AUGUSTA — Section 10, row K, seat 18.

For every year since 2007 Mark Damren has sat in the same seat for the state high school basketball tournament games held at the Augusta Civic Center.

All of them.

It is a little after 5 p.m. Thursday and Damren is in his seat as players from the Edward Little and Cheverus boys basketball teams warm up for their Class AA quarterfinal contest. The 62-year-old Belgrade resident is joined by his mother, Katie, and a few friends, including Ronald and Martha Emmons — whose grandson, Brendan, is a junior on the Richmond boys basketball team that will play Dirigo on Monday at 9:30 p.m. in a Class C South quarterfinal at the Civic Center.

The group of die-hard hoops fans are there for a simple reason.

“We just love the game,” Damren said.

Damren’s week-long excursion to the Augusta Civic Center goes beyond that, though, as the seat in which he occupies on this Thursday evening is also a connection to the past. It is the same seat Damren’s father, Jerry, sat in to watch the high school basketball tournament from the early 1980s until his death in 2006.

“When they moved the tournament here he took vacation every year,” Damren said. “He’d be here from 7 o’clock in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I might work until 3 and get out and come right over.

“…In his last few years I would also take vacation and we would be here together. Mom would be at the state house working and she’d come in at night.”

Damren said he has consistently attended the tournament in Augusta since 1987. Over the years he has become familiar with a number of players and families, particularly from the Class B, C and D schools that have traditionally played at the Civic Center. It is how he got to know Ronald and Martha Emmons, and as a result he has been to 11 or 12 Richmond boys basketball games alone this season.

He recalls watching those undefeated Valley teams from the early 2000s with players like Nick Pelotte — now the Waterville boys basketball coach — and the Hartwell twins, Luke and Jason — both of whom coach at Valley.

On Thursday it was a chance for Damren and others to get a look at a new generation of players, including one such group that rarely makes its way to the Augusta Civic Center for tournament games. Reclassification and the formation of AA has brought Portland-area teams such as Cheverus, Portland and Deering north, out of their more familiar territory of the Portland Expo or Cross Insurance Arena.

“We’re not used to that. We’re used to playing in the Expo in Portland in the first round but, hey, they tell us where to play and what time and we’ll show up,” Cheverus boys basketball coach Ryan Soucie said. “It was a good experience. I’ve never played or coached here before so it was good to do that. Now we’ve been here, we have that experience and this is a nice venue for high school.”

Damren said he expects these larger programs to bring in some strong talent. Over the next week or so plenty of players unfamiliar to many basketball fans in Kennebec County will have a chance to make their mark at the Augusta Civic Center.

Players like Joe Esposito, Terion and Amir Moss, of Portland, as well as Deering’s Ben Williams, Anthony Lobor and Malik White. Cheverus’ Jack Casale and Austin Boudreau showed off some sharp shooting and smooth dribbling before being upended late by Samatar Iman, Jarod Norcross Plourde and their Edward Little teammates in a 46-43 win for the Red Eddies on Thursday.

“It’s nice,” Norcross Plourde said of playing at the Civic Center. “You’ve got a big crowd, a lot of people watching from more than just your area (and you’re) playing in front of people that want to watch basketball.”

Many who follow high school basketball are familiar with Andrew Fleming, the Oxford Hills senior and University of Maine commit. Fleming was dominant Thursday night in leading the Vikings past Bangor, 71-47.

As this year’s tournament progresses expect plenty of more great performances at the Civic Center.

Just do not expect section 10, row K, seat 18 to be available.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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