Sports

Milford to celebrate 40th anniversary of title season

Thursday, February 9, 2012

By DEAN SHALHOUP

Staff Writer

MILFORD – They may, at first blush, have come across as more Class S than anything, what with their plain, muted-blue road uniforms lacking a school or team name above the requisite numerals. Taller than average, yes, but likely a gangly group not yet ready, most everyone agreed, for New Hampshire schoolboy basketball prime time.

But down in the Souhegan Valley, as the 1971 holiday season came and went, then winter began giving way to the spring of ‘72, a young social studies teacher in his trademark plaid jacket and black-rimmed glasses was gently but firmly molding a dozen teenagers into the cohesive, talent-laden and successful band of schoolboy athletes he, and eventually they, knew they could be.

Come St. Patrick’s Day 1972, the Milford AREA High Spartans, in their second of just two years in Class L, all but written off despite an 18-2 season record and winning the Queen City Invitational holiday tourney, climaxed an improbable, almost Hoosiers-like season by shoving its final challenger, first-place Manchester Central, to the wayside for a Class L state championship victory few besides they and their legendary teacher-turned-head coach, Maurice “Moe” Facques, knew was possible.

Now, 40 years after the Spartans took it to an unsuspecting, disbelieving Class L hierarchy, four of the five starters and nine players overall from the glory-days of the 1971-72 season are coming to town this weekend for a long-overdue reunion.

“We really never had one,” the retired but seemingly ageless Facques said. “We feel it’s high time we did something.”

For openers, the architects of the season that rocked Class L will be recognized at halftime of Friday’s Milford home game against Con-Val, which Facques said is a great chance for their classmates, other contemporaries and longtime residents who remember fondly the Cinderella season to come and say hi.

On Saturday, they and guests will gather at Hampshire Hills for a reunion dinner party, where more than a few memories are sure to be shared.

Planning to attend are Jon Raymond, the Spartans’ 6-5 center; Todd Cannaday, the “explosive rebounder,” according to a Milford Cabinet story, and quarterback of the Spartans’ trademark fast-break; Rodger Lehr, team captain and chief playmaker; his backcourt partner, Joe Calderara; Dan Murray, a “hard-nosed rebounder” who just happens to be the Spartans’ current head coach; his brother Shawn, a sophomore often borrowed from the jayvee team; Lehr’s brother Mark, the sixth man; Jim Shannon, a new arrival that year; and Don Watson, a junior backup man.

The three who can’t make it are Scott Crooker, Brian Langille and Dave Quinn.

Like Facques, who in 1974 went on to coach Nashua High – his Spartans’ semifinal victim in the ’72 state tourney – Raymond recalls the season as a “very rewarding experience” for which the groundwork was actually laid during the second half of the previous season.

“We began maturing about halfway through,” Raymond said this week from his home in Acton, Mass. “I remember being pretty inconsistent, I’d have a good game then a lousy one. We had a losing record the first half of the season, but we knew we were getting better, and I think we went 7-3 the rest of the way.”

One particular home game that sticks in Raymond’s mind came during that season’s homestretch. The Spartans ended up losing, but the fact they kept the mighty Manchester Memorial Crusaders in check for three-plus quarters was nothing to sneeze at.

“We could have won,” Raymond laments, “if Flanagan hadn’t taken over the game in the fourth period.”

The Flanagan to whom Raymond refers is the incomparable Mike Flanagan, the exquisite multi-sport athlete whose deadly left-handed jumper and uncanny court presence undid many a Class L opponent over his four years. The most recent time Flanagan was in the news, sadly, was when he passed in August.

Looking back, the loss may have been at least as valuable as a win in that situation, Raymond said. “It was very much a learning experience, just being able to play with those guys gave us a lot of confidence that definitely carried over to the next season. We were getting smarter; and we had a very smart coach,” he said.

Likewise for Cannaday, now a Wisconsin resident and one of several “dream team” Spartans who continue to keep in touch. “Not only were we close teammates, we were very good friends and still are today,” he said this week.

Also contributing to their on-court success was their commitment to working year-round on their game, Cannaday said. “We played summer leagues, here and down on Cape Cod, great experiences that helped build a bond for the coming season. We went in (to the season) pretty confident, and winning our first three games then the Christmas tournament was a huge boost for us.”

The championship season was Facques’ fifth season as Spartans head coach. He brought them to the tournament all five years – three in Class I and two in Class L – and was named Class I Coach of the Year in 1969.

Milford’s brief, two-season foray into Class L was driven by the rise in male student population, the method the NHIAA used at the time to classify teams into one of four classes – large, intermediate, medium and small. Both years, Milford was the second-smallest school in Class L, Cannaday remembers. Another population fluctuation sent them back to Class I come the 1972-73 season.

Facques, meanwhile, in his characteristic never-sit-still style, managed to locate then-Cabinet sportswriter Maggie Doyle, who just about defined the word “effusive” in her highly detailed coverage of the season. Doyle, who lives in South Carolina, isn’t able to make the reunion.

To her credit, Doyle made certain not to overlook Milford’s other success story that year – the so-called “Kelley Girls,” coach Joe Kelley’s highly talented varsity girls basketball team, which went undefeated until, unfortunately, running into a bad shooting night and falling to a giant Fall Mountain team in the state finals.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 303, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.

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