More in Featured Sports
Panther basketball in the 1970's
Let's take a trip down memory lane.
That's exactly what the articles on the history of two of most successful athletic programs that ever existed at the former Rumford High School. Hopefully, nearly everyone throughout the entire River Valley, from the Baby Boom and even prior to, will be able to reflect back and think about those times.
Athletics have always been and continues to be a staple in every community throughout the state. The River Valley was and is no different because the local sports teams draws, interest. This held true in the three high schools - Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield (Dirigo) - which existed in the day.
The former Stephens High School had always played its basketball games in the Armory, corner of Hancock Street and Lincoln Avenue (which became so hot inside, causing condensation on hardwood, the doors were opened). Things changed when games were relocated to the new Rumford High School and within a few years, the Panthers raised the level of expectations, throughout community and statewide.
Matt Kaubris points these accomplishments out in "History of Rumford Basketball in 1970s." During those days, the bleachers in the gymnasium were full on both sides, while fans stood three deep on both ends of the floor. The standing-room only crowd prompted the then-fire marshal to wander by nearly every home game- warning not to exceed 1500 bodies.
At the time, every game was highly-anticipated and the potential of losing never entered in to the equation. The operative word centered around, what will be the margin of victory! It was routine to see triple-digits on home scoreboard, in fact it wasn't considered to be trying to run-up the score, that was the flow of the game and no one dared cry foul.
Opposing teams might not have been willing to admit it, however, there had to be a feeling of intimidation simply entering the gym.
The aforementioned fan-base was incredible, beginning with the student-section on the far left side of the gym. The bench was the bottom row of the bleachers; at the end of the bleachers sat a family dressed in white shirts, with an insignia of a Black Panther on each shirt.
During warmups, Rumford would come out, the first player bouncing the ball off the glass backboard and each preceding player would do the same. The drill was new and it was an impressive site.
During time outs, the cheerleaders would line up, one arm on the shoulder of the person in front, while turning their left arms and pom-poms. This became known as the Panther Train, which was enhanced by the students stomping their feet on the bleachers; the noise was deafening and drew the gander of athletic director Mike "Meko" Puiia who would motion an immediate cease.
Let be forgotten was the long lines of automobiles and student-filled buses that made the annual trips to the Augusta Civic Center when a good time was had by all.
In his writing, Kaubris wrote the following:
Rumford High School was built in 1969, with the first class graduating in the Spring of 1970. Prior to that date, high school students in Rumford attended Stephens High School. Whether it was Stephens High or Rumford High, there has always been a strong sports tradition at the schools.
Both Stephens and Rumford competed in the Class A (large school) division with its sports teams, even though their student population was always one of the smallest in the large school division. Despite its small enrollment, Stephens and Rumford sports teams were always known for their toughness and determination whether it was on the football field, basketball court or the baseball diamond.
Despite being competitive in all their sports programs, it really wasn’t until the success of the Rumford High School basketball teams of the 1970’s, that really put the town “on the map” with its sports prominence. In a recent Bangor Daily News farewell to the Auditorium article (February 2013), the Rumford High basketball team of 1977 was named as one of the five best basketball teams to play on the Bangor Auditorium floor (57 years in existence).
One could argue that the 1977 team was not even the best Rumford High team of the 70’s as both the 1974 team (state champs) and the 1976 team (New England champs) were also powerhouse teams. The ’74 and ’76 teams never played their state tournaments on the auditorium floor as their tournament games were played at the Augusta Civic Center.
Both Stephens and Rumford High School had a number of successful basketball teams prior to the 1970’s, but it was the consistency of excellence over a number of years that really set the teams of that era apart from the rest. It was in the Fall of 1971, when the Rumford basketball dynasty really began. It was then when an inexperienced and little known coach by the name of John Shaw came to town.
Prior to coaching at Rumford, John had only two years of high school varsity basketball coaching experience to go along with some freshmen and junior varsity coaching jobs at Falmouth and Belfast. John Shaw was quick to realize the grittiness and toughness of the area athletes and quickly implemented a very strong summer basketball program (something that was not real prevalent at the time) that helped develop the skills necessary to play basketball at the very highest level.
Along with Coach Shaw’s formal summer basketball program, the outdoor basketball court at the old Stephens High was the site of many legendary games pitting the up-and-coming youngsters of the 70’s playing with and against many of the basketball greats from the past.
The Rumford High School basketball players of the 70’s were fortunate to be coached by a young and enthusiastic coach like John Shaw, but there were other coaches who helped along the way. The Rumford freshmen boys’ basketball program was run by the fundamentally sound Harry New and junior varsity coaches at time were John Tapley and Rick Milliken.
