Portland High School Alumni

Portland, Connecticut (CT)

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Julian ELigator

Class of 1951

My memoir appears in the current issue of "Signatures" publised by the Osher Lifelong Learning Inst. at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.


Creighton MagoOn came to my hometown, Portland Connecticut, (population 4500) in1949 as superintendent of schools and high school principal (enrollment 250).
As an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island, he acquired the vanity automobile license plate RAMS, as in the college, Rhode Island Rams. He lettered in basketball and football. In 1929 he was a teammate of the illustrious Ernie Calverly when the Rams lost in the finals of the NIT in New York to Adolph Rupp’s’ Kentucky Wildcats after gaining the final when Calverly sunk a 62 foot shot well beyond half court with seconds remaining on the clock. Mr. Magoun was 6’3” about 260 with a booming voice and a hand so large that he needed to add tape to the handle of his tennis racquet.
I vividly remember the day when the entire school was ushered into the auditorium for a special assembly. We knew that meant bad news. When all was assembled in strode Mr. Magoun with and expression striking fear into 250 youngsters.
He stood in the front of the auditorium and the crowd hushed quickly waiting for Mr. Magoun with his hammer-like voice striking on the anvil of anger. He remained quiet scanning his audience for what seemed like an eternity and then shouted “ God damn it” and repeated it once. That is what I heard in the hall today. I never want to hear that said again” and he left-- the hush was palpable; there were a few whispers. And we left the auditorium quietly, knowing that the wrath of Mr. Magoun was not to be trifled with.

Chuck Packard, Dave Dayton and I were classmates, close friends and competitors since 7th grade. When Mr. Magoun decided that Portland High needed a band- Chuck took up the French horn, Dave, the trombone and I the saxophone-more arbitrary choices you could not imagine but when Mr. Magoun spoke we obeyed. After three years, Mr. Magoun was ready to show off our stuff and he arranged for a short concert before the Chamber of Commerce in the big city across the river in Middletown, population 25,000. It was to be on the lawn at 12:30 in front of the town hall. The band bus left at 11:45 but Chuck Packard had brought his station wagon to school and since Mr. Magoun had already gone to the luncheon we decided to travel in the station wagon in preference to the bus crowded with underclassmen. As seniors we felt we had earned certain privileges. So, the first trombone, the tuba, the French horn and the alto sax traveled on the bus but the three musicians traveled in Chuck’s station wagon . Of course, we had a tire blow out. It felt like a shot to the heart. We fixed it rapidly but arrived 20 minutes late just in time for the finale. In truth, I don’t to recall our sentence but just disappointing the man was enough punishment for me
When Mr. Magoun decided we should have a tennis team, by golly that’s what we did. Our same trio joined several underclassmen to join the newly organized tennis team. Mr. Magoun had the town build three black top courts complete with chain link fencing for nets and he became our tennis coach. Come the first warm day in February we would shovel the snow off the courts and begin practice. The competition between us as intense in tennis as it was in academics. Our playing level was very close but I must admit, I was third but as they say “ on any given day…..”
In those days only large high schools fielded tennis teams, PHS was an exception. We worked very hard for Mr. Magoun. His devotion to the game and commitment to us was inspiring and helped build our character as well as our tennis skills. In senior year, our trig and solid geometry teacher was, can you guess--- Mr. Magoun. With that subject being 8th period and three quarters of the class on the tennis team we often cut time off class work to get to tennis practice.
That year we had a really good team in head to head matches, undefeated in match play until the state tournament. Weaver High in Hartford (enrollment about 1500) won the Connecticut state tournament. We were to play them head to head the following week.
It was to be David vs. Goliath, the Pirates (Pittsburgh) against the Red Sox, the US vs. Grenada
There were to be 6 singles matches and two doubles. Mr. Magoun had Arnold Hall play first singles, Chuck second, Dave third and I was the fourth.
It was an epic battle. Arnold Hall played, as number one for PHS was a strategic move, as Mr. Magoun knew their first player was unbeatable. However, Chuck playing the best tennis of his life won, as did Dave. The fourth match was also crucial. Playing number four it looked bad for me as I lost the first set and was behind 4-5 in the second set facing three match points. I hung on and eventually won that game, the set 7-5 set and the third set 6-0. We also won the 5th and 6th matches . Losing both doubles matches did not alter the final result as little PHS beat the state champs-head to head !
Do you believe it?- See the Middletown Press June 4th 1951.
On the ride home the ebullient coach named us Silent Charles, Brave Dave and Steady Freddie . That was me.
It was a great day and I felt we did it for Mr. Magoun as much as for ourselves. We all did .
After graduation I helped him move some light furniture to his summer place at Rodgers Lake in Old Lyme . On his home court he trounced me in two sets of singles. We went for a swim in Rodgers Lake , had lunch and returned to Portland and the end of PHS.
He was my mentor, he was my friend
I never forgot him. In those days maybe 40% PHS graduates went on to higher education. New Britain Teacher’s college, and Middlesex Hospital School of Nursing were among the more popular schools of higher education.
From there, Chuck went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering, Dave in electrical engineering I ended up in medical school. Not too bad for PHS.
Thanks Mr. Magoun
Postscript- About 25 years later while driving to the Pittsburgh airport, an auto with Connecticut license plates, RAMS passed me. I followed it to the airport and when he stopped I just had to speak to him. I approached the car and asked where he had gotten that vanity plate. He had been a good friend of Mr. Magoun and he was left those plates in his will. I wished I had them

Include the newspaper clipping from the sports page of the June 4,1951 Middletown Press-below

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