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  Officiating Crew Honors Its Own During Special Halftime Ceremony  
  September 23, 2021 Edition  
      Boardman News Sports
      For the past 30 years, Boardman High alum Rich O’Brien (Class of ’73) was a member of YDFOA (Youngstown District Football Officials Association), spending his last 20-plus years as an umpire on referee Jim Gahagan’s highly-respected officiating crew.
      O’Brien, formerly of Bristlewood Dr., retired after last season and this past February, passed away after a brief but courageous fight with cancer.
      During halftime of last Friday’s East-Boardman game at Spartan Stadium before more than 3,000 fans, Gahagan and his crew presented O’Brien’s wife, Susan, and her family a beautifully-framed uniform top that O’Brien proudly wore during his officiating career.
      A heartfelt, two-minute tribute from Gahagan preceded the presentation and was played for those in attendance on the giant scoreboard, located in the north endzone of the stadium.
      “Rich and I were friends before we were officiating friends,” said Gahagan, who is a 1974 BHS graduate. “A little over 25 years ago, they told me as a referee that I needed to find a good guy in the middle if I was to have a respected crew. I never found that good guy because I found the best guy and that was Rich O’Brien.”
      Gahagan said O’Brien was a master at his position and an official both teams respected.
      “Rich wasn’t looking to see how many holding calls he could make in a game, he just didn’t do that,” Gahagan added. “Instead, he did preventative officiating, opting to talk to the linemen and they loved him for that quality.”
      A U.S. Navy and Vietnam Veteran and 1982 YSU graduate, O’Brien was a member of Mayo Realtors from 1982 until his death.
      He credited Rick Fryda – it was a chance meeting with him when he was looking for a home to purchase – for encouraging him to get into officiating.
      O’Brien worked on several crews before there was an opening on Gahagan’s staff, that coming in 1999 and he worked his final two decades with Gahagan as referee, Pete Sforza (head linesman), Floyd Crooks (back judge) and Kevin Pushay (line judge).
      Gahagan’s crew that worked Friday’s contest included Sforzo, Crooks and Pushay, along with Tom Sullivan and Robert Zaku.
      Accepting the framed jersey at midfield was O’Brien’s wife, Susan, who was accompanied by Rich’s brother, Mike and his wife Lynn, daughter Jillian and her husband, Mark DeSalvo, son Richard and his wife, Allison and son Patrick and his fiancé, Alexis Paidas.
      Patrick recently took the football officials class and has been assigned to Gahagan’s crew, looking to be mentored by the group with the hopes of following in his father’s footsteps.
      “You won’t find a family more polite or respectful than the O’Brien family,” Gahagan stated. “Richie and Patrick were great baseball players and like their dad, great sportsmen. His kids still call me Mr. Gahagan. We’re mentoring Patrick and he is coming along so expect to see him on the field in the not too distant future.”
      Gahagan and O’Brien were hoping to retire the same year with the 2021 season the 41st and last now for the former.
      “It’s just not the same this year for me without Rich,” Gahagan noted. “I have five games left and then I will be through. I still haven’t made up my mind about playoffs but this is definitely my last year as a football official. I had a special team and Rich was a big part of that team.”
      This past August, O’Brien and Susan, would have celebrated their 42nd anniversary. In addition to their three children, their family also includes grandchildren Hadlee, Phebee and Mark DeSalvo, and Cooper and Nolan O’Brien.
      PICTURED: photo/John A. Darnell jr.
       A LOCAL FOOTBALL OFFICIATING CREW honored one of its own, the late Richie O’Brien, during halftime ceremonies held at the Boardman-East game at Spartan Stadium. Among those on hand for the ceremonies were, from left, Jim Gahagan, Mr. O’Brien’s son, Pat, and his wife, Susan.
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