The return of the regional and state basketball tournaments after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been embraced statewide.
There’s nothing like the energy and excitement generated by playing at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the Augusta Civic Center and the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
And players, coaches and fans weren’t the only ones who were counting the days until the tournaments began.
“It was certainly a great miss last year,” said Allan Snell, who began working at the Bangor Auditorium in 1977 and has done a number of jobs leading up to his role as the co-site director at the Cross Insurance Center for the Classes B, C and D North tournaments.
“It was like a hole,” said Jerry Goss, the other co-director, who has also worn a number of different hats through the years. “I really missed seeing the people we see maybe once a year, particularly the ones from Down East and Aroostook County. I missed those personal relationships.”
“I love working with the same people and the whole atmosphere,” Snell said. “It’s so much fun, particularly the northern Maine tournament because we all have a lot in common. You watch kids whose parents played here or, in my case, maybe even their grandparents.”
Becky Bubar has served as one of the courtside public address announcers off and on for 25 years.
She missed her co-workers and the fans last year and seeing players whose names she has been calling out for years.
“I enjoy watching the growth of players. Sometimes you will see a player and say ‘Wow, that’s a different player than they were two years ago,” said Bubar, who previously attended the tournaments as an assistant coach for the Brewer boys and girls teams.
Tracie Martin has had the distinction of participating in the tournament in multiple roles. She played in the 1981 Class D state championship game for Vinalhaven against John Bapst at the former Bangor Auditorium, coached several girls teams from Narraguagus of Harrington to Bangor and, since 1996, has been a tourney referee.
“I am really excited to have it back for the kids, the fans, the parents and everyone involved in it. It is such a huge thing that everybody looks forward to,” Martin said. “People take the week off to go. It’s a great community thing for everybody. They get to support their teams and see people they haven’t seen in a while.”
Martin enjoys the opportunity to see teams she doesn’t normally see and touch base with people she only sees at the tournament.
“You get to know the players and the coaches and the fans. And it breaks up the winter,” said Herbie Hopkins, who has worked at the tournament for 51 years in different capacities.
Bubar said in addition to the action on the court, there is a lot of neat stuff behind the scenes that many people don’t see that makes it a special place.
She said she loves hearing some of the great high school bands like Mount Desert Island and Presque Isle and watching some of the great fan sections.
Dennis Kiah has worked at the tournament in various roles since the 1970s, but won’t return to run the scoreboard updates this year. He will attend as a spectator.
The former Brewer High athletic director, who is now an assistant football and baseball coach for the Witches, is looking forward to watching the Brewer boys play in the Class A North tournament in Augusta.
“I will miss seeing the kids play and all the people sitting at the table with me and those who would come down to the table and talk to us. I’ve seen a lot of great basketball over the years,” Kiah said.
Some of the veteran tourney fixtures had specific tournament memories.
“I was with the Brewer boys when Jason Leighton hit that half-court shot to beat Mt. Blue (1995),” Bubar said. “I remember watching Joe Campbell’s tip-in and the Shead girls winning a state championship after having been a pretty low seed.”
Bangor’s Campbell beat Deering of Portland at the buzzer in 2001 and Shead’s girls won the Class D state title in 1999.
Kiah and Snell recalled the 1986 Class B North final between Rockland and Dexter that went five overtimes.
“And the roof was leaking,” said Snell.
“I was keeping the scorebook that night and it only had room for one overtime. I had to be pretty innovative figuring out to get all those points in the book,” Kiah said.
Snell also remembered a game that was sold out and people were banging at the doors to get in.
Then there was also Andy Bedard’s 53-point game in Mountain Valley of Rumford’s 84-71 Class B state championship game win over Camden-Rockport at the Bangor Auditorium.
“He had a slow first half but lit it up in the second half,” Snell said.
“There have been a lot of great games over the years,” Martin said.