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Sean Stellato's football story has echoes of Dr. King's struggles

Highschool football players in pre-game prayer
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

In 1963 , while jailed, Martin Luther King wrote a riveting letter of appeal for unity and non -violent action to bring attention to the struggle against the darkness of bigotry in the south. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” remains a defining treatise in our nation's history in a period where authority was pitted against activism in an eternal struggle for justice predicated on erasing the spectre of racism. The contest was in words and deeds. The actions and the resulting violence was often unbridled and always irrational since the propensity for people enabled with authority and motivated by misguided principles often assume roles that are beyond a standard of acceptability. The images of violence, and abuse of power remain a sadly defining , but yet inspirational event in our history.

31 years later the Salem News depicted a remarkable story about authority that reached beyond its scope where forceful, official excess unabashedly disguised as legitimate order erupted in public disclocation. The story, at first passing was that of school boys in a football contest determined to set records straight and make history that inevitably would grow larger in significance- in their minds- as they grew older . But the November 14, 1994 “Stellato works Flutie Magic” was a thinly veiled accounting of a larger event that had produced the game.

Due to a bewildering set of events that emanated from a teacher's strike two weeks prior, on Halloween , school officials issued internal orders to Coach Ken Perrone and his staff to terminate their involvement with the school boys while a teacher's strike was underway. Following these edicts, official documents emblazoned with “cease and desist order” were distributed and served upon an unsuspecting Coach and his staff.

These actions fueled further explosive events when followed by threats of job loss and defamatory statements announced openly by school officials. The intimidation by police and officials was unrelenting for days and yet the response of the coaches, even while they were facing job loss and arrest, was remarkably aligned with the struggles of the civil rights movement 3 decades prior. They announced their intent at any cost to guide their boys to the games and play to win! They uniformly delivered their non-violent response to the injustice. The showdown was on an the struggle transformed into a national news item

The final game between Salem and Swampscott was an epic battle. Emotions ran high as 12.000 people watched a contest of wills not only among school boys, but also authority and the newly born activist coaching staff.

The fortitude of King and countless legions of marchers, protestors and activists who subscribed to the principles of non-violent action as an interim measure to force a negotiated settlement , when negotiation was not immediately possible was a splendid lesson of American history and culture revisited on a gridiron. Those boys learned this lesson during those riveting weeks alongside their game plan.

It wasn't lost on many that the final game occurred in the crucible of injustice in our own history where 300 years earlier hatred , bigotry and perhaps the same madness that swept Salem on Halloween night of 1994 produced the most heralded example of unjust authority gone arry during the Salem Witch Trials.

Joe D'Amore
Groveland, MA

Sean Stellato’s book is published by
Sean Stellato and Mascot Books
Copyright: Sean Stellato- 2014

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