Winthrop players Gavin Perkins, left, Jevin Smith and Ian Steele run toward the student section with the Gold Ball after they won the Class C state championship at the Augusta Civic Center on Feb. 29, 2020. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

We just finished February vacation week. For the first time in a long time, I had time to kill.

The vacation week is traditionally the heart of the Maine high school basketball tournament. Games are played all day at regional sites. The Friday and Saturday of the week, we crown regional champions, then we catch our breath before state championship games the following weekend.

In my line of work, watching the games closely, talking to the participants, and playing with words on a tight deadline, tournament week is the busiest week of the year. We run between the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and the Augusta Civic Center, covering multiple games each day. Sometimes in both places. It’s not unusual for me to cover a game in Bangor in the morning, write my story, then head to Augusta for an afternoon or evening game.

Days start early, end late, and I double my coffee intake. It is a grind, a gauntlet of making early deadlines and recording podcasts as arena crews clean to get the place ready for the next day. Story ideas run through your head constantly. If Team A wins, I’ll write about this. If Team B wins, I’ll write about that. Team B loses, and the idea is discarded.

It is hectic. During tournament week, I am often frazzled, tired and short-tempered because before I’m done one thing my brain is trying to move on to the next. I’m trying to fix that. I’ve been trying to fix that for 20 years. It’s a process.

Tournament week is a professional slog and I missed it so much. Players, coaches and fans, I know you missed it, too.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not get the tournament this year. It’s nobody’s fault, and with more people getting vaccinated every week, it appears the 2020-21 school year will be a cruel anomaly.

When the snow changed to sleet and freezing rain and back to snow Tuesday, my thoughts were not of the work it will take to chisel that mess off my porch steps. I thought of drives through similar weather on the way to and from Bangor to cover basketball tournament games. I wondered, would the Maine Principals’ Association postponed games for this? Toward the end of the week, there is down time built into the schedule, so it’s likely Tuesday would have been a rare tournament snow day.

With no tournament this season, my colleagues and I came up with Center Court Rewind, a look back at a few of the great tournament teams, players and moments. We hope you enjoyed reminiscing with us about the buzzer beater Hampden’s Nick Gilpin made to beat Lawrence in the 2013 Class A East boys final, Emily Ellis’ record-setting tournament run for the Mount View girls, the Cony girls dominance in the mid-90s, and the Cindy Blodgett-led Lawrence girls dominance that preceded the Rams, as well as the look at the Valley boys 101-game win streak from the point of view of the teams they beat.

There will be regional tournaments across the state. Here in central Maine, teams in Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties will square off. Class A and B schools in one bracket, Class C and D in the other. It should lead to some interesting rarely seen matchups, and that’s something to look forward to. This year, we embrace the positives when we find them.

Next year at this time, I want to be looking back at another tournament week of great games and good stories. I want to be welcoming a couple slow days before coverage of state championship games begin. I want to be exhausted, and I want that to have nothing to do with a pandemic.

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