Caribou High School senior Austin Findlen celebrates his team's state championship victory in Portland on Saturday night. Findlen promised his grandfather, who died in January, that his team would win a state title.

PORTLAND, Maine — When William L. Findlen died in Fort Fairfield on Jan. 8 at age 89, the loss was felt not only among his immediate family but throughout a larger Aroostook County community that included the Caribou High School boys basketball team.

“He loved to watch our team play from the time we were little boys,” said his grandson, Austin Findlen, a senior forward from New Sweden. “He loved to come watch us play.”

The rest of the Caribou team knew how much their teammate cared for his grandfather, and attended Bill Findlen’s wake together.

“He was Austin’s biggest fan and Austin was his biggest fan, and we all supported him when his grandfather passed away,” said Caribou coach Kyle Corrigan. “This is like a family here, and we tell the guys that when they’re out there grinding every day that this is your family away from home.”

What the rest of the team may or may not have immediately known was the pledge Austin Findlen made to his grandfather during his final days — a pledge Austin helped make reality Saturday when the Vikings ended a 50-year state championship drought with a 49-47 double-overtime victory over Cape Elizabeth in the Class B state final at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“A few days before he passed away I told him we’d get him a state championship,” said Austin after the game, tears of celebration and remembrance flowing from his eyes. “It feels so good to do this for him, and we’ve received so much support from people in the community that this means the world to us.”

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Corrigan said he saved one of his biggest postgame greetings for Findlen, the only senior starter for the Vikings.

“I probably gave him the biggest hug I’ve ever given everybody in my entire life after I finally caught him when he came down off the ladder after cutting down the net,” said the first-year Caribou head coach. “Austin’s such a big part of this.”

Findlen said he thought often about his pledge to his grandfather throughout Caribou’s run to the gold ball, and it was something he reminded his teammates of just before they ran out onto the arena floor to play one final time together in front of a Vikings’ fan base that filled nearly half of the 6,000-seat arena.

“Every single day I thought about it,” he said. “Actually I brought the guys in before we came out and I told them to pick someone in the crowd to play for because you’re not just playing for yourself and your teammates. You’re playing for your coaches, you’re playing for your family and you’re playing for your community, Pick one person in the crowd you’re going to make proud today.

“I think we did.”

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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...