It’s fascinating how history connects with the present.
Perhaps the most surprising story in Eastern Massachusetts high school basketball this winter has been the Danvers High Falcons. Depleted of their repeat Division 3 state championship starting five via graduation and lone returnee Vinny Clifford’s season-wrecking knee injury suffered playing AAU basketball last summer, they projected as little better than a .500 team under fourth-year coach John Walsh.
Moving up to Division 2 for the MIAA state tournament only added to the challenge — if they qualified. The doubters should have known better.
After Wednesday’s 62-59 semifinal win over Belmont at Beverly High, Danvers’ astounding season rolls on at 20-2 heading into today’s sectional final at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Now owners of an unprecedented third straight 20-win season, it conjures up memories for us old-timers of the DHS squad from exactly 50 years ago that enjoyed a Cinderella-like championship run of its own, which produced the school’s first Northeastern Conference hoop championship of the modern era.
It ranks as small stuff in contrast to today, but the 1964 champs were special in their own way, similar as noted in that expectations were lukewarm at best for what would turn out to be title-winning campaigns.
In the case of the ‘64 team, John McGrath was in his first year as head coach after serving as Medford High head coach the previous five seasons. He had come to Danvers a couple years earlier as an assistant football coach under the new regime headed by Jim McKinnon.
“I knew there were some experienced players returning,” McGrath, a Malden Catholic and Tufts graduate, recalled, “but otherwise I had no idea what the season would bring. I knew we had two solid multi-sport athletes in Bob Cunningham and Bob Bonner. Little did I know that a combination of four basketball lifers and those two superb all-around athletes would carry us to the Conference title.”