The Town Crier will be occasionally featuring past stories of memorable people, places and events. Bill Bulloch died on August 11, 2008, four days after his 58th birthday. This tribute was published in the Tewksbury edition of the Town Crier the week that Bulloch died. “The Bull” valiantly battled brain cancer. He graduated from Tewksbury High School in 1968 and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2007. Bill was old school, playing the three traditional high school sports — football, basketball and baseball. He was also the school’s Outstanding Male Athlete in 1968, the recipient of the Charles E. Hazel Award, named after another TMHS legend.
What made Bulloch so memorable? It was probably his toughness, although he had very deceptive athletic ability, especially in basketball, where he used his strength and that toughness to his advantage around the basket. The late Tewksbury High School basketball coach Tony Romano would always break into a big smile whenever he spoke about Bulloch. He often credited Bulloch for helping to make Redmen basketball respectable.
Before “Tewksbury Tough” was a way of life for the Tewksbury High School football team, there was Bill Bulloch. Bill could be a competitive, intimidating presence in any sport that he played. He was however one of the nicest people you would ever meet. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life. Loyal, hard working and five-star dependable. When someone like that crosses your path in life, you remember that moment forever. Bill was that type of person. His loss is remembered, and the memories of Bill will be with all of us forever. Thanks for those memories Bill.
The voice on the phone was filled with anguish, yet you could still hear the hope. “Big Bill Bullock is not doing well,” said Bob Ware from Tewksbury. Ware and his son Bobby, both well-known and respected graduates of Salem State College, were getting ready to attend a luncheon set for August 12 in honor of Tewksbury High School three-sport legend and longtime Salem State athletic trainer Bill Bullock, who was to be inducted into the college’s hall of fame. The luncheon was originally scheduled for October, but with Bullock facing his cancer, Salem State officials decided to move the Class of 2008’s big day up a couple of months. Now, it will go on as originally scheduled, with Bullock’s intense spirit and competitive nature wrapping some bull-like arms around the entire building.
Four days after his 58th birthday, Bullock died surrounded by family and friends. Bill didn’t lose his battle with cancer, time simply ran out.
Bullock, the longtime trainer at Salem State College, did that job, and did it well, for 32 years. Not many guys stay in one place for that long, and if they do, there is always a good reason. They are loved and respected, and they do their jobs well. Bullock was one of those special guys.
He was menacing from a distance and intimidating when he got up close at 5’10’’ and a rock solid 230 plus pounds. But, when he slapped a young man on the back after treating an injury, or shook someone’s hand, it meant something. Bullock was a friend for life, but that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t compete hard and run through a wall to win any game, anywhere. You wouldn’t want to mess up Bullock’s shot at a victory.
Cancer could never beat Bill Bullock. This wasn’t just some ‘battle’ — this was a war, and Bullock had plenty of bullets, making it to work every day through his treatments and discomfort that he shrugged off. He had a job to do, and he did it well, right up until time ran out.
Veteran Salem State Sports Information Director Tom Roundy called back within five minutes to offer up some stories about how much Bullock meant to his college’s community. “Call me if you need anything,” he said, pausing, “we’re just trying to get through the day.”
Some days before he died, Bullock shared some birthday cake at his Dover, New Hampshire home with Salem State officials as hockey coach Billy O’Neil read his hall of fame induction speech. They got to laugh, hug, and even make plans for the future. Four days later, he was gone. Friends and competitors from Dorchester (Bullock’s birthplace) to Tewksbury right through Salem State, will remember the ‘Bull’ who cared and reached out to communities that matched his lust for life. Bullock was a ‘people person’ in the truest sense of what is too often a trite phrase.
“He was an icon around here, the dean of New England athletic trainers,” O’Neil told Sports Editor Phil Stacey of the Salem News. “Bill was such a compassionate person, always willing and able to help so many people in so many different ways.”
When Bullock was inducted into the Tewksbury High School Hall of Fame in March of 2007, his coach Tony Romano gave the speech that highlighted a career at TMHS that will never be forgotten. A career that featured the clearing of the Wilmington High School gymnasium after Bullock’s competitive nature nearly started a battle in the stands between fans of the rival schools — right up until he helped the varsity basketball team qualify for its’ first tournament since the 1938-39 season.
“Bill was the classic three-sport athlete from the old days when the best athletes in the high school would play football, basketball and baseball,” said Romano. “In recent years, we stayed in touch at basketball tournament time when Larry Kelleher (Tyngsboro High School athletic director) and I would call on him many times to serve as the athletic trainer for the semifinals and finals of MIAA basketball tournaments.”
That was typical Bullock. People would call him and he would be there — every time. Salem State would soon discover what the people in Tewksbury already knew.
At every stop in life, Bullock would treat someone, touch someone. This big, tough guy was a softie when it came to caring for athletes. When Bobby Ware was a captain of the Salem State hockey team, Bullock told him that it was best for him to rest a shoulder injury for several games. “You’ll thank me someday when you’re forty,” he said at the time. Well, Ware, who will be starting his first year as the Westford Academy Dean of Students, has turned 40, and got a chance to hug Bullock and say thanks before Bill died.
