NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 22, 2014

What fun we had playing basketball

As I See It
Richard Astukewicz

---- — Thank you, Robert “Boots” Chouinard, for your “Bring back old-time basketball” column. It brought back memories of one of the best periods of my life, the years 1950 to 1954.

October 1950 came and I and my two best high school friends made the Jayvee basketball team. What an experience for us. We had a wonderful basketball court, one of the best in the city of Worcester.

We traveled on Tuesday to play a game not in the city. Our lockers were old chicken coops. The court was the high school auditorium; it was so small, half-court for each team was three-quarter courts.

Another trip out of town brought us out to play on a court in a National Guard Armory. The baskets were so close to the armory walls that to take a ball out, you had to put one foot on the wall.

Another trip out of town took us to a court where one basket was up against the auditorium stage, the other basket led to the entrance of the court.

We played a city team where the way the court was laid out, one basket led to the locker rooms, the other basket led to the entrance to the court.

Half our season’s games were played on basketball courts like these and the baskets had chains, as the “net” was just coming and most of the backboards were wooden, as glass boards were just coming in.

I seem to recall we scored all of 18 points when we played our first game with glass backboards and we usually averaged around 60 points a game.

There was no 3-point basket in those days and looking back we would have been awesome. We had the original “gym rat” on our team; he could make two of three half-court shots; he could make nine, 10 in a row from the top of the key. Once at a Boy’s Club free throw contest he hit 58 of 60 shots.

I was pretty deadly from the corners and had a free throw average in the low 90s. We had another deadly corner shooter on our team also.

Back then we started practice with 10 free throws and we ended practice with 10 more free throws. Our coach believed that we should make a high percentage of these “free shots.”

We were lucky kids back then because our parish leaders kept us off the streets. During winter months we had Sunday morning basketball, 10 to noon, and then afternoon games 1 to 4.

Spring and summer we were fortunate to have two outdoor courts to play on: one at the park, the other in the back of one of the local Irish schools. At the high school court, players from across the city came to challenge us “locals” to games. Back in these days, Worcester had a semi-pro team that played games on Sundays at the city landmark, Mechanics Hall.

Members of this team were: an original Celtics player, a member of Holy Cross’ NCAA champs, one player from Ohio State, one from Michigan State and two players from a small Texas school, Trinity Tech, the team that upset Adolph Rupp’s great Kentucky team.

Well, this team got together on Wednesday nights for practice at my school’s gym, as many members also belonged to the parish.

These were awesome athletes, as some of them also played semi-pro softball in the days of Rollie Wetzell and his Raybestos team from Connecticut.

The best event of this four-year period was when our coach invited me and my two high school buddies to join these Wednesday practices. Wednesday came and here we were, playing with the “big boys.”

Play started at 7 and never ended till 11, as it was always another game of 20 baskets (they had us three young ones), shower, dress and head down to Luke’s dinner for 15-cent hot dogs and chocolate milk. I would be lucky to get home by Thursday at 1 a.m.

These “seniors” were part of a men’s social club at the parish. Every March they ran a 16-team contest somewhat like a semi-pro tournament to raise money for the club. I can’t recall what year it was, but the Whitinsville A.C. showed up to play, and lo and behold, there stood this 6-foot-4 black player, the first to show in this tournament, and we all, all 700 fans, were witness to our “first slam dunks.”

As best as I can recall, he played under the name of Joe Montiero (sounds like a ringer’s name to me).

Chains became net, wood became glass, slam dunks started, but it took a while for the 3-pointer.

Five or six years after my graduation from this high school, this school, St. Mary’s of Worcester, went on to win the New England High School Championship in a major upset.

You know what, “Boots”? I think we had a hellava good time in our day.

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Richard A. Astukewicz of Salisbury is a retired business manager.