Celebrating 50: Bart Smith’s Look Back At The Youth Basketball Program’s Early Days
This is the continuation of a series of articles highlighting 50 years of the Newtown Youth Basketball Association. Please check in upcoming editions of The Bee for more coverage as the season winds down in the coming weeks.
Bart Smith, who played in the Newtown Youth Basketball Association (NYBA) in the 1970s, read the first part of the series recognizing the 50th anniversary and shared some of his memories of basketball in town 40-plus years ago. Smith said one of the reasons this coverage interests him so much is that NYBA and other leagues in town were just coming into existence when he, along with brothers and sisters, were of age to participate.
Now 60 years old, the lifelong Newtown resident has a collection of photos and newspaper clippings from his playing days, including a Newtown Bee photo from a Senior League championship team in which he was a participant. Smith started playing in 1972 or ’73 in what used to be called the St Rose league. The program was taken over by the recreation department and has expanded to allow playing opportunities for younger children to play in games.
“There was no such thing as travel teams back then, so this is where everyone played. There were rules that every player had to play at least one quarter. The team was split into A players, B players, and C players. The third quarter was for only C players,” Smith recalls.
Smith remembers that the division for high school-age players was started around 1973 or ’74. “The middle school teams were all named after basketball teams — Pistons, Nets, Bucks, Trailblazers, Celtics. The high school league teams were all named after hockey teams — Rangers, Flyers, Bruins. Kind of odd,” Smith said.
One of the more notable changes in the program is in the venues. Today’s high school gymnasium, with its high, arching ceiling, provides a much different setting for games than the days when Smith and his friends dribbled up and down the courts.
“We practiced in basically all the gyms in town, even Hawley School, which was about the size of a large living room. Ceilings were very short, so any shot farther than ten feet from the basket hit the ceiling,” Smith said.
Smith has fond memories of his former coaches.
“Many of the coaches were parents of players, but not all. Some of the ones I remember were Jack McAuliffe, Jack Shpunt, Les Burroughs, Cliff Ingham, Pablo Ruiz, Earl Carrara, John Nelson. Lots more that I can’t remember,” Smith said.
“I’m sure that much of this is very similar to what goes on now. But before 1969 there was no youth football or basketball, so we all thought that this was a pretty big deal.” he added. “I can’t tell you how much these sports meant to me in my youth. Of course, I never realized how much effort the adults and parents put into making the whole thing work.”
Smith played Pop Warner football throughout the 1970s and at the high school when Newtown High’s teams were known as the Indians. He also coached Pop Warner teams for a few years during the 1980s.
Smith’s career has been in the printing industry from the late 70s until his immanent retirement in March of 2020. He was a member and past president of the Newtown Rotary in the 1990s and is currently vice president of the Newtown Forest Association.
“Newtown is a special place,” Smith said.