On Sept. 19, something happened at the Messalonskee High School varsity football practice.
Within hours, Wes Littlefield was suspended from his job as Messalosnkee’s head football coach and, hours later, resigned. On Sept. 21, Littlefield described what happened at Wednesday’s practice as “a little incident with a kid that was blown out of proportion.”
In the following week, Littlefield was summoned on a misdemeanor charge of assault. In late November, then-acting District Attorney Alan Kelley decided not to prosecute Littlefield, citing a lack of evidence.
The Littlefield case drew national attention and sparked ongoing debate and discussion as to what is acceptable behavior for a coach at practice. For those reasons, the Wes Littlefield accusation, resignation and subsequent lack of charges by the district attorney is the Morning Sentinel’s top sports story of 2012.
Supporters of Littlefield, including his attorney, Jason Jabar, said Littlefield did nothing wrong, that Littlefield’s actions were in line with coaching methods used for decades.
“If the prosecution would have gone forward, it would have sent a scary message,” Jabar said.
Both sides agree that Littlefield’s hand came into contact with a player’s helmet. Walter McKee, the attorney for the player’s family, said he believes Littlefield should not be allowed to coach again. McKee said Littlefield struck the player’s helmet “with huge force,” strong enough to unsnap buckles on the helmet.
“Setting aside whether the actions here were criminal, there is no coach — I repeat no coach — who can honestly say that they approve of the behavior here,” McKee said.
In the short term, the sudden departure of their coach and ensuing controversy did nothing to slow down the Eagles. Following Littlefield’s resignation, Messalonskee won back-to-back games by a combined score of 79-0. But the Eagles won just one of their final five games, and lost to rival Lawrence in the Pine Tree Conference Class A semifinals, 27-0.
Littlefield said he hopes to coach again. Whether this incident prohibits that or not remains to be seen.
2. Skowhegan field hockey totally dominant
The Skowhegan field hockey team entered the fall of 2012 with 10 Class A state championships over the past 11 years. They were clearly the most dominant high school sports team in Maine.
Then they went out and topped that.
Whatever superlative you want to use, it fits, because the Indians had a truly amazing season. Sure, several teams in Eastern A were in rebuilding mode, but what Skowhegan did was unprecedented in Class A.
The Indians scored 139 goals in countable games, breaking the previous record (for all classes) by 23. They allowed just two, both to Messalonskee’s Kristy Bernatchez, who will play for the University of North Carolina next fall.
In Anne-Marie Provencal, Skowhegan had one of the best goalies in the state. But hardly anybody knew this, because Provencal, even though she played every game, saw only about 20 shots all season.
Halfway through the season, Skowhegan had outscored its opponents, 50-0. The Indians won their next four games by a combined score of 48-0. In their first two playoff games, they scored 25 goals and allowed zero, on zero shots.
Skowhegan’s biggest test came in the Eastern A final, when the Indians pulled out a 2-1 victory over Messalonskee. That put Skowhegan in the state final against Scarborough, and it was something of a dream matchup. While Skowhegan was scoring at a record-setting pace, Scarborough had not allowed a goal in 18 games, and was attempting to become only the second team in United States high school field hockey history to go through an entire season without allowing a goal.
The Indians won the state final, 3-0, but that score didn’t show how much they controlled the game. They had 25 shots and 13 penalty corners, compared to zero of each for Scarborough. The 3-0 final score meant that Skowhegan had allowed fewer goals than a team that had a shutout in every game but one.
Including the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game, forward Makaela Michonski finished with 48 goals and 29 assists in 19 games. Midfielder Sarah Finnemore added 32 goals and 27 assists. Finnemore, who will play for Harvard in the fall, was also named to the 2012 Harrow Sports/National Field Hockey Coaches Association first-team All-American Team.
In December, Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty was announced as one of the newest inductees into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. Doughty has a career record of 438-80-17.
3. Mt. Blue football wins Class B title
As far as the Mt. Blue High School football team was concerned, the 2012 season began on a Friday night in November 2011, when the Cougars lost the Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game to Leavitt, 22-21, in double overtime.
Every time the Cougars faced adversity in 2012, they thought back to the pain of losing that game. That motivation was enough to carry Mt. Blue to an undefeated season and the Class B state title. It was Mt. Blue’s first football title since 1980.
The Cougars rolled through the regular season with an average margin of victory of 24 points. Mt. Blue survived a tough game against a pesky Mt. Desert Island in the first round of the conference playoffs, before defeating Gardiner and Waterville to win the PTC B crown.
Mt. Blue closed the season with a dramatic 44-42 win over Marshwood in the state championship game. It was the highest scoring state championship game in state history.
Quarterback Jordan Whitney was selected conference offensive player of the year, while linebacker Bradley Jackson was named conference defensive player of the year.
4. Matt McClintock’s huge year
It would be tough for a track athlete to have a better season than Madison senior Matt McClintock did this spring. After a brilliant regular season, he set meet records at the Mountain Valley Conference Championships in both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs.
At the Class C state championship in Augusta, he set a record of 4 minutes, 16.40 seconds in the 1,600. That was still his second-best race of the day, as he also broke — by more than 13 seconds — the state record in the 3,200. Maranacook’s Scott Roberts held the record of 9:30.0 since 1986, but McClintock dashed out and came home in 9:16.92.
At the New England championship in Saco, McClintock won the 3,200 again, finishing in 9:06.24 to win by 11 seconds. That was one day after he graduated from Madison as the school’s valedictorian.
At Purdue University, the Athens native finished eighth at the Big Ten Conference cross country championship meet and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. At the NCAA regionals, running the 10-kilometer distance competitively for the first time, McClintock again placed eighth, and was 103rd at the NCAA championships.
