With the wrappings and tinsel put aside for another year, our thoughts turn to the dawning of a new year. The next week will be a time of reflection for many, thinking back on all the memories of what was 2015. Some will look back with fondness, embracing once more all that was good in the past year. For some 2015 wasn’t such a great expanse of time. For those, here’s to a better, more prosperous 2016.
As we reflect back, many publications and television outlets will highlight the most significant events from the year that is almost past. So let’s join in and do the same, shall we? Since The Press Box is dedicated to the coverage of Maine’s high school and youth sports scene, here are the top ten youth sports stories from 2015:
10. Old Town Football Finds Resurgence with Undefeated Regular Season
A number of northern Maine high school football programs had bounce back seasons in 2015. MDI, coming off a 4-5 campaign a year ago, reached the regional semifinals before falling to Winslow. Brewer, who won the state title a decade ago, finished 1-7 two seasons ago before reaching the regional final this year.
No program, though, captured the spirit of their community more so than Old Town. The Coyotes put the victory back into their home Victory Field after a 2-6 finish a season ago. According to a late season Bangor Daily News article by Ernie Clark, Old Town went 4-62 between the years 2002 and 2009. Following that turbulent period the Coyotes dropped down a class, becoming play-off ineligible, to try to save the program.
The Coyotes rekindled a buzz for football that was palpable in the Canoe City. Old Town went undefeated in the regular season, matching perennial power Winslow atop the class C standings. A coin flip was needed to determine the top seed for the postseason, which was won by Old Town. When the two teams met for the regional final, the atmosphere was as electric as any I’ve witnessed for quite some time. Old Town jumped out to a 21-7 first half lead before Winslow rallied to score 33 unanswered points in their 40-27 triumph. Despite the loss, it was a season many in Old Town are sure to cherish for a long while.
9. Bangor Baseball Repeats as High School and Legion Champs
Bangor High School baseball returned a solid nucleus, particularly on the mound, from their 2014 championship run. Junior left-hander Trevor DeLaite powered the Rams past Brewer in a 1-0 classic in the Eastern Maine final at Mansfield Stadium. Bangor then outlasted South Portland to win their second consecutive state crown.
Just a couple days removed from winning their high school gold, many of those same players would compete for the American Legion’s Bangor, ah Coffee News, Comrades. This repeat would be a little bit more unlikely, however. Bangor got off to a slow start to the campaign before hitting their stride towards the midway point of the season. The Comrades were the zone runners-up to Post 51 of Oakland heading to the state tournament. Their state tournament run was highlighted by improbable come from behind victories over Post 51 and Morrill Post of South Portland.
8. Old Town Senior League Reaches World Series- Advances to Semi-Finals
In the previous thirteen Senior League World Series held at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium, the home team of Bangor had served as the host club for the majority of those. Brewer had represented the host district in a couple, while Orono-Veazie and Hampden also had made an appearance during the series run in Bangor.
For the first time Old Town represented Maine District 3 Little League, matching their talents against teams from around the globe. Fans turned out in droves to watch the boys play and play they did. Under the new modified double elimination format, Old Town defeated the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands twice before falling to Holmes County, Ohio in the semifinal round.
7. Skowhegan Field Hockey Wins States….Again
For a program that’s competed in fifteen straight state championship games, winning thirteen of them, let those numbers sink in for a moment, winning another state title should’t be that noteworthy. Rumor has it Coach Paula Doughty places a field hockey stick in the cribs of newborns in Skowhegan at the hospital. However, for this year’s Indians contingent, appearance number fifteen may have been their most improbable. You see, it was rival Messalonskee, not Skowhegan, who entered this season’s play-offs as the top seed, going undefeated. Messalonskee handed Skowhegan two regular season losses by 3-0 and 3-1 scores.
When the two teams met in the regional final, the Indians avenged their two regular season losses with a 2-1 overtime victory. A few days later at the University of Maine Skowhegan downed Thornton Academy to capture the program’s thirteenth state crown in the last fifteen years.
6. 2015 State Football Champions….Same as 2014
It’s tough enough to triumph and win a state championship. Think of all the hard work and sacrifice that goes into it. Trying to repeat can be an even more daunting challenge. Getting up the motivation to do it all over again. Obstacles such as having the bulls eye on ones back and complacency can make the journey to repeat difficult.
