I feel like going back in time. Back to when my kids, who are now grown, were just babies, to the 1980s. I want to be at a basketball game, at what was then known as Wiscasset High School. If WHS was hosting a Friday night game, you had to be in the gym by 5:30, because by 6, when the band played the National Anthem, the bleachers were filled. Just about everybody turned out for those games and not just parents or grandparents with kids playing on the teams.
Win or lose, it was a good time. Folks shouted, they cheered and when it was over they applauded the players on both teams. WHS was part of the Mid-Maine Conference that included Lincoln Academy, Richmond, Erskine, Hall-Dale, Monmouth, Maranacook, Oak Hill and Boothbay Region high schools. The furthest trip for an away game was to Maranacook High in Readfield, about a 45-minute drive. There’d always be a large contingent of Wiscasset fans at the away games. I’d be there covering the games for the newspaper. I often rode with native Wiscasseter Danny Grover, the owner of Grover Tire & Auto and a WHS graduate.
There were some great rivalries: Wiscasset/Richmond, Wiscasset/Lincoln Academy and of course Wiscasset/Boothbay. One time so many people turned out for a Wiscasset/Boothbay basketball game they had to put seating on the stage to accommodate the crowd, and fans were still turned away.
The WHS student body had a terrific pep band who provided live entertainment during halftime. They were led by a fellow student, Bob MacDonald, who dressed in a black tuxedo; the same Bob MacDonald who’s been a part of Wiscasset Community Center since it opened and also a member of our fire department. The band’s set included a rendition of “Eye of the Tiger,” and always ended with a rousing playing and singing of the WHS school song.
After basketball season ended, Griff Braley, the drama coach, and his assistant Suzanne Rankin, later Debbie Pooler, took over the stage to produce a school play. They had some really good ones too, “The Snow Child” and “MacBeth” are two that come to mind. “MacBeth” featured a smoke machine that simulated fog and a climactic sword fight! One year the Drama Club put on a musical based on the Broadway play, “Bye, Bye Birdie.” It was a great show too with 50 or 60 students involved in the production. Remember?
No doubt about it Wiscasset High in the 1980s was the focal point of the community. There was something going on almost every night of the week. The school offered a really popular adult education program on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I had a beginning photography class making use of the school’s dark room which was donated to the school by the late Ben Kirkland of Wiscasset, a true gentleman who came from the state of Georgia. The late Clark “Woody” Freeman taught welding and there was a class in basic auto mechanics. Joe Murphy, who used to teach English and Latin at WHS, had an Appreciation of Film class in the high school’s mini auditorium. Inga Soule, a member of the school committee, taught German and Midge Marean of Alna had a sewing class. But there was more, Wiscasset Ambulance Department offered basic first aid training and Wiscasset Rod & Gun Club sponsored a firearm safety course. Don Siviski, the WHS vice principal, doubled as the adult ed director. Don was one of the best educators Wiscasset ever had. After he left WHS he went on to compile an impressive career in education. I wonder what our school system would look like today if he had stayed here.
I wonder too, if anyone remembers when WHS hosted a donkey basketball game? Really, people packing the gym to watch a bunch of adults attempting to ride a jackass and play basketball. Rosie Schacht, a wonderful teacher who once called WHS home, was responsible for putting together that fundraising event for the high school’s Future Business Leaders of America. Monies from the event were donated to American Cancer Society and the March of Dimes. A lot of local “personalities” took part including Mike Stailing, a former Wiscasset police officer and a longtime high school soccer official. Jeff Averill from Ames True Value took part, and as I recall handled his mount better than anyone else. Me, I was bucked off after about 30 seconds and left lying flat on my back on the gym floor wondering what on Earth happened.
WHS also hosted several boxing matches that I also covered for the newspaper. The late Stan Curtis, who worked at the Wiscasset Town Office, was one of the promoters. Robbie Creamer of Wiscasset, who was in his teens, was among the featured attractions. I remember sitting at ringside with Donny Brewer, Wiscasset’s rec director and another WHS grad. He’s now human resources director for Cumberland County. There was a bruising slug fest underway between two aspiring welter weights. One of the boxers walloped his opponent in the nose, splattering Donny and me with blood.
Well, that was then and this is now. Nothing ever stays quite the same, does it? WHS is now Wiscasset Middle High School since the building also includes grades six, seven and eight. The new focal point of the community is Wiscasset Community Center, with its swimming pool, gymnasium, weight room and senior center. There’s something happening there every day of the week including fitness programs, swimming classes, mens’ and womens’ basketball, pickleball, after-school programs for young people, cribbage and more. We are very fortunate to have this wonderful resource under the direction of Duane Goud and rec programmer Chelsea Taylor, who by the way are both WHS graduates.
Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to the Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at email@example.com