Editor’s note: Dick Giroux is the last of four Auburn-Lewiston Hall of Fame inductees being profiled.
If not for a pair of shoes, Dick Giroux might not have met his wife, Jane, might not have raised his two children in Bangor, and might not have been selected for induction into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame this Sunday.
It’s quite certain Lewiston High School wouldn’t have won its last two Western Maine basketball championships in 1965 and 1966 if Giroux didn’t want to fit in with the jocks when he was an eight grader at Jordan School.
“When I was a kid, you had to have black Converse and white Wigwam socks,” Giroux said. “All of the big jocks wore that.”
A local hardware store had the sneakers on sale for $14.99, but Giroux knew that his father, a custodian, and mother, who worked at the Bates Mill, would never agree to spend so much of their hard-earned money on a pair of sneakers.
But it turns out that the 6-foot-3 Giroux had caught the eye of rec director Nat Crowley, who called him into his office and asked the tall and lanky youngster if he’d consider to play basketball. Giroux, who had grown up playing hockey, hesitated, until Crowley offered to get Giroux a pair of the coveted sneakers if he tried out for hoops.
The youngster agreed without telling the coach the diabolical scheme that was taking shape in his adolescent mind. Basketball try-puts started Oct. 15. Hockey try-outs started Nov. 1, so he had plenty of time to fulfill his promise to Crowley, get his Converse, and get back in time for hockey season.
“I thought I’ll get my sneakers and after five or six days, I’ll figure basketball’s not for me,'” he said.
What Giroux didn’t figure was that the eighth grade coach, Roger Provencher, would keep him after practice to show him what the game of basketball could mean to him.
“He made me love the game so that I didn’t get in a pair of skates again,” he said. “I’ve just played basketball.”
Showing his range
While Giroux’s French-Canadian parents weren’t crazy about the idea of their son abandoning hockey for basketball, Fern Masse, his varsity coach, is grateful.
“You’d have to go a long way to find anyone who had two years at Lewiston like his junior and senior years of high school,” said Masse, who himself was inducted into the Hall last year.
Giroux grew another inch and swung between the JV and varsity his sophomore year. He cracked the starting lineup his junior year and teamed with classmate Denny Larock to form one of the state’s biggest and most formidable frontcourts.
“Your only as good as your teammates, and I had great teammates,” he said.
While Larock did his work in the inside, Giroux made his points by slashing to the hoop and raining down deep jumpers on the opposition.
“I don’t think I had NBA range, but I’d say probably 60-70 percent of my shots in (college) 3-point range,” he said.
Giroux and Larock led the Blue Devils to the fifth seed in what was then the Class LL basketball tournament at the Portland Expo. Giroux scored 13 in their come-from-behind quarterfinal win over No. 4 Traip Academy, then scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half of their 67-66 semifinal upset of top-seeded Stevens High School of Rumford. He followed that up with a 22-point performance in the regional final win over Cheverus to earn the George Vinal Trophy as the tournament’s outstanding player.
For the state championship, the Devils ran into a buzzsaw in Stearns, which hadn’t lost a game in three years. Despite Giroux’s 19 points, Lewiston had trouble acclimating to the Bangor Auditorium and fell, 76-66.
The following summer Giroux, who lived on Bates St., secured a job supervising the basketball courts at nearby Bates Park, which was where the Lewiston Central Fire Station now stands.
“Basically what it boiled down to was they would pay me all summer to play basketball,” he said. “I should send them a check because that’s all I did. There could have been a kid in the road and I wouldn’t have seen him because I was shooting baskets.”
“He was just one of those kids that wanted to get better,” Masse said. “He continued to work hard on his game and he came to play every minute of the game. He was a pleasure to coach.”
Giroux was one of four starters returning for the 1965-66 season, so Lewiston had high hopes of competing for the title again. The Blue Devils started slow, however, and had to settle for the No. 4 seed heading into the tournament.
The rest of the tournament bracket was lined with teams who had beaten Lewiston twice during the regular season – including Biddeford and Rumford. But like the previous year, coach Masse had his team peaking at the right time.
“Our team wasn’t the most talented. We were about seven people deep and we just clicked. We just clicked and we had a coach who prepared us very well,” Giroux said. “There’s no question we weren’t the better team, but when it counts is when it counts.”
Giroux poured in 19 points in an easy quarterfinal win over Sanford, then tallied 26 in a 74-67 upset of No. 1 Biddeford.
The regional final against Rumford that followed was Giroux’s masterpiece. The “classy cornerman” as he was dubbed by the Lewiston Daily Sun, couldn’t be stopped in the first half, scoring 24 of his game-high 34 points in the first half.
“That was one of those games where no matter what I did, it was just going in,” he said. “I remember coach said, What are you going to do next, take a hook shot from the foul line?’ And guess what, I went to the foul line and shot a hook shot and it was nothing but net.”
Lewiston hung on to win the cliffhanger, 71-68. No Lewiston team ever won a Western Maine title again.
Giroux set a tournament record for points in a tournament that was broken the next year, but his mark for free throws made in a tournament game (14) that still stands today and picked up his second consecutive Vinal Trophy by averaging over 26 ppg in the tournament. Only one other player, Cheverus Angelo Salvaggio (1997-98) has won the trophy in back-to-back years.
Once again, the Blue Devils met an unbeaten juggernaut in the state title game. This time, it was Cony, which had beaten them twice in the regular season but by only one point at the Lewiston Armory.
Giroux struggled from the floor, shooting 4-for-13, and the Devils couldn’t overcome the 37-point performance by Boston College bound Don Crosby on their way to a 76-58 loss.
“That’s the only regret I have,” he said. “I just wish we could have won a state trophy for coach Fern Masse. There was no more deserving coach.”
He gets emotional when he talks about Masse, whom he credits with pushing him academically and athletically so that he could attend Husson College on an athletic scholarship. He went on to score 1,000 points at the Bangor school, was named to numerous all-star squads and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1987.
Giroux met his wife, Jane, in Bangor and still lives and works there as a sales rep for a Lewiston-based counter top company, New England Surfaces. Now 58, he no longer plays basketball. He coached briefly at Eastern Maine Vocational School, and he tried playing in men’s leagues as an adult, but was disappointed that the players didn’t take the game seriously enough.
“I went to a Boston Celtics summer camp once, and Red Auerbach said, You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser,'” he said.
So it’s not surprising that the state championship losses, particularly the Cony defeat, still gnaw at Giroux.
“I just wish I could have played in that game one more time,” he said. “I guarantee you, we’d win it.”