By Patrick Winderl
The first recipients of the Iron Eagle Fan Award are certainly blue-blooded, but they're anything but snobs.
The navy and columbia hues of Blue Sky High School pump through the veins of two couples who earlier this month were honored by students for their loyalty and unwavering support for all things Blue Sky.
For more than 40 years, Ken and Judy Watson and Chet and Marilyn Welsh have devoted their time, energy and support to students in their community. They demonstrated their fondness for students, first by cheering on the Hingham Rangers and the Rudyard Panthers starting in the 1960s, and then, after consolidation, by turning out for their beloved Blue Sky Eagles.
Blue Sky student body president Roald Aageson said the involvement by the two couples has done more than just fill the stands.
"Their support is felt by everybody in the community," he said. "The athletes and students at Blue Sky High School appreciate that more than they know. It means a lot when they come out to support us."
On Feb. 5, before the Eagles' last home basketball game of the year, the students gave back to the two couples who have been cheering them on for longer than they can remember. During a ceremony just prior to the opening tipoff, the student body named the Watsons and Welshes the first-ever recipients of the Blue Sky Iron Eagle Fan Award.
The award is a spinoff of the Iron Eagle Award, an honor given to an outstanding male and female athlete each year.
Calling them down to be recognized for their support, Aageson gave each couple a trophy, a rose and tickets to the 9C District basketball tournament.
"They have sat through football games and track meets in the most inclement weather. They have been to speech meets, concerts, awards ceremonies and every sporting event imaginable," Aageson told the audience.
The trophy each couple was given was built by Blue Sky graduate Alfred Tollefson. The metal trophy has been molded to display the word "Eagle," with "Iron" imprinted inside the letter E. A replica of the trophy will be displayed inside the high school with a list of the recipients' names.
"It was quite an honor. I was very surprised," Ken Watson said during an interview this week. "They give the Iron Eagle Award to the most valuable boy and girl. This award that Mr. Tollefson gave us was really something."
Watson is not only a Blue Sky fan, he's also a former Rudyard teacher and football, track and volleyball coach. He received his teaching degree after serving four years in the military, and moved to Rudyard in 1964 with his wife, Judy. Despite his repeated attempts at retirement, students have always found a way to get him to change his mind.
"Ken has retired from Blue Sky Schools at least three times, has turned his keys in to the school at least five times, but because of his dedication to kids and his unwillingness to say no, the keys keep returning to him," Aageson said during the awards ceremony.
"In my tenure at Blue Sky Schools, Mr. Watson has been 'retired' from the school system but I cannot recall one football game, one volleyball game, one basketball game, one track event, one speech, music or academic event the Watsons have missed," he said.
The math department at Blue Sky High School estimates the Watsons have attended more than 2,500 sporting events during their four-decade career as loyal fans.
Although Ken Watson is no longer a coach, he continues to teach on a substitute basis and operates the time clock at sporting events.
"I finally did quit driving the activity bus," he said. "I figured 42 years was long enough."
Chet and Marilyn Welsh of Hingham started out as Ranger fans and began cheering for the Panthers when their grandchildren attended Rudyard schools. They continued the tradition by cheering on Blue Sky, watching their grandkids and now great-grandkids.
Far from a fair-weather fan, Chet Welsh cheers on his team even in the face of humiliating loss.
"He always gives them a high-five when they come off the floor. Even if we lose by a hundred, he's still right there with a smile," said Blue Sky athletic director Lorraine Moog.
The Welshes are such a familiar presence at sporting events that they have their own seats in Blue Sky gymnasium.
"They pretty much sit in the same spot," Moog said. "He has done the books and clocks for years, and he has his spot picked out behind the scorer's table."
"We like to be at center court and in the second row. Everyone knows those are our seats and no one sits there," Marilyn Welsh said.
She said she derives great pleasure from watching the kids grow up.
"You watch little kids from the time they're in kindergarten, and you get kind of attached to them," Marilyn said. "It's a way to get out of the house each weekend and see people and watch the kids improve. It's just an interesting thing to do."
The two couples' support is not only directed at athletes, Moog said.
"It's concerts, plays, elementary school assemblies - anything with kids they are very involved in," she said, adding that the decision to recognize the Watsons and Welshes came from the students.
"They're diehard fans, and very, very dedicated to the kids," she said. "I think we've honored them before, but not like this. The kids wanted to have something where we put their names on the wall. They wanted to make a tradition out of this."
Aageson said he hopes future classes of Blue Sky students continue the recognition started this year.
"We started it with the hope that it would be something that is carried on as an annual honor," he said.
"The main reason we decided to recognize them is because of the support they have given Blue Sky students. In my memories, I can't remember a single event they did not attend. They have been avid supporters of the students for over four decades. They are basically at everything we do, and that's why we decided to recognize them."