The newly refurbished Brownville Junction High School gymnasium scoreboard and the school's 1967 basketball state championship trophy (left), now located in the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society's museum. Credit: Ernie Clark / BDN

Symbolism may be found in just about any item, and the source for a group of Brownville Junction High School alums and community members was a scoreboard.

It was the same scoreboard that tracked high school basketball games on the Railroaders’ home court for generations, at least until the final classes were conducted at BJHS in 1968 before the statewide school consolidation movement of that era.

That the school and its gymnasium have been gone for some five decades makes the long lost but now refurbished scoreboard an important artifact from that community’s golden era, when the Canadian-Pacific Railroad brought economic vibrancy to the area and the high school basketball team captured its first and only state championship in 1967.

Fifty-four years later memories of that title remained vivid to those who lived through the period as they reminisced while the updated scoreboard was being unveiled during a Thursday afternoon presentation hosted by the local historical society.

Perhaps that school spirit was sparked by the 56-55 final score of their alma mater’s  state-championship game victory over Old Orchard Beach as it is displayed on the scoreboard —  which has a new home at the Brownville-Brownville Junction Parish House Museum — though an operational glitch has left the “6” temporarily not working.

Most likely the gathering of about 40 people, three-quarters of them BJHS alumni, didn’t need the score to remind them of an effort that required patience and hard work but produced dramatic victories and caravans of local vehicles accompanying the team bus home virtually every step of the way.

“That era was different. Competition was fierce in those little towns and winning was so special. It kind of put those kids on the map,” said Pauline Conley, wife of the Railroaders’ head coach of the time, the late Carroll Conley.

“I think my husband taught school so he could coach because that was his love, and he passed that on to those kids. He was committed to those kids and they responded to him and the community support was phenomenal. It was a special time.”

The old Brownville Junction High School gymnasium scoreboard before it was recently restored. Credit: Contributed photo

The gold-ball victory came after several years of close calls. Brownville Junction lost in the regional final in 1963 — to neighboring Milo, with whom BJHS later consolidated to form Penquis Valley High School — as well as in 1964 and 1965 before being ousted in the ’66 semifinals.

A junior-laden team returned for the 1966-67 season, and there was no stopping these Railroaders. They finished the regular season at 17-0, then defeated Sumner of East Sullivan and Mount Desert Island before capturing the program’s first Eastern Maine crown since 1959 with a 52-47 victory over Searsport.

The team trekked to Lewiston for the state final, where Conley’s troops trailed by six with less than a minute-and-a-half left before junior forward Dennis Lyford helped the Railroaders score the game’s final six points to bring home the gold.

“Probably the biggest thing that made us successful was we played together for a long time,” said Scott Kirby, the point guard on the ’67 team. “We were all juniors at the same time, the starting team, and we had a coach who was great on teaching fundamentals, playing tough defense and the fast-break offense. We were a small team so it really worked well for us.”

A narrow, horizontal scoreboard with lighted numbers for the team scores flanking a clock-like timer displayed all the pivotal information for the Railroaders’ home games for many years at the school that was known as Henderson High School when it opened in 1891.

The small gymnasium featured many qualities considered unique at the time, such as a stage at one end and an I-beam across the ceiling that served to defend against some longer-range shots by both teams.

“Maybe the biggest advantage we had when we were playing at home was there were some dead spots in the floor, so if we were playing defense we tried to get the person to go across one of those dead spots so the ball would just stay on the floor and you could pick it up,” Kirby said.

But when the school closed a year after that championship season — the Railroaders eventually extended their winning streak to 39 games before losing to Searsport in the 1968 Eastern Maine Class M final — and later was torn down, the public was invited to take what they wanted from the building.

That included the scoreboard.

“For many years no one seemed to notice what happened to it,” said Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society President Susan Worcester, the organizer of Thursday’s ceremony.

It turned out the scoreboard was salvaged by local entrepreneur Ralph Berg, and when his Brownville business closed his son Bob took it to his business location in Corinna.

It was rediscovered there years later when two BJHS alumni were at Berg’s Activewear ordering shirts for their 50-year high school reunion, and they brought it back to Brownville Junction where it was stored in one or the other’s garage at different times.

Historical society volunteer George Dean then came across the scoreboard three years ago, though he wasn’t optimistic about its future.

“I found it and thought, ‘Maybe we should just take this to the dump,’” Dean said. “It was that bad. It was rusty, all the plastic was broken and it looked really terrible.”

But after a picture of the scoreboard was posted in the summer 2020 edition of the historical society’s newsletter, 1959 BJHS graduate Bill Bellatty, who as a senior played for the   Railroaders’ Eastern Maine championship team, offered to pay for its restoration.

Tom and Micah Stade from Moosehead Signs in Greenville did the work, and Bob Murano and Bill Casey created a structure to hold the 75-pound scoreboard high above the other displays at the museum in time for this year’s opening.

“It’s hard to imagine so many years have gone by,” Kirby said. “I think the scoreboard is such a key thing because we all played and had that scoreboard so it unites all of the different teams and seasons and classes. It brings back memories for everybody in the room.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...