By Cary Shuman
Damien Earp has a rare distinction in Lynn: He received two of the city’s most prestigious awards as a youth player and a youth coach – by the time he was 14 years old.
As a player, Damien Earp was an All-Star in the Wyoma Little League and a standout in the East Lynn Pop Warner organization with one of his football teams winning the Eastern Mass. championship. He also played in Lynn Youth Hockey and St Pius CYO Basketball programs.
At the Wyoma banquet as a 12-year-old, Damien heard his name called as the recipient of the Phelps Sportsmanship Award. Two years later at the Greater Lynn Challenger Little League (now the Alice O’Neil Challenger Little League) Celebrity Dinner, 14-year-old Damien was presented the John Dill/John Nelson Best Buddy Award. A “buddy” is a coach that assists players with disabilities during the weekly games at Volunteer Field in Lynn.
Tom Dill, the former president of Wyoma Little League and a director of the Challenger League, recalled that Damien was a deserving recipient of the award co-named in honor of his son, John Dill, and John Nelson.
The Dill/Nelson award is considered on the same esteemed platform as the former Sonny Man Hill Sportsmanship (Baseball) Award and the Grace Rogato (Softball) Award.
“Damien was honored for his selfless commitment to the Challenger program,” said Mr. Dill. “He was honored for his dedication and the way he worked with the kids. He was a great leader who was always willing to step up and help kids.”
Mr. Dill also watched Damien excel on the field at Lynn Classical and in the Babe Ruth program. “Damien was always highly respected by his teammates, coaches, and parents,” said Mr. Dill.
Said Ward 2 City Councillor, William Trahant Jr., “Kids have always looked up to Damien.”
Now 20 years old, Damien has fond memories of those days when his father, Jeff, was on his way to become a legendary youth sports leader (he is a Lynn Babe Ruth officer today) and his older sister, Samantha, was excelling for Chris Warren’s best-in-the-NEC Lynn Classical softball program.
“Playing baseball in the Wyoma Little League was a great experience,” said Damien. “My first coach was John Erelli.”
Damien played on the Wyoma All-Star team with Katie Burt, who is now the goaltender for the Boston College team and a top candidate for the United States Olympic women’s hockey team.
“Katie was one of my favorite players on that team and probably my best friend on that team,” said Damien. “She’s just a great athlete and a great person.”
Receiving the Phelps Award was the perfect conclusion to Damien’s Little League career.
“I was so honored to receive such an important award,” said Damien. “I was always the kid who helped out my teammates and gave the extra effort to win the game. To receive that award was definitely a highlight.”
The Dill/Nelson presentation ceremony was also a shining moment for Damien, an achievement he shared with his parents at the banquet.
“My close friend, Bradley Dill, and his father, Tom Dill, got me to join the Challenger Little League as a buddy and I thought it would be a great idea to get involved and help the kids. My favorite kid was Brendan. I loved helping him play baseball and seeing him enjoy the sport so much.”
The award came as a surprise to Damien but he did fully understand the prestige and honor of being its recipient.
“I couldn’t feel any better about the award because I knew I was doing something great for the kids – helping kids live their dream and playing America’s national pastime.”
Damien carried those ideals of sportsmanship and leadership on to Lynn Classical where he became a captain of the baseball team and also played football. He was an NEC-All Star and earned a spot in the Harry Agganis Baseball Classic.
In baseball, he remembers forging a great relationship with head coach Mike Zukowski.
“Mr. Zukowski is one of my favorite coaches of all time,” said Damien. “He was so helpful and you not only learned about baseball, but you learned how to appreciate the game and compete hard but with sportsmanship at all times. I have to mention coach Jeff Waldron, who was also one of the best coaches I ever had. He knew so much about the game. He was unbelievable.”
Damien watched closely this summer as the Lynn Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Stars qualified for the World Series. “What a great experience for those kids – it’s something they’ll remember forever.”
It was Damien’s father, Jeff Earp, along with other youth leaders such as Jim Beliveau and Dave Raymond, who organized and raised funds so Lynn could compete for the world championship in North Dakota.
“My father has always put out a great effort for Lynn kids and he’s been at it as far back as I can remember,” said Damien. “I couldn’t love him any more for that. He and my mother were always there for me every game I played. My mother was always in the stands as my No. 1 fan. And my sister, Sam – she’s awesome.”
Looking back at those years in youth sports programs, Damien said he was glad he was able to give back to the community as a “buddy.” He hopes to continue that involvement as a coach in the future.
“I’d love to coach kids and get back on the field even though I’m not playing any more,” said Damien. “I want to see if I can help kids the way men who are giants in this city like Jim Beliveau, Tom Dill, and my father helped me when I was growing up.”