A Force Unto Himself: McKenzie Founded Chelsea Police Softball and Basketball Teams in 1968

Lou McKenzie had a very distinguished career in the Chelsea Police Department. A 1955 graduate of Chelsea High School who graduated from the FBI Academy and holds degrees from Northeastern and Salem State University, McKenzie, served 33 years in the department, retiring as a lieutenant in 1996.

One of the unsung but much-appreciated achievements in McKenzie’s career was founding the Chelsea Police Department basketball team and later the Chelsea Police Department softball team, both in 1968.

Chelsea Police Officer Lou McKenzie (left), founder of the Chelsea Police Department softball team, receives a trophy at the 1968 Middlesex Softball League awards banquet.

“I went to Chief [Abraham] Burgin, and he didn’t want to do it at first,” said McKenzie, who was a patrolman at the time. “I said, ‘Chief, this would be good for the guys, some good exercise’. The chief was concerned about the potential for injuries. So, I told him that I would work a day here and there with no pay to fill in the void.”

Burgin gave the go-ahead, and McKenzie, the CPD player-coach, scheduled other police departments, local teachers, the YMCA team, and other teams for games at the State Armory in Chelsea. Peter DeFrancesco, then owner of Storti’s Sub Shop, sponsored the team’s uniforms.

The basketball games proved to be popular, with members of the police officers’ families and friends packing the old Armory on Spencer Avenue.

“We used the proceeds to purchase televisions for the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, veterans organizations, and nursing homes,” said McKenzie.

With such standouts as Larry Riddell, Mickey Tyler, and Leroy Tyler leading the way, the Police contingent completed an undefeated basketball season.

 The CPD basketball team played for a few seasons before disbanding in the early 1970s.

As for softball, McKenzie again received clearance from Chief Burgin and entered the CPD team in a Middlesex County league because he felt that league was more competitive than the Suffolk County league.

One of Lou’s teammates was then Sgt. Ralph Eaves, who played first base for Chelsea’s finest. Mr. Eaves’ son, who is now Dr. Ralph Eaves, was also starring at first base for a championship Chelsea Little League White Sox team at that time.

“Ralph was my sergeant and was a great guy and great softball hitter,” recalled McKenzie.

The CPD softball team continued for several years, with games being played at the old Carter Park.

“We also played a benefit softball game against the Boston Bruins,” said McKenzie. “I know John Bucyk and Johnny McKenzie (no relation) played for the Bruins team. They won, but it was a great time and drew a big crowd.”

Looking back, McKenzie said the softball teams created a lot of camaraderie. “We had great times. After the games, we would have cookouts and our families were there. It was a lot of fun.”

Always involved in sports

Lou McKenzie briefly played for the CHS football and basketball teams. However, because of a serious leg injury that he had sustained as a 5-year-old child in a hit-and-run accident, McKenzie was told by school physicians that he wouldn’t be allowed to play sports.

One of his high school classmates was former Chelsea Community Cable Television executive director, the late Robert “Duke” Bradley. “Duke was a really good athlete,” said McKenzie.

Lou Meets Elvis

When Lou McKenzie was serving his country in the United States Air Force in Germany in 1958, he was assigned the job of processing the arriving U.S. Army personnel.

“One of the Army personnel coming through – I didn’t realize it until I saw him – it was Elvis Presley,” recalled McKenzie. “He was going to Berlin to serve in the 3rd Armor Division.”

Playing sports for the U.S. Army/Air Force team

While serving overseas, Lou McKenzie was able to continue in sports when he was selected to the U.S. Army/Air Force basketball team.
“Our coaches were captains and majors, but they were also pilots,” he said. “We had our own plane and flew all over Europe to 15 countries to play against Army/Air Force teams. After showing his prowess on the basketball court, McKenzie earned a spot on the Army/Air Force football team.

Returning to Chelsea

Following his service McKenzie returned to Chelsea in 1960 and joined the Chelsea YMHA where he played in the Wild Animal Basketball League.

“I first became involved with the YMHA when I was a pinsetter for the bowling alleys there,” said McKenzie. “Choc Glazer asked me if I wanted to join the ‘Y’, and I said, “I’m not Jewish’, and Choc said to me, ‘I don’t care’.”

Soon after, McKenzie became a member of the YMHA. “Choc was a great guy. I was one of the first non-Jewish residents to become a member of the YMHA.”

Thirty-three years of service in the CPD

Lou McKenzie began his career in the Chelsea Police Department in 1963. He was promoted to sergeant in 1975 and lieutenant in 1985.

He also served on the detective bureau before retiring in 1996.

During his career in law enforcement, McKenzie graduated from the FBI Academy in Virginia and received degrees from Northeastern University and Salem State University. He considered law school but opted to become a certified public-school teacher.  He did his practice teaching at Chelsea High School.

“When the students first saw me walk into the high school, they thought I was there as a detective and doing police work  – it was funny,” said McKenzie.

Raising a family in Chelsea

Lou and Grace (Reddington) McKenzie lived in Chelsea and were married for 56 years before her passing in 2019. They have three daughters, Karen, a graduate of Boston College, Susan, a graduate of Salem State, and Ellen, a graduate of Salem State, and five granddaughters, Kristina, Stephanie, Victoria, Gabrielle, and Jaclyn.

Now living on the North Shore, Lou McKenzie is deservedly proud of his career in the Chelsea Police Department. He is a credit to his badge, his department, and his family.

And in 1968, he created basketball and softball teams to bring extra spirit and teamwork to a department that protected Chelsea well then and continues to do so today.

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