The day New London claimed a New England championship

I get my hair cut at Thames Barber Shop on Methodist Street in downtown New London because I have gotten the best and most consistent haircuts there since the days when my mother used a bowl and scissors in the kitchen.

I also like the fact that the proprietor, Lou Pica, has chosen to eschew retirement and keep working into his 80s, opening the shop for a day of cutting every morning except Sunday and Monday.

I'm sure many other customers must come for the quality of the haircuts, including a fine finish with a straight razor.

But many also come for the convivial atmosphere and the character that only can come to a place that has been in business since Eisenhower was president. It's a time warp.

Indeed, Pica and his customers fired up the time machine when I visited this week for a cut, recalling one glorious day in New London's history, one that hits a favorite touchstone for gray-haired men reminiscing in a barbershop: the success of their high school teams.

The trigger for this week's nostalgia was the death of 85-year-old Eugene I. King, whom many Thames Barber Shop customers will tell you could have been the greatest basketball player New London ever produced.

After graduating from Bulkeley School in 1951, the year before the boys' school and a similar small girls' school were replaced with the co-ed New London High School, King was recruited by the University of Connecticut on a basketball scholarship. He played on the varsity team all four years, becoming co-captain in his senior year.

He was captain of the Bulkeley team in 1951, the year it was undefeated.

It was that day in 1951 that everyone wanted to tell me about this week, the day King helped the Bulkeley basketball team cinch the New England championship at Boston Garden. It was a time when there was still a New England championship for high school basketball.

The championship games attracted big crowds, especially when contenders were teams from large public high schools. Connecticut schools tended to do well, followed by Massachusetts.

The 1951 game was attended by a big crowd from New London. A train to Boston from downtown New London was packed, they recalled in the barber shop this week.

It turns out The Day's Amanda Hutchinson already had reported King's death in a recent story about a Bulkeley School reunion. She even reported how King scored 19 points in the second half of that 1951 championship game, giving the small Bulkeley School an upset win over the big public high school in Quincy, Mass.

Still, the few graphs in that story were not enough reporting on the death of someone school alums think of as a patron saint all these years later, the guy who put Bulkeley in the history books. Winning a championship was a fitting conclusion, they will tell you, for the last year of their beloved institution.

Phones in The Day newsroom kept ringing even after Hutchinson's story was printed, asking for more coverage of King's death.

When I finally settled into his chair at the Thames Barber Shop, Pica flipped through a paper address book and stepped to the dial phone on the wall to place a call. He then put the phone to my ear.

It was someone who wanted to ask me to help remember King and the day in 1951 that New London's light shined so brightly.

So I am doing as I was told. The haircut, by the way, was — as always — great.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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