Mark Gafur remembers the empty dormitory.

“You could almost hear the ghosts in the building lamenting that the school was done,” he said.

The year was 1989. Oak Grove-Coburn school in Vassalboro had just held its final graduation ceremony. The school was done, over, kaput, a victim of money woes. Most of the boarding students had gone home, never to return.

Except for Gafur and a few baseball teammates. The school was closed, but the baseball team still had a game to play.

In ’89, OGC made a spirited run to the Class D West final, going 9-7 after winning just twice a year earlier, and whose playoff run ended June 14 — three days after the last commencement in the school’s 140-year history.

“We had nothing to lose that we hadn’t lost before,” Gafur said in a recent interview from his home in New York City.


Gafur, a junior, was typical of that ragtag collection of just 13 players. A New York native whose father hailed from Guyana, Gafur came to OGC at age 13 via a Boys’ Club program that sent countless other students to what he called “middle of nowhere, Maine” upon seeing the place for the first time. The Tigers came from a diverse mix of racial and economic backgrounds, and it was the task of head coach Paul Giggey to mold a team.

Giggey, who taught social studies at OGC, emphasized the fundamentals — strategy, cutoffs, communications, what to do in what situation.

“You’d think at the onset it would be a challenge, but given the opportunity, if you’re an optimist, you take every difficulty and work with it and come up with the best product that you can,” Giggey said in a recent phone interview.

The financial realities the school faced were reflected on the field. Instead of a school bus, Giggey and his players squeezed into a van for road games. Not all the uniforms matched, and the Tigers often had to ask the other team if they could borrow its batting helmets. They played on a town-owned field that lacked a pitchers’ mound, so the players and coaches had to build one from scratch.

But with a devil-may-care spirit, OGC shook off those limitations once the games started. Gafur was a steady leader behind the plate and hit over .400. Speedy sophomore shortstop Bennie Campbell, like Gafur a New York City native, stole 34 bases despite the presence of a rock blocking third base on the Tigers’ makeshift field. Second baseman Jay Aust hit over .300 with 17 steals. Ruben Santiago, another New Yorker, patrolled centerfield. Geoff Robbins, the ace on the mound, finished with a 5-2 record. Defensively, Giggey’s emphasis on the fundamentals was paying off.

“Our baseball IQ went up significantly as the season went on,” Gafur said. “We weren’t making any silly mistakes out there.”


OGC finished the regular season 8-6, second in the six-team Class D West standings, a year after finishing fifth in a five-team league.

On Friday, June 9, OGC opened the playoffs with a 4-2 win over Forest Hills in the D West semis. OGC led 4-0 in the top of the fifth, but Forest Hills plated two runs and had a runner on second when Glen Shelley lined a shot to left center. But OGC outfielder Jay Tucci, “flying like Superman,” in the words of Giggey, dove to his left to snare the ball.

“That catch saved us not only the game, but gave us another breath of fresh life for Oak Grove-Coburn and we could go on another day,” Giggey said later.

Robbins finished with a four-hitter.

On Sunday, OGC held its last “commencement” — an ironic word for a school getting ready to close its doors. Headmaster Dale Hanson led off his remarks by congratulating the baseball team on Friday’s win and noted that “a team that doesn’t have a school” could be a novelty. Gafur said the speech gave him “goosebumps.”

While the other students packed their bags and headed home, the baseball players returned to their now-empty dorm and prepared for Wednesday’s regional final against Buckfield, a team that had given OGC a tough time on and off the field. The Bucks had gone 3-0 against the Tigers in the regular season. In the past, Gafur said, there had been racial tension between the two communities, which resulted in a peace summit in OGC’s dining hall that allowed everyone to clear the air.


“It truly was an amazing step for everybody in both communities involved,” Gafur said.

A 2001 baseball card of Oak Grove-Coburn alumnus Mark Gafur as a Portland Sea Dogs coach. Photo courtesy of Paul Giggey

Unfortunately, the good feelings did not extend to the baseball field, as least for OGC. The Tigers fell 7-2, as the Bucks scored five unanswered runs after a Buckfield player was ejected for what the umpires ruled was an overly aggressive slide on Aust, the second baseman. Robbins allowed all seven runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Gafur described the loss as “absolutely gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.”

“Our minds went from baseball to picking up equipment and driving home,” said Giggey, who went on to teach in the Lisbon school system from 1989-2021 and coached varsity tennis for over a decade. “For many of us, it was ‘good-bye’ and then they go out of state and it becomes a memory. However, throughout the years, we have made connections, specifically Mark Gafur and I.”

Gafur spent his senior year at Fryeburg Academy, where he helped set up a postgraduate team, then caught at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, where one of his highlights was a base hit against Providence College in a fall game against pitcher (and future Red Sox infielder and announcer) Lou Merloni. Gafur went on to coach at several colleges, including Bowdoin College, and was the Portland Sea Dogs bullpen coach from 1998-2002 — and he even arranged for Giggey to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2001 game.

But the memories of 1989, the year of a team without a school, still stand out.

“We played like there was no tomorrow, because there was no tomorrow,” Gafur said.

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