1979. Much has changed in the realm of high school basketball since then. The shorts have gotten much longer. Any shot made beyond the arc extending around the top of the key is now worth three points. Stearns and John Bapst have managed to play in four classes. “The Mecca” of high school basketball, referred to by others not I, has been replaced by the spacious Cross Insurance Center. One thing that has been a constant for fans of Eastern Maine basketball is the tournament coverage provided by MPBN. That is until now.
Last week, MPBN officials notified the Maine Principals’ Association they will no longer be televising games. The network began covering Eastern Maine tournament semi-final, finals, as well as state championship games in Classes B, C, and D. In the early 90’s their coverage expanded to include the Western Maine contests in those three classes from the Augusta Civic Center. When WABI-TV ceased their broadcasts of the Class A tournament in the 2000’s, MPBN was Johnny on the spot picking up the semi-finals, regional, and state finals in the state’s largest classification.
Living five minutes from the Bangor Auditiorium or Cross Center, I saw very little of the T.V. coverage, preferring to catch the games in person. Having interacted on numerous occasions with their staff, they always presented themselves with an admirable level of professionalism. People such as producer Ed Fowler, and the many folks who announced the games over the years worked hard and prepared. They will be sorely missed.
MPBN did present a proposal to the MPA to broadcast all ten state championship games, which was rejected by the state’s interscholastic athletics governing body. This Friday is the deadline for competing stations to submit bids for the rights to broadcast the games. In all likelihood, the offer by MPBN to do the state finals may be the MPA’s best offer. Few entities in the state can clear enough network time to air all these games. Add in the manpower involved to broadcast that many games in such a short period of time, this endeavor is one few, if any would be willing to take on.
The wave of the future for high school tournament coverage will likely involve online streaming. Compared to television, games via the internet require much less in terms of production. The game day crew consists of two announcers, a cameraman, and a producer, who handles graphic overlays, commercials, cuing the announcers, etc. This service has been provided for the quarterfinal round for the last few years for a subscription few on the NFHS Network website.
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the video streaming production during the last two tournaments. Despite the fine quality of the broadcasts, it still does not equal a live television broadcast. First, one would need a computer with high speed internet access to be able to tune into the games. If you wish to watch the games on your television, you’d need an HDMI cable to hook up to your TV from your laptop, assuming you have high definition television. Before, anyone could simply turn their TV on, wherever you were in the state, and there was tournament basketball. Free television made it a tourney for all the people, whether you had a fancy hook-up or could get to Bangor or not. Everyone could watch tournament basketball and you felt a part of it.
Having MPBN’s cameras there gave the proceedings a big-time feel. In the quarterfinal round, not only was an opportunity to advance further in the tourney at stake, but it was an chance to appear on TV.
Thinking about losing MPBN from the tournament also made me pause to think of what else has been lost over the years. As we concluded each year’s B-C-D tourney, thoughts moved to the big schools in Class A who would take to the hardwood a week later. Oh, how I miss those eight day quarterfinal Saturdays, sitting up in the corner with the venerable George Hale holding court at WABI radio. It was a true Eastern Maine Class A tournament when I started attending games in the 80’s. Teams like Stearns, Presque Isle, Caribou, Old Town, just to name a few, graced the Bangor Auditorium floor during the Class A tournament.
The games were not clustered together like they are now, allowing fans to see teams from all four classes. The moments were more poignant as all the region’s basketball eyes were focused on one class at a time.
While the Cross Insurance Center has proven to be a worthy basketball venue, I miss the reverberating noise of the old barn on Dutton Street. Just something of the sound of that place is special to me. The tourney seemed to take on greater meaning years ago when earning a spot was based on meritorious achievement over a season rather than being a one-hit wonder. There was a reverence for the game’s institutions, past players, and history that is missing today.
We often like to play the blame game when things are not what they once were. Let’s not do that. With the passing of time events change. Let’s remember the past with fondness while at the same time still enjoy what is still one of the greatest times to live in Maine.