By John Molori
It is one of those undeniable friendships that only sports can create –
Methuen sports legends, Hall of Famers, and icons bound by the arenas and fields of play over decades. The names are ingrained in the lexicon of Methuen sports. Bob Baillargeon, Dan Dodson, Bobby Gilbert, Rocky Bamford.
They stand for everything that is good about Methuen and scholastic sports in general. So, just who are these legends and why is their connection so compelling?
A 2018 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame, Bob Baillargeon graduated from then-Searles High School in 1953. He was a three-sport athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball.
From the start of his athletic and academic career, Baillargeon showed great leadership. He was a basketball team captain and class president all four years in high school. He was also named a Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star and appeared on Boston television with host Bump Hadley.
Baillargeon was honored by The Sons of the American Revolution with the organization’s coveted Good Citizenship Medal. He served in the U.S. Army following high school and attended college on the GI Bill before working 38 years as a mechanical engineer for the Raytheon Corporation.
Baillargeon, with wife Ruth, raised his family in Methuen for decades and remains a true blue Ranger sports supporter.
In 2023, longtime Methuen citizen, driving instructor, athlete and civic leader Dan Dodson was inducted into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame as a Special Contributor. The former MHS baseball pitcher played for Head Coach Walter “Skeets” Scanlon and continued his diamond doings at Bridgewater State College.
Dodson served as a selectman for the then-Town of Methuen and was the Voice of the Rangers, announcing home football games for more than 20 seasons. He has been the custodian of the Jaycee’s Thanksgiving Day Football Trophy since its inception in 1953, ironically the year his pal Baillargeon graduated high school.
In this role, Dodson gives MHS football players an annual history lesson on the Methuen/Dracut Thanksgiving rivalry. He has attended all 59 of the Thanksgiving Day Football games between the Rangers and Middies.
Dan was a driving force behind the naming of Nicholson Stadium and was named a Catholic Medical Center Athlete. He ran 100-plus road races, winning the Northeast Delta Dental Points Chase Championship for three straight years in the 70-and-over division.
A member of the 65-Plus Running Club, Dodson has run more than 2,000 road races in New England. He writes for the 65-Plus Newsletter and has competed in numerous 50-mile bike races. In one of those great sports lore stories, Dodson can actually stake claim to beating the legendary Bill Rodgers in a marathon. It was Rodgers’ last event before retirement, and throughout the race, the icon slowed down to sign autographs along the route. Dodson beat him in the 65-plus runners division. Like Baillargeon, he remains an avid supporter of all things Rangers.
Robert “Bobby” Gilbert was a member of the first-ever graduating class of Tenney Memorial High School in 1954. He went on to Lowell Technical Institute and Ward Business School. Gilbert forged a very successful career in the world of sales and marketing as a director, vice president and senior vice president.
More than just a good businessman, Gilbert is regarded as a pioneer in database response management and marketing automation. He was at the forefront of the computer and digital revolution and his clients included American Express, AT&T, Fidelity, IBM, Hewlett Packard and others. Throughout his corporate career, Gilbert consulted with several schools including the University of Michigan, Franklin Pierce College and Bentley College.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Methuen Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. He has been a consistent contributor to the Methuen sports scene and has promoted the Methuen High School Searles/Tenney Alumni Association.
Phillip “Rocky” Bamford graduated alongside Bob Baillargeon in the Searles High School Class of 1953. A staunch running back, he played football while in the military, at the University of Buffalo, and semi-professionally.
In addition to football, Bamford excelled at shot put for the Searles track team. From his running back position, he was a perennial scoring leader and rusher in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
As a senior, Bamford earned the prestigious Andrew F. Haldane trophy, awarded for athletic and academic accomplishments. In addition, he was voted the “Student Who Did the Most for the School.”
Bamford also did the most for his country, serving in the U.S. Army for three years and spending a year and a half in Korea. During his military service, he played on two undefeated service championship football teams: The Far East and the Continental U.S.
At the University of Buffalo from 1957 to 1961, Bamford was part of the 1958 team that finished 8-1 and won The Lambert Cup. In 2021, he and his 1958 teammates were recognized for their stand against segregation in sports and inducted into Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
He continued his football career at the semi-pro level until 1973 and worked in the insurance field in New York.
In 2023, alongside Dan Dodson who was nominated by Bobby Gilbert, Bamford was inducted into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame joining his Searles High School backfield mate Bob Baillargeon.
That 2023 Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony is where the separate pasts of these men come together. These days, Dodson is battling stage-4 cancer. The illness kept him from attending this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony March 24.
It was Bobby Gilbert who initially nominated Dodson for induction, and it would be Bob Baillargeon who would read Dodson’s acceptance speech in the inductee’s absence. However, Dodson’s connection to Baillargeon and Rocky Bamford goes back to his childhood.
He relates, “My mom and dad began carting me around to football and basketball games around 1950 at the age of 5 or 6. They taught me the lesson that it was Methuen that counted no matter who was involved at any particular time.
“One of those early football games was at Methuen’s Highfield Stadium in the early 1950s. Quarterback Bob Baillargeon was handing off to powerful running back Rocky Bamford who often carried enemy players into the end zone for a touchdown.”
Baillargeon learned that Dodson idolized him as their longtime friendship developed, but Bamford was not part of the equation. He had no idea that he was a hero to his fellow 2023 inductee.
“Bobby, Dan, and I are known as The Three Musketeers,” explains Baillargeon. “We have relied on each other for many years. I depended on them while suffering from advanced vertigo and Dan now relies on us as he is fighting cancer. It has been a wonderful friendship that has been even greater because we all love Methuen sports.”
While Baillargeon and Gilbert watched both Dodson and Bamford be inducted into the MHS Hall of Fame in March, that was not quite enough. Baillargeon wanted to take it a step further. He relates, “Rocky Bamford was an idol to Dan, but Dan never had the chance to meet him over the years.
“Cancer took away that chance at the Hall of Fame inductions as well. I wanted to bring Rocky to visit Dan, so we did it. I couldn’t believe how happy Dan was. This was more than 70 years after he was such a big fan of Rocky. To have two Methuen icons finally meeting after so long was a special thing.”
Four legends, a mingling of immortals brought together by the collaborative power of athletics. Yes, the chain of events, actions, and love that brought this quartet finally and fully together was indeed a special thing – and so is friendship.
John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email email@example.com