Everybody knew this day was coming, sooner rather than later, but it still came as a surprise to many. Forty years has a way of going by too quickly.

In mid-March, after 40 years and 637 wins, Dick Whitmore retired as head coach of the Colby College men’s basketball team. Whitmore’s retirement is the Morning Sentinel’s top sports story of 2011.

“It’s time,” Whitmore said on the day he announced his retirement, sitting alonside the basketball court that now bears his name and the name of John “Swisher” Mitchell, Whitmore’s longtime assistant coach. “All the factors that go into it tell me it’s time.”

Whitmore will be remembered as one of the most successfull college basketball coaches of all time. The Mules enjoyed 31 winning seasons under Whitmore, and reached the postseason 27 times. But Whitmore will be remembered more for the relationships he forged with his players over four decades.

“One of the fondest memories I have is the first alumni game I saw,” said Damien Strahorn, who played for Whitmore and in May was named his successor. “I came to the gym early and walked in and there must have been 65 former players there. It was truly the most eye-opening experience in terms of the sense of impact he had on his former players…. To see them all come back and to see the smile on his face and to know how special a day it was.”

Whitmore’s influence reached beyond Colby, in the thousands of basketball players he coached at the Pine Tree Basketball Camp, the annual summer camp run by Whitmore and University of Maine at Farmington coach Dick Meader.

“I don’t know of anyone who has had a bigger impact on basketball in Maine,” Meader said.

Whitmore and Mitchell were inducted to the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2002.

2. Waterville baseball wins state title.

In 2010, the Waterville Senior High School baseball team won its first state championship. In 2011, the Purple Panthers did it again, beating Greely 1-0 in the Class B state championship game at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“This is pretty exciting stuff for us,” Waterville coach Don Sawyer said after his team defeated the Rangers to win the state crown. “To get back here and do it again, it’s incredible.”

The Purple Panthers ended the season with a 12-game win streak.

The pitching tandem of Tim Locke and Kyle Bishop was the most dominant in the state. The two seniors combined for a 15-0 record and a 0.44 earned run average. In 95 innings, Bishop and Locke struck out 123 hitters, and the duo was featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd.

Against Greely in the state final, Locke was dominant, striking out eight while allowing just three hits.

Bishop, who started all 80 games of his high school career, was a finalist for the John Winkin Award, given each year to the topsenior high school baseball player in the state.

3. Skowhegan field hockey wins 10th state title in 11 seasons.

It was another season filled with team and individual honors for Skowhegan field hockey. The Indians won their second consecutive state title, and outscored their opponents, 113-10. Those numbers were 18 to three in the playoffs, including a 5-0 victory over Marshwood in a state title game played in a snowstorm.

Skowhegan put five players on the all-state team: Nicole Sevey, Jessica Skillings, Mikayla Fitzmaurice, Makaela Michonski, and Sarah Finnemore. Sevey and Skillings were two of the four finalists for the Miss Maine Field Hockey Award, given annually to the top senior player in the state. Sevey was announced as the winner at the Maine Field Hockey Association banquet in December.

Sevey and Skillings will play field hockey at the University of Maine next season, while Fitzmaurice will play at Bryant. Finnemore was among the final 20 players for the National Junior Indoor team.

In the middle of this season, coach Paula Doughty, who has 420 career wins, underwent a procedure whereby her stem cells were harvested and then donated to a man who has acute leukemia. Doughty says she was told the man’s prognosis went from terminal to an 80 percent chance of survival because of the transplant.

Doughty was also honored as the Northeast Region Coach of the Year by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association.

4. Area high school football teams shuffle classes.

When a plan to add a fourth class to Maine’s high school football landscape was shelved in late 2010, it set off movement not seen in high school football in some time. A number of teams changed classes. Some elected to move down due to declining enrollment, and some were forced to climb up a class because of combined enrollments of shared teams, or merged schools.

Three central Maine teams switched class this fall.

Mt. Blue went from the Pine Tree Conference Class A to the PTC B, where the Cougars renewed rivalries with old foes Gardiner and Waterville. Mt. Blue went 9-2 in its first year in Class B. Both losses were to conference champion Leavitt, including a 22-21 loss in the PTC B championship game.

Madison/Carrabec’s combined enrollment pushed the Bulldogs from the Campbell Conference Class C to the PTC B. The Bulldogs went 2-6 in their first season in the new league.

Winslow, which had struggled in its last few season in Class B, regained its winning ways in the Campbell Conference Class C. The Black Raiders went 6-3.

5. Matt McClintock finishes 15th at Foot Locker Nationals.

This was the year Madison’s Matt McClintock established himself as one of the best runners in Maine history.

McClintock not only won the Class C state cross country race for the third consecutive year, his time was faster than any runner in any class for the second straight fall. McClintock’s winning time was 15 minutes, 52.92 seconds. In the three boys state championship raced combined, only nine runners finished the course in under 17 minutes. McClintock was the only one under 16 minutes, beating the Class B winning time by 21 seconds and the Class A champion by nearly 45 seconds.

With his sixth-place finish at the Foot Locker New England Regionals, McClintock became only the sixth Maine boys runner to qualify for the nationals since the event began in 1979. On Dec. 10 in San Diego, McClintock finished 15th to take a spot on the All-American third team.

