I write to you this week with a heavy heart, jilted by conflicting thoughts and emotions. Having lived the past forty plus years on planet Earth, little in the world moves me or affects me anymore. Last week’s word of legendary Jonesport-Beals boys basketball coach Ordie Alley being denied entrance into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame was one of those moments, which shocked me to the core.
As more information came out, the question that came to me is: “Why is this story breaking on the day of the hall of fame induction?” It was decided months earlier he would be denied entrance. Did the group who made this decision think people wouldn’t notice his absence? The timing of this announcement couldn’t have been worse, taking away from those others being honored. There was a big invisible elephant in the room that couldn’t be ignored.
I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Coach Alley through my association with a summer basketball league run by the late Ron Brown in the late 1990’s. Ordie would bring his Royals up to the Bangor Auditorium, travelling some 175 miles round trip 2-3 nights per week. Anytime he came into the venerable barn on Dutton Street, I’d get greeted with a “hello reverend.” in that classic downeast drawl of his. Countless others received the same salutations, including Brown. I was an assistant coach with Bob Cimbolllek at John Bapst at the time and he’d always ride me about the deliberate pace we’d play at. Of course, Alley’s Royals were just the opposite, playing an up-tempo style of game.
Since those days, we’d bump into each other off and on and I’d come to treasure those times. Generally we’d see each other at the annual high school basketball tournament. He’d usually be seated somewhere in the level above the bleachers, family at his side.
Over the course of the next several weeks and months, lawyers and courts will settle who is guilty and who is innocent. We will let them decide that. As you have probably read in this sordid account, the accusations made against Alley, and I repeat they are accusations, came from alleged incidents which occurred in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. My have times changed.
In those days, from what I’ve been told at least, the local high school basketball coach was beyond reproach in many communities. This position was held in high esteem right up there with the local clergyman. It was so far-fetched to believe this could occur.
Fast forward forty years and the culture has changed. No longer do we only look at the creepy looking guy on the street corner as a potential threat, by anyone can be. One need look no further locally then the horrific details a few years back of a well-known minister being accused of the unthinkable. A successful central Maine high school basketball coach is no longer is coaching due to alleged misconduct with students. Both of these men I’ve known well and was equally stunned by the allegations.
Nationally we have the Jerry Sandusky case and subsequent fallout to look at. Each of these men were considered pillars in their community and their professions. The prevailing thought has become: if these people can be accused then who is above reproach? Therefore, rightly or wrongly, it has become easier, or more believable anyway, for these type of accusations to be presented.
You see, the allegations surrounding Coach Alley cut to the core of us all, especially those of us who deal with young people on a regular basis. It causes us, or at least it does me, to pause and reflect on our own boundaries. Not that we would do harm or act inappropriately but we need to be aware of how our actions are perceived by others. Do we become more guarded in our approach with youngsters? I think we do. Do we think twice before patting a kid on the back or putting our arm around them? Perhaps.
Unfortunately, we now live in a culture in which trust is much more difficult to earn. In this society everyone, regardless of how well we know a person can be considered a potential threat. After all in the aftermath of these cases trust in our society has eroded. You see, this column, while touching on the situation with Coach Alley, isn’t so much about him at all but rather the erosion of trust we have of each other. While the subject in this situation is Ordie Alley, what is being accused of him could happen to any of us.
As a society our collective innocence has been lost.
Regardless of how this whole mess is finally resolved, that my friends, is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.