out at Blocksidge Field.
There were undefeated football seasons in 1957, 1958, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1972 (the ’72 team won the first-ever Division 2 Super Bowl, 28-21, over Catholic Memorial).
The names roll off any Swampscott sports fan’s tongue even now — a half century after they played at Blocksidge. There were the pros: Billy Adams. Dick Jauron. Tommy Toner. Eddie Toner. And there were all the players who, though they didn’t play in the NFL, certainly helped take those glory days to unparalleled heights, both before and after the Bondelevitch era: Bob Carlin. Sandy Tennant. Mike Lynch. The Beatrices. Dick Pollison. Todd McShay. Peter Woodfork.
They, and so many more, put a town of roughly 13,000 on the national high school sports map for almost a half century. And all of it happened on the football field erected in 1935 at Phillips Park and named for John Enos Blocksidge.
But by 2010, Blocksidge Field was starting to show its age and the first of many efforts to modernize the facility got underway. It would prove to be a frustrating effort. Even watching part of the visitor’s-side bleachers collapse during the annual Swampscott-Marblehead Powder Puff football game in 2013 didn’t hasten the process, though, as Selectman Peter Spellios said, “it may have a lot to do with the fact that this finally got done.”
Spellios was the liaison between the town and the All-Blue Committee, the last of many boards that were established to see this project through. And finally, earlier this month, on Saturday, Sept. 9, the town gathered on the new, all-purpose turf field, with new bleachers, a new press box, and plans to install lights by the spring, a playground for children, and, ultimately, a new concession stand.
It took seven years of planning, pleading and perseverance before the ribbon (blue, naturally) could be cut to open the refurbished Blocksidge Field.
“Sometimes,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott resident, on hand for opening ceremonies, “you have to lose to win.”
Baker wasn’t just making a remark about his own journey to the corner office, which included a 2010 loss to Gov. Deval Patrick, but the arduous trek that resulted in the ribbon-cutting.
Baker served on one of the committees that was formed along the way, and that board’s recommendations were turned down by 2012 Town Meeting.
“But,” said Scott Faulkner of the All-Blue Foundation, which helped oversee the final construction of the project, “that wasn’t the end of it. A study committee was formed, and we did the research and presented a new plan in May 2013.”
One of the big sticking points to getting the turf-field built was the infill. On most fields, including Manning in Lynn, the infill consists of cut-up rubber, which was seen as a health hazard by the town’s Board of Health. On Blocksidge, coconut husks were used.
“I think,” said Recreation Director Danielle Strauss, “solving that issue was a turning point in getting this project off the ground.
“I’ve been here 12 years,” she said. “And there were times when I wondered whether I’d still be recreation director when this got done.”
Faulkner agrees with Strauss about the turning point. To a point.
“To me, the turning point came when Town Meeting approved of the project in 2015,” he said. “But the infill situation went a long way toward getting it approved.”
However, getting approval was contingent upon other factors, the biggest being a condition that $300,000 of the $2 million cost had to be raised privately.
“This type of public/private partnership is kind of underappreciated,” said Spellios. “This took some time. But good things often do, and they take a lot of work. This was a major investment in the community, and it’s now a point of pride.”
Spellios added that planning and fundraising is ongoing to add some necessary ingredients to the field. One donor last week pledged money so that lights can be erected by the spring. The footing has been poured, but that’s as far as that project has gotten.
“The person said that he didn’t want to hear that any athlete had to leave school early so he or she could get a game in,” Spellios said. “Because of that, there will be lights in the spring.”
Spellios also said that another donor has earmarked money for the playground.
At the Sept. 9 opening ceremonies, the stands were full and there were people lined up along the fence to watch the dedication ceremony.
“This is an inspiration,” said Roger Volk, the public address announcer at Big Blue football games. “This all happened because of the love the people here have for their town. It’s been a long time coming.”
The turf has been lined for football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. It has a new, state-of-the-art press box that rises on top of aluminum bleachers.
Current plans do not include putting stands on the visitor’s side of the field, said Public Works Director Gino Cresta, because the planners thought it might interfere with the baseball field at Phillips Park. Cresta hopes one day there is a new concession stand on the far end of the stadium.
Cresta, point man for the final phase of the project, said the area in front of the field house, which used to an entrance to the stadium, will be paved and a landscaped area for buses to drop off athletes. The new entrance will be off Bondelevitch Way, the street that goes from Humphrey Street to the parking lot, named in 2011 for the legendary coach. The town is actively seeking funds to finish the project.
“We hope,” Cresta said, “that when people see how beautiful it is, it’ll encourage them to contribute.”
Cresta’s daughter, Sydney, is a member of the field hockey team that played its first game at the new facility the Tuesday after the Sept. 9 opening.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “The turf is going to be great for field hockey.
“I know how much work my dad put into this project,” she said. “He was down here just about every day.”
Baker noted the irony that both of his sons played Big Blue football, yet the first game on the new field would be girls soccer (won by Swampscott, 2-0).
“I wonder how (John E. Blocksidge) would feel about this,” said Baker. “Isn’t it great we have given this field a facelift that that person who fought and died for his country could appreciate?”
Steve Krause is Sports editor of the Daily Item of Lynn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.