This space is typically devoted to group fitness, exercise, and the happenings of BodyPump, but today, the ball is bouncing in another direction.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you might know that this winter’s high school basketball tournament will have a historic significance in the context that it’s the last year Maine’s top hoopsters will take charges, hit jump shots and hoist gold balls at the Bangor Auditorium.
The Old Barn on Dutton Street – sorry, the term “Mecca” is as overused as any Taylor Swift or Katy Perry song – is set to close its doors after the final buzzer sounds on this season’s tournament. The Auditorium will be demolished this spring with the sparkling new Cross Insurance Center slated to open this fall.
While the Auditorium has longstanding memories for myself as a fan and a journalist, it is, to put it bluntly, dilapidated, outdated and past its prime. It’s time for it to go. The memories, however, will never fade.
It’s the place where entire communities migrate to every February. It’s a rite of passage for folks in towns such as Presque Isle, Jonesport, Washburn, Deer Isle. If any of these teams are playing in regional or state championships, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in town. You see old friends you haven’t seen since your last high school reunion. Complete strangers become best friends. Schools steal their peers’ student-section chants.
When I was a sportswriter for this newspaper, those 2 weeks in late February were always marked on my calendar. Not just because I’d be watching basketball and bringing home a steady paycheck for it, but with each game comes a memory.
Obviously, I grew up around sportswriting, having gone to many games as a lad while my father sat at the press table, observing games with a keen eye. In between flirting with girls in the stands and weaseling money for peanut butter cups from dad, I witnessed some memorable hoop moments, such as Cindy Blodgett leading Lawrence to four straight gold balls, Jason Leighton’s half-court heave for Brewer in 1995 (sorry Caribou fans, I’m not old enough to remember Mike Thurston’s buzzer-beater), and Joe Campbell’s once-in-a-lifetime flip in 2001.
Unfortunately, during my days at Brewer High, we didn’t make too many Auditorium memories, save for getting pummeled by Ralph Mims and Brunswick in a semifinal in 2003 and Heather Ernest and Mt. Blue knocking our girls out of the tourney in 2000. But a few years later, my own niche would be carved out.
Tourney week serves as a purpose for all of us in the sportswriting world, whether it be covering the games, carving out outstanding stories, or just sneaking out of the Daily Planet for a couple hours to knock back a Coke and munch on a couple hot dogs. For me, it served all those purposes and then some. Of course, there were some outstanding teams I had the honor to cover, including the “Cardiac Calais” girls team from 2010, the dominant Waterville girls team from 2009, the 2010 Fort Fairfield girls, who were generous enough to send me an autographed picture soon after they brought the gold ball back to the County, and the 2011 Hampden Academy girls.
The memories of the Bangor Auditorium will last a lifetime. Parise Rossignol, Garet Beal and Mitchell Worcester, among others, will have plenty of stories to tell their grandchildren in 50 years. They’ll be playing in the final games in a building in which their relatives had their own shining moments. What memories will this year’s tourney bring? We won’t know until the ball is tipped on Friday afternoon. But I’m sure there will be a few, “The last one out, turn out the lights” on the balcony railings when the final game at the old barn, the Class C boys state championship, is played.
See you at the Auditorium. You’ll find me in my usual spot at center-court, maybe wtih a hot dog and a Coke. Cheers to the memories, and prospective new beginnings at the new arena.