The King is dead. Long live the King.
Growing Up Concord, there was almost something romantic about Portsmouth High basketball. Naturally our favorite teams were the Concord High Crimson Tide and its parochial counterpart the St. John's Fightin' Irish.
But outside of the Concord area, the mighty Port City Clippers were our favorites.
And why not? They were close to the beach.....had the prettiest cheerleaders (outside of Concord, gotta save some face here, right BWT?).....had tremendous talent year after year.....always seemed to have a legendary coach.....had one of high school basketball's greatest managers, Pickles......and they had THE BANNER.
As kids, we had watched Portsmouth in the NHIAA tournaments at the University of New Hampshire Field House, with our seats in the front row as close to the floor as possible so we could absorb all the action into our youthful basketball crazed pours. Portsmouth, with its fan base just 15 minutes away, always packed the rickety old bleachers to yell and scream for their Wagners, Blacks, Neris, Sunneblicks and Shumways.
But I never had the opportunity to visit the Portsmouth High gym, at the time the largest basketball gymnasium in the state, until the 1962-63 season. As I walked into the Clippers home court along with my CHS teammates, I couldn't help but notice the maroon banner, high on the wall near the entryway to the gym, with each year that Portsmouth had won the Class L crown. Keep in mind as a 14-year old freshman still euphoric over Concord High's remarkable three-wins in three consecutive nights (by a total of five points) championship from 1962, the sight of that banner was a bit awesome.
Thirteen championship years hung on that banner. By far the most of any other team in Class L. What an accomphishment, I thought. Concord, my favorite team, a team I thought invincible, had won but only three at the time.
Three more championships have been added to the banner at Portsmouth in the last 43 years, a far lesser ratio than the first 40 years of high school basketball.
Nonetheless, Portsmouth maintained the crown as the most decorated school in all of Class L.....until March 18, 2006 when the Manchester Central Little Green finally dislodged the crown from Portsmouth.
Manchester Central had tied Portsmouth with 16 Class L crowns last season. This year the Little Green swept through as the number one ranked and unbeaten team through the regular season, the Queen City Christmas Basketball tournament and now through four games in the Class L tournament to snatch their 17th Class L championship and finally overcome the Clippers.
It's been a long and storied run by Central. Seventeen crowns and another 14 visits to the championship game. Central will continue to put competitive teams on the floor and the odds are that they will retain their loft perch for many years to come.
Central's head coach, Doc Wheeler, is a big guy who likes to dress, shall we say, comfortably. At the end of the 2005 championship game won by Central, Wheeler pulled on a white hand painted champion t-shirt and looked oh so comfortable.
Adorning this year's Class L program is the team picture of last year's champs - Central - and there's Doc in the back row with a Green Bay basketball t-shirt on, courtesy of an old pal who is now a Division I head coach at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay.
At the semifinals this year, Doc went styling with a black mock turtle neck shirt and a dark sports jacket and slacks.
Even the championship game found him looking pretty sharp......until you looked a bit closer. He was wearing a dark shirt with a sport jacket again, but if you looked carefully you could notice a white logo of some sort on the left breast pocket of his black shirt. You could only see the logo when he moved around waving instructions to his players.
It wasn't until late in the fourth quarter, with the game in hand, that Doc doffed his sports jacket to reveal a large PAPPY'S PIZZA arched in white letters across the back of the black t-shirt with the telephone number of Manchester's popular North Elm Street eatery underneath the wording.
Old friend and former Hopkinton High basketball coach Danny Parr was the game administrator for the tournament and looks dapper having just finished his 45th year of coaching basketball dating way back to Hopkinton stars named Bucko Johnson and Pat Leavitt. He currently coaches St. Thomas Aquinas after a long tenure with Portsmouth High.
The word around Lundholm was that the bleachers were broken on both sides of the gym and that's why the top half-dozen rows or so weren't pulled out thus limiting the crowd size. Truth be known, the local fire officials don't particularly care for the lack of walking space behind the team benches and the scorer's and behind the media tables on the opposite side of the gym and the only way they will let the games go on is to keep some of the bleachers folded in.
"A" lot across from Lundhold was jammed packed by 11:30 on Saturday morning and fans arriving at that point in time scurried for parking spots wondering if, in fact, they'd even get a seat in the gym.
One of the things I watch for in high school basketball games is whether anyone can breakdown his man with a drive baseline to the basket from either the corner of from the fouline extended.
Can they make the requisite moves to get past their defender, drive hard to the basket, take the bump that usually always accompanies the drive, and finish off the layup.
Some get to the "take the bump" stage and have difficuties finishing the shot.
But the good ones finish.
So a couple of weeks ago when I was watching Bow's Paul Chergy, he of the 6'5" adult-sized body, drive baseline from the right side (he's a right dominant player), take a huge mid-air bump and finish off the layup with a two-handed in-traffic dunk, I was rightfully impressed.
That is until about a week later when I saw him do the very same thing, with the very same mid-aid contact, and the very same two-handed in-traffic dunk, from the LEFT side, then I knew this kid has something going beyond your normal high school player.
Talent like that doesn't happen much in New Hampshire.
Not up on my Robert's Rules of Order, but if at all possible, the Concord School Board should empower its chairperson to cast one ballot in favor of moving Bill Haubrich, The Current (as opposed to Bill Haubrich, The Elder and Bill Haubrich, The Younger) into the recently vacated director of athletics position at Concord High. I defy anyone to give me a better choice. Save the taxpayers the expense of advertising and say the Board the interviewing time.
Bill Whitmore will be missed. There aren't many people who have graced Our Town with as much dignity, professionalism, and organization. Our athletic programs have been in good hands.
Walked into Border's the other day to use one of my Christmas gift certificates on Roger Halberstam's book on Bill Belichek. But wouldn't you know it, staring me right in the face was John Feinstein's latest book, Last Dance, an inside look at what is now known as March Madness. With 30% off, to boot. Couldn't have thought of anything better to prep me for the upcoming weeks of college basketball. And despite what the New York Times says, it was a good read.