AUGUSTA — For a few minutes Sunday, a group of former Cony High School basketball players drifted back in time to a magical season that 40 years to the day culminated in the team’s most important victory and a New England championship.

Eleven of the 14 players on the 1978 team as well as assistant coach Rusty Atwood attended the event put on by the Kennebec Historical Society. The players, now all in their late ’50s, swapped stories from that season and their high school days at the event and at an informal breakfast beforehand.

Considering the team captured a state title as well as an improbable New England championship, basketball rarely came up in conversation.

“It was just all about the shenanigans,” said Gary Towle, now a member of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.

Basketball did come up, though, as members of the community involved with the team spoke of the season, the team and its impact on the school and city. Former radio announcer Don Roberts kicked off the event with a re-creation of the final eight seconds of Cony’s semifinal 75-74 win against Central High of Providence, Rhode Island, a team that had won seven straight state titles along with a New England title in 1975.

Roberts admitted to listening to the LP record his radio station produced of the game — there were several copies on hand — prior to the event. Those eight seconds began with Steve O’Brien inbounding the ball to Towle, who sustained a cut over his eye while dribbling through Central defenders.

“Are we watching a football game or a basketball game,” Roberts told the audience.

Towle passed the ball to Rams center Ray Felt, who with a long left-handed shot laid the ball in as the buzzer sounded.

“That was Towle’s only assist of the year, joked one of his teammates.

Towle averaged nearly 30 points a game that season and set the tone for the team’s wide open run-and-gun style of play. He patterned his game after players like Pete Maravich and Ernie Digregorio, dribbling between his legs and throwing behind the back passes long before those skills were common on Maine hard courts.

“Gary had had the opportunity to play against New York City kids at Pine Tree Camp that had city type games and he kind of liked that,” Atwood said. “Your horizons expand a little bit and he saw Ernie D and he saw Pete and he said this is who I am and how I like to play and that’s what he did.”

That style spread throughout the team, which included a starting five of Towle, Steve Busque, Felt, Steve and Scott O’Brien.

“We ran the floor,” Towle said. “It was just a running game. Then when we had to get in the halfcourt, we had good balance. We were dribble driving before the dribble drive and kick was popular.”

The event wasn’t about Towle, though, one of the reasons he said he was attracted to it.

“I was very excited about this because it involved the entire team,” he said. “Because everybody put in a lot of work to get to the state championship and the New England championship.”

Cony defeated Windsor, Vermont, the night following the Providence win to capture the title played in Durham, New Hampshire, on the University of New Hampshire campus. The Rams earlier defeated a strong South Portland team for the state championship. South Portland breezed to the state title a year later and lobbied hard for a shot at the New Englands which were abandoned after that season.

Sunday’s event was the brainchild of Tom Field, a freshman at Cony in 1978 who is writing a book about the team and that season.

“It’s something I’ve thought about for a lot of years just because I realized this ’78 team was unique,” Field said. “I recorded a lot of games at the school for State Cable TV so I got into it. Since leaving Augusta . . . I realized it was a significant piece of Augusta history that I wanted to write about as a way to give something back to the community.”

Players in attendance included Towle, Busque, Felt, Steve O’Brien, Mark Sutton, Ralph Colfer, Doug Drummond, John Fitts, Dave Gallagher, Tony Seymour and Kirk Cooper. Scott O’Brien and Dana Colwill were unable to attend while John Doiron passed way several years ago. Assistant coach Bob Fairbrother was also unable to attend as was head coach Dave Pound, who sent a letter to the team read aloud by Atwood.

Members of state championship teams past also spoke, including Sen. Roger Katz, a member of the 1966 state championship team who said making that team was one of the highlights of his life. Cony athletic director Paul Vachon and Mayor Dave Rollins, both of whom played on the 1973 state title team, also spoke.

“I was just happy to have had a hand in it,” Rollins said of the ’78 team’s success. Rollins and Vachon were among Cony alums who helped teach the ’78 team in their formative years and sometimes taught them lessons on the court as well.

Vachon presented each of the team members with memorial plaques taken from the old Cony gymnasium floor.

“They were just a wonderfully matched group,” Atwood said. “They seemed to like each other. They just knew where the ball needed to be and what needed to happen.”

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