McClintock and Kennebunk’s Abby Leonardi, who was fourth in the girls race, were the first Maine runners to earn All-American honors since Ben True in 2003.

6. University of Maine fires Cindy Blodgett

There’s no doubt Benton native Cindy Blodgett is the best player in the history of Maine women’s basketball. Her extraordinary abilities on the court, however, did not translate to the bench.

In March, after four consecutive losing seasons, Blodgett was fired as head coach of the University of Maine women’s basketball team by new athletic director Steve Abbott.

“She was our greatest player. And she’s worked incredibly hard as a coach. Ultimately the decision was based on the fact that we have not been able to move the program forward,” Abbott said. “And we have to. This program is too important to the university, too important to our athletic department. We just had to make a change.”

With Blodgett as coach, Maine went 24-94, including a 4-25 mark in her final season.

A few days after she was fired, Blodgett held a defiant press conference in Bangor, saying she felt four years was not enough time to rebuild the Maine program.

“I’m disappointed. Anger doesn’t help. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have more leadership and more of a commitment from the administration,” Blodgett said. “I really believed if there was anyone who would stand by you as you build a program, it would be the place you wore the uniform.”

7. Lawrence High football wins Pine Tree Conference

No high school football team in the state has been as consistent a regular season winner as Lawrence over the last six years. Starting with the 2006 season, the Bulldogs are 47-1 in the regular season.

The Bulldogs haven’t enjoyed the same success in the playoffs in recent years. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 Lawrence was bounced from the Pine Tree Conference Class A postseason in either the first or second round.

That changed in 2011, when for the the first time since 2007, Lawrence won the PTC A title.

Lawrence capped an undefeated regular season with a 25-16 win over Messalonskee. The Bulldogs beat the Eagles again the next week, 28-13, in the conference semifinals.

Lawrence routed rival Bangor, 40-14, in the PTC A final, to advance to the state championship game for the first time since 2007. Lawrence’s strong season ended with a 49-7 loss to Cheverus in the Class A state championship game.

Halfback Shaun Carroll, Jr. was selected as a semifinalist for the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy.

8. Waterville wins boys and girls outdoor track championships.

In February, Waterville finished the girls indoor track season by winning the Class B state title for the third time in five years. The boys were the state runner-up.

Fast-forward to June, and both the boys and girls earned state titles.

For the Waterville girls, it was their fifth straight state title. The Purple Panthers scored 145.5 points, while second-place York had 63. Their domination was most evident in the 100-meter hurdles, when Waterville’s Olivia Thurston, Alex Jenson and Alexa Frame placed 1-2-3. Georgia Bolduc won the 100 in 12.38 seconds, to set a state record.

On the boys side, Isaiah Spofford posted victories in the 100 and 200, plus a second-place showing in the long jump. Jeff Hale took a win in the 3,200 — the next-to-last event of the day — to wrap up the victory for the Panthers.

9. Brenda Beckwith not rehired as coach at Messalonskee High School.

On March 1, Messalonskee lost to Hampden in the Eastern A girls basketball final. The Eagles finished 9-9 in the regular season, but defeated No. 1 Morse and No. 4 Cony in the tournament.

Less than three weeks after the Hampden game, Brenda Beckwith was informed she would not be returning as girls basketball or field hockey coach. Beckwith had a record of 70-33 in five seasons with the basketball team. Messalonskee’s field hockey team went 44-7 and played in three regional finals in three seasons with Beckwith as coach.

Three basketball players transferred to Messalonskee before the 2010-11 season, including star center Megan Pelletier. Beckwith denied recruiting players, and Pelletier also said in an interview that she was not recruited.

Messalonskee reached the Eastern A field hockey final again under first-year coach Katie Gorham and is off to a fine start this winter under new girls basketball coach Keith Derosby.

10. Winslow coach Scott Wood pleads guilty to unlawful sexual touching, sentenced to jail.

Scott Wood was a fixture in the classroom and on the sidelines at Winslow High School. He taught social science, and coached the girls soccer team to seven regional titles and one state championship in 13 seasons, compiling a 190-30-8 record overall. Wood had also coached the boys basketball team since 2002, winning a state title his first season and passing the 100-win mark on Feb. 8.

But in June, Wood was arrested for unlawful sexual touching of a girl under the age of 18. He pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced to serve six months in jail, followed by a year of administrative release during which he is to have no contact with a girl under 18 unless she is a relative and he has written permission. Wood also had to submit a written apology, as well as resign as a teacher at Winslow and give up his teaching certificate.

Other notable stories: Colby women’s basketball has another successful season and hires former Cony HIgh School and University of Maine standout Julie Veilleux as head coach. … Skowhegan’s Brandon Corson wins a state wrestling championship … Nokomis girls basketball wins the Eastern B title for the second straight season … Messalonskee softball and boys soccer each win Eastern A titles … Erskine graduate Josh Jones is drafted by the NBA’s Developmental League, then is traded to the Maine Red Claws, but is cut before playing a game … Winslow native Mike Dechaine represents Team USA at the Mosconi Cup billiards tournament … Madison’s Seth Sweet wins Class C individual golf title for second year in a row … Colby football coach Ed Mestieri resigns suddenly, shortly after the end of the season.