A Hall of Famer 61 years in the making

  • Greenfield native Jim Fotopulos stands with a T-shirt he received after being inducted into the Fitchburg State Athletics Hall of Fame this fall along with the rest of the 1957 men’s soccer team. Fotopulos later taught at Greenfield High School for 34 years before retiring in 1994. Staff PHOTO/JASON BUTYNSKI

  • Jim Fotopulos (second row from front, second from right) is pictured in the team photo of the 1957 Fitchburg State men’s soccer team that was recently inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. To his right is friend Pete McDonnell, and in front of him (second from right of front row) is long-time Leominster coach Emile Johnson, who was the state record-holder in high school coaching wins until being recently passed by Mohawk coach Joe Chadwick. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/26/2018 10:35:19 PM

GREENFIELD — Jim Fotopulos was walking through the locker room at Fitchburg State University during the fall of 1954 as a freshmen when he and his friend Pete McDonnell saw a pile of shoes.

“Oh, they’ve got football here,” Fotopulos said to McDonnell, who had just transferred from St. Michael’s College where he was going to play football. “Let’s go down to the field to see what’s going on.”

The dorm-mates headed out to the field but what they found was something unexpected.

“It was soccer practice," Fotopulos recalled. “Neither of us had much to do with soccer. In this area, soccer was virtually unheard of.”

Fotopulos and McDonnell asked coach Bob Elliott if they could try it out.

“He told us to go upstairs and find some cleats and two Newsweek magazines to use as shinguards,” the Greenfield native recalled.

Just like that, Fotopulos was learning a new sport and three years later, as a senior, he was a member of the team that won the school’s first-ever New England Teachers College Conference Championship. Earlier this fall, Fotopulos and the rest of the 1957 Fitchburg State men’s soccer team were officially inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

James Fotopulos graduated from Greenfield High School in the spring of 1954 after playing baseball for Stan Benjamin. There was no soccer team at Greenfield at that time, so when Fotopulos stepped onto the field that fall at Fitchburg with a pair of magazines taped to his shins, he was learning a new sport.

Fotopulos said he was fortunate because he had the seniors and other upper-classmen to teach him the sport, and many of them were quite talented. In addition to them, Fotopulos played for coach Elliott, who went into the Fitchburg State Hall of Fame in the inaugural class in 1994, and for whom the athletic field at Fitchburg is now named after. Fotopulos said that he didn’t really love the sport at first, but stuck with it.

“It was cold and we practiced late,” Fotopulos said. “Basically, I knew very little about the sport, but as a freshman it was a way to make friends and break in with the upper-classmen.”

By the time he was a junior, the team was one of the most successful in the NETCC. Back then, the conference champion was decided on a points system, and in 1956, the soccer team lost by a narrow margin in its bid to win a title.

That next season, Fitchburg State went 7-2 overall, and 7-1 in conference to win the title. In the season-finale, Fitchburg beat Bridgewater State, 1-0, to clinch the league title.

Fotopulos was a right halfback. He said his responsibility was usually mirroring the opposing team’s fastest player, although he said he was never a star on the team.

“There were times when I didn’t even have to take a shower after a game, I suspect,” he joked. “If there were 22 guys on the team, I might have been number 21.”

Fotopulos also played four years of varsity baseball in college, and graduated in the spring of 1958 with a degree in English/Language Arts, and a minor in Social Studies. After graduating from Fitchburg, Fotopulos spent two years serving in the army. He coached the Fort Knox Tankers baseball team, and was going to coach the basketball team but was deployed to South Korea, where he served in the 8th Army in Seoul. He was a clerk typist.

“My weapon of choice was a typewriter and a hot cup of coffee,” he joked.

While in South Korea, Fotopulos applied for a job back home at his alma mater at GHS. He received correspondence from GHS superintendent Fred Porter asking him to come for an interview.

“I told him, ‘Not unless you know Dwight Eisenhower,’” Fotopulos joked, since he was still abroad at the time.

Porter waited until Fotopulos was back stateside that July, at which time he was hired to teach at the school. Back then, GHS also had a vocational wing, and he spent two years (1960-1962) teaching English and Social Studies to vocational students. In his first year at GHS, he also became the first-ever soccer coach at GHS. John Lapean, a teacher at the school, had put together the program and was set to coach but had to take a one-year sabbatical and asked Fotopulos to step in. Lapean returned the next season and spent years coaching the squad. 

In the fall of 1962, Fotopulos took a job in the academic part of the school and spent the next 32 years teaching U.S. History and Modern History at the high school before retiring in 1994. During his time at the school, he also coached the JV baseball team for seven seasons (1961 through 1967) under Benjamin and later Lou Bush.

This fall, accompanied by his son Andrew, daughter-in-law Penny and granddaughter Rena, Fotopulos was on hand with the eight other remaining members of the team for the induction ceremony at Fitchburg.

“It was about time,” Fotopulos joked. “They waited until all of us were dead so they didn’t have to pay for the banquet meals.”

Another member of that team was Leominster native Emile Johnson, who was a freshman that season. Johnson later went on to coach soccer and baseball at Leominster, and was the state’s all-time leader in high school wins until about two weeks ago, when Mohawk track & field/cross country coach Joe Chadwick surpassed him.

Fotopulos said he was humbled by the induction, something that was over 60 years in the making.

“I must have had over 3,000 students in 34 years teaching, and I said to myself, ‘I wonder what those 3,000 kids will think when they see I made the Hall of Fame?’” he joked. “I just wish it was the academic Hall of Fame.”

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