PERFECTLY IMPERFECT: Hoop titles still cause a stir

(The first of a two-part series. Read part 2)

By Mike Whaley

Forty years ago next month, Farmington and Somersworth high schools will be celebrating significant basketball accomplishments – undefeated state championships that tied the two blue-collar communities together.

Why, you ask? At the head of the list is Paul Boulay, a Farmington boy who transferred to Somersworth as an eighth-grader to play football for the Hilltoppers. He grew up with many of the Farmington players and was a key member of Somersworth’s 1984 championship run. Farmington coach Mike Lee and Somersworth coach Larry Francoeur knew each other well, having coached against each other from 1978 to 1981 when Francoeur was the coach at neighboring Nute HS in Milton (He coached against Boulay’s older brother, Gary). Lee later coached Francoeur’s eldest son Larry Jr. on AAU teams with his son Tim. Farmington’s Tim Mucher and Somersworth’s Kyle Hodsdon played AAU basketball together under Lee, later played in the Alhambra Classic (the annual game between top seniors from New Hampshire and Vermont), and were teammates on very good teams at Plymouth State University, each scoring over 1,000 points. The undefeated season remains each school’s only one. The unbeaten runs were imperfect in that both won all their regular season and playoff games, but lost a game apiece during the holiday tournament season (Farmington to Coe-Brown and Somersworth to Noble).

And lastly, on the eve of the tournaments, the two schools played an epic scrimmage behind closed doors at Somersworth High School.

Somersworth forward Paul Boulay goes up for a shot during the 1983-84 season against Newmarket. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

Another similarity is that the two schools entered the 1983-84 season coming off heartbreaking losses. The Class M Tigers had been upset in consecutive years in the quarterfinals at Plymouth State by Hinsdale, one on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer. The Hilltoppers made it all the way to two straight Class I finals, only to fall to Timberlane in 1982 and then White Mountains in 1983.

“My senior year I think we were more team oriented,” said Farmington senior center Casey Howard. “We were so much more rounded. There was no one standout.”

Coach Lee said the past teams had been very good, but always were missing that piece to push them over the top. The ‘83-84 had all the pieces. Returning players Howard, junior Tim Mucher and sophomore Steve Mosher were joined by juniors Mike Funk and Carl Whitten, who had played on an undefeated JV team. “Any one of those kids could score 30 points,” he said. “Any one of them. If we go through the records, I’m sure every one of them had a 30-point night somewhere.”

The 1983-84 Farmington HS boys basketball team went 21-0 to win the Class M championship. [Courtesy photo]

Farmington felt pretty good about itself. It had a dynamic starting five with two scrappy defense-first guys off the bench in senior Tony Carone and junior Arvard Worster. Lee got his first real tangible inkling of what this team might be capable of during a preseason game against Class L Winnacunnet. In a 16-minute battle played at break-neck pace, Winnacunnet won 45-43. “Both teams pressed full court,” Lee said. “The ball never hit the floor in either direction.” After the game, Winnacunnet coach Jack Ford ran up to Lee. “I love the way you guys play,” he gushed. “You want to scrimmage?” Lee agreed. Ford said Monday. The two two coaches developed a long relationship, coaching AAU teams together. “It was my introduction to Jack and our introduction to us realizing we could play. If we can play with Winnacunnet, we can play with anybody.”

Somersworth was a senior-laden squad led by a talented junior point guard in Kyle Hodsdon, and its two senior big guys – Boulay and Steve Cartier. One thing that helped the team was that when football injuries slowed down starters Boulay and Cartier at the beginning of the season, role players like Chris Reil, Greg Dionne, Steve Pepin, Scott Brown, Steve Deschenes and Mike Turmelle stepped in and played more meaningful minutes and upped their contribution. “We were really pretty deep,” Boulay said. “We had eight seniors. We felt really good. We thought we were going to win it.”


Farmington’s Carl Whitten stretches for a rebound as teammate Arvard Worster looks on during the 1983-84 Class M basketball season. [Courtesy photo]

The only hiccup for Farmington during the regular season was that Howard got injured early on during a game in Alton. He was undercut by an Alton player, severely injuring an ankle that kept him out of seven games, including the holiday tournament loss to Coe-Brown.

Lee brought Howard back slowly, knowing how valuable he was to the team. He was a bulky 6-foot-3 inside force who could rebound and score with either hand. He reached the 1,000-point mark in essentially two and a half seasons.

How valuable was Howard? As Lee was working him back into the lineup, Mosher and Mucher approached the coach, adamant that Howard not be brought back too soon. “We can’t afford to have him injured,” Lee recalled them saying. “With him we will win. Without him we can’t win at all.” Lee put their minds at ease, explaining what he was doing by playing Howard a few minutes at a time, not rushing anything. “It was probably a few weeks before he played a full game,” the coach said.

Once Howard was healthy, Farmington was in full attack mode. There was one goal in mind – to play in the last game of the Class M season in Plymouth. “They were very, very focused all year long,” Lee said. “They got on the bus focused. They got off the bus focused. There was no fooling around.”

