HAVERHILL — What is considered the most comprehensive collection of Haverhill High School sports memorabilia spanning more than a century is now in safe storage at the Buttonwoods Museum.

It will be a few years — sooner if the museum can find a sponsor willing to pay for the expert archiving needed — before the collection donated by retired Haverhill High social studies teacher Ernest Young is made available for public viewing.

"If we received funding, either through a grant or a donor, we could complete the archival process sooner," said curator Jan Williams. "This could eventually be our first online exhibit." 

Michael Young, a social studies teacher at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, said his father, Ernest, 84, who lives in Nashua with his daughter, Cheryl Ennis, M.D., worried about what would happen to the collection that took him decades to assemble. 

The roughly 3,000 items include original photographs of football, track, baseball, basketball and cheerleading teams and action photos from the turn of the century to the late 1960s, among other things. 

"He wanted all of it to go to the city, to be preserved for future generations," Michael Young said. "My dad was a collector of sorts, and starting in the late 1960s he started to go yard sales to find these items."

When Buttonwoods board of trustees member Dan Meader, a local historian and well-known auctioneer, saw the collection spread out on a long table at the Buttonwoods, he said he could not believe his eyes. 

"This is the most complete collection you could ever want or ask for," Meader said while staring intently at a Haverhill High School brown and gold pennant he believed dated back to before 1900. It somehow survived intact. 

Meader said he could imagine how a 19th century sports fan might have waved the pennant during a game played at Haverhill's stadium. 

A 1938 Haverhill vs. Manchester Central game football signed by the team and coach James Mansfield, a legend in the world of Haverhill High sports, was equally mesmerizing. Haverhill High's gymnasium is named in Mansfield's honor, Michael Young said.

"A game-used football is a rare thing and is always key to this kind of collection, especially when it is inscribed by the coaches and players," Meader said. 

Haverhill High Athletic Director Tom O'Brien was equally enthralled as he scanned photo after photo of teams long past, including Haverhill High football teams from 1898 and 1899 and the 1899 baseball team. 

"We're fortunate the Young family saved all of these historic items as in other cases, people move, things get thrown out, schools misplace things in the shuffle or they go missing," O'Brien said. "For Michael's dad to have saved all of these things is really amazing."

Meader agreed, saying that over the years he's seen many items of historic value tossed into the trash during estate sales. 

"You would not believe the things people throw away," said Meader, who has rescued a good number of items of historic value from dumpsters, with the permission of families. "The Young family are people who love the history of Haverhill High sports and how it should be appreciated."

The collection includes football yearbooks from the 1970s to the 1980s, all of which display photographs taken by Ernest Young, who was also an amateur photographer. Charles C. White's varsity letter in football is in the collection. White was a member of the 1915 football team and also played basketball. The Haverhill High School pool was named in his honor. 

Young gave O'Brien duplicates of many of the items in the collection, which O'Brien said he hopes to put on display during the annual Hall of Fame nights, possibly at the high school and also for use as reference materials.

Many of the football team photographs in the collection, along with football game statistics, can be found in Ernest Young's two-volume book, "Hillies, 125 Years of Haverhill Football, a Statistical History."

The books are available for purchase by contacting Tom O'Brien at 978-374-5732 or tobrien@haverhill-ps.org.

Anyone interested in sponsoring the archiving of Young's sports collection can contact the Buttonwoods Museum at 978-374-4626.