Members of the 1968 New England champion Portland High School swim team enjoy their 50th reunion Friday evening at Brunos Restaurant.
From left: Phil DiBiase (captain), Rodney Paulson (captain), Larry Leone,, B.J. Robinson, Don Gardner, Lee Crocker, Dave Chaplin (captain), Lloyd Crocker, Dave McKenzie, John Haney, Chris Matheson, Richard Lucas, Ernie Tarling, Steve Branz, Bob Cater and Dave Crowley.
Fifty years ago, Portland’s boys’ swim team had no peer.
In all of New England.
Friday evening, many members of that Bulldogs team met at Brunos Restaurant in Portland to reminisce and continue to celebrate an accomplishment that has lived on in lore.
In 1968, back when only sophomores, juniors and seniors competed at the varsity level and points were awarded to only the top six places, the Bulldogs went 10-0 in dual-meet competition, won the state meet with 106.5 points (59 better than runner-up Bangor) and took the New England championship with 47 points, 18 points ahead of runner-up East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
That wasn’t all.
The Bulldogs also broke five meet and pool records and won seven of 11 events in the state meet. At New Englands, held at the then-newly-constructed YMCA pool in Portland, Rodney Paulson won the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 butterfly. Athletes were allowed to compete in only two events, regardless of whether one was a relay.
Other state champions from the team included Dick Lucas in the 200 and 400 freestyle; Phil DiBiase in the 100 freestyle; the 200 medley relay team of Chris Mathisen, B.J. Robinson, Charlie Lord and Carter; and the 400 free relay team of Lee Crocker, Lloyd Crocker, Pete Edwards and Lord.
The New England title was the fifth of five for Portland High under legendary coach Harold Paulson, who also guided the Bulldogs to four regional victories between 1948 and 1951. The only other Maine swim team to win a New England championship was Bangor High in 1975. New Englands became solely an individual competition in 1979.
Lee Crocker, a member of the 1968 team and an organizer of Friday’s reunion, remembers Paulson creating four medley relay teams in practice, with each team able to break 1 minute, 56 seconds.
“The state record back then was 1:52,” Crocker said. “We also had 13 swimmers who could break a minute in the 100 freestyle. Not many other teams had more than one or two. It was one of those years where all our talent came together at once.”
Portland High went on to win the state title in 1969 and 1970.
DiBiase, Rodney Paulson and Dave Chaplin were the captains. Lucas, Robinson, Mathisen, the Crocker twins (who are not related to Ian, the Olympic gold medalist), Carter, Stephen Branz, Dave Crowley, Ernie Tarling, Jon Haney, Don Gardner, Dave McKenzie and all were in attendance.
Carter said everyone who was contacted was excited about the opportunity to reconnect, many for the first time since leaving high school.
“Some (couldn’t) make it because of health reasons,” Carter said. “Others had major trips already planned and not changeable, but everybody that wasn’t already ill or engaged (planned to come).”
Team members Steve Greenberg and Larry Brett have passed away.
Press Herald staff writer Glenn Jordan contributed to this story.