Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Peter Bain, 1,999

By Judy Van Handle


The number sits atop the list of scoring leaders in South Hadley High basketball history on a banner that hangs at one end of Landers gymnasium.

Equal parts phenomenal and tantalizing, the number is a visible reminder of the legacy of the Tigers' most prolific male player ever.

Yet paradoxically, it's also symbolic of individual brilliance and of opportunities missed.

Forty years ago, Peter Bain was completing a high school career during which he became a certifiable legend, in just three seasons pouring in more points than any Western Massachusetts player to set a record that would stand for nearly 30 seasons.

But in his final game, with three chances to become only the second player in state history to crack the 2,000-point barrier, Bain was unable to complete the feat -- sinking a shot -- that had come so easily for three seasons.

Even more remarkably, it didn't then, or now, matter to Bain.

"It never bothered me," he said recently from his home in Frederick, Colorado, where he serves as the general manager of the Bella Rosa Municipal Golf Club. "I never think about it at all. I was just glad I had a part in it [South Hadley's success].

"I loved basketball, but it wasn't my life."

Now, his life is now far removed from his high school days. Whether as a club pro, course designer, administrator or player, golf is his sport and livelihood, though basketball has remained an important part thanks to a second-generation star.

Bain's son, Jack, was the nation's leading Division 2 rebounder during the 2003-04 season for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and still holds several school records.

"He wasn't like me; he had to work hard at it," said Bain.

That's just how former teammates remember Peter Bain -- as a basketball natural, a supremely gifted athlete with transcendent skills. Bain, a 6-foot-4-inch forward, shot the lights out from everywhere on the court and also mixed it up underneath the boards. And his offensive explosions came without the benefit of today's 3-point line, which would have enabled him to pile up even more points.

"He could shoot so well, he would have scored about a gazillion points [with the 3-point rule]," said Peter Gazda, who played alongside Bain in the Tigers' frontcourt. "He was the best pure high school shooter I was ever associated with and he played to win."

The roots of Bain's success were planted early, when the late Clem (Stum) Garbacik, a youth coach, would "leave the lights on," in Bain's words, at St. Patrick's Social Center to allow the 9-year-old a chance to shoot by himself after practice. "I spent all my time there," said Bain.

By the time he got to high school, Bain was a star in waiting. In the 1960s, freshmen weren't allowed to play on the varsity, but when Bain's chance came in the 1966-67 season, he immediately stepped into the starting lineup and made South Hadley into a feared team.

"He was pretty special," said guard Russ Marion. "I've never seen or played with anyone with his shooting ability. We were a good team, but Peter was a super player and made us that much better."

That was never more evident than on cold winter nights in 1969, when the hottest place to be in South Hadley was the high school gym to watch the Tigers roar to another Hampshire League championship during Bain's senior season.

"They used to shut the doors at halftime of the junior varsity game and wouldn't let anyone else in," said Marion.

The packed gym sometimes made play difficult.

"On out of bounds plays, we had to look out for the people sitting along the sidelines," said Bain.

Coming off a 1967-68 campaign in which he became the first junior in Western Massachusetts to reach 1,000 points in 12 years, 30- and 40-point outputs were the rule for Bain in 1968-69 as the Tigers sailed through the league schedule with an 18-0 league record and awaited postseason play.

Before the MIAA took over the administration of high school sports, basketball teams could compete in either the now-defunct large or small schools tournaments. South Hadley usually chose the smaller tourney, but the previous season, the Tigers had bowed out in the first round (Bain was unable to play due to a broken hand). This time, South Hadley voted to play with the big schools.

Bain was at his best in the first two games, pouring in 42 points in a quarterfinal win over Drury and then breaking a tie with a basket with six seconds to play to beat Chicopee Comp. But Bain was "held" to 23 points as the Tigers couldn't overcome top-seeded Commerce and fell in the final. South Hadley still earned a berth in the state tournament and a game at the Boston Garden against undefeated Catholic Memorial, which featured two future Division 1 college stars.

Bain needed 30 points to join former CM star Ron Teixeira as the state's second 2,000-point scorer, but that was part of the problem. "CM double- and triple-teamed Peter because they were trying to protect Teixiera's record," said Marion.

With South Hadley losing by 20 points in the fourth quarter, "Bain's teammates went all out for their star scorer, even by committing intentional fouls so they could regain possession," according to reporter Dick Osgood's account in the next day's Springfield Union.

With under a minute left, Bain needed just one point for 2,000, but misfired on two free throws, then tried on an off-balance jumper that hit the rim and fell off as time elapsed.

Bain was recruited by several top Division 1 programs, paying a campus visit to Oklahoma, but poor grades directed him instead to Tyler (Texas) Junior College. Once more, academic issues ended his stint in college.

"That's something I regret, having grades so bad that it limited my prospects," said Bain.

Back home, he tried a number of jobs, including construction, while working out with local players (including members of the 1974 Western Mass. champions, who were led by Ed Garbacik, the son of his youth coach).

He eventually moved to Colorado with his future wife, Lisa, a native of Sharon, Mass., who attended college in the area and can claim at least partial credit for his life in golf.

"My wife said she wouldn't marry me unless I had a career," said Bain.

He was the head pro at Ute Creek Golf Course in Longmont, then moved on to Bella Rosa and also designed its nine-hole course, which opened in 2006.

But basketball hasn't strayed far from his consciousness thanks to both his son's exploits and those of his daughter Chelsea, who followed Jack as a high school standout when the family lived in Longmont. He still visits South Hadley on an average of once a year, stays with Marion and his
family and "plays a little golf."

Judy Van Handle is a member of the South Hadley Historical Society.

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