As teams across the state take to the hardwood this weekend for the first countable high school basketball games of the season, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. Yes, I’m excited for the opening tip of the season but things feel different. Things have felt different for the past several seasons. Maybe it’s not really sadness I’m feeling but rather an earnest longing of a past that will never be again.
I enjoy baseball in the spring and football in the fall. Somehow I don’t get these feelings prior to those seasons. Basketball is different. Basketball has a richness to its history in our state no other sport can match. Yes there are pockets where hockey or football is king but statewide every hamlet has a high school basketball team.
As I’m apt to do prior to the start of the upcoming high school basketball season, I’ll watch old videos of past contests. The other night I relieved Jason Leighton’s half court bomb, which led Brewer to a double overtime thriller over Mount Blue. It’s hard to believe this will mark twenty-two years since that unforgettable moment. I saw clips of games from the 1980’s with crowds filling up the old Bangor Auditorium. The memories flowed. How I miss those days, minus the short shorts.
Before you dismiss me as someone who simply can’t adapt to change, stay with me for just a moment longer. Change does not always equate progress. While much of the changes which have occurred in high school basketball are a result of demographic shifts, I still can’t help but recall fondly what was.
How I miss the days when the class A tournament would be held after the smaller schools concluded their tournament week. I loved the eight game quarterfinal Saturday. I would sit in the corner of the Bangor Auditorium all day, wall to wall basketball. Teams such as Stearns, Presque Isle, Old Town, Waterville, Caribou, would play in the Mecca’s hallowed halls in the Class A tournament.
I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside a number of media personalities throughout my nearly three decade involvement in the tournament. The best times were sitting in the WABI corner alongside George Hale. How I miss hearing him do games. The banter between games was as entertaining as the games themselves.
Speaking of the auditorium, while I enjoy the new Cross Insurance Center, there was just something about the sound of the old barn during tourney time. The new building was certainly needed and is a wonderful place to watch a basketball game. As someone who has attended games in the auditorium for years, I just haven’t gotten used to the sound of the new place yet.
I miss the way student sections were allowed to be well, kids. People weren’t so sensitive. Anything would go as long as it wasn’t personal or vulgar. Students actually attended the games, cheered loudly, and didn’t need to text each other all night.
I miss the time when good teams had to battle it out to contend for a tournament spot. There were big regular season games down the stretch in which a halfway decent team may not make it if they didn’t win. That was o.k. The regular season wasn’t merely an exercise of weeding out the bottom teams and to seed the remaining 2/3rds. There was no internet in those days. Fans across Eastern Maine eagerly awaited Tim Throckmorton’s announcement of the field on the Sunday following the regular season. Making the tournament was a major accomplishment worth celebrating.
Players got ready for the season on their own or by playing pick-up games with their teammates. There were no fall leagues organized by adults. Funny how the level of play was generally better then too. When the season ended there was a finality to it as well. There was no off-season competition to look forward to. You got ready for the next season the way you prepared for the just completed one.
I miss those times when generations played for the same school. Everyone knew each other and there were real community ties. Many of today’s players will go off to school, rarely to be seen of again. Who can blame them as better opportunities often blossom elsewhere?
Gone are the days when grandma or grandpa can sit at home during tournament week, flip on the T.V. and catch live action. Yes, the video streaming services do a great job but having T.V. coverage also lends a big-time element to the proceedings.
Best of luck to all those who will be competing in the upcoming season. It’s a time of year I enjoy greatly, even though part of me misses a time when basketball was truly king in our state.