Basketball is big. And exciting. And unforgettable. In this year’s high school tournaments, there were many memorable games and teams.

I was amazed that more than 1,000 people from the Caribou area drove five hours to watch their team play in the state championship in Portland. Boy, they will never forget that game — Caribou won its first state title in 50 years in double overtime.

The boys team was Forest Hills High School of Jackman was especially inspiring. Their high school has only 37 students, and the team had only nine players including an eighth-grader. Their opponents were much taller, but the Jackman boys played amazingly well and won their state championship.

In the stands, it looked like the entire town of Jackman was there. Jackman is isolated, with just 850 people. Despite the challenges this rural Maine town wrestles with, they are a united, caring and enthusiastic town.

I was also pleased when the Winthrop boys won their state championship. When I attended Winthrop high school in the ’60s, we had lots of great basketball players. So I didn’t make the varsity until my senior year.

We entered the tournament No. 1 in our class. In our first game, we played the No. 8 team — and they beat us. It was devastating. I’m not sure I’m over it, 53 years later.

My dad built us a full basketball court in our driveway, and we played there year-round. If it was snowing, a couple kids would shovel while the rest of us played. I noted that the Jackman boys team’s success was partly attributed to summer time pickup games on the court at the town’s Armand Pomerleau Park.

One of the Jackman boys said the summer pickup games get “just as competitive as a game in the season.” I’d have to say the games in my yard when I was a kid were more competitive than our team’s games. Yup, we played to win!

A story in this paper quoted one Jackman man as saying, “What else do we have? We don’t have a football team. We don’t have a soccer team. These boys are easy to root for. Some kids, you’ll see helping out around town, carrying somebody’s groceries or something.”

Yes, there’s a lot to love about Jackman.

Our son Josh and daughter Hilary both played basketball in junior high, and I was looking forward to watching their games in high school. But their freshman years, cross country ski coach Steve DeAngelis recruited them for his team.

I was not happy and I may have complained to Steve. But as soon as my wife Linda and I started attending the ski meets, we loved the sport. All the adults cheered for all the skiers, no matter which team they were on, and the kids became good friends even though the races were very competitive.

It was a lot different than the basketball games where fans shout at the referees and the players. Linda and I even started cross country skiing, a very enjoyable sport. And OK, I still played basketball with a group of adults.

We became good friends with Steve DeAngelis. When he learned of my illness, ALS, Steve began visiting me once a week, bringing donuts, until his busy ski season started. And one day last fall, he brought some students to our house to spend a day cutting brush for us. Yes, high school sports makes lifelong friends.

Today, kids have more sports choices than we did growing up. We did not play or have a soccer team. Today, my 15-year-old grandson Addison plays soccer year-round (they have an indoor arena in Union). Addi is on several soccer teams, one of which plays all over the northeastern United States. And yes, he’s an amazing soccer player.

Without doubt, sports teaches kids a lot about discipline, teamwork, and even how to lose gracefully. Some of the best quotes this year came from players who lost.

Yes, losing is another teaching experience — so I must have learned something when my 1966 Winthrop team lost.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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