I apologize. For those of you who have come to this spot each week looking for a celebration of all that is good and praiseworthy in the area of high school athletics, I am sorry. Unfortunately, this is not going to be one of those columns. When I started writing this column over a year ago, I vowed to be above the fray and celebrate all that is good. Having said that, I also knew that because this space would generally reflect a positive tone, when something ugly needed to be addressed, readers might take greater notice. This, my loyal readers, is one of those times.
You see, I am not one to generally feign outrage. There are times to stand up and be counted but I’m not one to get my boxers waded up in a bunch over every little perceived injustice. I thought I knew what this week’s column would be about. I would address some of the big games of the past week. Old Town and Washburn boys falling from the ranks of the unbeaten to the hands of Hermon and Fort Fairfield, respectfully. The MDI girls picked up a resounding victory over Presque Isle.
This all changed on Saturday night around ten o’clock when checking out Facebook. Ah Facebook, the bane of our mortal existence. It’s a place where news and gossip can spread like wildfire. Many of my friends have some sort of affiliation with sports. After all, people generally choose friends based on interests they have in common. I noticed a long conversation with friends regarding sportsmanship at a Friday night high school basketball game.
Most discussions complaining about sportsmanship I take with a grain of salt. Much of the complaining I attribute to “sour grapes” and I just sort of let it go. Then I saw videos, several of them, and my attitude changed. You see, the camera doesn’t lie. I then became conflicted. Would I continue with my positive tone this week or would I write knowing I would make many uneasy and defensive? Two thoughts came to my mind: Evil triumphs if good men do nothing, and the pen, or in this case the keyboard, is mightier than the sword.
For full disclosure, I had coached basketball at the sub-varsity level for a number of years. Regretfully, my teams over the years were far from perfect. Sometimes the players would get a bit chippy when situations didn’t go their way. What transpired in the Houlton-Mattanawcook boys basketball game in Lincoln Friday night went well beyond chippy. I have been following high school basketball in Maine for thirty years and can never remember seeing anything as vile as what I saw in the videos I watched.
Both teams entered Friday night’s contest on opposite ends of the competitive spectrum. Houlton, the defending state champions, entered the game near the top of the standings while MA began the night with only one win on the season. The Shiretowners have returned a number of key players from that team, most notably senior, all-everything player Kyle Bouchard. The Shires rolled on the night to an 84-41 victory, but the result was almost secondary.
Sometimes in the game of basketball, plays, sometimes ugly, can look worse than they are. If it was just one isolated play that looked bad, o.k., but these several videos are just damning. It was clear from the get go a number of Mattanawcook players were intentionally trying to take Bouchard out of the game. One clip has an MA player engaging Bouchard in a headlock and taking him to the floor going after a loose ball. Another has Kyle being taken to the floor well after the whistle on a cheap shot to the midsection. The most despicable play occurred on a breakaway lay-up when Bouchard was dragged down from behind in a choke hold, slamming Kyle to the floor.
I can see the comments now from some. You are taking the clips out of context, they may say. Or Houlton did…fill in the blank, somehow excusing their own behavior. Any objective person watching these videos can only come to one conclusion: Kyle Bouchard was the target of thuggery. There is no other way this can be explained. There is no place in athletics for this type of boorish behavior. To make matters worse, you could see in the stands many applauding these reprehensible plays as well as teammates.
So where do the Lynx go from here? First, a complete investigation must be done regarding Friday night’s actions. What role did the coach play in all of this? If it is found, and this is pure conjecture on my part, he encouraged this type of behavior, he must be terminated, not at the end of the season but immediately. There was one player ejected in the contest, he must sit out the next contest per MPA rules. Other suspensions could be handed down based on what transpired Friday night.
Lincoln has a great tradition of supporting their teams in a positive way. This should in no way be construed as a collective black eye on their community. The vast majority of those who attend and support their clubs are good, decent people.
High school athletics have the power to impart great life lessons to our young people. Unfortunately, there were none taught or nothing learned in Lincoln Friday night.