The Calais Chiefs

    Yesterday’s headline in the sports section of the Bangor Daily News ( Sat December 5, 2020) “Formal HS sports practices delayed” came as no surprise given the accelerating spread of the virus in Maine. High school basketball usually begins next week with Woodland-Calais games, a local tradition to kick off the season, but the season itself will certainly be delayed if not cancelled altogether. This is a big disappointment, of course, but from an historical perspective the cancellation of a high school basketball season in the past would have put only a minor crimp in the local basketball scene. For many years Calais offered some very good semi-pro basketball, and Calais teams had a legion of fans as large or larger than the high school team. Truth be told, the Calais school teams in the years after the Second World War were occasionally good, sometimes decent and at times awful. The Calais boys had a 10-7 record in 1951 led by the play of John Hornbrook and Paul Redding, but in 1952 managed to win only two games. There was no “tourney time” in Bangor and about the best a Calais team could hope for was a shot at the Downeast title; but even then Jonesport was already a powerhouse as was Lubec in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The semi-pro Calais Chiefs however were consistently good, sometimes very, very good. The team jacket above belonged to Paul Kelley who managed the team from the ‘40s until it disbanded in 1953. He later managed the Calais Aces, successor to the Chiefs. Paul Redding, a local artist and lifelong resident, played for the Chiefs.

Paul Redding Puts On Fine Show For Calais Cage Fans

     CALAIS, Dec. 3—With all the clatter and clamor about the Calais Chiefs bringing in such recognized stars as Charlie Goddard and Chick Norton to play this year, it was rather ironical to discover today that a virtually unknown player was the one that made a big hit with the fans Sunday. 

     While Calais fans were high in their praise of Goddard, Norton and the scoring whiz Bob Gates, they had even more good words to say about a former Calais high school player, Paul Redding


     It wasn’t that Goddard, Gates and Norton didn’t play up to par, they did. But the fans expected this and weren’t too surprised. What they didn’t expect however, was the bang up game that Redding turned in Sunday and most of them were high in praise of the youngster today.

     Redding is a good looking athlete and although he didn’t set any scoring marks Sunday, his spirited play among the more experienced players stood out like a sore thumb. He passed well, was sharp on his backboard play and handled the ball like a veteran.

     But Calais fans shouldn’t have been too surprised at this. Redding was one of the unsung heroes on the Calais Blue Devil’s county school championship team of a year ago. He teamed with Carl Scribner at guard and most of the folks took his steady play for granted.

     Coach Phil Legere is real enthused about Redding’s possibilities with the Chiefs.

     Paul is doing well and living with his wife at the Calais Methodist Home. His memory is sharp and while he played only briefly for the Calais Chiefs he is well acquainted with the players and the history of the team. He was, as noted above, a star on the Calais High team of 1951. The day his classmates left for their class trip, Paul went to work at Passamaquoddy Lumber Co. at the foot of Barker Street. Also employed at Passamaquoddy Lumber at the time was one of the best basketball players in the state, Dick Canavan and one of the Chief’s best players. Canavan was originally from Waterville and was one of the “Waterville Whiz Kids” who had won the New England title in the ‘40s. Dick recruited Paul for the Chiefs and Paul played well for the ’51 – ‘52 season but joined the Air Force early in 1952. Still, he followed the fortunes of the team, knew most of the players, and knows the history of local semi-pro basketball.

     Paul says there was cutthroat competition among the local teams to fill the roster with the best players in Eastern Maine. In 1951 the Chiefs recruited Bob Gates, a star on the Millinocket Pills. While the teams often had decent gate receipts there was no money for salaries, so to entice Gates to Calais the Chiefs secured him a job at Dead River. Gates soon became a local favorite with the kids which resulted in an amusing incident at Bunny Levy’s store at the corner of Main and North. Bob was filling Bunny’s oil tank when some local kids arrived and engaged Bob in a lively basketball discussion. So lively and enjoyable in fact that Bob forgot entirely about the fuel oil which after filling Bunny’s oil tank was flooding the intersection of North and Main. Later, the Chiefs recruited Chick Norton, the star player of the Chief’s primary Downeast adversary, the Eastport Lobsters. With ringers like Canavan, Gates and Norton, the Chiefs were a formidable basketball team.

     While the teams were officially “semi-pro,” Paul says no one was making any money playing ball except perhaps Bob Gates, the Millinocket star turned Chief. Bob was a big promoter of “All-Star” games against teams in Bangor, Millinocket or anywhere within driving distance which was likely to draw a respectable number of paying fans. Paul says Bob would show up at the bowling alley on Monroe Street on a Saturday afternoon and recruit players for the game that night. Paul played in several such games. In one of the more interesting All-Star games, the best players from the Calais Chiefs and the Eastport Lobsters played Mitchell’s Waterville All-Stars which included two of the “Waterville Whiz Kids” who had played with Dick Canavan. Most of the Chief’s games were, of course, St. Croix Border League games; and with local rivalries being intense these rivalries were fierce and the fans often unruly—especially when Chiefs played the Woodland Rockets.

