The Valley High School boys basketball team sees history every day. The Cavaliers see the six championship banners hanging from the ceiling above their court. They see the banner celebrating the state record 101 consecutive wins. They see the collection of six gold balls in the trophy case. And they see their coach, Luke Hartwell, and know he was an instrumental part of building their school’s basketball legacy.
“I said, it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. If you want to be a Valley team that’s really remembered, you win a state championship,” said Hartwell, who as a Cavalier was a member of four of the school’s state record six consecutive state championship teams from 1998 to 2003. “I tell these boys those four years are a very special part of my life.”
Hartwell is among a handful of high school basketball coaches in central Maine who won a state championship as a player and is now coaching a team in the tournament. Hartwell’s Cavaliers will open tourney play on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. against North Yarmouth Academy at the Augusta Civic Center.
Nokomis girls coach Michelle Paradis played on the school’s Class A state champion team in 2001. She will coach the Warriors, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern B tournament, at 9:05 a.m. Saturday against Ellsworth at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center. Rangeley girls coach Heidi Deery won a state title as a Laker in 1984. Deery and Lakers open Western Class D tournament play on Monday at 11:30 a.m. against Valley.
Longtime Brunswick boys basketball coach Todd Hanson won the Class A championship as a Waterville player in 1985. His Dragons play rival Mt. Ararat in the Eastern Class A quarterfinals on Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.
“That was almost 30 years ago, but it’s still one of my favorite memories,” Hanson said. “It really brought the community together. It seemed like the whole city of Waterville was behind us.”
Both the Waterville girls and boys teams won the Eastern Class A title that season (the girls lost the state game to Portland, 56-49), and Hanson remembers Waterville’s side of the Bangor Auditorium draped in purple, from the courtside bleachers to the cheap seats at the top of the building.
Like Hanson, Paradis’ Nokomis team won the Class A state title at the Bangor Auditorium. Once the Warriors’ 53-43 win over McAuley was secure, Nokomis fans stormed the court and celebrated with the team.
“The crowd. That’s all I can say,” Paradis said.
Hanson said his team doesn’t ask about his state title often. For one, it was at a different school. The Dragons don’t walk past a trophy case displaying that gold ball every day. For another, it was 29 years ago, well before any of them were born.
“That was 29 years ago. I think to 1985, my senior year, 1956 was foreign to me,” Hanson said. “I have the game on tape. I tell them it’s there for the watching, if they want to see their coach in short shorts and a little thinner.”
At Nokomis, Paradis’ championship team is a regular conversation topic.
“We kind of talk about it,” Paradis said. “Well, they joke about it. They say â€˜Yeah Coach, you won the only gold ball out there.’”
Paradis said she tries to use her championship experience as motivation for her team. The Warriors won Eastern Class B regional titles in 2010 and 2011, but in the last two seasons, have had their season end in the regional finals against an undefeated Presque Isle team. This season, Presque Isle and Nokomis each enter the Eastern Class B tournament undefeated and 18-0.
“We always played Cony in the Eastern Maine game, and they always play Presque Isle. I try to instill the confidence in them that they can beat this team,” Paradis said. “It’s getting them to recognize how much hard work it takes to get there.”
For Hanson, the biggest lesson he can give his team from his experience is to take one game at a time.
“You can’t get too far ahead of yourself. It’s single elimination. One loss and the dream is over,” Hanson said.
That said, Hanson said each team has different goals. Brunswick’s 2002 squad featured stars Dan Hammond and Ralph Mims and won the Class A state title with an 83-61 rout of Deering in the championship game. That team spent a little time each practice preparing for a possible showdown with Deering as it went through the Eastern Maine tournament. In other seasons, Hanson’s teams may have had the goal to just make the tournament and play well on the big stage.
“You prepare differently each season,” Hanson said.
Hartwell’s Valley players, like those who play for Paradis, are too young to have strong memories of watching their coach play, if they saw him play at all. Seniors on this year’s Valley team were 5 or 6 when Hartwell’s team beat Bangor Christian for the state title in 2002, his senior season.
“These boys didn’t see me play in person. They just hear the stories,” Hartwell said. “I don’t bring it up unless they ask, but I always stress, it was our team. It wasn’t one or two individuals, it was our team. It’s not about individual stats.”
In the Newport area, if you have basic cable, you can watch Warrior Broadcasting, which presents Nokomis athletics and events. Sometimes the channel airs classic Nokomis games, Paradis said, games her basketball team played in its championship run.
“People will come up to me at the store and say, â€˜I just watched one of your games,’” Paradis said. “It makes me laugh.”