Good weather and lengthy runs by several tradition-laden programs led to an increase in turnout for this year’s Eastern Maine classes B, C and D tournaments at the Bangor Auditorium.

Paid attendance for the 20 sessions that crowned boys and girls regional champions in the three classes totaled 41,915, up from 38,738 a year ago when regional finals were postponed due to bad weather and the highest total since 44,166 in 2002.

Total attendance in 2010 was 40,436, while the 2009 count was 33,557 after a low total since 2002 of 32,577 in 2008.

Of this year’s 20 sessions, 10 had an attendance of at least 2,000 — including all six Class B sessions.

“We had a great tournament week,” tournament director Norris Nickerson said. “There was only one day that was questionable weatherwise, and that cleared up by the second game so overall it was great weather to travel.

“Eastern Maine basketball just has such a great tradition, and people turn out to follow their teams.”

The six sessions of Class B play drew 16,057 fans, up significantly from 13,885 in 2011. This year’s turnout was highlighted by the largest single-session crowd of the week, the 3,894 that attended the regional championship games between the Presque Isle and Nokomis of Newport girls and the Gardiner and Mount Desert Island boys that were played on Championship Saturday afternoon.

The seven-session Class C tournament attracted 13,526 fans, up slightly from 13,224 a year earlier. This year’s largest single-session crowd totaled 2,221 for a boys quarterfinal doubleheader on Tuesday morning of tournament week featuring teams from Calais, Houlton, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and Sumner of East Sullivan.

The Eastern C championships played on Saturday night drew 2,100 fans, Nickerson reported.

Class D’s seven sessions drew 12,337, up from 11,629 in 2011. That division’s biggest crowd came on Monday afternoon of tourney week for a boys doubleheader involving Jonesport-Beals, Easton, Katahdin of Stacyville and Hodgdon, which drew 2,753 — the second-largest turnout for any session.

“I was shocked with session six for Class D,” said Nickerson “I’ve never seen this place that full for Class D, and it was an afternoon session on Monday and there were fans all the way up on both sides. Jonesport-Beals was one of the participants in that session, and they really turned out for the game.”

The Eastern D finals played on Championship Saturday morning attracted 1,898 fans.

The lowest single-session crown in any division this year was 1,099 for Thursday night’s Class D girls semifinals. All 19 other sessions had at least 1,484 fans.

Having several Aroostook County schools such as Presque Isle and Houlton make deep tourney runs, as well as a historically prominent program like the Jonesport-Beals boys play all the way through the championship round, provided a boost to overall tournament attendance, Nickerson said.

“I think we had some teams that are good draws,” he said, “and I don’t think there’s any question it pays off, because those towns follow their teams very closely and they’re rich in tradition.”

A new senior citizen tournament pass, in which seniors could buy 21-session passes for $45 and 10-session passes for $40 also proved to be successful, Nickerson said. Individual session tickets for adults were $8.

“That was a great buy for people who like basketball,” he added. “They could use it either here or in Augusta so it turned out to be a good bargain for them.”

An additional crowd of 3,287 for last Friday’s Class B state championship games increased the overall fan turnout for tournament games at the Auditorium this year to 45,202.

“It was a great weather week and a great turnout week and we’re just happy it worked out as well as it did,” said Nickerson. “It’s like an old home week when you come down here, you see a lot of people you haven’t seen in quite a while and people just renew old friendships.”

Next year’s Eastern B-C-D tournament will be the last at the Bangor Auditorium, which is being replaced by a new arena currently being built within a few feet of the existing facility.

The new arena is scheduled to open around Labor Day 2013, and as Nickerson has viewed the ongoing construction he is optimistic about the tournament’s future when it shifts to its new locale in February 2014.

“Watching the new building being constructed and seeing where the cement forms for the stadium seats are situated, you know there are going to be bleachers in front of them so the fans are going to be close and we’re still going to have that same atmosphere we have here,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be able to carry over what’s been here for such a long period of time, and that sixth man is going to be just as important down the road in the new arena.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...