With all the honors and all the star turns that came his way athletically, that moment is a testament to just what Bullock was all about. He cared about people, more than any trophy or plaque on some wall. Even on the night of his induction, Bullock talked about the coaches and the men who had meant the most to him as they shaped his life. He learned from the best. Guys who are gone like Charlie Hazel and John Perreault, legends in their own right. And Coach Romano, who will always remember Bullock as one of the starting five on a basketball team that Tony says was his favorite, and that’s saying a lot, considering what TMHS hoop squads achieved beginning in 1972.
THE CLASS OF ‘68
Bulloch was a member of the class of 1968, when the old Suburban League was reorganized to include Tewksbury and Wilmington. He played varsity football for coaches Hazel and Perreault and basketball for Romano, followed up by a baseball season under ‘Diamond’ Jim Sullivan. From the time he was a freshman right up until he graduated, Bullock played varsity. Soon, area officials took notice of the burly kid who was playing guard for the TMHS basketball varsity.
“Much has been made of our basketball team’s success from 1973 until 1975,” remembers Romano, “but Billy was a big contributor and a co-captain on a very special team in 1967. That team set up all of our success that would follow a few years later. That team qualified under the difficult standard of winning 70 percent of your games. We went 16-4 and qualified for the Tech Tournament for the first time in the history of Tewksbury High School basketball.”
That first-ever TMHS team featured Gene Manley, Russ Millet, John Hazel and the Kevin Kelly, who died a couple years after graduating. “Bill was the high scorer with 13 points in our 52-45 win over Case of Swansea in the first game of the tourney,” remembers Romano. “He started every game his junior and senior years, helping us to a record of 30 wins and 12 losses.”
Romano also remembers that 1967 season when Bullock dove for a loose ball out of bounds at Wilmington, getting into a verbal joust with a group of WHS football players in the stands. Wilmington police officer John Ritchie rushed over to clear the crowd. With no fans in the stands, play resumed as Bullock had given the visiting Redmen a big edge on the road. That, in a high school snapshot, summed up Bullock’s competitive nature. Never back down, no matter what the odds, no matter who was the opponent.
There were of course, the honors, because Bullock was not only a tough three-sport athlete, he was very good. He was selected to the Merrimack Valley Conference all-star teams in basketball and football (TMHS co-captain), and was the only unanimous choice for the Lowell Sun Charity All-Star Football Game, and then captained that squad. He earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Thanksgiving Game against arch-rival Wilmington, and then capped his career with the Charles E. Hazel Award as the high school’s outstanding athlete.
A STELLAR COLLEGIATE CAREER
Bullock signed with the Lake County Rifles football team after high school, and even received an invitation to tryout with the New England Patriots in 1974. But, Bill knew that he wanted to learn about, and help keep athletes healthy and competitive long after their playing days were over. That led him to Plymouth State College, where he received his undergraduate degree in athletic training. Throughout his college days, Bullock kept playing football, two years at Dean Junior College and two more at Plymouth State. He was named to the First All-American Team while at Plymouth State.
This local legend then got to watch a hoop legend close-up while earning his Master’s Degree as the athletic training graduate assistant with the Indiana basketball team, then coached by Bobby Knight.
A short stay at Bridgewater State College saw Bullock start that school’s athletic training program. Then, there was his career at Salem State as the school’s head athletic trainer, a position that he held for 32 years. Bullock became known as a guy whose door was always open, giving advice and treating athletes from surrounding communities. That Tewksbury athletic upbringing really meant something to Bullock, and he carried it with him until the day that he died.
A TRUE TEWKSBURY TYPE
Former TMHS Athletic Director Mickey Sullivan knew the toughness and caring nature that Bullock personified. “My memories of Billy and his family date back to when the Bulloch boys (Mark and David) were playing Little League baseball coached by their dad (Bill). Billy was the typical Tewksbury guy — tough, happy-go-lucky that loved every sport. He was a hockey player when I recall him playing some youth basketball, fouling anyone who got near him. Bill was very proud of his community. His passing is a great loss for all of us.”
“I will remember him and his smile,” Roundy told the Salem News last week. “When I’m feeling down and out, I’ll think of Billy and draw inspiration from what he accomplished. That’s a great way to remember him.”
Bullock is survived by his wife Betty, two children (Krystal and James), his brother Dave, along with many nieces and nephews. That was his immediate family. His Tewksbury family, and his Salem State College family, will survive, but they will never forget the man they called ‘Bubba.’
Bill Bullock never lost a fight in his life. Time just ran out. Coaches Hazel and Perreault just needed someone to stem the tide, a guy who would grit his teeth and knock you off the ball. They got one. Go get ‘em , Billy. Now, you’ve got plenty of time.