Looking back at events from the fall of 1968

Leave it to a Massachusetts gridiron rival, I said to myself as I perused several Nashua Telegraph stories, published 60 years ago this month, regarding a rather silly controversy that erupted in the weeks after the legendary Nashua High-Lowell High football game ended in an anticlimactic 14-14 tie.

I can’t say I recall this off-the-field skirmish first-hand, given I was 4 1/2 and still finding ways to toddle myself into trouble. And if I’d heard the story before, it must have seeped out of memory and floated away long ago.

But thanks to the magic of research aids – in this case, a very much low-tech aid called microfilm – the saga is preserved in time for anyone with one of those clunky old machines that projects said microfilm onto a screen just big enough to make each newspaper page (at least mostly) readable.

More about the controversy in a bit, but first a quick look at some of the other things that were going on in these parts back in the fall of 1958.

One event that bears mentioning even though it has only a loose connection to Nashua is the day Ted Williams, aka the Splendid Splinter, aka The Kid, aka Teddy Ballgame, flipped out at a called third-strike during a game in the last week of the Red Sox’ season.

Perhaps irritated to begin with by the fact the Sox were about to finish another season out of the running for the AL pennant, Williams responded to the call by flinging his bat toward the Red Sox dugout. But the bat, spinning like a helicopter, cleared the dugout and went into the box seats, where it smacked a woman spectator in the head.

It didn’t say how Williams reacted, whether he went over to her or just plopped himself in the dugout, but fans did boo him in his next at-bat.

For the record, he doubled.

There’s also no further word if the Red Sox or Major League Baseball levied any fines or other discipline against The Kid; I’d bet not.

Another October 1958 Telegraph story that caught my eye had to do with teachers, specifically female teachers, and more specifically, married female teachers.

“There was a time, not too many years ago, when female educators were automatically addressed as ‘miss,'” wrote the unnamed Telegraph reporter, who seemed to recall “a time when marriage was automatic grounds for a female teacher’s resignation.”

While there are still handfuls of folks across America – particularly, it seems, in the warmer climes – ready to

cheer the days when “Mary Smith” was, in proper “family values” parlance, “Mrs. John Smith,” a small Nashua of 1958 was noting with pride its longtime practice of hiring female teachers whether they were single or married.

These days, it’s laughable to think that once upon a time, schools were quite eager to bring on board young female teachers – as long as they were single.

Here in Nashua, not only was new Superintendent of Schools Edmund Keefe welcoming married women to join the teaching ranks, he was recruiting them.

“If there are more married teachers in Nashua, we’d like very much to hear from them,” he told a Telegraph reporter.

Indeed, the reporter noted, “the day is over when a young woman must choose between the vocations of teaching and marriage.”

As for the “serial weathervane” thief or thieves: Yes, there really was a crime spree in the fall of ’58 involving the disappearance of a number of the iconic, rooftop decorations across the region.

Whether this spree has any connection to the great Amherst Street fire station weathervane caper of the 1960s and 70s is unknown.

The first theft was from a barn in Hudson; the next day, the Telegraph reported, someone visited a farm in Hollis, climbed atop a milk shed, jumped onto a barn roof and made of with a weathervane.

“Weathervane thief has struck in Nashua!” blared a page one headline two days later. This time George Tamposi was the victim; the thief climbed onto the barn at his home on what was then North Hollis Road and made off with his weathervane.

Police, the reporter wrote, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “thought at first it was the work of an unbalanced person, until they checked some prices paid by antique dealers for the items.”

So back to the Nashua-Lowell football skirmish of ’58.

The teams were among New England’s most powerful of the era, and to call it a rivalry only begins to describe how seriously the players, coaches and their rabid fans took each game.

The Nashua-Lowell game of ’58 came in early October, with Lowell the host. All 3,500 tickets alloted to Nashua were in fans’ hands before the ink was dry.

Somewhat anticlimatically, the teams fought to a 14-14 draw, allowing neither team to celebrate or lament the outcome. But what few people knew at the time was that on the eve of the game, a person loyal to Lowell, described by the Telegraph as a “supposed outside interest,” began questioning the eligibility of Nashua’s star fullback.

Them, as they say, is fightin’ words.

Dick Holbrook was a bit older than his teammates, and come the Lowell game was just about 19 1/2. But he was still plenty young enough to play the entire ’58 season: According to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, high school athletes were eligible to play until the day they turned 20.

But apparently, that didn’t matter to the “outside interest” from Lowell, whomever he was. His flimsy argument was based on the fact that according to Massachusetts rules, high school players became ineligible on their 19th birthday.

Keefe, the Nashua superintendent, jumped into the resulting back-and-forth, firmly asserting that “all players on the (Nashua) team meet the city and state requirements and are eligible to play.”

“Keefe: No Intention of Yielding to Lowell Demands,” a Telegraph headline read a couple of days later.

What Keefe learned from state officials, according to the story, was in the case of games between teams from two different states, the rules the home team plays by would be in effect.

That covers the game rules. But eligibility issues, Keefe found, were set by each team’s home state, meaning that Holbrook, because he was not yet 20, could play in Massachusetts or any other state regardless of that state’s eligibility rules.

Once it finally dawned on Lowell folks that their chances of prevailing had dropped lower than slim-to-none, and their presumed goal of forcing Nashua to forfeit the game and turn the tie into a Lowell victory on paper, they tossed up one last hail Mary: Convince Lowell school officials to vote to sever relations with Nashua.

We all know how that worked out.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or@Telegraph_DeanS.