Crews tighten rows of screws Tuesday as workers put the finishing touches on the installation of the basketball court at the Augusta Civic Center. The work is being done in preparation for the opening of the high school basketball tournament this weekend. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The Augusta Civic Center grew on me.

The first time I covered a basketball game at the Augusta Civic Center was in fall 2000, when the University of Maine women’s team played an early season nonconference game there. I worked at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel for more than a year before I covered the high school basketball tournament at the ACC. My first winter was spent shuffling off to the Bangor Auditorium for games.

The Bangor Auditorium was almost at the end of its usefulness in 2001, but it was loud and had character. The first tournament game I covered at the Augusta Civic Center in 2002 had neither. It was a Class D boys’ game on a Saturday morning. My memory tells me it was Waynflete against Valley, the first game Valley played after its state record 101-game winning streak was snapped in the regular season finale at Piscataquis. The Cavaliers were a fun team to cover. They ran up and down the court like gazelles, pushing the tempo and using every inch of the court.

Maybe it was because Waynflete did the only thing it could do to have a shot and played the game at the pace of a nap. Maybe it was the small Class D crowd, made even smaller because one of the teams playing represented a private school that didn’t bring the community spirit of a Bingham or Jackman. Maybe I was just in a bad mood that day. Whatever it was, I came away feeling the Augusta Civic Center was… meh.

I know, I know. I was wrong.

Fortunately, first impressions don’t always become permanent. It didn’t take long for the Augusta Civic Center to grow on me. Just a couple weeks, really. Two weeks after that Waynflete-Valley game – which felt like basketball in an empty warehouse – I returned to the Civic Center to watch the Class D boys’ state championship game between Valley and Bangor Christian. The Cavaliers won their fifth straight Gold Ball, and the place was packed and loud, and the game was close and it was the quintessential Maine high school basketball tournament experience.


It gets loud. Fans can sit close to the court. The student sections are side by side on the south baseline, allowing for good natured (and not so good natured) back-and-forth. You can follow the action while in line at the concession stand, and that is a selling point in itself.

Now, the Augusta Civic Center is my favorite tournament venue, and it’s turning 50. I turned 50 last September. One of us is a Maine icon.

This job provides the opportunity to witness and record history. I’ve been fortunate that in almost 23 years covering sports in Maine, I’ve seen a lot of cool events, many of them at the Augusta Civic Center. The Hampden boys winning a Class A regional title on Nick Gilpin’s near-halfcourt buzzer beating shot in 2013. Evan Worster of Forest Hills scoring a Class D regional record with 51 points in a win over AR Gould in 2012. A few No. 8 seeds knocking off undefeated No. 1’s. The Monmouth girls beating a favored Houlton team in 2018 to win a second straight Class C state title.

This job also provides the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful people. I looked forward to the tournament because it gave me a chance to sit with superfan Ed Coffin and chat about hoops. Ed died around a year and a half ago, but his perch at the Augusta Civic Center is eternal. Next time you visit, look for Ed’s seat. It’s the yellow one, Section 17, Row H, seat 17. Painted yellow in Ed’s honor four years ago, it’s where Ed watched thousands of games over the years.

I haven’t seen a concert at the Augusta Civic Center yet, although I’d like to. Pearl Jam played here in 1996, with then-Chicago Bulls enigma Dennis Rodman joining the band on stage.  As much as I wanted to go, I wasn’t at that show. Couldn’t get tickets. I have friends who were there, and they still talk about the show with reverence.

The Cony and Edward Little basketball teams compete during the Eastern Class A final on Feb. 15, 2013 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Grateful Dead played here. So did Phish and Slayer, although not together. Elvis Presley played here, just months before he died. There’s a plaque in the lobby, commemorating Elvis’ lone concert in Maine.

Last season, the Augusta Civic Center may have seen its most consistently large crowds in decades, when fans came from across the state to watch the Nokomis boys, led by sensational twin brothers Cooper and Ace Flagg. The Flaggs, coupled with the first tournament after a year off due to the pandemic, brought the fans out in huge numbers. Maybe, if either Cooper or Ace goes on to play in the NBA, there will be another plaque, commemorating when they filled the Augusta Civic Center with screaming basketball fans.

There is history in the Augusta Civic Center, and it’s best recalled at high volume.

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