History buff finds links between sports and larger trends in Stonington

History buff finds links between sports and larger trends in Stonington

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — David Erskine is retired from police work but continues to keep busy with a variety of investigations. These days, the retired police chief is serving as a historian, researching and honoring milestones and highlights from the town’s past, particularly in the sporting world.

Erskine sits on the board of directors of the Stonington Historical Society and is a permanent member of the Stonington High School Athletic Hall of Fame committee. In recent years, he has given presentations on the history of town boxing, baseball, track and field, and tennis.

Erskine himself can lay claim to being part of Stonington High’s athletic history. He started on the school’s only state baseball championship team as a senior in 1960.

“Researching and gathering articles, photos and documents from years past is something I enjoy,” Erskine said. “I get very inquisitive and one thing leads to another.”

In his next public presentation, Erskine will conduct a 75-minute program sponsored by the historical society and titled “The History of Stonington Football and Soccer,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the La Grua Center in Stonington Borough.

Stonington is the Eastern Connecticut Conference’s longest continual member and boasts more history than simply taking part in one of New England’s oldest Thanksgiving Day rivalries, with Westerly. Erskine touches on the much-publicized matchup — including accounts of Westerly’s 122-0 victory around World War I — but he focuses more on interesting anecdotes, great teams, players and coaches from 1880 to 1993.

While Stonington won its only state football title in 1991, many lifelong sports followers believe the 1942 Bear team that finished 9-1-1 and placed four members on the New Haven Register All-State first team of 11 players ranks as the best in school history.

“I have a poster with photos of that team,” Erskine said. “The team included Ellery Whitford, who was a two-time All-State first-team pick, and quarterback George McKenna, who went on to become principal of Mystic Middle School.”

Erskine has unearthed many obscure facts. In 1934, for example, Stonington High went on strike for three days to protest the firing of the football coach. “The whole student body walked out,” Erskine said.

He also will talk about the glory days of semipro football in Mystic, Stonington and Pawcatuck in the 1950s and ’60s.

Stonington football operated continuously over the years, but the same was not true for soccer, Erskine said.

“Quoting from a Westerly Sun article, ‘The rise and fall of immigration determined the success of soccer in town,’” Erskine said. “Before World War I, the immigration of English and Scottish who worked at Bradford and Dime and American Thread in Pawcatuck created an influx of soccer players.”

When the mills went out of business, “the soccer talent dried up,” Erskine said. “When the Portuguese immigrated to Stonington in the late ’50s and ’60s, it restored the interest in local soccer.”

Stonington High offered varsity boys’ soccer in the early 1970s and girls’ soccer in 1995. The Bear boys enjoyed a long streak of success in the 1980s and 1990s, including two state finals and a Class M co-championship, thanks in large part to the contributions of the sons of Portuguese immigrants.

“I’ve listened to people who have been in and around sports, and you hear stories about past accomplishments, but everyone wants documentation,” Erskine said. “I find it very rewarding to share and display the stories, photos and signs of the times from decades ago.”


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