Last Thursday night, I was shuttled back in time 60 years. You read that right, 60 years.
That was when Riverside Gym in Springfield was the mecca of basketball in Vermont. It was new and shiny and hosted the Southern Vermont Basketball Tournaments for Class L and I. It was a boys’ tourney.
Only eight teams in each division danced to the post season in Vermont in those days. Four teams were invited to both a northern and a southern tourney in each division.
In Springfield, the Class I teams met on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the semi-finals. They would clear the building and then the L tourney would take place at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The finals would be the next day at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The state finals would take place a week later at a site named by the then headmasters organization depending upon which schools advanced. I remember Woodstock and Middlebury High Schools hosting games.
My dad would take me, and we would wait in our car in the parking lot between the sessions on Friday eating a bagged meal as they cleared the building for the night session.
Then there was that parking lot. It was kind of the same parking lot that is there today, but way back then it wasn’t paved. Today, it is paved, but that was the actual starting point of this column. You see, I stepped out of my car last Thursday night, and I was quickly reminded of a feeling I experienced a number of times over the last 60 years: a big deep puddle, wet feet, which would stay that way all evening.
I hadn’t experienced that feeling for a number of years, but this time it sent wonderful years of memories dancing through my head. The wonderful thoughts of years of basketball games I have witnessed in the building, which I still cherish after all these years. The new bleachers brighten up the once impeccable palace and give it kind of a nice shine.
Before Springfield people become offended thinking any of this salute is tongue-in-cheek, it certainly is not. Young folks need to understand, I grew up in Bellows Falls, where we didn’t even have a parking lot at that time as on-street parking served as the backdrop for filling the limited seats in the old high school gymnasium on School Street, which was near perfect size for the then junior high set, but was certainly a crowded floor for high schoolers competing all out.
Good thing the three-point shot had not been invented back then because there would have been limited opportunity to shoot the shot. Old-time fans had to twist and turn their bodies one way or the other if they sat in the first row, to make room for a player to put the ball in play from the sidelines from out of bounds. There was only room for one set of feet between the out of bounds line and the wooden bleachers, so cooperation was important to all.
Leaving Riverside last Thursday, my first call was to long time Springfield basketball coach Richie Wyman. He coached in many of those tremendous tourney games and we relived the excitement created by that great event. I remember shoveling snow all over the neighborhood, which was falling heavily, one Friday morning when I was 12years old, unfazed by the task, because all I could think about was the four games I would see later that day. This was certainly a different era. There was no worry about a postponement. That was a time when the show must go on.
The names of Wyman, Tim Ryan, Jim Fallon, Glen Thurber, and Bob Dailey stand out to me as bigger than life characters on the sideline back then. They instilled in me a curiosity about each of their teams. The players changed each year, but most of the coaches stayed on. They were the biggest identity to their school’s team. Little did I know that one day, I would be lucky enough to walk in their shoes.
Bellows Falls versus Springfield was bigger than life back then. Wyman was the Cosmos. I remember in those times, the two schools would host faculty basketball games to raise money for scholarships. In the winter of my snow shoveling experience, the Green and White teachers visited the Bandbox gym in Bellows Falls. The teams were warming up and I was hoping to see Wyman out there. I was still figuring out if he was there, when an errant ball came bouncing my way in the front row at the foul line extended. A man followed the ball and I handed it to him. The excited little boy asked the man, if Wyman was playing? The man said, “I’m Richie Wyman.” Obviously, my day was made.
Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media were still two generations away, but there was a special link back then to keep track of action, which was better than even today. There were eight teams in the old Southern Vermont League, Bellows Falls, Bennington, Brattleboro, Hartford, Mount Saint Joseph, Rutland, Springfield and Windsor and on Tuesday and Friday nights, one could find out all the scores of the four games played before 10 p.m. by picking up your telephone and asking the operator. High school basketball was so big and seemingly important back then, that operators would have the scores for you in one place. Sixty years ago, scores were available in one place, quicker than they are today. Looking back that seems incredible. Good job, ladies.
Taking young readers back to those days, you need to understand, the operator was your telephone source. You didn’t call numbers yourself, you just picked up your phone and the operator would say “operator” and you would give her the number you wished to call. Back then, numbers were three digits and a letter. Mine was 261M. All this changed in 1960 in Bellows Falls, when new phones were delivered, which had a dial on them.
When we picked up the phone, there would be a tone and you would dial a number you wanted. I remember my father being thoroughly disgusted with having to do this. He wanted his operator back. I also remember staying up until midnight on that Saturday turning into Sunday in May to call my friend at the crossover hour to be the first people in town to use the dial phone. Certainly, there was no way to confirm that we were really the first, but I know we believed we were at the time.
I am sure there were personnel cuts which accompanied the dial phones and within a few years our SVL scoreboard disappeared, but what a communication piece it was as long as it lasted.
One last thing. That Southern Vermont Tournament always took place the weekend at the end of February vacation. The Vermont State Title games were one week later. When I drove home last Thursday evening, following my conversation with Wyman, I dreamed of attending the tournament the next day, 60 years later. I laid down my head with good thoughts leading me to sleep. Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning with no games in Springfield to go to that day. By the way, at least it wasn’t snowing.
Send any comments or opinions about our sports page to email@example.com.