PROVINCETOWN — High school sports were once a big part of this town. In the 1950s and ’60s, Provincetown had hundreds of young families — many in the fishing industry — who built a strong community that loved its teams.
Despite going to a small school, students at Provincetown High School took sports seriously.
“Those were exciting times,” said Betty White. White, who lives in Truro now, grew up in Provincetown and remembers going to high school games as a child. “The school was small, but we had more spirit than you can imagine.”
White was a cheerleader at Provincetown High in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
High school sports events were big back then — not just in Provincetown but across the Cape. Especially basketball.
“Our gym was packed every night,” said John Colley, a former Provincetown High basketball star. “On the Cape, people would be lining up to get into the games. They had to start turning people away.”
Provincetown had some impressive teams back in the day. The Fishermen won their first Class C basketball state title in 1946, and then in 1952 they took the title at the old Massachusetts Tech Tourney at the Boston Garden. The Tech Tourney gave schools across Eastern Massachusetts a chance to compete for a state title in different classes (or divisions, as they’re called now).
The Tech Tourney existed before the 1978 founding of the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association, which now governs high school sports across the state.
Pat Canavan of Eastham researched an article about sports on the Outer Cape a few years ago, when she was president of the Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Her story was never published, but she sent some excerpts to the Independent.
“The young men and women of the now closed Provincetown High School consistently produced stellar basketball teams,” Canavan wrote. “The opportunity to compete in the Tech Tourney at the Boston Garden drove the Provincetown Fishermen all season. For Eastern Massachusetts athletes, the Tech was the Final Four of high school basketball, offering a chance to play on the same parquet floor where Celtics greats Cousy, Russell, Sharman, KC, and Sam Jones dribbled, faked, shot, and won.”
Canavan said there were no female divisions at the Tech Tourney, but the Provincetown girls teams often competed for the Cape Cod Schoolgirls Championship.
In the Jan. 29, 1953 issue of the Provincetown Advocate, high schooler Elaine K. Ferreira’s “Around PHS” column reported: “Provincetown gals took a screamer from the ‘hep’ Chatham lasses … our gals were the winners by a mere point, 44-43.”
Joe Farroba, who recently retired as the men’s basketball coach at Bridgewater State University, grew up in Provincetown and said his father played on that 1946 championship team. He remembers 1964 — maybe the most famous year in Provincetown basketball history.
“I’m like 11 years old when they go to the state championship that year,” Farroba said. “Those guys are like gods to me. They closed the town down in 1964 and we were at the Boston Garden.”
White, about the same age as Farroba, agreed. Businesses shut down and Provincetown turned into a “ghost town” when the Fishermen went to Boston to compete in the semifinals and finals that year. “The whole town basically went to this Tech Tourney in the Boston Garden,” she said.
The Boston Celtics were the best team in professional basketball in that era, making a trip to the Garden even more memorable. Farroba and White remember a fleet of buses taking townspeople to Boston to support their team.
“This guy Tony Thomas — he comes out and stands on the Boston Garden floor all dressed in yellow like a fisherman,” Farroba said. “It was straight out of the Hoosiers movie.”
A Boston Globe article from March 10, 1964 recorded Thomas’s antics during Provincetown’s 53-52 semifinal win over Westwood.
“One of Provincetown’s most loyal rooters is rotund Tony Thomas who led the cheering, wearing a yellow slicker and fisherman’s cap,” the Globe reported. “A fisherman for 20 years, Tony made his presence known by yelling through a bullhorn. Tony was a center for Provincetown back in 1941.”
The article states that 1,000 Provincetown fans were in attendance for the semifinal game. After that win, Provincetown faced off against Hull for the Class D state title.
Colley, who now lives in Truro, was the star of the 1964 team that won it all, led by Coach Dave Murphy. The team went 22-1 that season – winning 21 games in a row, according to a March 14, 1964 Globe story. Provincetown defeated Hull 63-60, winning the Class D title for the first time in school history.
Colley finished with 27 points in a come-from-behind victory for the Fishermen. He has three scrapbooks full of programs, photos, and newspaper clippings about the basketball teams of the 1960s that he says his mother assembled.
The opening paragraph of one Cape Cod Standard Times article reads, “Storming back from a 52-42 deficit, Provincetown’s plucky fishermen outscored the scrapping Hull Pirates 21-8 in the final quarter to take the Class D Tech Tournament Crown 63-60 in one of the best schoolboy finishes ever seen by spectators at Boston Garden.”
The Cape has changed since then. Fishing families struggled to make a living in Provincetown, and the number of young people steadily decreased. Local newspapers covered high school sports less and less. But the memories of the Fishermen basketball teams are still strong for those who were there to see them play.