The connection was obvious to everyone from Hyde who was present at the launch event of the new book, No Backing Down: the people in this story had real courage, commitment, character, and integrity–Hyde School’s mantra.
No Backing Down, written by NFL sports agent, National Italian-American Athletic Hall of Famer, Marist College Hall of Famer and Salem Witches team quarterback Sean Stellato, and co-edited/produced by Hyde parent Mike Smerczynski, tells how a high school coach and his underdog football team overcame fantastic odds both on and off the field on their way to the Massachusetts High School Super Bowl.
Hyde’s Carl and Susan Young traveled to the historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem to join Mike, his son Sean ’14 Bath, and other Hyde students (Jack Howarth ’14 Bath, Akim Sanni ’16 Bath, and Susie McManus ’14 Bath) at the book launch.
While Stellato and Smerczynski expected about 350 people, over 600 people showed up, among them a number of notable sports figures including Patriots Joe Vellano, Patrick Pass, Max Lane & Shawn Mayer; Mark Bavaro of the NY Giants; Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated; World Boxing Champions Tony Demarco and John Ruiz; Mike Lynch of Channel 5 Sports; Brian Braman of the Philadelphia Eagles; Marcus Whitfield of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Andrew DSepaola of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers; and Bob Sweeney of the Boston Bruins.
The book details the lives of individual players and coaches as they made their way through an historic season, punctuated by a teacher’s strike on Halloween, and a cease-and-desist order against the coaches just prior to the end-of-season championships. As the excitement was sweeping over the town, the school superintendent ordered that all the adults involved in coaching the team lose their jobs and risk arrest, at one point comparing Coach Perrone to cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh. This was a stunning price to pay for sticking to what you believe in.
At the time this story received unprecedented news coverage, and today you can still hear folks talk about the game, the players, and the coaches; Salem still remembers.
“The team members persevered to become highly productive citizens and contributors to their community long after that famed season,” said Mike Smerczynski, a two-sport letterman at Harvard, addressing the crowd at the book launch and comparing Hyde School’s character development for high school students to the 1994 Salem team’s outstanding performance.
In the book, each chapter is introduced with a quotation by a famous person. “I have taken the ‘Truth over Harmony…’ quote of Joe Gauld to introduce the chapter on a player who lead the team by speaking the truth; he was not only a great player, but a moral compass for the team,” said Mike.
“That player lost his mother to an overdose. He epitomized the compass rose of character points in reconciling that tragedy. He constantly emphasized how his team became his family and how his experiences playing at Salem High School made him a better parent. Incredibly, and during filming of the documentary, that player spoke with pride about his 13-year-old son, and then introduced to all of us to his sister’s 7-year-old autistic son, who had been recently adopted by that player. Given Hyde’s 24/7 commitment to its students (parent-like in all aspects) and its particular contribution to my family I could not help but add Joe Gauld’s mantra to the book juxtaposed with this player.”
According to Mike, the principals of The Undefeated, a 2012 Oscar-winning documentary about the 2009 Memphis, Tennessee high school football team, have expressed interest in making another football movie—this time about Salem’s modern-day “Witches.”
“The Salem team was populated with students whose stories defy the most imaginative pens of Hollywood screen writers,” said Mike smiling. His documentary, filmed with the production help of Peabody Cable’s television staff, is posted online at http://www.peabodytv.com/watch/1d092152.
The book is available on-line and through Mascot Books and Amazon. Doug Flutie wrote the Foreword; Mike Eruzione, Mike Ditka and “Rudy” of Notre Dame fame have back cover endorsements, while Evander Holyfield, ESPN (Adam Schefter – NFL Insider), Sports Illustrated (Mike McCann), The Globe, The Herald, Boston Channel 5’s Mike Lynch, and Mark Bavaro have inside cover endorsements.