Bottom line was they did not like to lose. “That was just their personality,” Lee said. “They would do anything to win.”

Somersworth’s schedule presented a challenge. They played in quite a few close games, so they were definitely battle tested by the time the playoffs rolled around. “We weren’t down often,” Hodsdon said. “But when we were, we weren’t worried. We knew we would find a way.”

Francoeur’s rigid practices did not let the ‘Toppers sink into complacency. “They were very intense and very competitive,” Hodsdon said. “We challenged each other. The second team took pride in trying to beat the first team. There were no days off.”

Hodsdon remembers coach Francoeur making the team run, run and run, doing stairs, doing the extra little things. “So when the game was on the line at the end, we were able to maybe put it in  different gear,” Hodsdon said. “One-hundred percent of the time we came out on top.”

There was pressure on Somersworth, particularly Francoeur. A Somersworth guy, he had come over in 1981 during a turbulent time when the school district was in the process of forcing out veteran coach Ed Labbe, who had successfully coached football and basketball at Somersworth from 1962 to 1981. Francoeur took over basketball from Labbe, who had coached him in football and basketball in the 1960s. In 1982 and 1983 Francoeur got the ‘Toppers to the finals, but lost both times. “There was so much pressure,” Francoeur said. “I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t won that third year. … We wanted to complete it. I wanted to complete it. I’m a Somersworth person. There was just that little extra pressure on it.”

To illustrate that pressure, Francoeur recalls his first year (1981-82) playing defending champion Timberlane, and both teams were 7-0. “We ended up getting beat at home,” he said. “It was like the world had ended for me. There was a lot of pressure from Ed Labbe getting done the way he did and all that. It was a lot of pressure.”


Both teams ended the regular season as top seeds in their respective classes with identical 18-0 records. Because Lee and Francoeur had that connection, they agreed to a scrimmage. It was to be done in Somersworth behind closed doors. No media.

Not everybody has the same memory of what transpired. What seems to be agreed upon is that the two teams split the either four or six quarters they played.

“I remember right off the tap, Boulay got a dunk,” Funk said.

Mucher laughs about a recent exchange with his buddy Hodsdon. “Don’t you remember Mosher drilling one of them? Words were exchanged,” Mucher said. “As Kyle said it: ‘we’re just here to get a run in.’”

Somersworth’s Chris Reil, right, corrals a rebound against Newmarket. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

“Well Kyle that’s the difference, we had an agenda to play you guys,” Mucher said. “You were Class I. We were Class M. Two undefeated teams. We were going down there for a business trip, basically. It was a little dicey. There were some words exchanged.”

Mucher laughs at Hodsdon’s assertion that Somersworth won. “They got the better of us if they counted the points they scored in warmups.”

Hodsdon’s memory is more specific. “We played six quarters – I think we split three and three,” he said. “I don’t think it ended in the final quarter when the clock hit zero. I think maybe a body hit the floor and another body, and then a whistle blew. ‘OK, let’s move on here. Let’s go start our own tournaments.’”

He recalled: “It was intense. Both communities were very similar at the time. Whether it was a scrimmage, you play to win. We cleared the board after each quarter. That’s why there wasn’t a running score. I think their quarter wins were one or two points and ours might have been five or six. That’s how we’re figuring the win.”

For Steve Pepin, the scrimmage was not as personal for him as the one Somersworth had with Dover. “Dover, we really hated them,” he said. “There was a lot of bumping and talking and everything else with the Farmington guys. It was a good matchup. I honestly don’t remember who won the game. Part of that, we were getting everybody in. It was extended and we were trying different things and people. Tough call who beat who.”

The same for Coach Lee. He recalls the gym being three-fourths full for a “closed scrimmage” and the games being close. He believes each time won a half by a point or two. “Did anybody really win the game? Of course they did. That’s what prepared both of us for a state tournament. That was the winning part of it. Not who won the game. We walked out of there prouder than hell. I’m sure they did too.”

In response to Hodsdon’s memory, Lee said: “Maybe he has a better recollection, but then again maybe not. Maybe, but I don’t remember it that way.”

Somersworth forward Steve Cartier, left, looks to outlet the ball. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

Francoeur’s recall likely adds the most clarity and honesty. He kind of chuckles at the memory. “My brothers, they will get mad at me,” he said. “I let all my kids play. We didn’t play to win the scrimmage. We scrimmaged to keep ourselves in shape and to be ready for the tournament. I subbed the whole way through. We led most of the way. Farmington, I believe, ended up beating us in that scrimmage by four points. I heard about that one for a long time from different people.”

After both teams won their respective state titles, Francoeur ended up speaking at the Farmington championship banquet. “People there made sure I knew that they beat us in the scrimmage,” he said.

The tournament was here. Both teams earned a first-round bye, which meant they played the second round at the neutral site – UNH for Somersworth and Plymouth State for Farmington.

Read Part 2