Longtime official Don McGillicuddy passes away during state tournament game

The Watertown girls basketball team was putting the finishing touches on a 47-29 tournament win over Old Rochester last night at the Watertown Middle School when tragedy struck.

Veteran official Don McGillicuddy was in the process of making a call with 37 seconds left in the game when he collapsed. School trainers and medical personnel in the stands immediately responded and they were able to initially revive him.

En route to Mount Auburn Hospital, according to fellow official and childhood friend John Rafferty, he suffered a second heart attack and despite several attempts to revive him, they were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead.

The Watertown Public Schools released a statement regarding the events of Friday evening:

“The Watertown Raiders community is deeply saddened by the collapse of a game official in the final seconds of the Watertown-Old Rochester Regional girls basketball game on Friday night. Staff cleared the gym of students and spectators while a Watertown athletic trainer, officers from the Watertown Police Department, and members of the community rendered immediate aid to the official. We are thankful to everyone who provided medical assistance to the official and supported fans in the moments after this incident.

“We understand that this incident was unsettling for those in attendance. School administrators spoke with students and families in the minutes after the game and counselors will be available for students on Monday. We encourage families to talk with their students about what they saw and how they are feeling, even if they are not showing obvious signs of being upset.”

Those who know McGillicuddy spoke of his passion for officiating. One of those was his close friend Larry Kelleher. A former Tyngsboro High athletic director and principal who spent more than three decades as an MIAA basketball tournament director, Kelleher spoke with McGillicuddy a few hours earlier.

“Donnie is a good guy and a very good referee,” Kelleher said. “He really loved this time of the year. In fact, we were talking earlier in the day and he was excited about doing the game and was already looking forward to doing another tournament game in the next few days.”

Added longtime referee and league assignor of official Rich Antonelli: “Donnie was a great ref and a super guy. He loved to referee and golf, those were his passions.”

Rafferty grew up with McGillicuddy in Lowell and remained friends through the years.

“Donnie grew up in a tough neighborhood, but was gifted with a warm personality,” Rafferty said. “He had a desire to do better for himself and saw that way through sports. I went to Lowell and he went to Greater Lowell where he played basketball and baseball.

“He was a city kid through and through and never lost that work ethos which drove him to excel in golf (McGillicuddy was a member at Long Meadow Golf Club in Lowell) and refereeing. He was always happy to share in his good fortune and help people in any way that he could.”

McGillicuddy gravitated toward officiating and eventually joined IAABO 95 Lowell where he was a member for the past 24 years. Rafferty said that McGillicuddy loved being around people and mixing it up with his gift of gab, yet was able to do so in a way which endeared him to everyone, even coaches.

“Donnie has been a ref my entire coaching career,” said Westford Academy girls basketball coach Russ Coward. “When I first started as a head coach in 2008, I was a little hot headed at the time, but Donnie was great. He was always willing to communicate with the coaches. He would always listen to you and if you would tell him to watch for something, he would always respond and, in that regard, he was great.”

McGillicuddy had two children, Wayne and Erica. Wayne McGillicuddy is the head football coach at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut and credits his father for being a major influence in his life,

“He’s the best,” an emotional McGillicuddy said. “I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without him. He’s my best friend and my right hand man.”

The Watertown-Shawsheen boys basketball game, which was supposed to take place after the girls game, was postponed and rescheduled to Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.

Veteran official Don McGillicuddy (Photo courtesy of John Rafferty)

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