GROVELAND/WILMINGTON – When she was a young girl, Marion (Halpin) Hodges' father wanted to prove to his friends by betting a quarter each time that she could throw a football further than them.
When she was in the seventh grade, Marion heard an announcement for all high school girls interested in playing basketball to come to the gymnasium. She did. She made such an impression, then head coach Alice McCarthy allowed her to play for the JV team. Six years later, she scored 39 points in one game with her trademark 'hook shot'.
When Marion, also known as 'Nonie', got to the high school, she wanted to play football, or compete on the boys track team since there was no girls' team. She was told no each time, but when she wanted to work on her dribbling skills, she would sometimes join the boys practices.
When she made it to the high school softball team, McCarthy wanted her to play first base because she was left-handed. Marion said no thanks. She wanted to play shortstop and second base. When the ball was hit to her, she would spin around before throwing the ball to first base.
In the fall season, she wanted to become a football cheerleader. She tried out and didn't make it, only because McCarthy asked the cheerleading coach not to pick her, so the coach could introduce Marion to a game she had never heard of — “field hockey”. Hodges picked up the stick for the first time as a sophomore and now well over 60 years later, the game is still her No. 1 passion, officiating for over 50 years.
After she graduated from WHS, she went off to Gordon College which didn't have a field hockey team at the time. She started it. She first found a field. Then she got some lime, put it in a coffee can, while making a hole out in the bottom of it and lined the entire field. When it came to making the circles, she put a string on her foot and struck a radius around the 'striking circle'.
Hodges has been inducted into three Hall of Fames: Wilmington High in 1997, the New Agenda-Northeast (affiliated with the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport) and in 2020, Gordon College Athletic Hall of Fame.
On top of all of that, she was a coach for many years, including being a basketball official for over 20 years and she was a teacher for several decades. She got married to Richard Hodges, a retired middle school principal and former basketball coach, and the couple have four boys, who were all successful athletes at Pentucket Regional High School, with one following in the footsteps of being a high school coach.
Marion’s athletic days at WHS started in 1955-'56 when she was a seventh grader on the JV team. She graduated in 1961 as one of the top three sport athletes of her generation and is among one of the all-time best female athletes to ever play for the Wildcats. Today she is 77 years young, and she has incredible energy and passion for sports, in particular field hockey.
“It's been over sixty years now since I picked up my first field hockey stick and for anyone who really plays, you can ask (former Rockport coach and Athletic Director) Maire Ryan and all of them, it's a passion that you have for the sport,” said Hodges. “Then to watch the kids in the sport and their interactions with each other, it's just such a great thing to watch. I just love being there. I know that I am not perfect at all. I do the best that I possibly can.”
Hodges retired as a middle school math teacher at Pentucket Middle School four years ago. She easily could have hung up the field hockey whistle, but chose not to. Why?
“It's called K-I-D-S. I absolutely adore being around the kids. I love to see them play. I don't get flustered easily while officiating. I had one coach yell at me this year but she later apologized. I don't get flustered because I just love being there and love being able to watch the kids play. That's why I continue to do it. I thank God every single day that I can get up and do it because a lot of people are not as lucky as I am.”
THE OLDEST PIONEER
Marion is the oldest of five children with sisters Judith, Lillian and Janis, along with her brother Ralph.
Lillian didn't play sports, and she went on to become a longtime third grade school teacher, recently retired and is living in Vermont. Janis and Ralph graduated in the same year of 1973. Janis played volleyball and field hockey for a year, while Ralph was a member of the cross-country and track teams.
“Ralph is handicapped and he ran cross-country for Mr. Kelley,” said Marion. “When we all went to see him run, we just all cried. He would come in a half hour after everyone else, but Mr. Kelley would have everyone lined up, clapping for him.”
Certainly Mr. Kelley had a profound effect on hundreds of students and student-athletes during his long career at WHS, but certainly he had a strong connection with many members of the '61 class, including Marion.
“Mr. Kelly was like a father to me. He's the one who always went to bat for me. He was my math teacher and he would call me 'lefty'. I would sign up for the boys track team every year and he would tell me that I could compete with the boys, so eventually he started up the girls team (after I graduated). There was just something about that man, where he and I just clicked. That whole class of 1961 just clicked with Mr. Kelly. I had him for three match classes — just missed during my sophomore year with geometry. He would always tease me and I was always in his room. I loved that guy so much. He went to bat for me so many times.”
The Halpin's first lived in Roxbury and moved to Wilmington when Marion was in the sixth grade.
“My first encounter with basketball was when I was living in Roxbury and some kid hung a peach basket in a tree and put a hole in it,” she recalled. “He said 'you gotta learn how to do this sport. Just shoot at the peach basket'. That was my first thing with basketball, probably about the fourth or fifth grade. Then I went to the gym at the church and the big thing was the two-handed shot from about half court — you didn't get three-pointers (back then).”
The family then moved to Wilmington where for Marion she was really the first of her family to compete in athletics.
