This Friday night will mark my thirty-second year attending high school basketball tournament games. Over that time I’ve witnessed well over a thousand contests. Of course there are games that I’ll relive for a lifetime. I witnessed the Lawrence boys’ major upset in 1986 over Waterville when freshman Troy Scott hit the shot to send the game into overtime. I’ll never forget the Bangor-South Portland five overtime thriller for the 1992 state championship or Joe Campbell’s reverse lay-up at the buzzer off an errant Zak Ray three-point shot. Campbell’s heroics capped off an improbable state final victory over mighty Deering. To this day the southern Maine Rams probably is the best collection of talent I’ve seen on one team.
The vast majority of games have long since escaped the cobwebs of my mind. What I won’t forget are many of the aspects which make tourney time in Maine the event it truly has become. Sure, you can stay home and follow the games online. You may see the games but won’t get the true essence of what the tournament really has become.
I’ve attended games in numerous capacities over the years, first as a fan then as a student manager at Bangor High School. Later on, I had the opportunity to serve as a statistician for a number of media outlets and do a little broadcasting. I’ve been on the bench as an assistant coach for the John Bapst boys for a few tournament runs. This year if the John Bapst girls are able to win their prelim game on Tuesday night, I’ll be with them keeping the scorebook for as long as they play. For the rest of the games, you’ll find me in section 115 of the Cross Center, just enjoying basketball and friendship.
When I first set foot in the Bangor Auditorium for my first tourney experience, the one thing that struck me was the roar of the crowd. For those new to the area, who have only experienced the event at the Cross Insurance Center, the old barn had a sound that can’t be replicated. The roar created such a contrast to the eerie silence when the building emptied out between sessions.
To this day, I still get goosebumps every time the MDI teams come out the overture of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Those who have witnessed this know what I’m talking about. So many years later and I look forward to this grand tradition every year.
Tourney week was never complete without a lunchtime visit to Miller’s Restaurant just blocks from the auditorium. For just over $5, fans could gorge themselves on just about anything imaginable from their seemingly endless buffet. It was THE place to meet fellow tourney fans.
I have so many great memories from the tournament over the years. There are so many in the media who do a tremendous job covering the games every year. The heyday for me would have to be the ten years I spent in the WABI corner. Fans who frequented the Bangor Auditorium all know where I’m talking about. We were in the lower level of the chair back section, in the corner above the visiting team’s bench. What a view to watch the entire spectacle play out and what a diverse group to spend a week or more with.
Is there anyone more synonymous with tournament basketball than George Hale? George was clearly the ring leader of the group. To me George Hale captured the true spirit of tourney time better than anyone. In addition to Hale, I always treasured and still come away feeling positive anytime I talk to his longtime broadcast partner and friend, Al Hackett. Hackett had such an easy way about him, never criticized or second-guessed. Many color commentators could learn from his style.
People such as Lauree Gott, Bob Cimbollek, Willie Gavett, Tom Winston, Mike Hale, Charlie Farley, and Don Shields, affectionately known as “Bingo” for his three-point calls created some lively discussion. If you ever sat in the vicinity of the WABI corner during tourney week, you soon realize some of the best action came off air. We’ll leave it at that.
Most of all I look forward to this time of year when basketball is all that matters for a week or more. I look forward to reacquainting myself with those who I haven’t seen since a year ago. Tourney time is such a special time of year. The games generally aren’t too bad either.