Periodically, this space mentions the long ago days of an era, when high school sports were played at high schools which no longer exist. Charlestown High School is front and center of this week’s news, as the Forts lost one of the greatest basketball players who ever wore the yellow and blue uniform.
Carl McAllister, who later went on to play the game so well at the next level, Plymouth State College, and was elected to their Hall of Fame, passed away last week at the age of 72, following a number of years battling a paralysis attack on his body. He spent his last 30 years in a wheelchair, but those who know him well say, “Despite his situation, when he came into a room, he took over a room.”
Two area sports figures, Bob Hingston, former Windsor Athletic Director, and Poody Walsh, long time Sports Editor of the Eagle Times, kept in touch with and visited McAllister over the years. They attended his funeral over the weekend. They both revered the man and what he brought to those who were touched by his friendship, coaching or guidance as a school administrator.
I knew McAllister, but have recently wondered why my memories were so foggy? While collecting information for this story, my gap became clear. I was in the right place, but at the wrong time.
Carl always had charisma. When I was a third grader at Central Elementary School, in Bellows Falls he was the tall extremely athletic sixth grade basketball player, we all looked up to. He then moved to Charlestown and became part of that community’s third and final state championship basketball team. His junior year (1963), they went undefeated, capping the perfect campaign with a 56-45 triumph over Gorham to become Division M champions. The Forts two earlier titles came in the smaller Class S, victories over Haverhill 27-25 in 1940 in the first Class S title game ever played and then in 1958, when they turned back Holy Rosary 39-36 for the title. McAllister and the Forts even played Winooski, Vt. (they were two small town basketball hotbeds) in a preliminary to a Celtics game in Boston Garden during that time.
In fact, there was a day when Carl and Carlton Fisk were featured in the Forts uniform at the same time. In case you didn’t know, there were many people who believed Fisk was better in basketball then he was in baseball and everyone should know, Fisk landed in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.
McAllister was a good player and possibly, a few years later, even a better coach. McAllister would surface as the head coach of the Fall Mountain Wildcats in their second year of existence. Incredibly, this young man, basically fresh out of college, coached both the Varsity and Junior Varsity team, a tall task for anyone, especially someone at his age and experience.
The times made McAllister’s success even more remarkable. No one knows better than Hingston, the author of the taking over the room quote earlier in this piece, about the job McAllister did. The two arrived at Fall Mountain at the same time. Hingston moved in from out of district as a junior, when student/athletes from each of the neighboring towns were still comparing Fall Mountain to how their sports lives and experiences had been in their previous years in the town of Alstead, Charlestown or Walpole, they resided in. Each town felt their outlet had the way sports were invented and to boot, McAllister was a young Charlestown kid, taking over coaching hoops from a Walpole coaching legend (Dick McCarthy).
The reason my recollection of McAllister’s time at Fall Mountain is foggy, is because those years, are the four years, I was away for college. I think I saw three Fall Mountain – Bellows Falls games during that time, but that would have been the extent of my viewing of Carl as a coach.
Hingston recalls, “He was a good coach. What he did so well was, he pushed every one of us to the level to be your best, but he always seemed to know when it was time to just put his arm around you.”
Hingston remembers that McAllister was always important to him. “When I would come back home, I would always go and see him. He became almost like a big brother to me. I would coach some of his players in the North Walpole summer basketball league. He would give me instructions on what to work on with the individual kids on my team. I was glad to help. Paul Aumand ran that league and he was always a big supporter of Carl’s. Since Carl was so young and coming from Charlestown, that support was very important at that time.”
Walsh was settling in to his job at the old Claremont Eagle as McAllister was taking the reins. “I remember him as a coach,” Walsh tells us,” and I enjoyed working with him, but it was years later when we became friends. I had lost track of him and heard of his tragedy and reached out to him and we became friends. I asked him to speak at St. Joseph’s Night (an annual event which honors Stevens student/athletes) and he accepted and did a wonderful job.”
Whether he knew it or not, McAllister, with his many skills, was on the fast track at a very young age. His tenure at Fall Mountain was a short four years and Bow hired him away and he was an administrator before he was 30. He was still a relatively young man when a blood clot affected his spinal column, but his thirty years in a wheelchair did not stop him from having a positive affect on others.
The former Fort star began his professional journey fifty years ago this school year at Fall Mountain Regional High School still wet behind the years. He met the challenge of his first professional experience and passed with flying colors and went on to positively affect so many in his years to come.
Longtime area basketball fans should remember Bob Wilber, who once lived in the Chester and Keene areas. Wilber, a strong basketball official during his day, made a meaningful post following McAllister’s death. He wrote that he, “always found Carl a fine coach, that made men out of boys and was a gentleman.”
One could not have said this better.