Published in the May 4, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The sunny disposition of Johnny O’Donnell shone through as brightly as the blazing sun beneath perfectly blue skies on Saturday morning at the Lynnfield High School baseball diamond.
Johnny’s presence could be felt by those who knew him well and those who never had the privilege of meeting the young man many affectionately called “O’D” as his family and friends, former coaches and teachers, and members of the current varsity baseball team gathered to rededicate the flagpole and memorial garden erected in his honor.
The memorial site to O’D had to be relocated during the construction of the all-turf fields project at LHS. The new site now greets every baseball fan who approaches the baseball diamond, prominently beside the new home dugout.
The new flagpole will remain illuminated by recessed ground lighting. A memorial granite stone with a brass plaque also honors the three-sport athlete and the entire area is adorned with pretty shrubs and trees.
The plaque reads: “Dedicated in Loving Memory of our son, Johnny “O’D” O’Donnell, A True Pioneer, Class of 2003.” It also includes images of the three sports Johnny played for the Pioneers — football, baseball and wrestling.
His father, John O’Donnell, told the Villager how much his son loved the years he had spent at Lynnfield High School, describing him as the “mayor” of school at that time. After graduating in June of 2003, his middle son was attending technical school the following fall when he passed away unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 19 due to a previously undiagnosed breathing disorder.
Steven Schedin, a friend and baseball teammate of O’Donnell’s who attended the rededication, told the Villager that he will always remember him as “one of the most friendly and outgoing guys in all of Lynnfield.”
Fields Committee Chairman Arthur Bourque told those gathered that it was “important for us to find a place” at the high school to properly relocate this flagpole in O’D’s memory.
“If you look at what we’ve done here today, I think it is a fitting tribute to a young man who was a vibrant part of the Lynnfield High School community. I am sure if he was here today he would be like every other Lynnfield High School graduate looking out over these fields saying, ‘I can’t believe what we have here’ and I am sure he’d be shocked that there is a stone here memorializing him as well,” Bourque said.
His wrestling coach, Craig Stone, recalled, “John O’Donnell was involved in wrestling throughout his youth and high school career. After years of experience in the Lynnfield youth program, John participated all four years in wrestling at Lynnfield High School.”
He added, “John was bestowed the Coach’s Award in his senior year. He was remembered for his camaraderie, his enthusiasm, his encouragement, and his unflagging support of his coaches and his teammates.”
“In 2004, the wrestling team established the John O’Donnell Team Sportsmanship Award in his honor and each year since, voted on by the wrestlers, we have recognized the teammate that best exemplifies those characteristics that John demonstrated each day both on and off the mat. This year’s recipient was Lynnfield senior captain Pat Monzione,” Stone said.
It was a bittersweet moment for Stone, who concluded, “I am very pleased and sad that we are gathered here today to honor John’s memory on the baseball diamond, a sport that John truly loved to play and also demonstrated those values that we all hold so dear.”
O’D’s father, John, told the crowd that for him, “there is no better way to honor our Johnny’s memory than the raising of the American flag.” He thanked everyone who made it possible for the “awesome job” that was done in creating this memorial space. He then joined his two sons, Joe and Dan, at the base of the flagpole as they respectfully unfurled the new flag with assistance from Bourque.
After the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, the Pioneers capped off a perfect morning by proceeding to beat their opponents, the Ipswich Tigers, 10-1, in their fourth consecutive victory. The two teams then gathered for a post-game cookout with the O’Donnell family.
Current Pioneer baseball coach John O’Brien, who was serving as an assistant coach under former coach Steven McBride back when O’Donnell played baseball, remembered him as a “great teammate” who was also “a great kid from a nice family.” O’Brien added that O’D was one of McBride’s “favorite guys.”