For 13 years leading into the 1982 football season, George Ottaviani was a dependable presence on the Haverhill sidelines.
After playing four years of basketball and being co-captain of the baseball team in Haverhill, his job was to keep track of the statistics during the Hillies’ games, a task done with such care and accuracy that the volunteer’s work was often needed by media members who couldn’t match Ottaviani’s meticulous record-keeping.
But the 40-year-old wasn’t there when Haverhill kicked off its season 30 years ago. He was battling fourth-stage cancer at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, a prognosis that offered little hope of survival.
However, there was a lot of fight in this man. After all, he broke his neck as a teenager only to bounce back and pitch 10 years in the semipro Northeast Baseball League. Without a doubt, he was up for the battle.
“Before the season opener, we said a prayer for him in the locker room,” said Hillies head coach @text1_r:Joe Carven. “We knew if anyone could overcome the problem, George would. He’s got that kind of spirit.”
Ottaviani had his larynx removed, spending the first three weeks of the season in the hospital. But true to form, an hour after being discharged, he was back at Haverhill Stadium watching practice.
After over a decade of vocal support of his team, Ottaviani had to write out his comments. One of the first was, “I can’t believe the team is 0-3. They’ll turn it around.”
Whether it was due to his return or his prophecy, the Hilles bounced back after another loss to win three straight.
“There’s no substitute for watching a good high school football game,” Ottaviani wrote. “Pro football lacks the spirit and enthusiasm, while the kids are out there giving their all.”