BANGOR — This wasn’t Hickory High School playing in Butler Fieldhouse, but Forest Hills’ 55-48 victory over Central Aroostook at the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday sure felt like a scene out of Hoosiers.

If every member from the tiny towns of Jackman and adjoining Moose River wasn’t in attendance then there were a lot of imposters wearing bright orange jerseys, screaming their lungs out for their beloved Tigers.

Together the towns total around 1,000 residents which is enough to supply 170 students to Forest Hills Consolidated School, 53 of whom are high school age. Of that number, nine play for the boys basketball team and of those, six play regularly. The connection between this group and their fans feels like no other and the Tigers fed off the enthusiasm.

“That’s all I did,” sophomore Matt Turner said. “I love the crowd, they help me out a lot.”

The Gold Ball, symbolic of the Class D state championship, was the first for the boys — the girls won one in 1997 — and will surely hold exaulted status for years to come. The celebration in Jackman was delayed a few hours while the fans and players made the three-and-a-half hour journey home. There is no straight line road between Bangor and Jackman, located along the Canadian border in the northwestern part of the state. But there was surely a celebration.

“When we came into town after Western Maines, it looked like Fenway Park when we were coming over the hill,” Forest Hills coach Anthony Amero said. “The logging trucks, the ambulance, the border patrol.”

Logging is the area’s leading industry with Moose River Lumber the largest employer. There’s also a thriving tourist industry in summer and winter and many residents work for the broder patrol. This is blue collar all the way and the team’s all-out style of play reflects the environment the players grew up in.

“When I came into Jackman I didn’t know if I was going to stay or go,” said Amero, a Monmouth native. “Practices are every coach’s dream. If I tell them we’re going to run for two hours straight, I’m not going to get backtalk. They’re going to run two hours straight and just work their rear off.”

The Forest Hills crowd out-cheered the Central Aroostook fans, a rarity since teams from The County are known for their loyalty and participation. Then again, Central Aroostook has been to the state final six times, winning five prior to Saturday. This was the second trip for the Tigers, who lost last year at the Augusta Civic Center.

“It means so much,” senior forward Derick Ouellette said. “It’s one of the best fan bases I’ve ever heard.”

The Tigers have just two baskets in their tiny gym and have to travel hours sometimes to play opponents. Youth basketball is non-existent since there just aren’t enough kids to play and alumni come in over Christmas break to toughen up the varsity and provide some numbers.

Saturday, Forest Hills defied the odds, ironically in the last Class D game to be played at the Auditorium — Maine’s version of Butler Fieldhouse — before it’s torn down in a couple of months.

“It doesn’t matter the size of the school, it doesn’t matter the size of the gym or the bus rides,” Amero said. “You can do it in Jackman.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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