Monday Night League, Early Intramural Basketball at CCS:
Court of Dreams


In recent years Hollywood has produced some rather memorable sports films that have entertained if not inspired, including prep football’s Friday Night Lights (2004), pro baseball’s Bull Durham (1988) and Trouble with the Curve (2012), and the high school basketball flick Hoosiers (1986). Our national past time’s Field of Dreams (1990) weaved in a bit of science fantasy that also delivered some iconic images of cornfields not unlike those on the outskirts of summertime Cambridge. Backing up a generation or more to the decade of the mid-1950s to the mid-60s, the "Golden Age of Sport" was born, at least in the minds of many a local youth. The hometown teams on the diamond, gridiron and hardwood, as well as favorite pro clubs in cities near and far, captured endless hours of action and intrigue, eyes glued to grainy B&W low-def TV, ears hugging transistor radios, fingers flipping through the daily sports pages.

Cambridge pro sports allegiance has traditionally been split between Beantown and the Bronx, perhaps a take on the David vs. Goliath allegory, and maybe even a motivating factor, at least to some, for the local school teams. In the decade from 1955-1964, the Red Sox proved consistently inept while the legendary Yankees won eight American League pennants and four World Series with the likes of Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron and Elston Howard. Those Fall Classic games back then, also featuring the Dodgers and Giants among other National League teams, were played on crisp autumn afternoons, weekdays included, and you had to somehow slip out of class to catch a peek on the tube. While the Football Giants, who then shared Yankee Stadium, won the 1956 NFL title, in the years to follow they were knocked off by the Colts (‘58), Packers (‘61, ‘62) and Bears (‘63); no victory cigars in the Bronx in the autumns of those particular years. In the new AFL (1960), Boston, Buffalo and the NY Titans (later Jets) didn’t generate much talk nor did the NBA’s Knicks of the old Madison Square Garden up on 50th and 8th in Manhattan. The NHL’s NY Rangers and Boston Bruins, two of the original six, also barely registered on the radar as the locals preferred to slap pucks up on Hedges Lake or out in Coila on Irwin and Sally Perry’s pond. But the Boston Celtics, behind Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell, were the basketball role models of the day, and Red Auerbach would regularly light up his victory cigar, with the clock still ticking down, at the earliest assurance of the latest Boston win.

Largely lost in the dusty motes of time across five decades are the very last of the hoop action in the old Cambridge Central gymnasium. That was the "Court of Dreams" to some, not the least of which were the members of the 1959-60 Washington County League Class D Championship team, coached by Mr. John Herbert, CCS Assistant Principal and math teacher (later ordained a Roman Catholic priest.) Back then the basketball talent in the Owlkill Valley was plentiful enough, so each year more than a few boys were cut from the JV and Varsity squads before Thanksgiving. Daily, after the 3:15 bell, with the outside temperatures yielding icicles dripping from the school eves, twenty or more boys prowled the sidelines in the old gym, waiting for the Indian teams to take a breather before getting in a few shots at the old rims with the wooden backboards. So Coach Herbert worked with teacher Maurice O’Connor to launch an intramural basketball club in 1958 and the Monday Night League was born. Four teams played a six game schedule and a playoff round. Two CCS yearbooks, the 1963 and 1964 Chieftain, tell some of the story.

First, from the winter of 1962, we recall that Carl "Bear" Adams led his team to the MNL crown that year. The author can’t recall if he actually played before the last game (pull a hamstring, did he?), but, decked out in a snappy suit and vest (maybe even a fedora), Carl exhorted his Bears on to the championship. He may have lit up a Cuban but would have waited, of course, until he got out into the frozen February night air. The buzz around town those days was the Friday evening crash of a USAF jet in asnow field outside town just off the Center Cambridge road. The following fall, with Carl graduated from CCS, his brother Paul, who’d played Indians JV ball the year before, took over the team reins in 1962-63 with teammates Larry Hahn, John King, Frank Ludwick, and Mike Marsh, Teddy Ridler, Don Stearns, and Paul Virtue. That season, two teams the defending champs faced were the Zephyrs, led by captain Perry Young along with John Andrews, Paul Austin, Ed Jordan, Don Pierce, Don Schneider and Doug Wilkie; and the Lumberjacks featuring Bill Elliott, John Flynn, Norm Hahn, Bob Harrington, and Rob Inslerman, with Irv LeBarron, Paul Moses, Walt Ogden, and Jim Perry. But for the 1963 MNL Championship that February, the Bears beat the Hossmen, with John Blanchfield, Dave Craig, Tom Dwyer, Pete Matcovich, Steve McLenithan, Tim Squires, and Bob Warren, led by Tom Raymond. See the photos for some of the hot action those frigid nights in 1962-63.

