Some people believe that things happen for a reason, and Chris Anton was one of them. Anton, a very spiritual individual, set up a nationally known candlepin bowling center, The Big 20, in Scarborough shortly after World War II. The bowling alley operated with Anton’s vigorous help for nearly half a century, and still operates to this day, despite his passing.
When little league baseball started nationwide in the 1950’s, Scarborough was a farming, dairy and fishing town of only a few thousand. By the time of Anton’s death, however, the town had grown to more than 20,000 people.
Anton’s generosity began in his hometown of Biddeford in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and spread to the Town of Scarborough where he relocated in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Fortunately for youth baseball teams, and any other imaginable type of athletic activity involving kids, Anton’s generosity grew with it.
Little league baseball teams and their coaches learned in the 1960’s and 1970’s that if you had a financial need, you would hear somebody say, “Have you gone to see Chris?” Anton was a prolific contributor – whether the cause was little league baseball, out-of-state basketball tournaments for kids, or beginning Pee Wee football programs. A sports organizer or youth sports coach in urgent need of organizational funds would be dispatched to The Big 20 bowling lanes. They would approach Anton at the reception area of the bowling alley that almost took on an appearance of a judge’s bench. Anton, who could sometimes be gruff, would ask the person who they were and why they had come to see him. The person would be “cross examined” about the activity, how many kids were involved, where they would be playing, what the coach hoped to get out of the season or trip, and similar questions.
At the end of this back and forth, inevitably, Anton would either reach into the cash register, or reach into his pocket, or step back into his office, and return to the lobby to chat with the solicitor again. “How about this?” he would ask, handing the person a small wad of bills. “Will this be enough to get you through and help the kids, do you think?” he would ask.
Inevitably, the answer would be yes. The seeker of assistance would be most grateful, and the legend of Chris Anton would be increased yet again in the coastal community that became his home in the last two decades of the 20th century.
Anton, who was the first Commissioner of the Maine State Lottery in the 1970’s, was not just a financial booster of sports. He was also an intensely loyal friend, and was a well known name and figure in Biddeford politics and sports in the 1950’s and 1960’s,
His visibility in the political arena hit its high point in 1986 when his long time friend, Dave Redmond, a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame also, ran for governor.
Politics can sometimes be the intersection of government and sports characters. The Redmond campaign, with backer Chris Anton in tow, was no exception.
Anton was a zealous booster of his friend’s political prospects and never missed a chance to turn somebody that he knew was a baseball fan into a Redmond supporter and ticket to the Blaine House.
“Do you know what kind of pitcher Davy was at Portland High?” he would ask a listener, leaning in closely to make eye contact, perhaps grabbing a shoulder or elbow. “Let me tell you – the guy threw smoke. That’s all he knew. He has strike out records that still stand at Portland High School.”
In Anton’s mind, success in sports, especially if the athlete was a leader on and off the field, equated with a persuasive set of reasons to vote for a person on the ballot box.
“This guy’s a leader!” Anton would bellow, holding court in the bowling alley lobby. “This guy got the job done on the field. Ask anybody who played with him thirty years ago. This is what we need in politics – guys who can get the job done. Not talkers and yackers. People with accomplishments who can get along with other people!” Anton made the argument on behalf of many different people over the years. It was always important to him if a candidate for political office had a sports background. In his mind, if you did, that meant you were ready to lead, just like you may have on the diamond or the hard court or gridiron.
Fellow Maine Baseball Hall of Fame member, Gene Hunter, who is also in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, says Anton’s induction in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame is long overdue.
“Many little league baseball teams were outfitted with uniforms bought and paid for by Chris Anton” Hunter recalled. This was true in Biddeford and Scarborough, he said. “This guy just helped so many kids over the years, over decades. He was taken from us early due to cancer. The sports world lost a good friend.” Scarborough resident and sports booster Dan Warren said that Anton was one of the first people he ever met who exhibited a trait that a lot of great people with outstanding character exhibit when they attempt to assist others. “Chris never wanted any credit”, Warren recalls. “You’d ask him if he wanted his name in a booklet or with an ad. He would say no. You’d ask him whether he wanted a sign on the outfield fence of a little league field. He may or may not. You’d ask if he wanted to receive a thank you letter from a particular team or organization going on an out-of-state trip for a tournament. He never wanted his personal name mentioned. The bowling alley, maybe, because that was a family enterprise, but Chris was not in the sports organization game for personal credit. He really was one of those guys who just wanted to help kids. This was a real eye opener for me coming out of high school to deal with someone like Chris Anton. A real breath of fresh air that way.”
Anton left a widow, Jane, of Scarborough. His funeral was a heavily attended event as would be expected of a man who helped so many for so long.