The roof is on fire: Both Chimacum, PT get burned during rivalry’s war years

Tim Caldwell Special to The Leader
Posted 9/24/21

During the 1940s, Port Townsend dominated Chimacum in sports. The two schools’ football and basketball teams played each other a total of 20 times that decade, with Townsend taking nearly every …

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The roof is on fire: Both Chimacum, PT get burned during rivalry’s war years

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During the 1940s, Port Townsend dominated Chimacum in sports. The two schools’ football and basketball teams played each other a total of 20 times that decade, with Townsend taking nearly every contest. 

Details on the schools’ other athletic programs are scarce. Sports like girls’ basketball, track, and baseball didn’t receive the newspaper coverage of football and basketball and research is ongoing.

In 1942, Chimacum did come close to beating Townsend in football, losing in the game’s final minute. The Oct. 8 Leader reported, “A punt, a pass, and a prayer gave Townsend a 6–0 victory over a stubborn Chimacum eleven.”

PT and Chimacum during the war years

The article further reports Chimacum could have won, or at least tied, when running back Gene Lykken broke through Townsend’s defensive line, and with not a man in front of him scampered unmolested toward the end zone. His 43-yard dash ended just short of the goal when he was caught from behind by Townsend player Don Brecht, thus ending the Chimacum threat. Twenty-seven years later, Don’s son Rocky would be Chimacum’s starting quarterback.

During the war years, the impact on high school sports was feast and famine. Fine new facilities were built but with restricted use. 

Reborn by the war, Fort Worden’s newly arriving soldiers and dependents doubled Port Townsend’s population and filled the school classrooms. Plans already underway to expand the high school and build a new gymnasium were accelerated using federal funds earmarked for the relief of areas hard hit by defense expansion. 

The new gym (the Bruce Blevins Gymnasium), built to hold one thousand fans, was considered one of the finest in the region, comparable to any of the state’s larger high schools and some colleges. However, wartime gasoline rationing limited access. The Dec. 31, 1942 Leader reported that students were adapting to the cancellation of the school’s basketball program. “Deprived of inter-city basketball by transportation restrictions, students have taken to intramural play like ducks to water.” 

A nine-game season was organized with all games played at the newly opened high school gym completed in September 1942, replacing the old Central High gym (the Community Center gym at Lawrence and Tyler streets). A year later, the old Central High School would burn to the ground. The adjoining gym would be saved and remains in use today.

Post-war fires challenge Chimacum

Saving the old gym would, four years later, save Chimacum’s basketball program. 

On Jan. 27, 1947 the Chimacum High School would also burn to the ground. With Townsend in its new gym, Chimacum players used the old gym in Uptown Port Townsend for their practice facility and home games. 

Although accommodating in providing a place to play, Townsend pulled no punches when it came to playing Chimacum in basketball that year, defeating them 52-12, and 45-9.

Defense expansion defined Port Townsend schools during the war years. Classrooms overflowed with new incoming students expediting a building boom in new classrooms, facilities, and a regionally acclaimed gymnasium. 

Fire defined Chimacum. The Nov. 6, 1947 Leader reported, “Fourth School Fire of Recent Years Destroys Chimacum Cafeteria Building.” Having already lost their school and gym less than a year earlier, Chimacum students were holding classes in the Grange Hall, churches, and other community buildings. Even school buses were temporarily used as classrooms. 

Undeterred, Chimacum classes reopened the day after the fire in the only remaining building on campus, its nearly completed new gymnasium.

In their 1943 football game, Townsend would win comfortably over Chimacum 32-6. 

Chimacum wouldn’t score on Townsend in football again until after the war. 

In 1947, Chimacum would do more than just score, they would defeat Townsend in football for only the second time in the school’s history (the first came in 1934). The Leader headline read, “Great Chimacum team defeats Townsend before a large crowd here.” 

Winning comfortably 26-7, the Chimacum roster included: Lopeman, Hansen, Coulter, Howe, Finnell, Thacker, Swanson, Johnson, Parker and the Binsfield brothers. Townsend’s team included Wise, Blowers, Harper, Luck, Herstrom, Presler, Davis, LaRouche, Salseina, Slow, and Williams.

To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Chimacum repeated its performance the following year defeating Townsend again 22–7. 

Considered one of Chimacum’s finest, the team finished its season with an 8–1 record, losing its final game to Lakeside 25–6. Along with veterans Coulter, Binsfield, and Parker were new starters Breen, Carlin, Ryan, Anderson, Klein, Munro, Deakin, and Wakefield.

When interviewed for the “Tahl-Kie-Chee,” Chimacum’s class of 1949 yearbook, Coach Robert “Chip” Chitterton stated that his fullback Jim Parker had his best game against Townsend. Parker would later become a teacher and football coach for Port Townsend High School, and return the favor by coaching Townsend to victory over Chimacum football teams for most of his career.

More feast, famine in Fabulous Fifties

While there were no longer travel restrictions and both schools had new gyms (Chimacum’s new gym opened at the end of 1947), both schools were now looking for players to rebuild their programs.

At the beginning of the 1944-45 school year, PTHS coach Bruce Blevins could have formed his own league when 55 boys turned out for basketball. 

Five years later, with Fort Worden sliding back into caretaker status, and the popular intramural program begun during the war siphoning off recruits, the schools were short on players, particularly Chimacum. 

The Sept. 21, 1951 Leader noted, “Coach Jack O’Donnell’s squad had lost so many players to injuries and transfers that he was forced to quit the sport mid-season.”

In 1951, Townsend would bounce back in football and basketball. Coach Blevins’ football team would go undefeated and be ranked second in state. 

In 1952, his basketball team would be the first class “B” team to ever win the Olympic League Championship. 

But by the mid-’50s, Townsend was struggling to rebuild its football and basketball programs. 

In 1954, Chimacum might have taken Townsend had they played each other. 

The Nov. 18 Leader bluntly announced, “Townsend Completes Disastrous Grid Season.” 

It was the first season in recollection where Townsend failed to win or tie a game. 

Chimacum managed to beat Quilcene for its only victory. Although they didn’t compete against Port Townsend, Chimacum finished ahead of Townsend in the standings that season.

Chimacum hit another high note Feb. 22, 1954, at the West Central District Class “B” Basketball Tournament held on Port Townsend’s home court. 

Before a capacity crowd, the Chimacum team of Barker, Swanson, Beacroft, and two of the Shaw boys, snatched a come-from-behind victory from the Townsend team of Morris, Hopkins, Miller, Thacker, and Angelo. Townsend was leading 34 to 33 with less than a minute remaining. Bob Barker’s basket in the closing seconds stunned the crowd into silence and gave Chimacum its first win over Townsend in basketball since 1935.

Tim Caldwell is a member of the Port Townsend High School Class of 1968, Jefferson County Historical Society board member, and research center volunteer.

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