Longtime football official saluted with special award.
GARDNER - Henry Zablonski remembers when he officiated his first high school football game back in 1966. And he certainly recalls, with bittersweet emotions, his final game as an official late last November on Thanksgiving Day morning.
Zablonski, who retired from a 45-year career as a football official after the 2010 season, will always treasure a recent award he received from the Joseph R. Mewhiney Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
The 75-year-old Zablonski was given a special award for his contribution to Central Massachusetts football.
"It was a great honor," Zablonski said in a recent interview, while holding the plaque he received at the awards brunch, held at the Courtyard by Marriott in Marlboro. "It means a lot to me."
The National Football Foundation is a nationwide educational organization that enlists the ex-player, educator, athletic director and coach, football official, writer, commentator and fan in the service of American youth. The Mewhiney Chapter is the Central Massachusetts unit.
Zablonski, who lives in Gardner and graduated from Gardner High in 1954, began his officiating career as a head linesman, and then spent 25 years as the on-field referee in game after game.
After working junior varsity games for a couple of seasons, Zablonski moved to the varsity level in
"I had the Athol versus Southbridge game, and I'll never forget that one. Both teams came in undefeated," Zablonski recalled.
Zablonski was picked as one of the officials for the annual Shriners Football Game played at Boston College in 1978. He also worked the 100th game between Groton Academy and St. Mark's Academy.
"An astronaut who had graduated from Groton Academy gave me a medal to use for the opening coin toss. It was a medal that had been in space," Zablonski said. "Now, that was a big game."
For many years, Zablonski was certain to be one of the main officials at the annual Murdock vs. Narragansett Thanksgiving Day game.
Asked about the necessary characteristics to be an effective football official, Zablonski said that you have to be able to block out the usual, expected critical comments that come from both sidelines.
"You can't have rabbit ears," he said. "And you have to use common sense. The toughest call is probably the pass interference call. And for me as the referee, it was the man-in-motion call, when a player tends to get ahead of the play, ahead of the snap."
Over the years, the wear and tear of running in games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons took its toll.
"I've had two knee replacements, but I came back after each," Zablonski said, adding with a laugh, "Age is starting to catch up on me."
Still physically active, Zablonski tries to golf one or two times a week. He retired after working for 27 years as a mechanical engineer at Genrad Corp. in Bolton. He later worked as a custodian at the Gardner Police Department.
Some previous winners of the Joseph R. Mewhiney Chapter Officials Award include such high school officials as the late Pete Trainor, Jack Joyce and Herman Hasenstein, along with Dick LaDuke, Paul King, Pete Horstmann and Ray Baltramaitis.
"I worked with them all," Zablonski said, looking over the list of his colleagues. "Great guys. I have a lot of great memories. I'm going to miss officiating, I know that, no doubt about it. But, for me, after 45 years, it's time."
PHOTOG: JAY GEARAN
CUTLINE: Football official Henry Zablonski of Gardner with his special award given by the Joseph R. Mewhiney Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.