When Farmington High School hired a new basketball coach in 1947, no one could have imagined the impact it would have on the team’s future! John Bodnarik arrived from a much larger school in Virginia and immediately instilled new life into the team.

Bodnarik stressed fundamentals and introduced a new style of play that relied on the use of “picks.” Players would know precisely where to be on the court and what to do because all plays had been endlessly planned and practiced.

The survivors of the 1947/48 team, captain Don Kenney, Cecil Kendall, and manager Charlie Murray recently reminisced with this writer about coach Bodnarik and that magical 1947/48 season. (Deceased team members were Allan Smith, Paul Brinkman, Lee Gray, Granville Knowles, Roland Roux, George Berry, Dick Johnson, and Carl Goding.) Kenney, Kendall, and Murray all agreed that Bodnarik was a fantastic coach, a no-nonsense person, and well-liked despite being a strict disciplinarian. As Kenney recalled. “He laid rules down and you obeyed them or took a walk, simple as that.”

Murray said “he was a drill master and a no nonsense person.”

Kendall, a three-sport star athlete, told the story of Bodnarik (who also coached football) seeing his biggest and best lineman smoking downtown. The next day, the lineman arrived at practice and immediately was told by Coach to turn in his uniform.

The player couldn’t believe it. Bodnarik’s rules and expectations of his players were paramount. Another particular characteristic of Bodnarik was remembered by all three. He would slam his foot down while sitting on the bench. It was a signal he was perturbed by an official’s call or his team’s poor execution of a play. Everyone in the gym could hear it!

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The Farmington Greyhounds commenced the 1947/48 season with a nail-biting win 41-40 over an alumni team. The early season match-up with perennial rival Wilton Academy, coached by Ernie “Red” Scribner, was also a barn burner, F.H.S. emerging with a 37-36 win. However, during the remaining regular season the team was beaten frequently; some losses were much smaller schools including Rangeley and Kingfield.

The high cost of travel by a bus – usually driven by Robert “Apple” Oliver – kept them close to home. Trips to Rumford and Rangeley were long trips!

As the season headed to a close, it looked like they were going to be consigned to a very disappointing end. Prior to the annual Franklin County Tournament their record was an unimpressive 10-7. However, the situation would soon drastically change. But why?

I asked Kenney, Kendall, and Murray that very question.

Their responses emphasized the development of sophomore center Paul Brinkman during the season. Kendall said Brinkman’s early season play time was limited due to his inability to shoot with either hand under the basket. He was perhaps the tallest player in the State, but Murray noted Brinkman needed special attention from coach Bodnarik to maximize his potential. Kenney and Kendall remember being assigned to throw balls for hours against a backboard so Brinkman could improve his timing from the bang he heard. (He had poor vision.)

During these drills Brinkman put the ball back up into the net, alternating hands. It worked, and in January he became the starting center and continued to improve to the point of catching the attention of sports writers. Brinkman wore thick eye glasses and a cage-like device to protect them. Reporters referred to him as “The Man from Mars!”

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A second reason for late season success was that the team got to play on larger courts. Throughout the season, games in Franklin County meant playing on small courts. That year, even home games were played on the small court at the College’s Alumni Gym. Normally, home games were played on the large court at the Community Center. But that facility was closed that year due to a roof structure issue.

As Kenny recently recalled, Farmington was “a team that did our best on a large court and most of our games were on small courts.” He further indicated that their style of play, slow and deliberate, worked best on the larger courts. A fact check with Farmington historian Paul Mills, revealed that the Town, in 1948, spent $11,490 to repair the roof support system that was built in 1942. Early WWII steel shortages had impaired the building’s original roof. The 1948 repairs were funded by sale of the “Town Farm” (a facility for the town poor.)

Heading into the County tournament, played at Alumni Gym, the defending champions, Jay High, with a 15-3 record and coached by Elmer Knowles, was favored.

Prior to the tournament, both Jay and Farmington had been selected to compete in the Western Maine Class M Tournament. In 1948, high schools were classified as L (large), M (medium) and S (small). Wilton Academy was the upset winner in the County tournament but didn’t get to go to the regional championship despite defeating Farmington, and then Jay, by a resounding score of 52-34. Wilton’s victory was led by Thayden Farrington and Raymond Macomber.

Usually the team that won the County championship would go on to post-season play. Not so in 1948. That’s because Wilton had simply failed to apply. (Today, placements in year-end tournaments are determined by the Heal Point System.)

Farmington, after finishing third in the County tournament, entered the Western Maine Tournament in the Lewiston Armory. This was thanks to the application efforts of Farmington Principal Melville Johnson, father of team member Dick Johnson. This was much to the chagrin of the folks in Wilton, who thought they deserved to be in the tournament rather than Farmington. Kenney remembers an editorial suggesting Farmington should withdraw from the tournament and give their place to Wilton.

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Kenney said “I bet the Wilton people must have been upset; here their team had finally jelled at the right time, won the County tournament, and didn’t advance to the Western Maine Tournament.” Farmington, due to luck, went to the tournament and had to face Jay in the quarterfinals. Jay had already defeated Farmington twice during the regular season.

Farmington upset Jay 35-25. As Kenney explained to this columnist “We knew we could win if we played the coach’s game.” In the semifinals, Farmington defeated Old Orchard Beach 35-28.

In the championship game Farmington faced a very formidable opponent in Mexico High School. After the first quarter, the Greyhounds were down 12-3. With time running out, Mexico had a slim 33-32 lead. Farmington’s Roland Roux, who had represented his team in the State foul shooting contest, went to the line for two shots; he made the first to tie the score but missed the second.

Roux immediately got a pass back from a teammate’s rebound and let one fly from beyond the circle for a two pointer that secured Farmington’s Western Maine Class M Championship with a 35-33 win. Roux, a diminutive bespectacled substitute, was the spark that the team needed as he led his team in scoring with 12 critical points.

Now it was on to the State Championship game in Brewer to play Pemetic High School from Southwest Harbor. State championship fever was on high and local fans who couldn’t travel listened to the game on a Bangor radio station. The starting line-up for Farmington was Cecil Kendall, Paul Brinkman, Don Kenney, George Berry, and Dick Johnson with Roland Roux and Lee Gray, first off the bench.

In the end, Farmington, before 2,000 fans, won convincingly 55-36 over the Eastern Maine Champs, who couldn’t figure out their opponent’s style of play and had no one to match up with “The Man from Mars” Brinkman, who led all scorers with 23 points.

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Lloyd Morton, owner of the Farmington Chevrolet dealership, paid for the team to have a celebration banquet at a Bangor hotel right after the game. I asked the surviving members of that team what they were thinking after winning the State Championship. They indicated it was beyond words, especially since no one with their meager mid-season record ever thought it possible! Once the team was back in Farmington, the celebration continued for days with special events to honor the young men who made Farmington proud at this time just 70 years ago.

Farmington defended their State Championship in 1949, by beating Milo High School. In 1950, they were once again in the State Championship game. But this time, in hopes of making it three straight, lost by a single point to Milo.

Coach Bodnarik left Farmington after the 1947/48 season to coach at Gorham State Teachers College. Don Kenney followed Bodnarik to Gorham and played on his team the following four years. In Kenney’s senior year, he captained his college team that won the New England Teachers College Championship.

Roger G. Spear, UMF V.P. Emeritus, is a well-known authority on local sports history and is currently working on a manuscript of local baseball, 1865-1956. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]

Members of Farmington High School’s 1948 Championship Basketball team from left are Donald Kenney, Cecil Kendall, and Charlie Murray. (Scott Landry photo)


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