By Matt Pascarella
The 1966 Windham basketball team were a talented group of players who ended the season with a great record (14-3 overall) and won the Cumberland County Conference, or Triple-C championship, against Bonny Eagle 60-47 at Bonny Eagle High School. But they were more than that. This was a group of young men who really loved the game, and played it any opportunity they had, regardless of weather or temperature. And that spirit and those feelings of pride still remain today for those who were there to experience the excitement of that season.
|The 1966 Windham High School boys' basketball team |
became Cumberland County Conference champions by
beating Bonny Eagle, 60-47. at Bonny Eagle High School.
The players loved the game and helped younger players
succeed on the court. COURTESY PHOTO
On Friday nights the Windham gymnasium was packed with supporters waiting to see their Windham basketball team take the court. The bleachers were filled; people were standing in the lobby, against the wall and on the stage in anticipation of the start of the game. There was a pep squad, a live band, and cheerleaders who would get the crowd going. Everyone was there to show their support.
Basketball kept the town alive in the winter. You couldn’t get a seat unless you showed up early. It was a community event and the entire community showed up to support their team.
In 1964, when Windham opened the then-new high school, a new basketball coach came with it, Bryce Beattie. He had coached at Freeport and won three or four state championships in the previous five years. Beattie was a disciplined coach and different from what Windham players had ever experienced.
The team was talented, but Coach Beattie had a lot to do with their success; he was the driving force. There was no messing around; it was Beattie’s way, or you weren’t playing.
“That ’66 team was the best team that ever came out of Windham in my mind,” said Raymond resident Don Forbes and member of the 1973 Windham basketball team, who also won the Triple C championship. “They had great height, they had great ball handling abilities, they had shooting, they were 10 men deep on that basketball team. They had competition from the first day, right to the end of the season and everybody wanted to play.”
According to O’Brien, in 1966 WHS seniors Alvin Dennison, Allan Libby, Don McGlinchey, and O’Brien would score in double figures on any given night and averaged 72 to 75 points a game; and that was before the three-point shot was adopted. O’Brien and Dennison were MVPs of that 1966 team.
“I don’t think anyone really cared who scored the most, we all wanted to win,” said O’Brien.
Beattie started the Saturday morning basketball program in 1966 where older players would help train the younger players. After all the excitement of Friday night, the entire Windham basketball team would show up in the gym on Saturday morning and teach skills of the game to fifth graders who would later become Windham’s 1973 Triple C champions. This program still exists today.
“We would never have played basketball if it weren’t for Bryce Beattie and the Saturday morning basketball program that they started,” said Forbes. “He turned this basketball program into something that was just a marvelous thing. I want to thank that ’66 team and let them know how important they were to us. We were very fortunate to have the people to support us. I want to thank everyone from Coach Beattie all the way up, it’s just incredible. I can’t tell you how special it really was.”
O’Brien met his wife, Sandy, at Windham High School. They later married and have been together for more than 50 years.
“It was very gratifying to know that he was my boyfriend, at the time,” said Sandy O’Brien. “You looked forward to the ball game; you get this high that you just can’t explain. We cheered the whole team – [Jim] was the best; we would get the crowd going. It was a great bunch of people. I remain friends with quite a few of them.”
The games were so popular that they had organized travel buses to take fans and cheerleaders to away games and those seats filled quickly. They needed three buses to transport supporters to away games. There was a lot of spirit, from everyone, not just classmates and cheerleaders, behind this Windham team.
“You never forget it,” said Jim O’Brien. “I have really good memories of it. We definitely had an enjoyable senior year, and it was definitely because of the basketball. It was an amazing team. There was a lot of spirit and a lot of talent; [we] still got the spirit.” <