Snow, snow, and more snow. Such has been the case so far into the winter, oops I mean fall, as we are still more than a month away from the actual start of winter. Bangor has already received fifteen inches of the white stuff so far. As I was cleaning my car off from the freshly fallen snow of this past week, I was reminded how much weather has magically created some great Maine sports memories and traditions.
Seventeen years ago this past Friday night, I along with some other hardy souls sat in the grandstand at Bangor’s Cameron Stadium for the Eastern Maine Class ‘A’ Championship game. Coach Rob Munzing’s Gardiner Tigers took to the frozen tundra taking on Gabby Price’s Bangor Rams. This was back in the era when football was generally played in all elements, concern for the field conditions be damned. This was football and real men played in whatever nature provided. Now if this had been a basketball game, mind you, the game may have been postponed due to travel considerations. My three mile drive to and from the field was an adventure in itself.
The scene was a winter wonderland. About six inches of snow covered the field with the goal lines being snow blown away. The snow throughout the game was coming down and coming down hard. Details of the game remain fuzzy so many years later but the overall spectacle remains so vivid. Each team took a strikingly different approach. Gardiner came equipped with sideline heaters. Their players had on every piece of cold weather gear imaginable. Contrast their sideline to the Bangor sideline. Bangor, embracing a culture of who’s tougher than who, had many players sporting bare arms and lower legs. Not a portable heater could be found. Possibly suffering from hyperthermia by halftime, the favored Rams fell to the Gardiner Tigers 20-7.
A major winter snowstorm wreaked havoc with the 1994 Eastern Maine High School Basketball Tournament. The class C schools were set to take the floor on Thursday of the traditional tournament week but well over a foot of snow made travel treacherous, forcing the games to be postponed. Friday’s original schedule was to have four class D semi-finals played in the morning and afternoon with the class B finals played that evening. Tournament officials decided to play an eight game day on Friday, consisting of a four game class D session starting in the morning. The class C semifinals were played in another four game session ending in the evening.
Of course, this meant the B schools had to wait a day to play their regional final games. On Saturday, Class D would play their final in the morning, up from their usual afternoon time slot. B took the floor in the afternoon, while class C played in their customary Saturday night position. The six game regional final format proved to be a such a hit that tournament organizers decided to carry on this accidental tradition. Hence, Eastern Maine Championship Saturday was born.
This upcoming weekend high school football teams will converge on Alfond Stadium at the University of Maine and Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium to settle who are the best of the best in Maine high school football. For the tenth consecutive year, WABI-TV in Bangor will televise all of the state title tilts. The teams competing in these gold ball games will have center stage all to themselves for approximately two and a half hours. Many younger fans may think this is how it has always been. Those of us who are older know it has not always been so.
Through 2001, the state championship football games were played at various rotating venues throughout Maine. The class A game was generally played at Fitzpatrick Stadium, albeit in 1999 the game was played at Alfond Stadium at UMaine. This was when Maine had the old artificial turf rather than the more modern FieldTurf, thus the players had to be equipped with special shoes. Ironically, the match-up featured Oxford Hills and South Portland on a balmy late November afternoon in Orono. Each school travelled nearly three hours to get to Orono for the noon kickoff. Needless to say, this was the last class A football state game played in Orono. Oxford Hills’ T.J. Reece returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown but in the end Coach John Wolfgram’s Red Riots prevailed 24-10.
The 2002 Class A state championship between Edward Little and Portland was slated for a 1:00 start at Fitzpatrick Stadium while the B and C games were set to be played on grassy high school fields. A midweek snowstorm altered the schedule, however. The snow rendered the high school venues unplayable, moving all three state championships to the FieldTurf at Fitzpatrick Stadium. What was an emergency contingency has now evolved into a great thirteen year tradition. When the MPA added a fourth class last year, a Friday night game was added at UMaine. This year Winslow and Leavitt will play the Friday night event as classes B, C, and D are on a three year rotation at the venue.
While the weather outside can be frightful, we who are high school sports fans can give thanks for the great memories and traditions Mother Nature has created.