by Chris Boucher
Did you know the first integrated basketball game in Maine took place in Sanford in 1913?
The groundbreaking event took place when Harry “Bucky” Lew, basketball’s first Black professional, brought his Lowell Five to old Town Hall in Springvale Village to face the local team.
Of course, the Town Hall still stands today and is in fact remarkably well preserved. The current home of the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, it’s one of the few places Lew played where you can walk the same floor he ran up and down on his way into history.
In the early days of the sport, basketball was segregated along color lines. Lew got his start as a player on Lowell’s entry in the New England League in 1902. Then, in a career that spanned 25 years, he went on to become the first Black coach, manager, head referee, and team owner in otherwise white leagues.
Lew built a barnstorming team made up of men from a variety of ethnicities, including Franco-American, German, Greek, Irish, and Jewish players. Remarkably, Dan O’Connor, who went on to a career as a bank executive, honored him by acknowledging he was their “coach, manager, and paymaster.” He said he typically earned $7 per game, about $200 today.
While no game recap or box score of the Springvale game has yet been found, we know of Lew’s appearance from a blurb that appeared in the Sanford Tribune on that January 17th noting “Bucky Lew, the famous colored dribbler” was in town for a game the next day.
Win or lose, it’s likely Lew was well received by locals, since he returned to Sanford for at least one more game in 1921. In that one, the Sanford Studebakers gave the 600 fans who came out to the Palace of Joy another reason for gratitude that Thanksgiving week.
Sanford took the game, 22-12. However, according to the recap, the game was closer than it appeared, with the score tied at 12-12 with five minutes left before Sanford scored 10 quick points to end it.
The Sanford Tribune of November 25 lauded Lew’s effort even in defeat. “Lew played a great defensive game for the visitors,” the story went, noting that he held the Studebakers star, Bodwell, to two field goals.
The Springvale Advocate of December 2 even featured a poem by Joseppo reflecting on the game: “Poor Bucky Lew ees los’ again an’ lucky Bodwell’s won/ While both da team deserve good praise for every living man/ Bacause cen all de game dey do da very bes’ day can.” (That spelling is in the original!)
Of course, Sanford was also ahead of the game when it came to women’s basketball. Female teams faced off as far back as 1904 when the Sanford Mills accepted the challenge from Goodall Worsted to a game at the Knights of Pythias opera house.
Chris Boucher is the author of “The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional.” The book covers Lew’s career and many other interesting aspects of early basketball. It may be ordered wherever books are sold.