“My parents had no money,” she said. “My dad did run the Boston Marathon, but my mom never really did anything with sports. My dad was a great supporter of me. There were there of us born the same year, my uncle, my cousin and myself and they were boys, so I played with the boys, so I was a Tomboy.”
The 'tomboy' also was the oldest sibling, which she said was great but also difficult sometimes.
“I was the oldest so everything was always my fault. I was the pioneer — so Judy could go out because I went out, Judy could do this because I could do it. Sometimes I think it was hard for them. Judy was a very good athlete too.”
Judith (Halpin) Zaino, Class of '63, was also a three-sport athlete. She was a co-captain of the field hockey team, and ended up as a three-year varsity player for field hockey, basketball and softball, and was also a league all-star in hoop and member of the National Honor Society.
A GREAT COACH
In last week's Town Crier, we ran a story on Alice McCarthy as part of our 'legendary coaches' series. Hodges played for McCarthy five years of basketball (Marion’s senior year Georgia Dadoly became the coach), four years of softball and three years of field hockey.
In the story on McCarthy, Hodges told the story of how she learned to take a hook shot, which helped her become such an elite player.
“We were only playing three to a side and we only had two dribbles,” she recalled about the old rules of the game. “Alice came up with a down the center play and a sideline play. She actually made a play around my shot. She knew where I shot from and she set up a play and said 'I want to try this' so it was a pass-pass and I took the shot to the left of the foul line. That was the goal for me to get the ball at that spot.
“You had six girls (combined) playing at the time. You would pass the ball in the middle because you would only get two dribbles so I had to get the ball, take my dribble and then shoot.”
In 1958-59, the girls basketball team finished in second place in the league standings, with an 8-4 record as the team had several outstanding players including co-captains Gertrude “Pudgy” Cushing, a WHS Hall of Famer, and Judy Rosselli. Before that season started, the field hockey team finished 4-1-3.
In 1960-'61, the field hockey team finished 5-2-1 and Marion along with Elaine Sullivan were the team's top scorers.
“I never even knew there was such a thing called field hockey so I went out for football cheerleading. Alice told the coaches not to pick me because she wanted me for field hockey, which actually was a great thing because I have been in the game of field hockey now for over fifty years and I never would have done it had I made the football cheerleading squad. I credit Alice for that.”
Hodges was asked how good the players and the teams were back at that time.
“It's hard to say how good we were because of the fields we played on. When we played Chelmsford, we would look up on a hill for the field and see the cows. We never really had a field hockey field (to play on), but Alice would always speak up for us (to try to get us better playing conditions).”
As a co-captain, the basketball team finished 8-8 that season. One of the highlights of that season was finally beating Tewksbury as Esther Corum scored the game winner in the final seconds. Halpin finished the season with 161 points with teammate Loretta Dawson right behind with 160.
Hodges played at WHS before Title IX. She was a league all-star during her junior season. Upon graduating, she received the Boosters Scholarship to attend Gordon College in Hamilton, Mass.
“I didn't have any money to go to Gordon College and they raised the scholarship to five-hundred dollars and it was just what I needed and I know Mr. Kelly helped with that,” she said.
NEW BEGINNINGS IN COLLEGE
While at Gordon, Hodges played every sport imaginable.
“You name a sport and I wanted to be in it. I played basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis and ping-pong. There was nothing to do in the fall so I went to Hal Murdoch the Athletic Director and said we really need to have something. He said, ‘what do you suggest'? I said ‘field hockey’. We had some old sticks at the school and so he said 'where are you going to play'? I said 'if I find a field, will you give it to us'? I found one and then he said, 'what are you going to line it with'? I said ‘lime’. I actually put Lime in a coffee can with a hole at the bottom of it and lined the whole field. When it came to doing the circles, I put a string on my foot and struck out a radius and went around the striking circle.”
After finding the field, lining it up and getting sticks, Hodges said there was one more thing that was missing.
“We didn't have any players! My roommate and I went through the school and we found maybe two or three kids who had played lacrosse. Then we got some other kids who didn't have anything to do that afternoon. We brought them out, stuck them with sticks and told them to stand there and not let anyone go by you. It was quite a thing,” she said.
She made quite the impact at Gordon and that was evident when she was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. Gordon College sent the Town Crier the script from that evening when Hodges was inducted into the HOF.
“Today we have the honor of inducting Marion (Halpin) Hodges, Class of 1965, as our newest member of the Gordon College Hall of Honor! Known fondly as “Nonie,” this student-athlete made Gordon history by founding the College’s Field Hockey program as a junior in the Fall of 1963. Her stories of those first days is a testimony to what a determined student can accomplish with a vision and a can with string attached to it. She can fill you in later with the full story.
Nonie was also a Women’s Basketball player for four years and was named the Most Improved Player her sophomore year (1962–1963) and the Captain and Most Valuable Player during her senior season (1964–1965). After graduation, Nonie continued her basketball career as a member of a semi-professional basketball team - the Salem Royals.
