by Robert Perham


1955-1956 Eliot High School Girls Basketball Team
(Click for larger image)
Front Row (l to r): Colleen Spinney, Carol Furbish, Mary Staples, Janice Lyman, Sylvia McConnell, Ann Griffiths, Jean Dunning, Charlotte Tuttle, Merry Raeside.
2nd Row: Coach Perham, Dawnalyn Swan, Judy Bailey, Christine Allen, Barbara Manter, Anna Brannen, Helen Staples, Mary Jasper, Beverley Bond, Gail Mitchell.
Back Row: Carol Boyce, Gail Shapleigh, Judy Place, Janice Haigue, Kathleen Moynahan, Donna Small, Regina Littlefield, Marguerite Dixon, Carol Bond.

I have been in Eliot for 60 years now.  I am very happy that my five children got their education in Eliot schools.  I may be prejudiced because I was a teacher here, but I feel a student can get an excellent education here if they want to work for it.  One of my fondest memories of this time period was that of coaching the Eliot girls basketball team.

I came here to teach and coach in 1950, regardless of the admonition of the Maine Teachers Association not to seek a teaching position in the Eliot schools.  Eliot was on the association’s “Black List.”  They felt that teaching in Eliot was not conducive to a positive teaching career.  There was little financial backing for schools in Eliot.  The high school building held six grades: seven through twelve.  Not good!  The principal taught classes as well as being a principal.  Not good!  This all changed with the arrival of David Pierce who later became a full time principal. I chose to apply to Eliot because it was close to where I lived in Portsmouth.

In my meeting with the school board, they told me I would be teaching seven classes, grades seven through twelve and coaching six-man football, girls basketball and baseball.  The pay would be $1,800, no pay for coaching.  I had no trouble with baseball, but I never heard of six-man football and I did not even know girls played basketball.

When basketball season came around, I knew I had a lot to learn about girls basketball.  As a result, my team was made up of younger players: one senior, no juniors, six sophomores and eleven freshmen.  We had no gym to practice in.  There was an old barn across the street that some men in town had made over into a sort of a gym, but the boys got most of the practice time.  We got what time we could and even practiced outdoors on a dirt court beside the school.  We had to rent the Traip gym to play our home games.  The girls played preliminary games to the boys games.

During that first year, we lost 12 league games and tied 1.  Because I wanted the girls to play as much as they could and we could use someone else’s gym, I scheduled as many games with Portsmouth and Dover teams as I could.  We won 5 of those and lost 4.

The next year we played 22 games, winning 4 of the 13 league games and played 10 games outside the league playing teams out of our class: South Portland, Westbrook, Old Orchard, Somersworth, Newmarket and Newburyport, MA.  We won 2 of those games, lost 7 and tied 1.

During the 1952-53 season, all our hard work paid off.  We won 18 games and lost 2.  The two losses were to Sanford and York.  We won the league championship and went on to win it for the next ten years.  I took some of the girls to a basketball clinic put on in the Boston Garden by the Celtics and later to the New England Basketball Tournament in the Garden.  I wanted the girls to develop a strong interest in the game and find it exciting.

During our ‘53-‘54 season we won 15 and lost 4.  The big moment of that season was playing in the Boston Garden.  One of the times we went to a Celtics clinic, I met Bill Mokray.  He was the one that scheduled events in the Garden.  I asked him if there was any chance my girls could play a game there.  We discussed it and he arranged for us to play a preliminary game to the Celtics and play St. Marys of Charleston.  They defeated us 43-38.  To this day, the girls (now grandmothers) still talk about that game.  We had been such a big hit that Mokray scheduled us twice more: once defeating Lunenburg, MA and another year defeating Ayer, MA.

We had successful seasons in 54-55 and 55-56, going 18-5 and 14-4.  The ‘56-‘57 was the season we had been waiting for.  We were going to finally have a gym.  In 1955 I had spoken with the school superintendent and asked him to put in an article in the town warrant asking for $5,000 to be set aside for a future gym.  He did and it passed.  The next year I asked him to put in for $10,000.  He said, “No, let’s go for the whole thing.”  The girls had been getting a lot of media coverage and some TV.  I think that all this coverage had an influence on the Eliot voters.  The article passed and we played the seventh game of the 1956-57 season in our new gym, defeating North Berwick 65-46.

In ‘57-‘58 we went 17-3, then came our real glory years.  In ‘58-‘59 we went undefeated winning 22 games, undefeated the next year winning 18 games, again the next year winning 15.  Now the newspapers were covering every game we played.  We had a streak going.  We finished the next year winning 23 games.  Our streak was at 78 games.

The first game of the ‘62-‘63 season, we lost to York 40-28.  The streak had ended.  The girls were heartbroken.  They felt that they had let me down.  We picked ourselves up and won 16, losing 2.

I need to mention that during the years that I coached the girls we made a number of overnight trips, playing in Stonington, CT; Gilford, ME; Clinton, ME and Boothbay Harbor, ME.  Whenever we made one of these trips I would arrange for the girls to visit a factory or newspaper.  I wanted them to get a little education as well as play basketball.  We would always go to some museum when we went to Boston.

Besides playing games in our league and with class A and B teams, we played a prep school, Brewster Academy and two college teams: Plymouth State Teachers and Nasson College.  We won 3 of those 4 games.

Every year I took one of the girls to the state foul shooting contest.  I don’t think we ever came in lower than 5th.  Betty Manter won it in 1961.  When the season ended, I would then enter the girls in the tournament held each year in the Connie Bean Center in Portsmouth.  We won that three times.

At the end of the ‘62-‘63 season, I had a decision to make.  Would I switch from the girls to the boys team?  If there had been state girls tournaments, I think I would have stayed with the girls, but I made a decision I later regretted.  I switched to the boys.  There was nothing wrong with the boys, but with the advent of girls tournaments, I wished I could be taking my girls to these tournaments and bringing home some gold balls.

I enjoyed my coaching years very much and even after all these years by former players, girls and boys, are some of my closest friends today.

I was very humbled when the school board named the Eliot gym after me.  I had coached in that gym, either girls or boys, every year it was a part of Eliot High School.  Eliot has been good to me.