The week of Presidents Day has provided us with a badly needed diversion from the ugliness of today’s national political scene. Enough of President Trump for now.

Tournament time is an annual spectacle of joy and excitement, providing a full measure of the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. And, based on past history, the tournaments produce many of tomorrow’s political leaders.

In the faces of our young athletes as they compete for success in sports, we see the hope for the future of our nation. The tournaments for basketball, hockey and other sports include the lessons of life, to be learned and used later. There is little that compares with the rich opportunities that participation in scholastic sports provides the youth of America. It is from the basketball tournaments that we have witnessed teenage boys and girls excelling at their sport, many of whom became local, state and national political leaders.

The old Bangor Auditorium for decades was home for the Eastern Maine basketball tournaments. It was there that as a young sportscaster I enjoyed some of the happiest days of my life broadcasting entire tournaments and state championship games, sometimes broadcasting eight games in one long day and night. From these always-exciting tournaments came Maine Gov. “Jock” McKernan and U.S. Sen. and Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, both Bangor Rams. Later, from the Augusta area, came Dave Rollins, now the city’s mayor, preceded by mayors Roger Katz and Bill Burney. Katz is now a state Senate leader. All participated in the tournaments as Cony Rams.

Many more political leaders from other Maine cities and towns were molded in early life by the experience of playing in Maine’s basketball tournaments. The century-old history of our state tournaments includes the great New England champions from Waterville, 1944, and Augusta (Cony), 1978. Many of the participants in the girls tournaments have also gone on to leadership roles in politics and business.

The point of this column is to suggest that the next time we are ready to wring our hands in despair about the future of our country we should remind ourselves of the never-ending parade of outstanding young people that will undoubtedly become our next leaders. When you sit in the stands in Augusta, Bangor or Portland for basketball, or at any of the hockey tournament venues, you are watching boys and girls who could one day become governor, senator, mayor, or, who knows, perhaps president. The youth of America remain our greatest hope and deserve the best education and opportunities through athletics that we can give them.

So the next time you hear a call for reductions in athletic programs at your school and the idea of “pay for play,” tell them sports is one of the best investments we can make. Thousands of youngsters from low-income families could be denied the chance to become somebody because of lessons missed out on from healthy competition.

When somebody tells your school board to adopt a pay-to-play policy, remind them that many parents are already struggling to support their kids. Sports, for many students, is what keeps them in school, and is the key to receiving a good education. Spring is the time of year when school athletic budgets are scrutinized and quite often deep cuts suggested. Don’t do it. Fully fund your school’s athletic programs, and enlist the aid of a sports boosters club to help pay for some of the extras. A strong healthy athletic program at your school is one of the greatest investments that you can make.

As a former sports broadcaster I am disappointed in the increasing emphasis on national sports coverage that has displaced local broadcast sports coverage. This year, for the first time, no Maine tournament basketball games will be broadcast until the state championship games on MPBN next weekend.

WABI-TV in Bangor ceased broadcasting all the Eastern Maine tourney games a few years ago. There is no statewide radio tournament coverage.

I remember when all local radio stations in the Augusta-Waterville area would broadcast entire local high school football and basketball schedules. The Cony-Gardiner football game each year could be heard on all three local radio stations. Loss of local coverage to national sports creates a vacuum in community spirit and support. For those unable to attend the games, coverage of your team is missing (except for TV-7 Augusta cablecasts of Cony basketball home games).

So let your radio and broadcast TV outlets know you miss the games and want coverage back. Demand it!

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.

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