Rockets, Chiefs Plan To Iron Out Hoop Troubles

To Hold Meeting In Effort To Resume   Series Between Woodland And Calais

          CALAIS, Dec. 27— Team representatives of the Woodland Rockets and the Calais Chiefs will meet within a week to discuss resumption of a seven-game basketball series between the two clubs, Rodney Boynton, a member of the basketball committee of the Calais Lions club, said tonight.

                        The exact date will depend upon the Woodland representatives Boynton said. Many of the Rockets and their coach and manager work ’for the Saint Croix Paper company on different shifts according to Boynton and a date must be set when they can be present.

     Boynton said there will undoubtedly be introduced at the meeting of the two team representatives a proposal that would permit the barring from either hall any fan or fans who come onto the playing surface during the game. The suspension would be effective for the duration of the series, Boynton declared.

     Leaders of one of the clubs said today that the referees should have no trouble keeping order among the players, laying the blame for any disorders at the games upon unauthorized persons attempting to take matters into their own hands.

     Both coaches Tony Tammaro of the Rockets and Paul Phelan of the Chiefs are capable of handling their own players a spokesman said, provided that the fans behave as well as they would be expected to do at any other form of entertainment.

     By the 1948-49 season, the Chiefs were playing a full schedule, including seven games against the Woodland Rockets which, as indicated by the article above, were nearly cancelled after the first game in Calais at which the Chiefs beat the Rockets 63-60. It was the first game of the season for both teams and it is not difficult to read between the lines of the article above. The fans were rowdy and hostile, almost certainly protesting the crooked refs and appear to have stormed the floor to put right whatever injustices were being perpetrated upon their team. We can only assume given the final score that the Woodland fans thought their team had been robbed and probably they were right. “Homer” refs were more the rule than the exception in those days and some teams would only play in certain towns if “neutral refs” called the games.  In addition to the local schedule the Chiefs played many of their games against teams from Penobscot County.

Calais Chiefs Trip Lectrics In Thriller  

   CALAIS, Feb. 5—The Calais Chiefs racked up their 18th win in 21 starts here today by downing the powerful Leen’s Lectrics of Bangor 50 to 48 in a close finish thriller that saw the locals come from behind and win in the closing two minutes of contest that had the fans roaring.

     The first quarter ended with the game tied at 14-all and at the half the Bangor five was two points in front, 27 to 25. Calais continued to trail and was behind 37 to 32 going into the final stanza.

     Chief ace scorer Don Frye finally caught fire in the fourth quarter and with Karl Dodge led a Sachem scoring splurge that netted the locals 18 points to the visitors 11.

     Walt Luke for the Bangor quintet was high man of the day with a total of 16 while backing him was White with 14.

     Frye tallied 14 and Dodge came through with 11. Dick Canavan, poker-faced playmaker for the locals tossed in 10 points and sparkled in the offense in the final minutes to set up the Chief’s scoring plays.


     The Chiefs played teams from eastern and northern Maine, New Brunswick and as far east as St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. The Bangor Lectrics were one of the Chiefs’ out of county rivals along with the Millinocket Pills. They didn’t always beat the Lectrics, a team which had some very good players including at one point a young Bangor basketball star named John Norris, later to coach Calais and star for another Calais semi-pro team, the Calais Aces. The most important game of the year was the Eastern Maine Championship which included teams from Downeast and Penobscot. In 1950 the Eastport Lobsters defeated the Chiefs on a last second foul shot to win the title. The Millinocket Pills and Bangor Lectrics played in the consolation game.

Calais Meets Eastport Sunday CALAIS March 24 — A season of torrid play between the Eastport Lobsters and (he Calais Chiefs will come to an end Sunday afternoon when the two arch rivals meet in the finals of the Eastern Maine Semi-Professional Basketball
championship at the Calais Memorial gymnasium

Eastport Winner In Calais Play

   CALAIS, March 26—A capacity crowd today saw a fighting Eastport Lobster team overcome a 14-point half time deficit and defeat the Calais Chiefs 66-65 on Milt Zalko’s foul shot to clinch the Eastern Maine semi-professional hoop crown. The Red Shells led 49 to 45 going into the final stanza after going through a wracking third quarter that saw them outscore the Chiefs eight to 23. In the final frame the game see-sawed back and forth. Dick Canavan working under the pressure of four fouls came through with some phenomenal shooting to keep the Sachems in the game as the lead rocked back and forth. The brilliant guard for the Chiefs scored 10 of his 18 points in this frame. Chick Norton was the backbone of the Lobsters as the tall guard kept punching in shot after shot coming out with a 22-point total for scoring honors. The first quarter with Karl Dodge John Sabattus and Don Frye leading the way ended with the locals in the driver’s seat 19 to 15. Calais really put a strangle hold on the second quarter as they piled up a 40 to 26 advantage, the Sardine City five counting for only 11 points. But here the wind shifts. Eastport fans that only minutes earlier had been moaning were on their feet cheering a surge brought about by a 23 to eight outscoring. Vance Healey Roger Davis and Chick Norton, the latter generally conceded to be the outstanding player of the tournament and just about the most admired as a sportsman, spelled defeat for the Chiefs. During this third period in a desperate final quarter attempt Canavan went on his scoring run piling in 10 points with markers in between by Phil Legere Dodge and Frye. However, Eastport kept in the lead most of the time as the score changed hands by only a point, and with the score tied in the final seconds, 65 to 65, Milt Zalko popped a point after being fouled by the Chief’s Don Tracy for the win. For the concluding game in hoop play between the teams this year, neutral officials, upon suggestion of board officials, were brought in for this encounter, and Stan Stromback of Milo and Russ Webb of Mars Hill were handed laurels for their work in this ticklish game today.