Nonie’s athletic exploits didn’t end there however. She was a four-year starter on the softball team, she won two trophies due to her golf prowess, she contributed to the volleyball program during the Fall King’s Tourneys, she tried her hand at tennis and ping pong, just to name a few.
We are not the first institution to honor Nonie either. She has already been inducted into the Wilmington (MA) High School’s Hall of Fame and the New Agenda: Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame. Also, the Cape Ann League created the Marion Hodges Sportsmanship Award given annually to the Cape Ann League school that best represents “how the sport of Field hockey should be played”, honoring how Noni coached and officiated their events.
Nonie’s reputation in this region is well respected and much revered. Maybe because she has officiated the sport of Field Hockey locally for nearly fifty years and the sport of basketball for twenty. Now that takes guts and stamina! There is always more that can be said about any honoree, but my last words before I pass the microphone to others are “please welcome Marion “Nonie” (Halpin) Hodges, Class of 1965, to the Gordon College Hall of Honor.”
BESIDES BEING AN ATHLETE
Hodges immediately got into coaching after she graduated from Gordon. She started with several different female sports at the Brookwood School from 1965-1970, moved to Wenham Junior High from 1970-1975 and also worked at the Governor Dummer Field Hockey Camp from 1975-'77. In Groveland where she and her family have resided for over 50 years, she coached little league, youth soccer, served as the middle school boys' basketball coach which won a championship, and she also served as a member of the Pentucket Basketball Boosters, is the former president of the Pentucket Wrestling Boosters and also served as a member of the Whittier Tech Vocational School Boosters Club. Outside of sports, she served as a member of the Groveland Recreation Committee and helped planned events for the Groveland Day and Fourth of July.
She started officiating field hockey games in 1969, serving as the assigner of the Cape Ann League, Northeast Conference and the Private Schools from 1986-2012, and throughout that time she also worked to train new officials.
“It was always a pleasure seeing Marion Hodges,” said former Tewksbury High Field Hockey coach Pat Ryser. “I knew Marion way back, through field hockey. It was great when I would see her coming to officiate my game. We had many great conversations about things on the field and off. She was a very good official that would call a fair game. Marion had great communication with the players and coaches. Field hockey was a game she loved to officiate, you could tell by the way she conducted herself on the field with grace and poise.”
Added former Wilmington High and current Andover High coach Maureen Noone, “Marion is a very kind person. She loves what she does. She is always nice to the kids and stresses sportsmanship.”
In addition Hodges officiated girls' basketball for 20 years and was the Commissioner of the Cape Ann League and Northeast Conference. Besides all of that, she was longtime teacher, first for seven years at the Essex North Christian School in West Newbury. She was a longtime substitute teacher throughout the Cape Ann League towns before spending her final 20 years as a math teacher at the Pentucket Middle School.
“I would teach, go into the bathroom and change into my officiating uniform, go and do a field hockey game and then if it was a parent night, I would run back, change again and do whatever we had to do,” she said.
Marion did all of this — all of it — while raising four boys. Their son Benjamin was a basketball scoring champion in the Cape Ann League, playing for Pentucket. He later became the head boys basketball and golf coach at Masconomet, including being named the Lawrence Eagle Tribune Golf Coach of the Year in 2005. Stephen, Matthew and Timothy were all wrestlers.
Their father Richard, was the Hamilton-Wenham girls' basketball coach in the 1970s and took one team to the North Sectional Final, after beating Ipswich for the first time in program history. He also served as a coach on the Salem Royals, the semi-professional team that his wife played on after she graduated from Gordon College.
“We met while we were at Gordon,” said Marion. “He coached for the Royals for three years, coached at Hamilton-Wenham and then in 1993, we both stopped coaching so we could watch Ben play. He was a principal at the North Reading Middle School and retired about ten years ago. We will be married for 54 years this June.”
Besides the soon to be 54 years of marriage, Hodges has been involved in high school field hockey as an official, just completing her 51st season.
“In 2018, I was officiating a game at Wilmington High and I realized that was the 60th year from when I first picked up a field hockey stick at Wilmington,” she said. “I asked (Wilmington High) coach (Leanne Ebert) if I could get a picture of myself with the captain (Molly Foley) because it had been sixty years. She said 'no, not unless you take these' and the team presented me with flowers. Evidently my sister Judy had called the school and told them. That meant so much to me.”
Hodges was asked about spending 60-plus years with one sport.
“God has blessed us with some wonderful memories. The friendships, the people you have influenced in your life and that whole fact of not knowing what other people are going through and this is why sports are so great. Kids get to go out onto the fields, especially during this pandemic, just to see the Cape Ann League as I did mostly their games and just seeing the kids out there and enjoying themselves is just such a wonderful thing.
“I did about 12 games this past fall. I usually do about thirty games a year but I did less this year because teams played less games with COVID-19. It's been great because half of the coaches I deal with now, were players back when I first started as an official. Maire Ryan, who played at Newburyport, Donna Anderson (of Triton Regional) and so many of them played then and are still coaching today. It's been a great sport for me. I just love it so much.”