- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - “My son loved football. It was one of those things that can’t be helped,” a tearful Almor Lampron said of his only child, Robert Lampron. “We didn’t like the idea of his playing too much, but he wanted to play.”

Robert Lampron, a 16-year-old senior reserve running back for the Worcester North football team, was injured in the fourth quarter of a game against Commerce High School on Oct. 22, 1954.

The following morning, he succumbed to those injuries in City Hospital, and 62 years ago today, is the last Central Mass. varsity football player to be fatally injured in a game.

In 1903, Athol High’s Daniel Meany suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his right lung following a particularly rugged tackle made on the field. The senior captain died nearly a week later after suffering a hemorrhage from the injury.

More recently, in 2010, Sutton High sophomore Michael Ellsessar collapsed and died during a JV football game at Quaboag after being hit in the chest. The cause of death was later determined as commotio cordis, or the disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm.

In the case of Robert Lampron, playing in an era where players wore leather helmets and had equipment far less sophisticated than today, the cause of death was reported to the newspapers as “an inter-cranial or brain hemorrhage.”

Jack Simoncini, a fullback for the North team that season, recalled, “Actually, I think he was trying to block someone and got shaken up,” he noted. “My best memory was that he was kind of in no-man’s land.”

“He got shaken up, and they looked at him - the coach and the doctor,” Simoncini added, “and he went to the bench.”

The North coach that season was the legendary Red Comer, while Dr. Augustine L. DelSignore was the attending physician at the game.

Although Lampron walked off the field without assistance, once he reached the team bench, people noticed something amiss.

“(Lampron) was removed from Friday’s game in the final quarter when teammates and officials saw he was apparently dazed,” the Evening Gazette reported.

“He sat on the bench and seemed OK at first, and then all of a sudden, he started pulling at his shirt and went down to the ground, off the bench,” Simoncini said.

“He was on the bench, and you could tell he was having some difficulty,” recalled Vinny Giarusso, a retired longtime Worcester educator, who was a freshman at North that season. “I saw him fall off the bench, and then the ambulance came onto the field to take him away.”

At the hospital, Dr. Robert A. Johnson performed emergency surgery, but Lampron’s condition was listed as “very poor.”

Ironically, this was the first game that Lampron had appeared in that year as a fractured finger in a preseason practice forced him out of action for the first four games. In his first game back, he served as a reserve running back and defensive back.

Robert Lampron was born in Worcester, the only child of Almor and Blanche Lampron, and the family lived at 10 Dixon Ave. His dad owned Al’s Barber Shop on Lincoln Street for 12 years, while his mom was a saleswoman at Filene’s.

In late 1953, Almor Lampron sold his barber shop and decided to uproot the family, moving to Clearwater, Florida, where Robert spent his junior year running track and receiving a varsity letter.

However, after spending eight months in Florida, Robert felt homesick and asked his parents if he could return to the city for his senior year.

According to his mother, it was due to his “great desire to play another season with his mates at Worcester North,” she told the Worcester Telegram.

Almor then set up a barber shop in Marlboro, where Robert’s paternal grandparents lived, and Robert returned to North for his senior football season.

The North High football team of 1954 was forecast to be one of the strongest in the city and was among the favorites to take the Inter-High title after capturing the championship the previous year with a 5-3 record.

The preseason forecast for the team listed Lampron as one of the team’s “backfield stand-ins,” playing behind fullback Simoncini, and halfbacks Vic Vezoulis and Roger Payne.

“He was not only a good running back with terrific speed, but his real forte was track,” Simoncini recalled. “He was an excellent runner. Naturally, the coaches went looking for somebody with that kind of speed.”

During the spring of his sophomore year, Lampron was the recipient of the Alfred P. Cravedi trophy for track at North.

After wins over Auburn, Classical and South to start the 1954 season - with a nonleague loss to St. John’s in Week 4 their only blemish - the Polar Bears’ upcoming game with Commerce on Oct. 22 looked to be decisive in North’s chances to defend their Inter-High title.

According to the preview of the game in that morning’s Worcester Telegram, “.the Bears will also be helped by the return of reserve back Red Lampron, out since the start of the season with a hand injury.”

The Polar Bears got out to an early 6-0 lead when Vezoulis scored from 15 yards out over left guard. The placement kick by Hop Riopel was blocked, but the North lead held through halftime.

