by Roger G. Spear
FARMINGTON – As Mt. Blue High basketball teams commence their 2201/2022 season, players and fans look forward to a successful season and hopeful aspirations for a state championship. Tales of a basketball season 80 years ago are nostalgically recalled here.
The 1940/41 Farmington High School (F.H.S.) enrollment 231, commenced its boys’ basketball season under the threatening clouds of a world war. The war in Europe was escalating. Germany was bombing Britain extensively and had already invaded France. Despite the horrific distractions, the student body was looking forward to the basketball season. The team had several veteran senior players and a dominant sophomore. But, on a sour note, the team lost its season’s opener to Rangeley High School by the score of 22-21 in overtime.
However, things immediately started to happen, and continued to happen throughout the season, that ultimately ended in what was then considered the greatest and most unforgettable season of basketball in the history of Farmington.
After that first game loss, long-time F.H. S. coach Hank Applin was called to military duty as a captain in the U.S. Army. Until a permanent successor could be named, expected to be three weeks, the school committee and Principal Clarence Gould replaced Coach Applin with Edward “Mickey” Maguire.
Maguire, a former Edward Little High School and Farmington State Normal School star athlete, was living in Farmington and working for the Lewiston Sun Journal. His “brief” appointment lasted for the entire season and beyond! Team members took an immediate liking to their new coach. They recognized him as an astute and knowledgeable leader.
In his very first attempt at coaching, Maguire took his team to Rangeley and revenged the opening game loss to the Terriers by an 18-14 margin. The Greyhounds won six straight games at this point. The winning streak came to an end when Maguire’s flu-ridden team traveled to Rumford and lost to Class A Stephens High School, 34-32. (Farmington was a Class B school based on enrollment.)
A week later a healthy Farmington quintet downed the Rumford team by a decisive 33-23 score. This victory was the start of another six-game winning streak that included wins over Livermore Falls, Jay, Mexico, Wilton, and Madison. The streak enabled the Greyhounds to finish the regular season with an impressive 12-2 record.
Farmington High School didn’t have a gymnasium in 1941 and thus practiced and played all their home games in Farmington State Normal School’s Alumni Gym (Now UMF Alumni Theater). Although this was inconvenient, there was certainly one benefit when it was time for the annual Franklin County Tournament! The prestigious tournament was held in the Alumni Gym and thus provided F.H.S. with a home court advantage over rival County teams. (The following year F.H.S. played in the newly constructed $60,000 Farmington Community Center which could and did seat 1,500 fans!)
Back then, the county tournament would draw overflowing crowds to the small Alumni Gym. People flocked to Farmington from every town in the County to witness tourney play. Teams and fans from North Franklin County booked accommodations at the Exchange Hotel on Main Street and the Stoddard House on Broadway.
Despite their 12-2 record and a previous win over Rangeley, Farmington entered the 1941 County Tournament as an underdog to the defending champs from Rangeley. Other entries included high school teams from Strong, Wilton, Kingfield, Jay, Phillips, and Stratton. In Farmington’s opening game against Wilton, Bob Stevens and co-captains Stan Robash and Benny Berry were hitting their shots to lead the Greyhounds to a 44-25 win. In their next encounter, against Jay, Dick Jones led the way as every member of the team made the scoring column while winning 47-22.
In the final, for the championship, Ed Dingley was the superior offensive player as the Greyhounds rolled over Rangeley 37-14 leaving no doubt who was the best team in the County. While the starters were resting, Earl Knapp, Tom Adams, Bud Simpson, and Joe Holman kept the game in hand. Farmington’s George Morrill won the tournament foul shooting contest. The entire team, working as a unit, gave Farmington the Franklin County championship in 1941.
Having earned one championship, opportunities for more lay ahead. In late February, Coach Maguire and his boys journeyed to Old Orchard Beach to compete in the Western Maine Class B Tournament. As the team departed for the tourney; the entire student body and many townspeople gathered outside the school to wish them well. And many followed them to Old Orchard Beach.
Once again, the Greyhounds were considered underdogs. In game one, the Farmington lads showed they were contenders by trouncing Richmond High School 40-11. In the semi-finals, the team was matched against a strong club from Kennebunk who eventually became Farmington’s eleventh consecutive victim, by a score of 33-20.
It all came down to a championship contest against the undefeated and tournament favorite South Paris High School. Farmington, a team of destiny, would not be denied as they trimmed their formidableopponent 26-19 to earn the Western Maine Championship. With great community jubilation the championship trophy was placed on display at Magoni’s on Broadway, a rustic sodafountain/restaurant hangout for high school and college students, and the entire community.
