Writer Reminisces About Events Held at Old Town Hall, Now the Hub

Basketball games, dances, high school, town meetings

By Nancy Clayman
This photo, provided by the Andover Historical Society, shows either an Andover High School Junior or Senior prom, or some other formal dance, held in the old gym of the former Town Hall, now the Hub, from the early 1960s. A few of the names that could be identified are Jimmy Alley, Marion Blake, Sandy Harding, and Max Boyd. Do you see yourself, or know who any of the other people are? Let us know!

The snow-covered roofs of cars and pick-up trucks, jam-packed into the Town Hall parking lot, shine brightly under the full moon of this freezing February night. Despite sub-zero temperatures, the townspeople will likely fill the hall to capacity for this last home game of the season for both the girls’ and boys’ high school basketball teams. 

It may be the dearth of Saturday entertainment options in our small town or relief from yet another lonely, winter night or just an example of the true grit of these northerners, but the boys’ game, especially, has the promise of real excitement. While the girls in blue and white have had a disappointing season, the boys’ team, with a win tonight, could be heading to the finals – a first in many years. 

Across the street at a closed gas station, a yellow school bus, labeled “Henniker Schools”, sits idling, occasionally releasing puffs of dark gray exhaust. In the ‘60s, at least in this country town, little time was spent worrying about clean air. Inside the fully illuminated bus, a chubby driver fills his seat, exhaling his own bit of smoke from the cigarette dangling from his chapped lips. He munches on a sandwich while embroiled in the paperback that rests conveniently on the steering wheel. 

A passerby stops by the bus and waves at the driver, “Don’t you want some coffee and a warm spot in the hall while our guys go about sending your guys home red-faced?”  The driver lets out a huge guffaw, “No thanks, I seen enough games to last a lifetime, and it’s goin’ to be your guys red-faced tonight!” With no retort, the passerby crosses the street and climbs the steps, knowing he’d better grab a seat before the boys’ team takes the floor.

This will be the last night ever the high school teams play ball in this almost 100 year old edifice, the walls of which witnessed many a school dance, student play, and the annual Town Meeting, when all residents, together, voice their say about their town. The sentimental are worried the new building will be cavernous and unwelcoming; others are hoping that the musty odors that emanate from this old building’s basement locker rooms will become a distant memory.

Tonight the anteroom of the town hall welcomes attendees with hot chocolate and donuts, each costing a nickel, a fundraiser for the teams. This tiny space is more crowded with those interested in catching up with neighbors than parents who want to see every second of the game inside. They’re not too worried about scoring one of the folding chairs that line the sides of the playing floor; they’ll be happy to stand at the doors or just roam about inside as the “real” game gets underway.

Once inside the hall, you’re practically standing under the basketball net. The bright lights, the smell of wet wool and smoke carried in from the ubiquitous pot belly stoves of the season, the ball reverberating off the backboard, the ref’s shrill whistle – you are where it’s happening tonight!

On the opposite side of the hall from the entrance, the stage is packed with standing students; they’re sharing the tight space with the scorer’s table. Some are focused on the game; most are otherwise engaged: poking each other, laughing, downing their third donut. The boys’ team, already in uniform awaiting their turn to play, sit on the stage edge with legs dangling. Reggie, their star player, claims center stage. The cheerleaders sit cross-legged on the floor below, ready to jump out of the way of the players, as needed. This is how it always is.

The girls’ team is on the playing floor. The time clock flashes three minutes to go; the score is down seven. Respectable, considering the strength of the Henniker girls’ team. Andover’s three guards are on the opposite side of the center line while three forwards are on the court near the stage; two forwards flank the foul line edges as Number 3, just fouled, readies to take her free shots.

This was women’s basketball in the ‘60s. Six to a team; neither the guards nor the forwards of either team were allowed to cross the center line during play, until both teams changed sides at the half; only two dribbles were allowed before a player had to pass or shoot for a basket.  Females were presumed to be physically weak, therefore not to be overtaxed, ever, by running the entire length of the floor.

Number 3, a senior, is not known for her scoring prowess despite playing four years as a forward. All seniors see the floor during their final game. She’s in the game now, despite the score and few final precious minutes left. Her face is red; perspiration glistens her forehead even though she just entered the fray.

The referee passes me the ball. I take a deep breath, hoping against hope that this time I can do it for the team. Two baskets would be awesome, but I’d be thrilled with just one to break my record. I wipe my sweaty palms — left then right – on the pockets of my navy shorts. Following Coach Roy’s advice, I visualize the two foul shots I made in practice yesterday. I used, with success, the underhand method now made acceptable by professional player Rick Barry – perfect for the smaller player.

I glance at fellow forward and star scorer, Joanie; she wishes me luck with a nod. I hope my friend, a fellow senior and likely this year’s MVP, is beaming the same even though we are rivals in all things high school.

Bounce once, twice, another deep breath, and I power the ball forward; it hits the backboard, a bit too high, but at least I had lift.

As I prepare for my last chance, the pounding from the stage floor competes with the pounding in my chest – “You can do it, for the blue and white!”  I wonder if I should summon the “big guy” into this by saying a little prayer. Where are my folks when I need their support for what they call a waste of time? I WANT THIS BASKET- more than you can imagine.

Okay, here it goes. One bounce, then a second, deep breath; I study the rim and let it fly – right into Reggie’s surprised hands!

The buzzer sounds; my replacement taps my hand as I head to the bench. Embarrassment further reddens my already florid face; tears blur my vision. I hope no one notices me as I grapple with the reality at hand. I did not break my record. I never scored a basket in a game in four years.

(This story is a composite of many memories blended into one event.)

Why did I keep at it for four years? My story continues next month.