JAFFREY — Toughness, grit and pride are words that help to define Conant High School’s basketball legacy. They are regarded, often, as small-town qualities, threads that bind community.
The school basketball team wasn’t always the best show in town. But that changed, arguably, in 1985, when Conant won its first state championship after falling short the season before in the title game on the same floor on which it won, at Plymouth State College.
David Springfield was the centerpiece of that boys team. At 6-foot-3 he dunked with ease and he had ridiculous three-point range.
He finished as a 1,000-point scorer and went on to set shooting records at nearby Franklin Pierce University; his 3-point percentage for a single season and a career remain record-book toppers.
Today, the school gym is a warm — and raucous — place to be on cold winter nights.
Springfield never left Jaffrey, which lies at the foot of Mount Monadnock. The town’s modern-day village rose from a textile mill site on the Contoocook River in the 1800s and eventually ushered in tourists and resort hotels in and around the rocky-chinned 6,000-plus-foot peak.
He married a local girl, Nancy, from another basketball family, the Belletetes.
Nancy’s brother, Jimmy, was part of the ’85 title team, coached by Jim Adams, and her sister Karen was a 1,000-point scorer later at Conant.
Nancy and David raised three children, two girls and two boys. The parents are admittedly competitive by nature.
On Saturday, their youngest, Peyton, 17, a Conant High junior, joined his father, his aunt and — most notably perhaps — his three siblings before him in reaching 1,000 career points, further etching the family name in the town and school’s history.
Peyton’s 12-foot pull-up jumper from a slight angle off the baseline here Saturday against Monadnock, with 3:42 left in the opening quarter, made him the school’s first boys’ player to reach the mark as a junior.
It was his second shot attempt of the game; he made his first, too. Conant fell behind early, but Springfield, a natural scorer from any spot on the floor, netted 26 points and the host Orioles, as they are prone to do on this cramped, intimidating hardwood, rallied for a satisfying 59-47 win on a day that was emotional for more than just its basketball.
It was Hoops for Hope day; all donated proceeds went to benefit families dealing with cancer. More than 400 fans packed the small gymnasium in a show of support and giving.
Eleven boys’ banners and seven girls’ banners have been hung at Pratt Gymnasium since 1985 and that ice-breaking win over Hillsboro.
Peyton’s siblings — older sister Brooke, brother Devin and sister Maddy — all were part of title teams at Conant. Brooke was part of two championship teams before taking her talents to Southern New Hampshire University. She graduated from there in 2015; her 276 career assists total is 10th best in program history.
Maddy — a starting junior guard for nationally-ranked Bentley and its Hall of Fame coach, Barbara Stevens — was part of one, and Devin — who recently capped a standout collegiate baseball career at Keene State — helped to deliver a Conant banner, too.
They were all there Saturday. Well, Maddy — or Madison, as Devin likes to call her — was not. Rather, she was doing her thing on another court a couple of hours away, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds to lead Bentley to its 18th win this season, 71-59 triumph over Pace.
It’s a remarkable thing when you think about it: the talent; the devotion to craft; the hours of hard work; four siblings sharing such a rare achievement on their resume.
“Obviously, it’s off my chest, which is good because the season is not even being close to being done,” Peyton said later Saturday. “I’m going to go out with the same mentality: not try to do too much. I think this could be a good year for us.”
“It’s certainly nice for him,” Devin said of Peyton Saturday, “but having all the attention on you like this, it’s not what it’s all about, or what he’s all about.”
Brooke, now 27 and a fifth-grade teacher in Massachusetts, finished her Conant years just shy of 1,800 points. Like Peyton, she reached 1,000 as a junior. But she’d rather talk about what basketball did to prepare her for life, and her career, and what it might mean for Peyton in the same way.
“It’s a game that teaches you so many things about yourself and about life,” she said. “I loved basketball; it was my life, but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it.”
The father, David, who has openly worn his competitive streak all his life, said that, at the end of the day, basketball is deeper than individual numbers. It’s about team and titles — and life, he said.
“Yes, as parents you push your kids to do well,” he said. “But you want them to be driven to be the best at whatever they do. The goal is never to score 1,000 points, but to be the best possible basketball player, to help your team, to reach your potential.
“The long hours and stressful time of trying to become really great at anything is draining. They just enjoy the grind, I guess,” he noted of his children.
Devin’s 1,000th point came mid-way through his senior year, at home against Monadnock ironically. He needed 10 that day, and when he got to eight his coach, Eric Saucier, ran a play for him to get a shot. Twice. He missed both tries.
Then he found a good screen, came off it with one strong dibble and hit a pull-up jumper.
He said he sees a “determination” in his younger brother’s eyes these days, adding that Peyton is “all basketball. This is what he wants to do.”
Devin, 23, could have chosen basketball; in fact, he made the team at Keene State. But he was a baseball standout too, and, told it may be a season, maybe more before he got meaningful playing time with the basketball team, he chose baseball. He started every game of his three years with the Owls, after red-shirting his freshman year at Franklin Pierce because of an injury.
Instead of taking his fourth year of baseball eligibility, he chose to graduate. Today he’s studying for his master’s in sports management. He said he sometimes regrets not staying with basketball.
“Sure, I think about it,” he said. “All of us pretty much dedicated our lives (to basketball) as soon as we learned to walk. But we all had a choice. We all fell in love with the game, and both of my sisters got a college education from it. It instills values that last a lifetime.”
Brooke called it surreal to watch her younger brother reach his milestone so early. She called him quiet, competitive and intelligent. His mother described Peyton as inquisitive and possessing a “great sense of humor.” Brooke said no one has worked harder, or put in the time that’s needed.
Saucier said all of the Springfields are examples that “hard work pays.”
He said “putting in the time away from practice and during the summer” is the difference-maker” for Peyton, to be sure.
David Springfield said his son’s good fortune is part circumstance, too, in that only one senior returned Peyton’s freshman year, so he was thrust into the lineup and got unusual playing time for a freshman. “There are a lot of reasons for 1,000 points,” he said, “living in a small town, playing for a Division III team a lot of kids start as freshmen. Maybe it’s easier in that sense, but becoming a good player is something that comes with the territory of working hard.”
On Saturday, mobbed by his teammates in the warm embrace of Conant’s banner-filled gym, Peyton Springfield savored not so much a milestone, but a moment he and his family will forever cherish. Will he help to hang a banner, this year or next?
That is the real goal.
Paul Miller is The Sentinel’s executive editor.