Looking back at a great era for Wareham High School athletics

Dec 8, 2017

To the Editor:

I was a product of the 50’s at Wareham High School. During this decade, WHS developed an athletic culture that literally put Wareham on the map. From the moment Coach Clem Spillane accepted the head coaching position for football, basketball and baseball, winning was the norm! We as players bought into his tough no-nonsense philosophy. WHS teams expected to win EVERY time they took the field, basketball court or baseball diamond.

Wareham always played a tough pre-season schedule. Coach believed in playing schools one or two classes above WHS, thus preparing us for league competition. We would play anybody, anywhere. One such game was Marlboro High School. I recall going into Coach’s office in late August ’58 and he said, “I scheduled Marlboro. They’ve won 44 straight and have been Class C Champs the past 3 years.”

I asked, “Where is Marlboro?” Well, we traveled to Marlboro and lost 22-20. A dropped pass and a dropped 2 point conversion cost us the game. Early the next week, I stopped by his office. At this time, we knew he would be leaving WHS at the end of the school and I told him I was really sorry we didn’t win the game for him.

The second game etched in my memory, was the Tech Tourney game at the Boston Garden, Oliver Ames Hugh School, Coach’s Alma Mater. We lost that game by 1 point. Our season record was 22-1, but I personally felt we had let him down. Playing for Coach Spillane, you always felt winning was expected and losing was NOT. Those two losses actually prepared me for life…learning that you can’t win them ALL!

When Coach Spillane’s coaching career ended in 1959, his overall winning percentage of 80 percent for the three sports, set a mark that will never be duplicated. He was inducted in to Massachusetts’s Coaches Hall of Fame in ALL three sports After leaving WHS, Coach accepted the same assignment at Ashland High School for 14 years and was inducted in to their Hall of Fame.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nick Nicolau, who came to WHS in the fall of 1958. Nick was our assistant coach and his patience, youth and temperament were a great compliment to Coach Spillane’s tough coaching style. After he left WHS, Nick stayed in coaching until his retirement. Nick’s Resume included 17 years as an assistant coach in the NFL, including coaching in five Super Bowls with Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. My wife and I were fortunate to be guests several times at the Team dinner following a game.

Nick was especially influential in directing my life. He suggested that I visit Southern Connecticut, his Alma Mater. I made that visit and was offered a scholarship. That was a major moment in my life. With Nick’s encouragement, I became the first member in my family to attend college. I can’t say enough about Nick’s positive influence on my life and future! Many years later Nick and I reconnected through our daughters. Both girls were attending Yale University and Wareham just happened to come up in one of their conversations. My daughter called to tell me about the conversation and I took the opportunity to get information on how to contact Nick. Nick and his wife purchased a home in Wareham and once we reconnected, we made sure that each summer we would get together and share memories over dinner.

All these recollections came back to me, thanks to the Wareham High School Hall of Fame celebration. My special thanks to the committee for selecting me to be a member of the WHS Hall of Fame and for reminding me of so much that made me the person I am today!

Tiny Lopes

Class of 1959- WHS