On the third weekend in November football squads from Thornton Academy, Marshwood, Winslow, and Oak Hill found themselves standing right where they did about the same time in 2014. They walked off the field as champions, hoisting that gold football high in the air.
5. State Soccer Championships Held in Presque Isle
It’s a rite of passage for high school student athletes and their coaches in Aroostook County: get on the yellow bus and make at least a three hour journey to compete for titles. For a Saturday in November this year, the script was flipped and it was kids from southern Maine communities who made the long journey, this time north to play in state soccer title games.
The Dr. Gehrig T. Johnson Complex in Presque Isle served as host for the Class C and D state soccer championships. Aside from skiing, it was the first time a state championship event had been hosted in Aroostook County.
4. Washburn Girls Basketball Becomes First Program to Five-peat
In 2014, the Washburn girls basketball team joined Lawrence, Gorham, and Westbrook, capturing their fourth consecutive state championship. In taking home the 2015 gold ball, the Beavers stood all alone, winning their fifth straight state title.
While the previous four state title games appeared to be merely a coronation with resounding margins of victory, Washburn had to battle to the end to defeat a stubborn Rangeley squad. MacKenzie Worcester paced the Beavers with 37 points in their 60-54 win over the Lakers.
3. MPBN Ends Long-standing Tournament Run
Many of us who are middle aged or younger and have lived in northern and eastern Maine most of our lives got our first glimpse of small school tourney basketball courtesy of MPBN. Beginning with the Eastern Maine B-C-D semi-finals, finals, and state finals in 1979, the network expanded their coverage statewide in the 90’s. They eventually would add class A coverage when WABI-TV ended their relationship with the large school tournament in 2002.
MPBN will still be carrying all state championship games, however it was their coverage during the traditional school vacation week they were probably most known for. They will certainly be missed.
2. High School Basketball Moves to Five Classes
With the state’s changing demographics, the membership of the Maine Principals’ Association voted to add an additional class for the 2015-16 season. Fans, self included, are still getting used to sorting out which schools are in which class.
And the top Maine youth or high school sports story for 2015 is……
1. Zak Mills Overcomes Cancer and Returns to Playing Field
If you have followed the news over the past year, you are probably familiar with Zak’s story. Zak, eleven at the time of his diagnosis in late January, spent much of 2015 in hospitals undergoing treatment. Zak had a goal throughout his ordeal to return to the soccer field in the fall, where he plays for Penquis Valley Middle School in Milo. Zak, whose father Jason is the boys varsity basketball coach at Penquis Valley High School, accomplished just that as he joined his teammates on the pitch in October. He was able to celebrate the end of his journey with his parents in Durham, North Carolina. Courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation, he watched his beloved Duke Blue Devils, on dad’s birthday no less. He was able to join the post game press conference, asking a question to Mike Krzyzewski, and getting his picture taken with the legendary coach.
Few have experienced the highs and lows of life in the past year as Zak and his family. The story doesn’t end there. While it has been Zak and the entire Mills family who have endured, the narrative is as much about the community that has supported them along the way. It was about a packed Penquis Valley High School gym in March with coaches from all over eastern Maine taking to the hardwood. Over five thousand dollars was raised on this night to help offset some of the Mills’ expenses. While coaches are competitive with each other during the season, there exists a bond within the coaching community. It was about members of the community coming together this night, supporting one of their own.
It was about a group of friends coming together this August for a fun day of miniature golf, with all proceeds going to this wonderful family. It was through our mutual love of sports that we became acquainted.
Cancer has touched the lives of many throughout our sports world in 2015. I think of a recent story presented by WABI-TV’s Eric Gullickson on Hodgdon High School’s Addie Woods, who is dealing with her own battle. Their community will come to her aid just as the Penquis community has rallied behind Zak. Our John Bapst boys basketball team has been affected by cancer as one of our own, Jonathan Bowman, is fighting his own fight. The Crusader boys take to the floor each night honoring Bowman with their warm-up shirts “We Fight Together”.
I think of long time youth sports volunteer Clark Cole, who was recently diagnosed, as well Don Finley, who succumbed to cancer at too young an age. Finley was a longtime fixture in Skowhegan, who served as baseball coach for many years and was the athletic director upon his passing.
While we get wrapped up in the many contests and sometimes get carried away with the results, let’s not forget what makes high school and youth sports in our state great. It’s about how athletics can bring our communities together for the greater good. In difficult times it is our sense of community that can help in the healing process.
From The Press Box, best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous new year!