5. Bethanie Brown wins 2 NE titles in track, excels in cross country
Of course, it would also be tough for a cross country and track and field athlete to have a better year than Waterville senior Bethanie Brown did in 2012. Brown won the New England outdoor title in both the 1,600 and the 3,200. In the two-mile at the New Balance National High School Track and Field (indoor) Championships, she finished fourth with a time of 10 minutes, 29 seconds.
Brown also became the first Maine schoolgirl to break 5 minutes in the mile during the indoor season. Her time of 10:29 is also a state record in the two-mile, and she was the anchor on Waterville’s 1,600-meter relay team that set the indoor state record. Brown also set state outdoor records in 2012 in the 1,600 (4:50) and the 5,000 (17:11).
Along the way, Brown realized she also might be good at cross country. As a junior in 2011, she placed second in the state in Class B. At the 2012 Class B cross country state championships, her winning time was 17:56. That not only won her race by over a minute, it was also by far the best time of the day. Lawrence’s Erzsebet Nagy won the Class A title in 18:50.
Brown will run for the University of Connecticut beginning this fall.
6. Messalonskee baseball wins Class A title
Ten games into the 2012 season, the Messalonskee baseball team was 5-5. After a frank discussion between the coaches and the players, the Eagles never lost again, winning 10 games in a row and winning the Class A state championship.
It was Messalonskee’s first baseball state championship since winning the Class B title in 1973. The keys to the Eagles’ run were pitching, defense and clutch hitting. In a 6-3 victory over Scarborough in the state championship game at St. Joseph’s College, the Eagles capitalized on seven errors, scoring no earned runs in the win.
In the Eastern A championship game, Messalonskee avenged a lopsided regular-season loss to Lewiston, beating the Blue Devils 13-2.
Messalonskee will be a contender again in 2013. The Eagles lost just three players to graduation and return a strong pitching staff.
Shortstop Sam Dexter led the Eagles, hitting .475 with 24 runs and a .568 on-base percentage. Dexter was a finalist for the Dr. John Winkin Award, given annually to the top high school baseball player in the state.
7. Jim Bessey retires
After 37 years as the head boys basketball coach at Mt. Blue, Jim Bessey retired in March. Bessey earned 479 wins in a career that also saw him coach at Madison Area Memorial High School.
“I haven’t coached just to win games. It’s about building relationships, committing to something,” Bessey said. “Stuff that you can carry through life.”
Bessey’s last team was one of his best. The Cougars advanced to the Eastern Maine Class A final in 2012, and senior Cam Sennick was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Basketball award.
Under Bessey, the Cougars won the Eastern Maine Class A title in 1997.
Bessey’s influence is felt throughout Maine high school basketball. Many of his former players, including Jeff Hart (Camden Hills), Mike Adams (Edward Little) and Gavin Kane (Dirigo and Spruce Mountain) have become successful high school basketball coaches.
8. Seth Sweet wins Maine Am
Over two days at Sunday River Golf Club, Seth Sweet was sizzling. On the first day of the three-day tournament, Sweet carded a 2-under 70, making him the only golfer below par. He shot another 70 on the second day.
Sweet, who was still a couple weeks short of his 18th birthday at the time, ended up shooting a 79 on the final day, but that was enough for him to win the Maine Amateur by three strokes over Ricky Jones and J.J. Harris.
Sweet, who graduated from Madison Area Memorial High School in the spring, spent this fall as a freshman golfer at Old Dominion University. He played in the top five in one event, shooting a 240 over three rounds.
9. Football 4-class system on verge of passing
After attempts to add a fourth class to Maine high school football sputtered in recent years, the idea finally took hold in 2012. Throughout the year, the Maine Principals’ Association football committee crafted a proposal to bring to membership, and in November, a final version of a four-class proposal was created.
The committee’s proposal calls for two, nine team divisions in Classes A, B, and C. Class D, the smallest schools, will have two divisions of 11 teams each.
If this proposal passes when brought to a vote in late March, high school football in Maine will see some changes. Each division will play crossover games to fill out a nine-game schedule. Four Class A schools, Cheverus, Deering, Portland and Windham, will move from West to East to balance the leagues. Longtime Eastern Class A power Lawrence will drop to Class B, due to declining enrollment.
10. Colby’s Dom Kone wins two national sprinting titles
In March, Colby College junior Dom Kone shot past Jonathan Smith of Guilford down the stretch to win the Division III national title in the 60-meter dash.
Barely two months later, Kone was again a national champion, this time at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He dominated the 100, winning in 10.24 seconds. Sean Bernstein of Oneonta was second, with a time of 10.44 seconds. The gap between Kone and Bernstein was larger than the gap between Bernstein and the ninth-place finisher.
Kone’s time was just off the NCAA Division III record of 10.18, set by Mount Union’s Derrick Rippy in 1983.
Other top stories of 2012: Nokomis eliminates winter and spring sub-varsity sports because of a budget shortfall, then reinstates them after community members start a fundraising effort… The Waterville Senior High School girls track and field team continues to dominate. The Purple Panthers won their sixth consecutive outdoor state title and fourth indoor championship in six years… Maine Central Institute cuts its successful postgraduate basketball program… The Forest Hills boys basketball teams wins its first regional title… The Lawrence High School football team goes undefeated in the regular season for the sixth time in seven years, but loses to Thornton Academy in the Class A state championship game… The Winslow High School football teams wins its first regional title since 2006, but loses to Foxcroft Academy in the Class C state championship game… Carabbassett Valley’s Seth Wescott suffers a season-ending injury in January. Wescott had to have the muscle reattached to his right humerus following a collision in a World Cup boardcross race in Switzerland…The Messalonskee High School ice hockey teams wins its first regional title.