In 1962, 49 years ago this March, the original six-state New England Schoolboy Championship held its last tournament at the old Boston Garden. Outstanding Eastern Maine players, who turned in great games and were named to the All-New England tourney teams, included John “Swisher” Mitchell of Waterville, Danny Drinon of Bangor, Skip Chappelle of Old Town, Jack Scott of Ellsworth, Jon MacDonald of Stearns and Joe Harrington of Morse.
The New England tourney began in 1921 and was for the winners of each state’s large-group division from Maine (Class L then), New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island and the winners and runners-up from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Through 1943, the tournament was held on college campuses in the Boston area. In 1945 it was held at the Boston Garden where it was not uncommon to have 13,909 in attendance for each game.
The only Maine team to win this tournament was the 1943 Waterville High School “Wiz Kids,” led by Johnny Mitchell, the last year it was held on a college campus. The only other Maine teams to win two games in a New England tournament were the 1936 Portland Bulldogs, the 1939 Winslow Black Raiders and the 1955 and 1959 Bangor Rams.
Now before all those great loyal Stearns of Millinocket fans get upset, yes, Stearns did win the 1963 New England Championship by winning three games and defeating Morse of Bath in the final after losing to them in the state final. However, that was the first year that the two Connecticut teams did not participate in the tournament.
Stearns won a five-state New England title. To win a six-state New England championship, you had to defeat two Connecticut teams, which dominated the tourney with more than 20 titles.
There were several northern four-state New England tourneys held in the 1970s, but these were not held in the Boston Garden.
Many believe that one of the biggest reasons the six-state New Englands were stopped was the crowd behavior and lack of control of student fans. As far back as 1955 when we (Bangor) played there each night, we played before 13,909 fans of mostly high school students, and it was not unusual to stop the games because of debris thrown onto the court from the balconies. It was bad enough to close the third-tier balcony starting in 1956.
The problem still persisted so that after the 1962 season Connecticut withdrew. In 1963, Massachusetts still sent two teams and to make up for the loss of the Connecticut teams, Maine and Rhode Island were allowed to put in two teams with one team each from Vermont and New Hampshire. In fact, if Connecticut had not withdrawn, then Stearns would never have been there as Maine only would have sent its state champ, Morse.
After the 1964 season, Massachusetts dropped out and that ended the five- or six-state New England tourney at the Boston Garden.
Should the New England Schoolboy Basketball Tournament return? There now are New England state championships for individuals in sports such as cross country, track and field and swimming, so the same opportunity should be given to team sports.
Would today’s Maine basketball teams be able to compete? Probably not as successfully as the teams that were previously mentioned that won at least two games in a New England tourney because today’s Maine’s players are not as fundamentally sound.
If the New Englands were reinstated for this past season, then it would have been great to have the four Class A, B, C, D winners tourney of champions in Maine — as proposed in an earlier column — with the winner representing Maine at the six-state New England tourney.
The Maine champ may have been Class A champion Bangor or Class B champ Camden Hills. Also, Lee and Central Aroostook would have made up a strong field of four for the Maine tourney of champions. Opening-round games would have been Bangor vs. Lee and Camden Hills vs. Central Aroostrook. Losers meet in the consolation, winners meet for the right to go to the New Englands.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and is a basketball official.