Merrimack principal asked often "Who's your daddy?"
MERRIMACK – Ken Johnson stood Thursday morning in what used to be his office at Merrimack High School.
His college photos had been surreptitiously removed sometime earlier that morning, replaced by signs mocking the high school principal and avowed Yankees fan.
Even the wallpaper on Johnson’s computer had been altered. The screen now displayed Wally, the Red Sox’s fuzzy, green mascot, and the words, “Go Sox!”
His inbox had been invaded by taunts.
“I’m getting it from the parents now, too,” Johnson said.
One e-mail read: “Hey, Ken, who’s your daddy? See you at the World Series – oh, that’s right, the Yankees aren’t going to the World Series.”
On the morning after the Boston Red Sox earned a World Series berth by taking the American League pennant from their hated rivals, and Johnson’s beloved team, the New York Yankees, the principal was catching it – big time.
All of which was merely a prelude to the morning’s main attraction. Because of a bet Johnson made with assistant principal and Sox fan Richard Zampieri, Johnson had to wear a Sox cap and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” over the school intercom during morning announcements.
But first came the ribbing, as Johnson received more visitors than Don Vito Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Only in this case, it seemed the visitors held the puppet strings to make Johnson dance.
Merrimack police Capt. Mike Milligan, for instance, stopped by with a special gift.
“I brought my riot helmet in case things get out of hand,” Milligan said, presenting it to Johnson.
“It will help if someone throws a baseball from the upper deck,” Milligan quipped, a reference to the lawless hordes of Yankees fans in games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series.
Suddenly, Zampieri appeared in the doorway.
“Who’s your daddy?” he asked his boss.
By the time morning announcement time rolled around, the high school’s main office was packed with onlookers, including students videotaping the event, and others snapping photographs.
A sea of Red Sox caps – including the borrowed one Johnson wore – were removed and placed over hearts as the announcements began with the pledge of allegiance.
Then came announcements of benefit walks, field hockey scores and the like, read by a student. Suddenly, it was show time.
“You know, this could be my first public singing engagement,” Johnson had said moments earlier.
Zampieri warmed up the audience by playing about 20 seconds of the baseball anthem “Centerfield” on CD.
“Hey, that Johnson guy can really sing,” Johnson quipped as John Fogerty’s voice echoed throughout the school.
Then, Johnson stepped to the mike.
“I would like to honor the Boston Red Sox for their historic achievement, and for the second verse, I’ll be joined by the crowd that has suddenly gathered in my office,” he said.
“Take . . . me out . . . to the ball-game,” Johnson sang, his phrasing somewhat singular.
If the “American Idol” people had been there, they wouldn’t have rushed Johnson to sign him up. On the other hand, Cubs fans might say they’ve heard a lot worse during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.
At the end of the second verse, in which a chorus of onlookers including students, teachers, secretaries and even the press did indeed join in, thunderous applause echoed down the high school hallways.
Becca O’Neil, 14, was upstairs in a study hall at the time.
“That was so funny. I loved it,” she said. “Everyone clapped and cheered.”
“I give Mr. Johnson credit. He’s a very good sport,” noted Zampieri, who might have been the happiest person of all to hear Johnson sing.
If the Yankees had won, Zampieri would have had to wear Johnson’s Yankees cap and offer his rendition of the song.
Waxing philosophical, Johnson noted the educational opportunity the bet had presented.
Teenagers long to connect with someone, he said. The Red Sox’s success has given students a sense of community. Students who stayed up late to watch the games didn’t stay home the next day, but instead came to school excited, albeit tired, to talk about the game with each other, Johnson said.
“It’s always a teachable moment,” he said.
And for Johnson personally, what was this day’s lesson?
“Humility,” he said.