They came one last time to the small school on Stevens Avenue to walk the halls, to peek in old classrooms, to reminisce and, yes, to see one final basketball game.

Maine Girls’ Academy, the state’s only private all-girls school, opened its doors one last time Thursday night to alumnae, family and friends, three weeks after abruptly announcing on its website that it was going to close.

And for the 600 or so people who came, it was a much appreciated – and much needed – night.

“I’m glad there was some closure,” said Kelly Kennedy, a 1987 graduate of the school. “I was afraid there wouldn’t be any. It’s sad, but I’m also grateful for tonight.”

Kennedy, whose daughter Pauline graduated from the school last June, wiped tears away as she spoke. And there were plenty of tears as former classmates who hadn’t seen each other in years hugged and talked about how much the school meant to them.

“It’s sad, but at the same time awesome to see how many people showed up,” said Molly Mack, a 2013 graduate. “It shows how special this place was. There was no other community like it.”

Jackie Welch, a 2014 graduate, looked around, hearing the laughter, and said, “It still feels like there’s the same vitality here. It shows how fortunate we all were to come here.”

FORMER PRINCIPAL, FRONT AND CENTER

The school announced on July 5 that it was closing, saying the move was prompted “by lower enrollment and revenue than would be needed to operate the school throughout the upcoming school year.” It caught everyone by surprise. When supporters attempted to raise money to keep the school open, MGA officials said the school was $250,000 in debt.

The Sisters of Mercy founded the school, then called Catherine McAuley High, in 1969. In 2015, the school dropped its affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church and was renamed Maine Girls’ Academy. Enrollment rapidly declined in the last decade and there were only 90 students at the school when it closed.

“I love that they did this,” said Danielle Pickering, a 2009 graduate of the school who played field hockey and tennis. “It was really hard for us when we got the word (of the closing). I haven’t seen this many people together for years. But it is very bittersweet.”

Sister Edward Mary Kelleher, a former principal at the school for 30 years, was front and center, as she was in all the basketball games. People stood in line to have their photo taken with her, waited just to have one more conversation with her.

“She put her heart and soul into this school,” said Liz Rickett, the former basketball coach who began the school’s dynastic run. “She meant a lot to all the young women here today.”

Asked if this night was necessary for some closure, Kelleher smiled and said, “Yes. And it’s wonderful that it will end with a basketball game.”

Catherine Reid gets a hug from Sister Edward Mary after presenting her with a game ball before the summer league basketball game against Edward Little.

LEAVING A BASKETBALL LEGACY

Basketball was the school’s signature sport. The Lions had unparalleled success in the sport, with 10 regional Class A championships and six Class A state championships in a 15-year span.

And so it was fitting that the school would host one final game, a summer league game between the Lions and defending Class AA champion Edward Little. The MGA team won, 47-29, and the crowd gave a standing ovation that lasted about 4 minutes, until the girls cut down one final net. And then there were tears.

Catherine Reid, who will be a senior in the fall, was overcome with emotion at the end. “Just to be able to play in this gym one more time made it really special,” she said.

The MGA team stuck together after the announcement of the closing. They wanted to be teammates as long as possible, not knowing what the future would hold. When school officials announced the closing, they said they had made an arrangement with North Yarmouth Academy to accept MGA students. According to several former school officials, at least 40 students have enrolled at NYA, among them several basketball players.

Nona Gillis, a 2011 graduate who was known as the Superfan and never missed a game, was in her MGA green-and-yellow outfit leading the cheers. Sad to see the school close, she knew she had to be there, in the gym, once more.

“I couldn’t imagine myself not being here,” she said.

She wasn’t alone.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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