In the third quarter, Commerce fullback Dick Haggar scored the first of two touchdowns to key Commerce to the 12-6 upset win and their first Inter-High title since 1946.

However, the final score and Inter-High title were the last things on the minds of the North squad after Lampron was taken from the field by ambulance in the fourth quarter.

“It was a clean play,” said Simoncini, looking back on Lampron’s injury. “There was nothing that would have appeared to have created the damage.”

After quickly showering, the members of the football squad anxiously walked the distance from the athletic field and down Chandler Street to City Hospital to check on their fallen teammate.

“The hospital (personnel) wouldn’t let any of us on the team get in,” Simoncini recalled. “They would not allow us anywhere near him or anywhere near the room. The coaches told us, ‘Go home and say a prayer.’ “

Comer and several members of the North coaching staff, as well as members of the North High faculty, held vigil at Lampron’s bedside along with his parents. Neither of his parents were present at the game when the injury occurred.

A front page article in the Worcester Telegram on the morning of Oct. 23, 1954, had a photo of Lampron with the word “Critical” underneath it. It went on to note that Lampron did not respond to emergency treatment on the field and was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery late Friday afternoon.

Everyone’s worst fears were realized later that afternoon when the Evening Gazette ran the same photo, but this time with the headline “Football Injuries Fatal To North High Player.”

“The next day, to pick up the paper and see his picture that he had passed away, it was just terrible,” Giarusso said.

“It was a very crushing kind of thing because Robbie was a great guy,” Simoncini said.

The loss took its toll on the team, but was devastating for Comer.

“I really didn’t know much about it,” said Kathleen Comer, coach’s daughter, who, along with her siblings, was too young to recall the incident.

“He never mentioned it to us,” Kathleen said. “My mother mentioned it, but he never talked about it. I’m sure it bothered him, but he just never talked about it.”

Comer coached at North for many years, later became a teacher at Leicester High, and finally retired as assistant superintendent of the Leicester public schools in 1984. He died 10 years later.

Giarusso remembered of Comer, “He was a good coach, and he thought a lot of his kids. Something like that really bothered him.”

“Coach Comer was devastated,” Simoncini added. “I remember at one point him saying ‘this is something that never should happen.’ “

Worcester Superintendent of Schools Thomas Power noted that he had “investigated the accident from all angles” and indicated simply that it was “an accident.” Lampron was even “wearing a brand new helmet,” according to Power, who visited Lampron’s parents to expressed his sincere sympathy.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that a football fatality made the news, either locally or statewide during that era.

Former Worcester South captain John T. Pappas died the previous year of injuries received while he was playing for Boston University in a game against Syracuse.

Lampron’s death was the second high school fatality in the state that football season, as Arthur J. Cronin Jr., a 17-year-old player from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, also suffered fatal injuries his team’s season-opening game against Manchester (New Hampshire) Central.

North High suspended classes the following Monday to allow students and faculty to attend Lampron’s calling hours and funeral, which was held on Tuesday at St. Bernard’s Church. Burial followed in St. John’s Cemetery.

The flag at the school was flown at half-staff both days.

Following his passing, North High set up a memorial for Lampron in the school’s foyer which remained there for many years.

“As I recall, a lot of the players, when they returned home, were told (by their parents), ‘You’re not going to play anymore,’ ” Simoncini recalled. “We had to talk them down and make them realize it was something that shouldn’t have happened, but happened.”

The Polar Bears finished out the remainder of their once-promising season losing two of their final three games. A 19-12 victory over Shrewsbury was followed by losses to Worcester Trade (21-12) and Fitchburg (46-39).

“A lot of the spirit left the team after that,” Simoncini said. “It really shook up a lot of people.”

Following the death of their only child, Almor and Blanche Lampron eventually left their home on Dixon Avenue and relocated less than a mile away at 221 Lincoln St.

The parents were deeply affected by the sudden and tragic loss of their son, and lived out the remaining years of their lives in Worcester.

Almor re-opened Al’s Barber Shop on Lincoln Street and remained there until his retirement in 1984. He died two years later. On March 30, 1994, nearly 40 years after the death of Robert, the Lampron family was at last reunited when Blanche died at age 81.

___

Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), https://www.telegram.com

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