by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
With college basketball’s “March Madness-2017” reaching its climax, many basketball fans can’t help but cast their minds back to great games and players of the past. Through the wonders of You-Tube many of these magic moments can be relived with a couple clicks on a computer mouse. Nostalgia has its place.
However, some basketball stories are just not available via You-Tube. But they can still be savored via the “oral history” recollections of hoop historians regarding the wonderful players and performances of yesteryear.
Such a historian is Concord’s Bob Gile. Presently a Vice President for Investments at Benjamin F. Edwards and Company, Gile graduated from Franklin High School in 1951. He later graduated from Dartmouth College and then served as a naval officer before entering the world of finance. Some of Gile’s most vivid memories from his Franklin days involve some of the best basketball in the country taking place right in the Franklin High School gym.
Franklin, N.H. Not North Carolina, not Kentucky, not Indiana, and not Madison Square Garden.
“In the late 1940s a sort of semi-pro basketball circuit evolved in New England,” recalled Gile. “Sunday afternoon basketball became an entertainment staple in Franklin.”
In those post-World War II days, with television in its infancy, locals packed the Franklin gym to watch the Franklin Comets take on all challengers. John Barry was the coach/general manager, and at first the Comets featured local standouts like Frank Mead, Pete Shanelaris and the Robitaillle brothers. But as other teams in the region ramped things up, eventually the Comet roster featured non-locals, like former Bowdoin star Norm Cook, or 6-foot-6 Jack Darton, who hailed from New York. New Hampton’s Everett Nordstrom also became part of the mix as the quality of play skyrocketed.
Soon the Comets were taking on Massachusetts powerhouses like the Polish Falcons out of Salem, or crack outfits from Braintree or Worcester. The latter was sponsored by Tadcaster Brewery which offered “inducements” to Boston area college stars to “sign on” so the team could maintain its edge. After all, Tadcaster couldn’t have its Worcester squad losing to a bunch of hicks from Franklin, N.H.
In other words, the basketball took on a professional quality—or at least “semi-pro.”
“I distinctly remember the Franklin gym being packed for a game with Worcester,” said Gile. “Standing room only. And I swear Bob Cousy played for Worcester under an assumed name.”
Cousy was then starring for Holy Cross, the Worcester college which won the 1947 NCAA title. The future NBA MVP delighted the Franklin fans with his wizardry, as Granite Staters witnessed basketball action that was as good as any in the country.
Traveling powerhouses like the Philadelphia Colored Giants sometimes came to town to play the Comets before those packed houses. Basketball fever in Franklin during the forties was so frenzied that a second team—the Franklin Zephyrs—was formed to play preliminary games.
Gile fondly remembered a team of hoop ringers called the New England Hobos who took on the Comets one Sunday. The Hobos tried to look the part, as they didn’t shave, wore tattered uniforms, and even applied make-up and polish to look like bums.
“But they didn’t play like bums,” said Gile. “They had fun but were darned good. One of the Hoboes was Walter Peterson, who’d earlier played at Dartmouth and who later become governor of New Hampshire.”
All good things come to an end, and as the forties turned into the fifties Franklin’s basketball fever eventually abated. A new phenomenon called “television” made living rooms a more comfortable option for those cold Sunday afternoons in March.
You won’t be able to find the Comets, Zephyrs, or Hobos on You-Tube. But by chatting up the likes of Bob Giles and by opening your mind’s eye, you can still experience a magical time when some of the world’s best basketball took place in a high school gym in little old Franklin, N.H.!
Bob Cousy’s teammate Bill Russell is famous for winning 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. But what NHL player played on 11 Stanley Cup winners? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on March 30 include Ohio State and NBA basketball star Jerry Lucas (1940) and 1973 Horse Racing Triple Crown winner Secretariat (1970).
“Because there wasn’t enough time to play 54” – goalkeeper Grant Fuhr , after being asked how he could play 36 holes of golf in the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals
Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens.
Michael Moffett was a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.