Three Cony Basketball Legends Reflect On Their Playing Days On The Eve Of The HS Tournaments
If you grew up in Augusta or Central Maine, there's a pretty good chance you know one or all of them. And when the conversation goes down about the greatest players ever to play for Cony, these three are always mentioned.
They are Bill Burney, Dave Rollins, and Gary Towle.
As the high school basketball tournament gets set to open in Bangor, Portland and Augusta, I talked to these three Cony legends to ask them about their memories of tourney time.
Bill Burney Cony Class of 1969
Bill Burney has great memories of playing in the high school basketball tournaments. The 1969 Cony graduate was part of the 1969 team that went in as the #7 seed and upset #2 seed Presque Isle in Bangor. Other starters on that team were Steve Philbrick, John Coughlin, and Charlie Monty and Dave Parquette, both of whom have passed away. Burney remembers Parquette as a sophomore on that team, and as one of the best pure scorers in Cony history.
I asked Burney about the tournament game against Presque Isle. That night, Burney was on fire, hitting for a Bangor Auditorium record 53 points .He said that they did a walk through before the game, and he couldn't hit a shot from anywhere, but he certainly stepped it up during the game. "There were 200 points scored that game (121-79) so there were plenty of points to be had." Burney also had 19 points from the free throw line that night, another Bangor Auditorium record.
Burney's memories from the tournament include the feeling he got walking onto the Bangor Auditorium floor and looking left and right and seeing people packed up into the rafters. The energy level was always high in that building. “I remember walking through the doors into the arena when I was a freshman,” said Burney. “I wasn’t playing. I had gone up to watch the varsity. The pageantry with the bands, the cheerleaders and the fans was just stunning. That’s when I realized I wanted to play there.”
His advice for young players about to play in the tournaments? "Take time to enjoy every moment and most importantly, have fun!"
Burney went on to play basketball his freshman year at Boston University. He later became mayor of Augusta from 1988-1996. Today, Burney is a field director for HUD.
Dave Rollins Cony Class of 1973
Dave Rollins was a force in Maine high school basketball in the early 70's. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, he was a match up nightmare for most teams. Rollins led the 1973 Cony Rams to an undefeated regular season, and to a state championship. The team was coached by Maine legend Dick Hunt (his last season in Maine) and the other starters on that team were Neal Glazier, Bill Hayward, Paul Vachon, and Tim Leet.
Rollins said baseball was always his favorite sport growing up, but being big for his age, he remembers being recruited for hoops as young as 8 years old, playing in Dick Hunt's summer basketball league.
Rollins had been a three year starter for Cony and the 1972 team made it to the State Championship game against Westbrook at the Bangor Auditorium. In one of the most exciting games in Maine high school basketball history, Cony lost that night in double overtime by a score of 77-75. The atmosphere was electric in the Bangor Auditorium and Rollins remembers it well. And he didn't forget that loss, and it gave him and his teammates the drive to make it to that game again in 1973, and win it.
I asked Rollins what he thought made that team so special, and he told me the bond he had with his teammates was fueled by most of the team knowing each other from their early days of growing up together on the east side of Augusta and playing together for years. They were all tolerant of each other's different personalities, and they all got along very well.
The 1973 season got off to a good start, then point guard Tom Cooper got hurt in an accident, and Paul Vachon was inserted into the starting lineup as the point guard. Rollins said the team seemed to gel and all adapted well to their roles. Cooper was a great player and scorer, but with Rollins, Leet, and the rest of the team, Cony already had enough scorers. Vachon was the perfect fit to play the point. Rollins told us that they had a fairly easy season; the only tough games were against Rumford, beating them by 6 points both at home and at Rumford. And it seemed only right, those 2 teams would meet for the State Championship game.
In 1973, The Augusta Civic Center was a brand new auditorium, and was about to host its first State Championship game. I asked Rollins about his memories of playing on that floor in the biggest game in the state. Rollins told me he believes it is still is the biggest crowd ever at the ACC. He said there were no concession stands then, and they had bleachers on both ends of the court behind the baskets. Also, chairs were lined up on all the catwalks. The place was packed to the rafters and was unbelievably loud with a very enthusiastic crowd from both the Rumford and Augusta sides. As for the game itself, Cony went out to a quick 12-4 lead after the first quarter, but Rumford was able to stick around; even going ahead in the 4th quarter by 1. But Cony went on a 13-0 run to seal the game and bring the gold ball to Augusta. This would be Dick Hunt's last game coaching HS basketball in Maine.
I asked Rollins if he had any advice for high school players about to compete in the tournaments. "Every size player has an advantage in basketball. It is up to you to figure out what your advantage is, and develop it." Rollins also added "Play with confidence, and leave everything on the floor"
These days, Dave Rollins is a real estate appraiser and is the mayor of Augusta
Gary Towle Cony Class of 1978
Not many kids had the dedication to be the best in basketball that Gary Towle did. Growing up in the Mayfair section of Augusta, Towle was spotted early morning to late evenings at the old Farrington School playground honing his shooting skills. And did it ever payoff for the 1978 Cony basketball team.
Towle, who averaged nearly 30 points a game that year, led the Cony team to the state championship, and then onto the New England Championship. Towle had a great supporting cast with other starters Steve Busque, twins Scott and Steve O'Brien, and Ray Felt.
Cony went into the Class A tourney in Bangor at 16-2 and went on to beat Brewer, Waterville, and Presque Isle to win the Eastern Maine Championship. Towle loved playing on the old auditorium floor, and proved that by scoring 31, 32, and 38 points in those 3 games.
Then it was on to the Augusta Civic Center for the states against a South Portland team coached by Maine legend Bob Brown and led by his son who was the starting point guard, Brett Brown, who is now the head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. Towle scored 36 that night and Cony was on to the New England Championships at UNH in Keene.
Cony had a tough match-up in the first game against a loaded Providence Central team, who were heavily favored to win the NE tourney and hadn't lost a game in two years. Cony was able to keep it close, then Towle found Center Ray Felt under the basket with a great pass as time ran out. Felt laid it up and in, and Cony had the improbable victory. The next night, Cony beat the Vermont State champions by 20 points, and the New England championship was theirs.
The 1978 team was very popular in Augusta, and a local radio station even produced an album about that team.
Towle has fond memories of playing high school tournament basketball in Maine. He told us that he loved the Bangor Auditorium because it had so much history and was a great shooting gym. And he remembers the crowd at Augusta. "In the state game at the Augusta Civic Center, in warm ups, it was so loud the floor vibrated. That kind of energy got you pumped to play hard and got you in the zone"
When asked if he had any advice for today's high-schoolers playing in the tournaments, Towle said " I think as you get older you realize basketball was never about who scores the most points or weather you break scoring records or who starts and who doesn't, who makes an A team and who doesn't ..in the end it's all about FUN and the life long FRIENDS you made through the game of basketball."
After high school, Towle went on to play for Dick Gavitt at Providence College on a full scholarship. When he signed his letter of intent, he became the first player from Maine to play in the Big East Conference. After college, Towle moved to Nova Scotia for 26 years, moving back to the NE USA a couple of years ago. These days, he lives in Rye Beach, NH and works for FedEx.
All three seem to have at least one thing in common when asked about advice for high school athletes playing in the tournaments. Savor the moment, have fun, and cherish the memories.
Best of luck to all of the young male and female high school athletes as they compete in the coming weeks. Play hard, play fair, enjoy. These are some of the best days of your lives.