Where sports legends are made, not born

It was an absolutely perfect early summer day in which to escape from ugly politics.

We drove past the hospital and turned toward the breathtakingly impressive campus that comprises the Waterville YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and Alfond Youth Center. Kids were enjoying the sparkling pool and other outdoor activities. I thought how lucky this city is to have these wonderful facilities — how fortunate that Harold Alfond lived and worked here.

The Alfond legend of philanthropy lives on throughout Maine. As I entered the youth center for the first time, I was struck by the many uses that the building provides the community. I walked the halls and began to feel the presence of legends past. I thought of Ted Shiro, “Swisher” Mitchell, Dr. John Winkin and many other sports greats who made themselves and Waterville famous. Unforgettable names of Maine athletes and coaches from all over the state cover the walls of this striking building.

It seemed surreal as my family and I seated ourselves at table six in the room where I would join several others in being honored by the Maine Sports Legends organization and inducted into their Hall of Fame. I would share the stage with great sports notables like USM basketball/baseball coach and Old Town legend Dick Sturgeon, Portland’s amazing championship basketball coach Joe Russo and others from Northern and Eastern Maine. I was humbled to share selection with fellow central Mainer from Waterville, the honorable, Joe Jabar, a pitcher so good that he could have made it to the majors, but chose the law instead. It isn’t often that you get to follow the speech of a Maine Supreme Court Justice.

Best of all, we were gathered to honor and salute several outstanding boys and girls, deserving Maine scholar-athletes, as Maine Sports Legends bestowed scholarships upon them. Central Maine choices for 2017 were Delaney Keithley, Cony and Jacob Hickey, Winthrop.

Suddenly, emcee Mike Violette, originally from Waterville, and an outstanding sportscaster in his own right, was calling my name. As I stood at the podium to deliver my acceptance remarks, it struck me that I was on hallowed ground. A giant photo of the gleeful 1944 Waterville New England boys basketball championship team hung just behind me, high over my head. I thought of how lucky I was to broadcast the 1978 version of the New England basketball championship when Gary Towle and the Cony “Magic Show” won it all.

As I gazed out into the crowd, I recognized faces of famous athletes and coaches, like fabulous basketball coach Bob Brown, whose son Brett is an NBA head coach. I marveled at the bright, energetic young boys and girls present and realized how fortunate I had been to enjoy, as one of several careers, a chance to broadcast the exploits of so many talented young athletes during a span of more than 40 years.

Memories flooded back from yesteryears of sportscasting. I could hear echoes of the late great Cony coach Dick Hunt (Bob Brown’s mentor), who brought the art of defense to Maine high school basketball, screaming at his team from the sidelines “stick ’em,” as the Rams forced another turnover and Don Crosby, one of the games greats, scored another basket.

I recalled my first TV sports interviews in Ohio with rookies Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, and the awesome size of Ohio stadium in Columbus. A haunting play-by-play audio clip of Cony’s stunning upset of Central of Providence, Rhode Island, concluded my presentation. A recording of my entire New England basketball tournament broadcast is displayed in Maine’s Basketball Hall of Fame at Cross Center auditorium in Bangor. The best moment for me last Sunday was looking out into the proud and beaming faces of my wife and family, whose unconditional love and support provided the impetus for all my endeavors.

I will be forever indebted to fellow broadcaster and former competitor Paul McClay for his magnanimous gesture of recommending me for nomination to the Maine Sports Legends and its Hall of Honors. Paul provides much of the glue that holds this special organization together, founded by the late world class bowler Chris Anton from Portland.

Time marches on, the sun sets on old sportscasters, but cherished memories will live on forever.

Legends are made, not born.

Become a member ($25) and/or support with a contribution, the Maine Sports Legends scholarship program, now in its 21st year. 28 Colony Road, Augusta 04330. You can email treasurer: [email protected] or call 622-1539.

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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