Other prominent area youth coaches, who coached and contributed to the basketball talent level at the community center or “Institute,” were John Rivard, Art Taylor and John Lapointe, to name just a few. The School League at the Institute had teams like St. Athanasius coached by Rivard, St. Johns coached by Taylor and Chisholm School coached by Lapointe battling each week for local supremacy. All of this had a hand in the early days of building what would become a Maine high school basketball dynasty.
Besides the great coaches of the era, the Rumford High basketball players of the 70’s would no doubt give credit to their predecessors – the Stephens High teams of the 1960’s. Some of these players include; Marshall Todd, Tom Farrell, Mike Hanson, Danny Theriault, Bob McConnell and the Dupill brothers (Bob and Gary). In the 1960’s, high school basketball was played at the old Rumford Armory and many of the great players of that era were being closely watched by the eyes of the youngsters who would go on to play the dominate basketball of the 1970’s.
During the period that John Shaw coached the Rumford Panthers (1971-1980), they never had a losing season and their combined overall regular season record was 127 wins and only 37 losses (a .774 winning percentage). The Panthers were never seeded lower than 4th in the Heal Point Standings in Western Class A. They were seeded #1 in Western Class A for 5 straight years (1973 -1977). They won 48 games in a row from 1975-1978. They were Western Maine champs for four years (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977), state champs for three years (1974, 1976, 1977) and were New England champs in 1976. In an experimental Class A vs. B playoff game in 1976, Rumford High crushed Lake Region by 50 points, thus ending the A/B playoff for all future Maine teams.
The Rumford High team of 1972 was instrumental in setting the tone for the rest of the decade. The starters that year were John Mooney, Dave Brennick, Dick Garneau, Marty Milligan and Jim Mooney with key subs being Dino Puiia and Chuck Jobin. The ’72 team ended the regular season with 14 wins and 4 losses and ultimately lost to Deering in the Western Maine quarterfinals at the Portland Expo.
The Rumford High team of 1973 was another very strong team. The starters that year were Marty Milligan, Keith Willis, Jim Mooney, Stan Kaubris and Ray McKenna with a key sixth man in Joe Ziko. The ’73 team ended the regular season with 15 wins and 3 losses and lost a coin flip to Deering High School for the #1 seed in the tournament. The Panthers ultimately lost to Cony in the first State championship game played at the newly opened Augusta Civic Center.
The Rumford High team of 1974 was a very special team as they had an undefeated regular season (18-0) and went on to win the State Class A championship game versus Lawrence High of Fairfield. This was the first time a Rumford High basketball team had won a state championship since the 1935. The starters that year were Jim Mooney, Stan Kaubris, Ray McKenna, Joe Ziko and Doug Roberts with the sixth man being Steve Pepin. The ’74 team also went on to play in the New England Championship tournament in Bangor and lost to Providence Central High School of Rhode Island.
The Rumford High team of 1975 was a very young team as they started three sophomores, but still finished the regular season as the #1 seed in the Western Class A tournament. They ended their regular season with 14 wins and 4 losses and ultimately lost to #5 seeded Westbrook in the Western Maine semifinals. The starters that year were Steve Pepin and Doug Roberts along with the three sophomores, Matt Kaubris, Tim Ziko and Andy Shorey. The sting of losing to Westbrook in the tournament after holding a large halftime lead would prove to be a strong motivational force for the young Panthers as they would then go on to win 48 straight games after that heart breaking loss.
The Rumford High team of 1976 was a powerhouse team, scoring an average of 83 points per game while holding opponents to an average of 48 points per game. They went undefeated (18-0) in their regular season and beat Lawrence High in the State Class A championship game in Augusta (and Lake Region in the A/B playoff).
The New England Championship tournament was held in Durham, NH at the University of New Hampshire. There the Panthers would go on to beat a strong New Hampshire team in the opening round and ultimately beat Mt. Anthony Union High School of Vermont to win the New England Championship. The starters that year were Doug Roberts, Jack Kaubris, Matt Kaubris, Tim Ziko and Andy Shorey along with key subs Bob Reid and Chris Gorham.
The Rumford High team of 1977 was another juggernaut. They also went undefeated (18-0) in their regular season and thoroughly beat Stearns High School of Millinocket in the State Class A Championship game in Bangor. The margin of victory was 20 points, the most for a state game at the time. Unfortunately the New England Championship tournament was not held that year as there was a scheduling conflict with the other participating states.
The starters that year were Matt Kaubris, Tim Ziko, Andy Shorey, Tim Shea and John Zinck. The key contributors that year off the bench were: Mike Arsenault, Dave Gerrish, Mike Fraser and Pete Carignan.
The Rumford High teams of 1978-1980 had continued success, each team had winning seasons and each team qualified for the Class A Western Maine tournament. Unfortunately none of these teams achieved the ultimate success of winning the Gold Ball at their state championship games. Thus ended the Rumford High School basketball dynasty, but what a dynasty it was, filled with so many great memories for those fortunate enough to participate as players, coaches or fans. It truly was a great ride.