Jack Welch coached the Ipswich High football team for 37 seasons. His good friend, Ken Spellman, was a football assistant for nearly all of Welch's tenure and also coached Ipswich's track team from 1969 through the spring of 2009.
Both men had expertise in their areas and would've been successful even if they had lived 1,000 miles apart, but Ipswich was fortunate enough to have both of them working with student-athletes at the same time and in the same place. And now Ipswich High is going to show its gratitude by honoring them in a way that has both men feeling overwhelmed, even after a lifetime of achievement and service to thousands of kids in town.
At some point during the football season -- the date has yet to be determined -- the football complex at Ipswich will be newly named Jack Welch Stadium, and the track facility at the stadium will officially become the Ken Spellman Track.
Meanwhile, the playing surface itself, which has been known as Doyon Field, will be rededicated in honor of Paul Doyon, who died in the Vietnam War.
"We're planning on it," said Ipswich High Athletic Director Tom Gallagher. "The only thing that's still very tentative is when it's going to happen. Both of them have coached so many kids and they know so many people that we'd like to have it on a day when these people can attend.
"I have the utmost respect for both men," added Gallagher, who's been at Ipswich in one capacity or another since 1991. "They've been around for so long that I've only seen a small piece of what they've done. The way they've impacted kids in this school is second to none. Every time I go anywhere (outside the area) and I say Ipswich, someone will say, 'Oh, you must know Jack Welch.' And everyone knows Kenny (Spellman) as a humble man who'll do anything and everything for the kids. This will be a fantastic honor for both of them, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Longtime Ipswich coach Doug Woodworth was instrumental in getting the proposal pushed through the athletic subcommittee and the School Committee. Welch, 77, who lives in Newburyport, thought he was being set up when Woodworth met up with him one night with a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the occasion.
"I thought it was a prank by Dougie," said Welch, who had a career record of 224-132-6 at Ipswich when he retired following the Thanksgiving Day game against Hamilton-Wenham in 2000. "Seriously, I had no clue what was going on. I was taken aback by it. When my daughter Kara heard about it, she joked, 'After all that time, you're finally going to own something in that town.' But I'm very humbled and honored."
Graciously accepting honor
Welch, who was as tough as they come in the football coaching ranks, was emotional as he contemplated the upcoming honor. Before he accepted it, he wanted to make sure the gridiron itself would remain Doyon Field.
"This is hard for me to fathom," said Welch, who has seven children, 11 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. "Growing up in a poor neighborhood in Newburyport, I was very lucky to get involved in sports as a kid. I was able to avoid the shoe shop (and play football at the University of Maine). I think about all that stuff -- the kids who played for us and the coaches and the parents who helped make it happen -- and now all of a sudden they're dedicating a stadium in my name? It's pretty awesome."
Spellman, 69, recently resigned from coaching, and his preference would've been to just fade into the background. But now that's not going to happen, and he's not sure how he feels about all that. He's never wanted to call attention to himself for any reason.
"I have mixed feelings (about the track dedication)," said Spellman, who graduated from Worcester North High School and Gordon College (1963). "Doug (Woodworth) is the one who brought it up (to school officials) and told me about it. There have been so many great athletes at Ipswich -- I'm not even in the same ballpark with them.
"We had five Ipswich High kids who died in Vietnam, including Paul Doyon. I wanted to know how the veterans' families felt about it. When I heard that it was okay with them, I was okay with it. I think of it as something I'm sharing with coach Welch and all the great athletes who've come through here."
Gearing teams for success
Welch earned tremendous respect for turning a small school into a football power. The Ipswich Tigers won state Class D titles in 1968 and 1969 and Super Bowl championships in 1977, 1991 and 1992. When he retired, he was ranked 10th in the state in total victories and fifth among coaches who stayed at one school.
"When you look at the whole picture, it's really about the kids," Welch said. "We had outstanding coaches, but high school sports is all about kids making the commitment. I wasn't the easiest guy to play for. I demanded a lot of them physically because we were always playing against bigger schools and I thought we had to be tougher than our opponents. For the simple fact that so many kids stayed with me, I owe them a ton of gratitude."
Spellman was his sidekick for virtually every football season and handled the defense for many years. They had an understanding and a mutual respect that comes from coaching together for more than three decades. It worked to Spellman's benefit in track, too, as Welch coached the throwing events for a while.
"Kenny is probably the most dedicated track coach I ever saw," Welch said. "He spent an inordinate amount of time with his athletes. If some kid wanted extra time on the pole vault or the hurdles or any event, Kenny would stay on the track with them. He loved being around kids who wanted to learn and get better. He was always that way. He would never shirk his duties. He actually went well beyond what he was supposed to do."
Spellman's track teams captured three Cape Ann League outdoor championships and a handful of titles in the old Greater Lynn Indoor League. He wasn't a track fanatic growing up. He basically absorbed the art of coaching the sport as he went along.
"I learned a lot of my work ethic from Jack (Welch)," Spellman said. "I wasn't a runner myself, but I learned about track coaching from peers like Steve Sawyer at Hamilton-Wenham (who's been coaching since 1969). I would go to clinics and talk to college coaches, and I learned from the athletes like J.J. Millette, who was a fantastic distance runner for us and at UMass-Amherst."
Girls track came into the picture in 1973 and Spellman was enthusiastic about it. It was suggested that the boys and girls could train together -- a novel idea back then -- and Spellman did it for the next 36 years. "We had some great girls track coaches along the way, like Gail Vaughn and Michelle Horgan," Spellman said. "That was a big help."
Ipswich finally got a new track in 2001, and "the culmination," Spellman said, came last season when the school hosted the Division 3 state championship. The coach was extremely proud to have everyone come to Ipswich.
"After all those years of running in the dirt, our kids got to work on a track," Spellman said, "and it was really big to have the state championship at our place."
What did Spellman enjoy the most?
"Watching kids improve," Spellman said, "and then transferring those things to life skills. I mean, we ended up with Dr. Hugh O'Flynn and Commander Greg Smith (U.S. Navy) and we had Bernie Adell (Notre Dame) and Bubba Galanis (another Notre Dame guy) and so many others. They weren't just great kids. They were all-American people and became my lifelong friends."
Spellman and Welch have shared a special bond with each other and with Ipswich, too. It'll just become more public and eternal at the dedication ceremony later this year.
Courtesy of Salem News By Mike Grenier staff writer