In Shrewsbury, Mario Marchisio remembered as no-frills 1960s football trailblazer

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A headshot shows Mario Marchisio during his football coaching career.

By Nick Abramo, Sports Columnist

Shrewsbury – They don’t make ‘em like Mario Marchisio anymore. And in this day and age of political correctness, his style wouldn’t be welcome by many anyway. 

Marchisio, who coached the Shrewsbury High School football team for 21 years, was a no-frills, my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. He was a square-jawed, blue-collar, Italian firebrand, and those who played for him say he was both loved by many for his tough love and also disliked by others for his intense ways.

According to Dutch Holland, who played for Marchisio in early 1960s and later served as his assistant before moving on to become a head coach at three nearby schools, Marchisio came to Shrewsbury in 1960 in what amounted to a trade of physical education teachers. Wanted by the Colonials for his football background, he left West Boylston, which, in turn, got a teacher with a gymnastics background. 

After a few lean years, Marchisio had Shrewsbury humming. His teams were always known for toughness and discipline. But he was also fortunate to have a string of some of the best running backs around.

“He was all football,” Holland said about Marchisio, who played football, hockey and baseball for Leominster and went on to play football and hockey for the University of Illinois. “He had super talented backs and linemen that carried him for years. He was also tremendously knowledgeable on how to run the single wing offense.

Holland went on, saying “He’d be standing on the sideline on Turkey Day against Milford saying, ‘They’re going to run this trap or that sweep. They always do that on this part of the field and with this down and distance.’…He was always right. It was amazing. 

Another Shrewsbury player from the early ‘60s, running back Maurice Bisceglia, recalls Marchisio as being as old-school as they come.

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Photos from a 1978 Shrewsbury High School yearbook show Mario Marchisio with Colonials players.

“He taught us discipline, big-time,” said Bisceglia, who got to know Marchisio better after his playing days. “If things didn’t go right, we’d run it again and again until it was right. A lot of guys didn’t like him and I know why. He told the truth and a lot of people don’t like to hear the truth. No matter how good you were, if you screwed up, you paid the price.”

One time, according to Bisceglia, Marchisio kicked his fullback off the team for a week for smoking a cigarette.

“Late in the game [that week], we had the ball on the goal line and couldn’t score and lost 6-0,” Bisceglia said. “If we had the fullback, we would have won.

Bisceglia added, “If Mario was coaching today, he’d be in jail.”

Marchisio was reportedly famous for hitting people over the helmet with his clipboard. 

On one other occasion, meanwhile, a quarterback threw a pass. That was against Marchisio’s rules. Worcester Trade, Shrewsbury’s opponent that day, intercepted the throw and ran it back for a touchdown to beat the Colonials 13-12. 

“That quarterback turned in his uniform and never played again,” Bisceglia said. “For Mario, it was, ‘You didn’t listen to me. I don’t need you. Goodbye.’”

Holland confirmed Marchisio’s penchant for hitting people with his clipboard.

“He went through a dozen clipboards a year,” he said. “The players were used to that. He chewed out people. 

He added, “Today, he would have been sued five times over. But he actually loved the sport and many of the kids knew he loved the sport.”

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Photos from a 1978 Shrewsbury High School yearbook show Mario Marchisio with Colonials players.

Bisceglia agreed.

“Some said Mario couldn’t coach,” he said. “But the reason they thought he couldn’t coach was they couldn’t play.”

Marchisio, a World War II veteran and member of the Massachusetts Football Coaches Hall of Fame who died in 2015, rang up league titles. 

But one of his biggest moments came when he guided the Colonials to the 1972 Central-Western Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl at Springfield College, where the team lost 10-7 to East Longmeadow.

Marchisio’s love of football shined through, nonetheless, in one 1996 quote about that Super Bowl defeat to the Boston Globe.

“We lost with eight seconds to play on a field goal by a young man who never kicked one before,” he said. “But we had a great bunch of kids on that team. It was something new then and a big thrill. It was a sign of progress. Many other states had a playoff before Massachusetts and the best thing about the games is the exposure for the kids and the school.”

Nick Abramo is the Community Advocate’s resident sports columnist. He writes weekly reflections on the players, coaches, teams and moments of days gone by that wrote themselves into the local history books.