Lawrence fans cheer on their Bulldogs against Brunswick during the Class A girls basketball championship game last Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It’s time for an apology. But first, let’s turn back the clock about 30 years.

During my February school vacation, when my father would also go on “vacation” to make sure his two bratty sons wouldn’t burn the house down, he would have the western Maine high school basketball tournaments from the Augusta Civic Center on Maine Public TV.

I ignored it.

Fast-forward several years. I was a student at the University of Maine, and every February the region’s attention turned to the eastern Maine high school basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium — the “Mecca” of basketball. The media coverage dominated to the point when even FM music stations sent deejays to the game to give hourly updates.  

I ignored it.

The reasons for my ignorance were twofold — upbringing and cynicism.


I’m from Yarmouth and attended Yarmouth High School. The Clippers have had terrific basketball programs in the 21st century, but during my time there in the early 1990s, they weren’t an afterthought; they were whatever came after the afterthought. 

Hockey was king and the hockey players let you know it. On game days, the players showed up for school in suits, ties, overcoats and enough Brylcreem to put a dent on the ice. Travis Roy played there for a year before he moved on to North Yarmouth Academy. Roger Grillo, a former UMaine player who later coached Brown University, guided the team to three straight state titles in the late ‘80s (and Y-town added a fourth in a row after he left).

Basketball? There were no suits or ties or hair gel on game days. Whether it was the boys or the girls, it was show up, lose and go back to being in hockey’s stick-length shadow. 

Naturally, this led me to become jaded to the whole thing. Basketball, to my stubborn, pea-sized teenage brain, was clearly the sport of small-town Podunks who had nothing better to do with their sorry lives than watch a bunch of teenagers dribble a ball. I mean, it wasn’t like any of these kids were going to play college ball, right? (As you can see, I missed all those Steve Solloway columns celebrating the Blodgetts, Vachons, Caouettes and Bedards of the world.) 

And the “Mecca?” Wasn’t that where the Milwaukee Bucks played in their Kareem-Big O heyday?

Fast forward to 2022. I’m at the Augusta Civic Center, the same place that hosted all those games I ignored 30 years earlier, to cover the high school basketball tournaments for the first time. The Lawrence girls are playing Messalonskee in the Class A North quarterfinals, the first of 56 games to be played at the ACC over the next two-plus weeks. Lawrence, the same school where that Cindy Blodgett kid caused such a stir many moons ago while I was busy watching the Bruins and Celtics. 


After I get settled in, the Lawrence band strikes up the fight song for the first of many occasions. Soon, the students set up shop behind the basket, decked in Bulldog blue and with their chants of “You can’t do that!” after every foul. Everyone’s wearing masks, but appear to be in a good mood, especially after COVID-19 wiped out the 2021 tourneys.

The Lawrence and Cony girls basketball teams compete during a Class A North semifinal basketball game on Feb. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The games go on over the next week. Athletes are playing their hearts out; people who don’t even look like athletes at first glance are grabbing rebounds like Dennis Rodman and heaving 3-pointers like Steph Curry. Students play dress-up: Brewer Witches fans think every day is Halloween; Old Orchard Beach rooters wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts despite the cold weather outside; Gardiner supporters show up in hunters’ gear. 

Oh, and in front of packed houses, some guy named Flagg is throwing down dunks louder than anything the fans or bands could produce. 

And everyone is having fun. Including this stuffy old cynic.

My reaction was akin to the Grinch upon seeing the residents of Whoville celebrate Christmas despite the lack of gifts or Who Hash. And yes, I could feel my tiny, crusty, cold heart grow three sizes.

After I covered the Class D boys final between Southern Aroostook and Forest Hills at the Civic Center, I was the saddest one in the place because I genuinely didn’t want the tournaments to end. Of course, if they didn’t end, they wouldn’t be special now, would they?


Forest Hills junior forward Leo Campbell hugs coach Anthony Amero after the Tigers won the Class D South championship on Feb. 25, at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

How can you not get excited about seeing tiny schools you have barely heard of — Forest Hills, Seacoast Christian, Valley — come to the capital and grab the spotlight from their city brethren? Especially a school like Seacoast, whose girls roster this season numbered only six players and won a second straight Class D South title anyway? 

How can you not be revved up by the bands and the student sections and their, er, creative displays of support? A couple weeks ago I went jogging and the whole time I could not get that Lawrence fight song out of my head the whole time.

Oh, one other thing: In a day and age when ticket and concession prices are skyrocketing like a Hope Bouchard 3-pointer, it’s good to see that affordable family entertainment still has a place in this world. 

And so, to the state of Maine and to the sport of basketball, I offer my apology for blocking out the noise while I fretted over Larry Bird’s retirement or Cam Neely’s failing hip. 

Maybe after I invent time travel, I can take my 16-year-old version to the Civic Center and show him what he missed all those years.

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