The final step to achieve the ultimate goal of a State Championship was taken on March 1st at the Lewiston Armory where the Greyhounds faced the Eastern Maine Champions from Sangerville HighSchool. Sangerville, a much-publicized team, had earned their trip to Lewiston by defeating Aroostook Central Institute 43-27 in the Eastern Maine final.
A significant portion of the Piscataquis County team’s publicity involved their senior captain and center, Dick Steeves. Steeves had just been voted the most outstanding player in Eastern Maine. The state title would feature a classic match-up between two big men in Steeves and Farmington’s sophomore center, Bob Stevens.
Farmington capped their unforgettable season in a most dramatic style as they held quarter leads of 6-1; 12-5; 25-8; prior to the 34-19 final score. At game end, Stevens and his back-up Bud Simpson had held Sangerville’s highly touted Steeves to just three points while Stevens scored 22 of his team’s 34 points! All team members played and played well. It was Coach Maguire’s innovative tight man-to-man defensive play (a zone defense was the norm in 1941) that made it possible for the State Championship trophy to reside in the Shire Town.
Sports writers, fans, and players attributed Farmington’s remarkable success and memorable 1940-41 season to Coach Maguire’s superb coaching. Under Maguire’s leadership, the season included three championships, a 19-1 record, winning thirteen consecutive games at season end, and outscoring their opponents 735 to 438. It was F.H.S.’s first ever state championship in basketball.
Maguire’s players considered him a truly great coach and a tremendous individual, who took a personal interest in each player and made them believers in their ability to be the best. He was loved and respected by his team and the community in 1941 and the many years to follow as he continued to reside in Farmington until his death in 1994.
A week after the State Championship game, the town honored its heroes and celebrated their successes with a victory banquet and later that evening, a dance for the entire F.H.S. student body at the local American Legion home. Elden “Pete” Hall of the Legion was chairman of the committee organizing the event. The Legion asked Farmington citizens to donate 25 cents or more to pay for the event. Money was received in excess of what was needed and the surplus was donated to the F.H.S.’s athletic fund. At the banquet, players were served steak, but as it was a Friday night, Coach Maguire was served lobster!
Stories of special events and special people in small towns will always be precious to share. Coach Edward “Mickey” Maguire and his young men made the Farmington community very proud in 1941.
Maguire coached one more season and his team again won the Franklin County Tournament. The team then lost a game to an outstanding Falmouth High School team in the Western Maine Tournament. Falmouth, not only won the tournament, but went on to win the State Championship by defeating the Eastern Maine champion, Lee Academy.
After coaching, Maguire refereed basketball games all over the state and earned the reputation of being the best around. He also had a long career as a sports reporter for daily newspapers in Maine and also, the Franklin Journal. At the Journal he wrote his weekly column entitled “From This Corner.” All the time, with the help of his wife Betty and children, he operated Mickey’s Variety Store, a popular convenience store on Main Street.
All players, student managers, and coach of that special 1941 team are now deceased. Every one of them served our country during WWII. Co-captain Benny Berry was killed in combat on the island of Guam in 1944. Dick Jones died while residing in the Boston area in the late sixties. Ed Dingley died in 1978 in Portland where he had a career as a school teacher. Stan Robash worked in Farmington for the Maine Consolidated Power Co. He later moved to South Portland, where he died in 1971. Tom Adams was the owner/director of the Adams Funeral Home before he died in 1987. Earl Knapp had a career with the U.S. Postal Service including postmaster in Temple. Earl passed away in 2006. Maurice Paul (student assistant manager) had a career in the woods product industry and owned Oxford Pine Products in Norway, Maine, before he died in 2016. Ed “Bud” Simpson, a lifelong resident of Farmington died in 1994 after a career with the U.S. Postal Service in Farmington. Joe Holman was a long-time attorney in Farmington until he passed away in 2008. Richard Pinkham (student manager) was a patent attorney in Maryland and died in 2011. George Morrill, a resident of Livermore, was an electrical engineer, first working for International Paper Co. and later Westinghouse. George passed away in 2019 at the age of 96. Bob Stevens died in 2014. Bob was a long-time teacher, coach, and administrator at Farmington High School and Mt. Blue High School.
Roger G. Spear, UMF Vice President Emeritus, is a well-known authority on local sports history (especially baseball) and is currently working on a manuscript of local baseball, 1865-1956. He can be reached by email: 1943Grover1226@gmail.com
Spear acknowledges and thanks Paul Mills, Layne Nason, and Tom Barrows for their assistance in researching the biographies of the 1941 team members. Also, thanks to Stewart Goodwin and my wife Kristine for their proof reading of this article. Finally, thank you to David Halligan for sharing Falmouth H.S. basketball history.
This article is a rewrite by Spear of his story first published in the Franklin Journal in 1990.