Former sports editor Paul Rich reflects on Bill Tighe’s legacy

May 14, 2020 by

Published in the May 14, 2020 edition.

Legendary teacher/coach Bill Tighe passed away on April 15 at the age of 95. Tighe started his career at Wakefield High School in 1949. He influenced many people in the Wakefield community, including former Wakefield Daily Item sports editor Paul Rich, who started covering Wakefield High sports as a sophomore in 1952 and was sports editor until 1963.

After stints at Tufts, Channel 5, Metromedia Producers, and DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group in Los Angeles, Rich is still engaged as an executive in the film and television production and distribution business.
He lives in Bel Air, CA with his wife, and has four children and nine grandchildren.

The following is a letter from Paul Rich about Bill Tighe:

To me, Bill Tighe reduced everything in life down to the simplest solutions. He was a pragmatist of the highest order.

Famed author David Halberstam said it best: “Sports is the measure of a man. The rest of the world is more subtle, more open to analysis, judgments. Sports is simple.”

When one of his players was faced with a personal problem at home, Bill didn’t merely talk with the young man. He went to the player’s home that very night and talked it out with him and his parents until together they found a solution.

All the time I covered Wakefield High football for the local and Boston papers, I sat but mostly stood cheering in the press boxes around the league, envying the players’ role on the field, leaning into each play, wishing I could be that scatback sweeping the end with big tackles paving the way.

In fact, on the Monday after one game when the team gathered to critique the film play-by-play, it was noted many times when the Warriors made a great play that the picture would jump radically. Coach picked up the phone to complain to the cameraman, who humbly excused himself and said, ‘It was that young reporter from the Item. He was jumping up and down all during the game.’

Next week, I was covering the action on the ground, far from any cameras.

I began writing about WHS teams in 1952, my sophomore year in high school, receiving two cents for each inch of copy I authored. I also started a business printing up each home game’s football programs at 25 cents a pop, and all the advertising money I could garner from Wakefield’s sympathetic and supportive merchants.

With Bill Tighe’s tutoring, I learned how to probe deeply into the personalities and strategies of high school football. As they say in today’s public relations lingo, he knew how to create buzz, spin a story (in a positive way), and give backgrounders before and after games.

He and his assistant, Lou Racca, would convey to me all the storylines I needed to not only write daily news accounts of the team but to fill my Friday edition Sports Chatter column with what at that time I considered TMZ-style ‘gossip’ about his players and opponents. Sometimes direct quotes from Bill, others ‘anonymous’ sources.

In the end, I was captured — hook, line, and sinker — in the Tighe Doctrine. He was not just coaching a team. He was, in effect, raising and arming a crusade. Warriors dedicated to a cause. A mission. To do nothing short of being champions.

Imagine the nerve of this guy and his acolytes. Brand new to head coaching in ‘57. A team of newbies and, in some cases, misfits. To think they were so bold to take on the likes of mean Joe Hoague’s Melrose Raiders and crafty Henry Knowlton’s Winchester Sachems, powerhouses with a tradition of not only winning every year – but literally pounding the daylights out of opponents.

A 135-pound quarterback with no experience as a starter? You got to be kidding. And then pitting this Mighty Mouse against the likes of Wilbur Wood, who had the size, poise, and skills of a pro quarterback for Belmont. Just like all the others who defied Bill’s wizardry, there was no question who came out on top.

“My relationship with Bill went beyond football. When I was a scrawny freshman and got hip-checked into a radiator in the WHS gym, Bill took me to his office, poured some rubbing alcohol or witch hazel on my wounded scalp, patted me on the back, and said, ‘Get back in there, kid, it’s only a scratch!’

I wasn’t much of an interscholastic athlete. But I did benefit from his intramural sports coaching. Nothing in the U.S. Army’s grueling gauntlet drills could hold a candle to Bill’s inventive Commando Basketball Tournaments which literally was tackle football on the hardcourt.

He was the only high school coach I ever heard of who taught boxing in gym classes; he had a way of pitting the best boxers against the town bullies. You never heard much from those guys afterwards.

It carried over into his family life. My wife Dolly and I knew and loved Bill and his angelic wife Mary. We worked annually to raise money for the Wakefield Cystic Fibrosis Fund to help Bill and Mary’s two afflicted kids and others. Once a month or so, a gang of us former protégés of Bill and just friends/fans of the coach (such as Ralph Lazzaro, Johnny and Billy Moore, Bob Dolbeare, Bob McKenna and Patsy Zagaria) would gather at one or the others’ homes to eat, sing, and be merry.

Yes, sing. One night, under Bill’s leadership on the banjo, we knocked off more than 200 songs from ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ to ‘Oklahoma’. We usually didn’t quit until around 3 a.m.

The night Bill was voted in as head coach by the Lexington School Committee, I got a call around 11 p.m.. I was in my pajamas. It was Bill. ‘Paul, we’re having a party here in Lynnfield, come on over. I just got named to run the football program at Lexington. We’re celebrating.’ I took one look at the stern look on my wife’s face …..and instantly begged off. He insisted……actually pleaded.

I jumped into some clothes, and dashed out. When I got to the house, all I could say was, ‘My wife’s going to kill me for this.’ Bill was unperturbed. He said, ‘I’ll take care of Dolly. Give me the phone.’ When my wife answered on the other end, Bill led the guys in a chorus of ‘Hello, Dolly.’ That was the charismatic, charming side of Bill.

The highlight for me was the 1963 trip to Washington where President Kennedy tossed a football around the Rose Garden with Bill and his superb athletes just a half year before he was killed in Dallas.

There I was, a wide-eyed 26-year-old reporter, standing at the door to the Oval Office when suddenly appeared two feet away from me……JFK, as I live (…and almost stopped breathing).

I was there to report and shoot photos for the Wakefield Item and the Boston Herald-American. (A snowstorm kept me from attending Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961, so this White House visit was especially memorable for me.)

If it wasn’t for Bill, I wouldn’t have had that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Without Bill, I wonder where I – and many others – would be today.

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