Twenty-four high school students from Thursday Island set a world record on Saturday 6 May 1972 for the longest non-stop game of basketball played on an outdoor court. This herculean effort of 110 hours and five minutes broke the previous record by three hours, five minutes.
Played at the Wongai Courts, the marathon, as it was referred to by locals, started with Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen throwing the first jump ball. The boys were off to a fast, furious and fumbling start and some six minutes elapsed before the first points were scored. Starting hard took its toll, and players suffered cramps, aches and even boils before the first day was over.
The following day, the boys played three hours, then took three hours off to eat or sleep if they could. The lack of spectators made it difficult for the players to stay motivated, especially in the early morning and during the day. Officials had doubts the record would be broken, but a few new faces helped spur the players on.
The pre-dawn hours of day three saw a few more spectators yelling encouragement. The boys were cold and had to wear extra clothing. Sunrise again brightened the players’ spirits and renewed their confidence that the record might yet be surpassed. Overnight, the boys slept every minute of their off-periods and it was difficult to raise them for their shifts.
By day four they were well past the halfway mark and the record was in sight. Most of the boys were playing in bare feet or thongs because blisters made it impossible to wear shoes or boots. Feet and ankles were becoming sore and knees were swelling. Despite this, on the fourth night they slept well and rose easily. The record was now less than 24 hours away.
Late in the afternoon of day five it was decided that the boys could swap over every 40 minutes in front of the anticipated large crowd. Despite over 100 hours of continuous play, the last 10 players on the court turned on a display of basketball that equaled any fixture game anywhere, and spectators responded by cheering them on to greater efforts.
Finally, at 10.25pm, the record was broken. The boys played on. A big crowd appeared at 11.30pm and the boys continued as though it were a grand final. The ball and the boys flashed from end to end at a dazzling pace and the onlookers were amazed by the spectacle. The atmosphere at the court was electric.
At 1.30am the game was stopped. The marathon was over, and a new world record of 110 hours and five minutes had been set.
I remember it well. Memories