The next year, 1963-64, provided a rematch of the Hossmen against the Bears who changed their name to the Cobras. In defense of two straight MNL titles, Paul Adams’ teammates for the new season included Larry Hahn, Norm Hahn, Ray Harrington, and Paul Harris. Harris could have started on the Varsity, a "ringer", cried the other teams. We can’t speak for the returning Zephyrs and the new Sons of Ireland—but the Hossmen could play that game too and brought in the Morse twins, Pete and Steve, who’d started on the Indians JVs and would have for the Varsity. But the previous winter they focused exclusively on high school downhill ski competition, which they planned to continue, with Beaver Ross, Dave Craig, John Romack, and Josef Mann, foreign exchange student from Innsbruck, Austria. Since the Morses hadn’t played MNL the previous season, Mr. O’Connor asked for their commitment to all the Intramural games and Pete and Steve gave him their assurance. Rounding out the Hossmen’s roster were John Blanchfield, Robert Cristaldi, Tom Dwyer, Richie Eddy, and Worth Gossett, along with Ray Hatch, Frank Ludwick, Pete Matcovich, Tom Raymond, and Doug Wilkie.

The season opened in December of 1963 with the nation reeling from the recent killing of President Kennedy, and Yankee fans still smarting from the 4-0 World Series white-wash at the hands of the Dodgers. And the same old story unfolded: On December 9 the Cobras beat the Hossmen 27-22, which was a defensive gem … or something. From that point on, though, the Hossmen—Pete Matcovich was now the player-captain—reeled off seven straight wins, including the semifinal against the Sons of Ireland on February 10, and the final against the Cobras, 50-45, on February 17, 1964. The last game was quite the squeaker as the Hossmen were up by 10 or so with a couple of minutes to play, but got into foul trouble and played the last minute with only four on the floor, four on five. The Cobras made a run and got to within three – remember this was long before the 3-point arc – but Robert Cristaldi pumped in a field goal with a few seconds to go to give the Hossmen some breathing room and, at the buzzer, the 1964 Monday Night League Championship!

Over eight games, Steve Morse, Hossmen, led all scorers with 126 points, averaging 15.8 per game. Rounding out the top five were Harris, Cobras, with 116 (14.5); Raymond, Hossmen, 112 (14.0); Blanchfield, Hossmen, 100 (12.5); and Harrington, Cobras, 77 (11.0, 7 games). The single game high was 32 by Steve Morse and Raymond hit the nets for 22 one night. The individual team high was 91 points by the Cobras. The annual banquet in the CCS cafeteria followed with all the MNL players feted and included trophies awarded to the winning Hossmen. Assisting Mr. O’Connor in officiating the games were Mr. Dick Ross, CCS teacher, and Mr. Don Cummings, local businessman who’d eventually run the local IGA supermarket (Bob McWhorter’s, in the 1960s.) Teachers Herbert, O’Connor and Ross were serious educators, not just tenured but highly respected and valued throughout the community, and they expected a good measure of discipline at all times. But the MNL wasn’t without its high jinks – one game in particular saw a player who shall remain nameless step up behind a member of the other team on the free throw line and pull down his shorts – so Mr. O’Connor immediately sent the perpetrator and his team home with a forfeit in the standings. When asked to explain, the culprit said "Well, Meadowlark Lemon does it all the time!" "We are not amused," uttered Mr. O’Connor.

While enduring legends were born back in the day – Bill Mazeroski’s homer in 1960 to beat the Yankees; the 1961 assault by Roger Maris on Babe Ruth’s HR record of 60 in a season, asterisks and all; Bobby Richardson’s snag of Willie McCovey’s liner in 1962 – we’ve retraced more modest games and actors here who also made for fond memories of a sort. Well, maybe these have merely included some that stick to the inside of the brain like spaghetti to the cafeteria wall after John Belushi’s food fight in Animal House. Mere amusement to some, for others those long ago minutes and quarters and seasons packed lessons of life, character and lofty expectations, loyalty and perseverance into a few short years that have hopefully served for decades. The highs and the lows, the emotional roller coasters we clasped with white knuckles, we trusted might ready us for real challenges that we were told, that we suspected would follow in the decades ahead. That is, life’s not always fair and the best don’t always win. But the trained and the prepared, the consistent and honest have only to hold heads high, win or lose. Or, in the words of Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) in Hoosiers, whose script writers surely lifted these lessons from the likes of Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Herbert: "If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners."

Sources: The 1963 Chieftain, The 1964 Chieftain


CAMBRIDGE NOT SO LONG AGO © 2013 Thomas M. Raymond