June 22 – 29, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 3

Play Ball!

by Rod Johnson

YES, those were the words that we liked to hear. It didn't really matter if it was baseball or basketball, either way it meant fun and the excitement of either going to another school or having them visit us in Belgrade.

Young people all over the world have a few things in common, and perhaps one of them is the elation felt when you and your team are about to partake in a competitive game. Certainly the rules vary and the goal may look different from here to elsewhere, but the nervous elation is the same.

Every youngster that participates in a sport during his growing-up years can remember and recite some of the particular actions and scores that happened during their heyday! I thought it would be fun to tell you what The Luckiest Boy remembers about the baseball and basketball teams from Belgrade High School in the 1960s.

During that decade, Belgrade High School had 60 to 100 students total, in all four high school grades, in any given year. I graduated in 1965 in a class of 21 students and our class was the largest to that date, due to what was known as the wave of "war babies", mostly the offspring of World War II veterans.

With small numbers of students to pick from who had the desire and grades to play, fielding either a baseball or basketball team wasn't always an easy task for the coaches. Often the team might only have a few spare players other than those on the field or court.

Both boys and girls teams were able to be put together, but up until 1960 or so the school had no gymnasium. Practices were spotty at borrowed gyms during odd hours, including Mr. Harold Alfond's personal gym at his camp on Point Road. The ceiling was low and shooting was pretty much limited to lay ups. I remember going there to the unheated building a few times and seeing our breath due to low temps. Once our new gym was completed we became part of a league and had a regular schedule each year.

In that era the advent of school districts had not come into vogue. Most towns had their own schools and took in students who lived in smaller towns or rural areas. Schools in Maine were broken into 4 sizes: S for small, M for medium, L and LL for large and larger schools. We were a class S school and played other towns such as Liberty, Clinton, Kingfield, Albion, New Sharon, Phillips, Canton, Kingfield and several others.

Each class had its own league complete with playoffs, state championships, etc. Often, Beals Island/Jonesport won the State of Maine Class S basketball championship with as few as 6 or 7 players in total on their squad. Wow, they sure could play ball!

For away basketball games, boys and girls traveled together on a bus, often for long runs like Western Maine or the Maine coastal towns. Many of the girl players were also cheerleaders and did double duty. The long rides home were interesting to say the least. Our bus driver was Jamie Minot who was one of our best fans both at home and away games.

When spring came it was time for baseball and softball — sports that had a longer history at Belgrade High. Our fathers and even grandfathers could recite wins and scores from 20 to 40 years prior.

Away games in the spring were especially fun, and unlike the bus trips with basketball, we were allowed to go in our own cars. Usually we took one or two of our own cars and the coach took his with a few players as well.

My fondest memory of an away game was on a warm spring afternoon and five of us were riding to Albion in a 1958 Ford convertible with owner Barry Morrell at the wheel. With the top down, this was freedom personified as we screamed and yelled when the wind blew our hats off and tears of joy streamed down our faces.

Home games were fun too, with parents and grandparents coming to watch. It was customary for them to sit in their cars up on the hill overlooking the ball diamond. When on occasion one of us hit a good one, the yells would come and the car horns blasted.

How good did it get? Weren't we The Luckiest Boys?

Hats off to the boys and girls of the '65 Belgrade High School baseball and softball teams. The boys were Barry Morrell, Jimmy Stevens, Rick Johnson, Rod Johnson, Dave Berger, Dwight Cummings, Tom Endicott, Howdy Downing, Ray Hammond, Dave Sprague, Mark Isbister, Richard Nickless, Donny Hammond, Gary Sirois, Rodney Cook, Gerry Barber, Jeff Wyman, Steve Jenny, Ray Barker, and Coach Doug Look.

Here's to the ladies: Mary Damren, Dale Sprague, Sally Strickland, Brenda Hatt, Linda Blaisdell, Alice Beaulieu, Elaine Edgecomb, Rebecca Salsbury, Sally Cook, Linda Sawyer, Penny Wing, Arlette Douglas, and Jane Wyman. The coach was not listed, but I think it was Vernal Finemore, BHS Principal It's hard to believe that was 52 years ago. It sure would be nice to have another ride in the '58 Ford convertible.

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.