When the MDI girls basketball team warms up for Friday night’s state championship game they will take to the floor in the same manner as legions of Trojans before them. A familiar tune will resonate throughout the Cross Insurance Center, a symphony which for decades energized the masses in the old Bangor Auditorium, and closer to home at Mount Desert Island High School.
Go back in time with me to the 1960’s, a tumultuous time in American history many would just soon forget. Racial tensions, the war in Vietnam, and a growing counterculture of sex, drugs, and rock and roll became more prevalent. Towards the end of the decade marked a spiritual rebirth of sorts, when many of the hippies left their destructive vices and looked for greater meaning, greater purpose. They also were not ready to conform to the conservative, buttoned-down nature of traditional church so they often would form their own loose organizations. This better became known as the Jesus Movement.
Moving to 1970, with music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar was written. According to Wikipedia, the musical was loosely based on the gospel accounts on Jesus’ live. The musical was first performed on Broadway in 1971.
Closer to home around 1973 Mount Desert Island High School was in its infancy, having consolidated nearly five years earlier. The band director at the time, George Himes, who is also believed to have composed the school song, was looking for something upbeat for the band to play when the basketball team would come out to warm-up. He made some adjustments to the overture of Jesus Christ Superstar to give it an up-tempo, high energy sound. Who would have believed that what started around forty years ago would evolve through the years into such a beloved tradition, both for islanders and outsiders alike?
When the drums get going minutes before the team takes the floor to warm up and then those first brass notes are played, if that doesn’t send your adrenaline up a notch, check your pulse. For players, coaches, band members, and fans alike, this is a tradition that for forty-odd years has failed to lose its buzz.
Current John Bapst girls basketball assistant coach Dave Paul recalls the night in 1997 when the MDI girls played Greely at the Augusta Civic Center for the state title. Paul, who was the boys varsity basketball coach at Orono at the time, recalls the scene vividly. Long before the team took the floor the drums started going. When the team finally took the floor and the first notes sounded, he said he could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. The place went absolutely nuts, it was unbelievable, he said.
Lisa Richards is a 1980 graduate of MDI High School and a Bangor educator while also providing color commentary for MPBN’s girls high school basketball tournament broadcasts. Richards was a drummer in the band and would play for the boys games back in those days. Originally the band only played for boys games but that changed later on through her high school career as they started to play for the girls as well.
Brent Barker, the current MDI girls varsity basketball coach, played trombone in the band during his high school career. He only played for girls games because he was busy playing for the boys team. He says he still gets goose bumps every time still as a coach when he hears Jesus Christ Superstar being played before a game. According to Barker, warming up to the band gets the team pumped up and has them step up their game.
Aaron Snurkowski, a freshman on the boys varsity basketball team, said it’s really cool when the band plays the song before games. It gets the team pumped to play. Snurkowski recalled going to games when he was younger and looking forward to the day when we would be on the floor with the band playing during warm-ups.
MDI this year has a new band director, Michael Remy (pronounced REE-ME), In speaking with Athletic Administrator, Bunky Dow, Remy was told during the interview process the tradition had to continue.
In speaking with Remy, he said he can feel his blood pressure rise before the band is to perform this great tradition. Explosive is the word he used to describe the energy in the building when Jesus Christ Superstar is being performed. According to Remy, the kids love playing the song and it never gets old for them, they get just as excited with each new performance. It has really helped to maintain interest in the band because the younger kids go to the games and they want to be a part of this tradition.
Fortunately, there have been few years when neither the MDI boys or girls basketball teams made it to Bangor for the tournament. 2008 was the last time MDI was not represented at the Bangor Auditorium, or now the Cross Insurance Center. There was something missing for sure, a sound that was eerily absent. Sure it was the tournament but things didn’t seem quite right. The following year when the MDI girls made it to the Auditorium, a big sign was hung across the railing above the bleachers which read, “We’re baaaaack, Did ya Miss Us?” Without a doubt you were missed, things were right again at the tournament. The greatest tournament tradition, the MDI band and the playing of Jesus Christ Superstar had returned.
Special thanks go to MPBN’s Lisa Richards for the historical background information on this great tradition.