Interview with Channel 5 Sportscaster Mike Lynch

The sports anchor shares some of his favorite High 5 stories, and explains why Thanksgiving is his favorite day of the year.

Mike LynchPhoto via Channel 5

Thanksgiving is going to be a hectic day for Channel 5’s Mike Lynch. The longtime sports anchor will leave his house in Winchester at about 8:30 a.m., drive north, attend the Andover-Central Catholic game, interview players and coaches, shoot back home, take a shower, grab a turkey sandwich, and head into the station, where he said he’ll “just dive into all the highlights and scores.”

And that night, as he does every year, Lynch will host the region’s best high school football wrap-up show. “We have a half hour, from 7:30 to 8, and then we do it again from 11:30 to midnight,” said Lynch, a Harvard graduate who grew up in Swampscott. “The content’s the same. But we are live.”

Lynch, 59, doesn’t just love high school football. His periodic High 5 segments showcase some of the Boston area’s most extraordinary young athletes—across all sports. This week, Lynch answered a few questions, and among other things, explained why he doesn’t mind working on Thanksgiving.

What attracted you to high school sports? What about them do you enjoy?

Fortunately I grew up as a water boy, a ball boy and a bat boy because my dad was a high school teacher and a coach. He coached three sports, so from the time I was five years old I was either lugging a water bucket, cleaning someone’s cleats with a putty knife, bringing baseballs to the umpire or blowing up basketballs for a basketball game. I had an affinity for it. I was always exposed to good people, good qualities, good events, and a lot of excitement. It’s been in my blood since I was a kid.

So what was the genesis of High 5?

It was 1985 and the station wanted to do a feature of the week. And they first suggested that we salute a professional athlete, and give them an award. So I said, “You know, every time I go to speak to a Kiwanis luncheon, a Lions Club, people always ask me, ‘Why don’t you do you more on high school sports?’” So I said, “Why don’t we call it High 5?” Like “high,” school, and “5,” Channel 5. At the time people were still giving each other high fives. This was long before the chest bump and the fist bump. The first day we did it was on the day of Hurricane Gloria in September of 1985. You know how TV stations are when a big weather event comes. Sports gets put in the closet, and you can turn the lights out and just go home. But they actually put me on. And I did a High 5 on a kid named Joe Betro from Walpole High School. And as soon as I did it, the phones were jumping off the hook. Not from people from his town of Walpole, but from other towns. … So I said, “Hey, maybe we’re on to something.” We started doing it the next week and the following week. And the rest is history.

Do you enjoy the human interest stories as much as stories on elite athletes?

When I did [Patriots All Access] for about 14 years, quite often I’d do an interview with [Bill Belichick] in the morning and Tom Brady or Tedy Bruschi or some member of the team, and then I would leave there, and go to a high school to videotape a High 5. And you’ve got two opposite ends of the spectrum. I really got excited to interview Bill Belichick and put a lot of forethought into it and then when I got over to interview the high school kid, it’s kind of a different feeling. It’s a little more gratifying. You’re really recognizing someone for trying. Not for winning a Super Bowl, but for trying their best.

Not to sound self-serving, but maybe this little exposure might make a difference in this boy or girl’s life. I had this girl, she played for Medfield High School—Annie Garofalo, she was born without a left hand. Her coach sent me an email and said, “This girl, she tried out every year, she’s on our field hockey team.” I went out and I met her, and just watching her, she’s the happiest person on the field, she’s the smartest person on the field, she’s the most appreciative to be able to be part of a team. She tucked the nub of the field hockey stick under her left armpit, and she used her right hand to hit. So we did a High 5 on her. I asked her where she was applying to college and she said, “Well, I applied to Brown, I applied to MIT, I applied to Georgetown, and I’m thinking of applying to Harvard.” And I said, “Well, you should give it a shot, you never know.”

And so when I did the High 5, I had tears in my eyes while it was airing, and I said, “If there are any admissions officers from Harvard that are watching this, take a good look at Annie, because she’s really a winner.” Well, this was in October of 2010. I get a call in March from one of the admissions officers. She says, “Mike, you don’t know me, but I happened to be cooking dinner that night and you caught my attention. I watched Annie’s story. We’ve got 200 people on the table and we’re going to take 40 of them and her story just struck me. I pulled her folder out and presented it to the rest of the committee, and we’re going to offer her admission.” So Annie’s at Harvard right now. She’s a sophomore.

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve done over the years?

Annie was one of my favorites. A girl named Lisa Wiswall; she went to Somerville High School back in the late ’80s. She had bone cancer in her arm. She had had over a dozen surgeries. She was a cross country runner. She was a terrific, terrific athlete. She was a very good student. I did a story on her and the Tufts coach happened to see the story. And he called her up and offered her a partial scholarship. And she went to Tufts. Every year—I’ve still got it sitting on my desk, I’m looking at it right now—I get a Christmas card from her. It says, “Love Bob, Lisa, Michelle, Jack and Jill,” their two dogs. So two dogs, a daughter—and Lisa’s gotta be probably almost as old as me now. Imagine being in high school and having a dozen operations on your arm and still going out and being a champion runner? She was one of my favorites because she was one of the first real emotional ones. A lot of them were guys who scored four touchdowns in a game or scored 30 points in a basketball game. She was the first emotional story.

Let’s move on to the Thanksgiving football wrap-up show. How long has that been around?

I asked [anchor] Ed Harding about it two hours ago. He came here in ’88. I said, “Were we doing it when you got here?” and he said, “Yup.” I would say it’s probably been going since ’85.

What are your impressions of Thanksgiving? Is it a fun day for you? Or is it crazy?

I think it’s one of the greatest days of the year. If you added it up—just in the state of Massachusetts—close to a million people go to a football game. Many of them, like my wife and my three daughters, will go to the Winchester-Woburn game, and they’ll come back and they won’t even know what the score was, because it’s a reunion. It’s a social gathering. People just gravitate to see people they haven’t seen for a year, five years, 20 years, 30 years. And there’s a pretty good football game. It’s a big day for the band. It’s the biggest crowd they’re going to play in front of. It’s a big day for the cheerleaders. It’s a big day for the parents that have been running the concession stand all year. You’ve had 20 people buying hot dogs, now you have 5,000 people buying hot dogs. It’s kind of a culmination, and I think it really galvanizes a town for about three hours. Unfortunately most things that galvanize a town are usually sad things. You can feel the energy in the stadium when you walk in on Thanksgiving Day. That’s what makes it special.

So how much longer do you think you’ll be doing this?

As long as they’ll have me, we’ll be doing this every year. I’m 59 years old. I’ll be doing it until I’m 99 if they’ll let me.