ALBION — No matter what else is going on, everybody always seems to want to touch the Gold Ball. So Lawrence High School junior Nia Irving slowly paraded around the Albion Elementary School gymnasium, giving every student or teacher who wanted to touch or hold the state championship trophy an opportunity.

How heavy is it, Irving was asked.

“Come pick it up if you want,” Irving said.

Irving and her teammates posed for pictures, and smiled. Those smiles probably haven’t left their faces since late last Saturday afternoon.

“It’s awesome,” Irving said, handing off the Gold Ball yet again. “It’s one of the best feelings.”

Last week, Lawrence beat Thornton Academy in the Class A girls basketball championship game, 50-43. It was the first state championship for the Bulldogs since 1994. On Friday, their celebration continued with some of their youngest fans. The Lawrence girls basketball team went on a tour of MSAD 49’s four elementary schools. The Bulldogs, along with head coach John Donato, athletic director Bill MacManus, and mascot Larry the Bulldog were scheduled to visit Clinton and Fairfield after starting at Albion. A visit to Benton Elementary is planned for this week.

The Lawrence players know they’re role models. On Friday, they embraced that responsibility.

“It’s so nice we could bring this to the community,” senior Paige Belanger said.

Before each member of the team introduced herself to the students, Donato said a few things about his team. Four members of the team are in the National Honor Society. Seniors Belanger and Abby Weigang were each named to the all-state academic team. All of them, every single member of the Lawrence girls varsity basketball team, is on the honor roll, Donato said.

Donato even got around to talking a little about basketball, but really, he continued to make his point about academics.

“They worked at it. They set a goal. It’s a lot of hard work,” Donato said.

Lawrence and Thornton are at opposite ends of the Class A spectrum. With fewer than 700 students, Lawrence is one of the smallest schools in Class A. With more than 1,400 students, Thornton is the largest. If the proposal to expand to five classes in high school basketball passes next month, Lawrence and Thornton will play in separate divisions. Lawrence could be the last small school to win the Class A title. The Albion students soaked it all in. Their eyes never left the Gold Ball or the victory nets hanging from a few of the players’ necks or the Eastern Maine championship plaque or the players themselves.

How many people went to the game? Dozens of hands went up.

“My kids had all sorts of questions in the classroom,” fifth grade teacher Lauren Conohan said. “Now they’re …” Conohan opened her mouth to demonstrate the quiet awe she saw in her students.

All it took was one brave kid to ask a question. One brave kid to touch the Gold Ball, and the ice was broken. The players worked the room. Larry the Bulldog shook hands.

Belanger was reminded of Senior Night, back in Lawrence’s Folsom Gym, at the end of the regular season. There, she met a little girl who had written her a letter.

“She wrote good luck, you’re my favorite player,” Belanger said. “It was long. It was a nice letter.”

The Bulldogs stayed at Albion Elementary for approximately a half hour, before their victory tour through MSAD 49 went to Clinton. They were a lesson in hard work, and they were happy to share that.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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