They came together in a time of loss

Kids who grow up in Swampscott and Marblehead typically have a lot in common, due to the myriad of similarities between the communities. Two of the participants in the Thanksgiving football game this year share a bond that both wish never existed.

Swampscott senior quarterback Zach Ryan lost his father, Mark, to a lengthy battle with cancer on Sept. 12. He was 57.

Four days later, Marblehead junior lineman Jake Scogland was getting ready for a game against Lynnfield when he learned that his father, Jeff, had died suddenly.

Both players said having the brotherhood of a football team around them helped them deal with the heartbreak.

“I’m glad I had the team I had to surround me,” said Ryan, whose father also played for the Big Blue and graduated in 1983. “That helped me out a lot. I’m glad I’m a part of Big Blue football.”

Scogland said when he got the news of his father’s death, he immediately decided he would not miss the game.

“I was wearing my jersey when I got the news,” Scogland said. “My first thought was, I have to play in this game.”

He knew it was what his father, who played for Marblehead and graduated in 1995, would want. 

“My dad played his whole life. He played in this game 28 years ago,” said Scogland, who knew from the start his teammates had his back.

“I got in the locker room and you could feel the support and the love from everyone here. It was unmatched,” he said.

Dealing with the daily grind of football proved to be a godsend.

“Football is every day,” he said. “While you’re doing it, you have to think about the play and what you’re doing. You can’t think about anything else. When I say it gets my mind off it, it literally does. It’s the love of my life.”

In addition to Ryan and Scogland, the pre-game moment of silence acknowledged the passing of longtime Swampscott booster Myron Stone, who died at age 97 Tuesday, one day after attending the Swampscott-Marblehead Old Timers Reunion; James Galante, who played on Marblehead’s state championship teak last year and died in a car accident in March; and Henry Dembowski, the father of former Swampscott coach Steve Dembowski who  died in September.

Stone played a key role in the Big Blue dynasty under Stan Bondelevitch. He had bought a duplex in Swampscott in the early 1960s. When Bob Jauron, who coached the Lynn Lions in 1961, was looking to move his family to Swampscott, he ended up renting Stone’s apartment, ensuring that the town’s greatest athlete ever, Dick Jauron, would wear the Big Blue, along with his fellow Hall of Fame brothers, Robert and Michael.

Stone, whose grandson, Alex, was The Item Player of the Year in 2003, was a trusted confidante for Serino. “I was with him Monday night, he emailed me Tuesday morning and he died Tuesday afternoon. He’s a treasure and I’m going to miss him,” Serino said.

Everybody likes Mikey, Part 2: In 2013, Mikey Simmons brought the house down when he made a tackle in the final two minutes of Marblehead’s win over Swampscott. Simmons, who has autism, played all four years of high school and ended his career to the sounds of “Mikey, Mikey, Mikey,” from the crowd at Piper Field. It was an emotional moment that warmed hearts on a freezing-cold day.

Thursday, there was Simmons, manning one of the gates to the field, still smiling and still proud to be associated with his hometown team. He lives in a group home in Newton, works 18 hours a week at CVS and attends most Boston College football games. He plays flag football, basketball and is a Special Olympian. And he loves working as part of the site management at Marblehead sporting events.

Seeing him again was easily the highlight of the day for this correspondent.

True grit, times three: Marblehead coach Jim Rudloff paid tribute to three of his seniors who played the entire season with injuries: Zander Danforth (collarbone), Connor Cronin (meniscus) and Shane Keough (knee). “What those guys did this year, they set a tremendous example for the other kids,” Rudloff said.

Turkey Day Tidbits: Swampscott defensive coordinator Peter Bush, who was a standout QB for the Big Blue in his playing days, coached his son, Will, a freshman, in his first Thanksgiving game … The Magicians and Big Blue have played 112 times on Thanksgiving since 1910, with Marblehead holding a 57-49-6 advantage … Swampscott’s last win in the series came in 2012 … The schools’ marching bands combined on a crisp rendition of the National Anthem … Glover’s Regimen woke up the crowd — and the neighbors – with a 3-gun salute on the field prior to kickoff.