     The Eastport Lobsters were always the Chiefs most dangerous local opponent in the late ‘40s and beat the Chiefs on a regular basis until 1951 when Calais recruited Bob Gates from Millinocket and lured the Lobsters star Chick Norton away–probably because he wanted to play with Gates.

     Even though they lost the Downeast title to the Lobsters in 1950, the town held a gala event for the Chiefs at the Novilla on April 12, 1950. Team members honored were coach Dana Miles. Manager Paul Kelley, Players Karl Dodge, Phil Legere, Dick Canavan. Buddy Tracy, Don Frye, Don Tracy, John Sabattus and Bill Phee.

      The team Paul Redding played on in 1951-52 included Bill Farrar, Dick Donovan, Ross Corbett, Fibber Hornbrook, Paul Redding, Wayne Harmon. Phil Frost, Charles Goddard, Bob Gates and Chick Norton. Paul Redding believes Dick Canavan was playing that season for the St. John team. This was the last full year for the Chiefs. At a meeting on January 5, 1953 at the St. Croix Club the team withdrew from the St. Croix Border League and suspended play. Apparently, the finances of the team were in disarray but the President of the club, Elby Davis, “expressed the hope that the association will be in a position to feature one or more exhibition games later in the season.” We do not believe the Chiefs played another game.

     This was not the end of semi-pro basketball in Calais. In January of 1954 the Bangor Daily reported a game was to be played the following week between the Calais Merchants and the St. Stephen Mohawks. The article noted the Merchants “after suffering a number of early season losses rang up a ‘sale’ Tuesday night when they upset the Eastport Lobsters 85-76,” and the team’s manager, Bud Tracy, expected a real tussle with Mohawks “who are led by Dick Canavan, former Calais Chiefs and Waterville High School luminary.”  We cannot say what happened to the Calais Merchants, but in 1955 the Calais Aces suddenly appeared on the scene starring none other than Dick Canavan, who had apparently abandoned the St. Stephen Mohawks, and John Norris, former star at Bangor High and now a coach in Calais.

The Front Row left to right : Donnie Tracy, John Luke, Dick Canavan, Bob Cousy and Paul Kelley. Rear : Larry Gillespie, Harley Clark, John Norris, Louis Hill and Bruce Sherlock .

Bangor Daily News, 18 April 1955:

Cousy-Powered Calais Hoopmen Defeat Pills

    CALAIS, April 17—About 400 fans from both sides of the border who crowded into the Calais Memorial High school gymnasium to see the Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy play guard for the Calais Aces, got still more thrill from the terrific scoring of a trio on the opposition team, the Emerson Pills of Millinocket. Hank Madore, Bob Boynton and Bob Gates, all of whom racked up at least 30 points apiece, kept the Pills in contention all the way, finally losing to the Aces, 114-117. Madore in fact, was high man for both sides with a total of 39 markers, while Cousy garnered 25 by halftime and netted a 37 total at the end of the game. The Celtic great dropped 14 goals in 34 attempts from the floor while he was successful in nine of ten chances from the free throw line. Actually, the percentage honor for accuracy went to gangling John Norris who had 14 out of 38 field attempts, most of which came in the last half of the game as the result of some fabulous feeds from Cousy. Another fabulous feed was held following the game at which time close friends of Cousy gathered at a recognition banquet for “Mr. Basketball.”

     Cousy, speaking briefly, said Calais was the only community where he played exhibition ball following the close of the NBA season. He gave as his reasons for this exception to his rule the fact that the Calais townspeople have always treated him so warmly and have been so hospitable and the fact that Paul Kelley, the promoter of many of Calais’ finest teams and special contests on the hardwood, is one of his closest friends.

Bob Cousy is seen above, perhaps after the game, with Willard Fenderson, Anna Fenderson, Bob Cousy, Ethel McElory, Ethel Kelley & Larry Kelley. Paul Kelley, manager of the Calais Aces, was Bob Cousy’s Holy Cross classmate and worked for the Bangor Daily News. Geoff Mitchell recalls meeting Cousy at Paul Kelley’s house with some other BDN paper boys during one of his visits in the early ‘50s. He recalls a picture of Cousy with the Calais team was on the wall of Casey’s barbershop when it was in the next building block from Todd’s Hardware. 

Jensen, Silva, Foley, Dresser, Woodman, Stanley. Albert Jensen who became, the Chief of Police.

We can’t omit from an article about local basketball some mention of the Calais Buicks of the 1920s.

No Calais team before or after the Buicks can compare to this team which for many years was one of the best, if not the best, team in the state.

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