Bangor's Taylor Coombs drives for a layup while Hampden's Bella McLaughlin and Lucy Wiles play defense at Hampden Academy on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Credit: Adam Robinson / BDN

The Ellsworth High School girls basketball team, currently 11-2, has an important trip to Aroostook County this weekend.

The Eagles will play at Presque Isle on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. and at Caribou on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. But the Saturday game between Class B North rivals Caribou and Ellsworth has a special meaning.

It will be one of five games celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which paved the way for girls and women to receive the same opportunities as male athletes, including earning athletic scholarships.

Ellsworth High girls coach Andy Pooler said it is important to return to the roots of schoolgirl athletics and recognize how the players got here.

“A lot of girls had to slog along to get it to where it is now,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize what those girls had to go through.”

The anniversary gives teams an opportunity to explain to their players how the game in Maine has evolved. It began as six-girl basketball, in which three girls would bring the ball up from the backcourt to the midcourt and then pass it to three teammates who would then try to score. The defensive trio had to stay on the defensive side of midcourt and the offensive trio had to strictly play in the frontcourt.

The girls game was converted to the current five-player format in 1971.  

Former University of Maine men’s basketball coach Skip Chappelle and the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame were the originators of the celebration.

When plans to hold a number of games at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center fell through, Chappelle met with Bangor High School principal Paul Butler and they came up with the idea to celebrate Title IX at high school courts across the state.

“If we couldn’t bring the players to one site, we took them to five sites. The [Maine Principals’ Association] was very supportive,” said Butler, who added the schools were also anxious to be involved.

In addition to the Caribou-Ellsworth game, Class AA North Bangor will entertain A South team Brunswick at 12:30 p.m., Jonesport-Beals will host Deer Isle-Stonington in a Class D North game at 1 p.m, Class D South Forest Hills of Jackman await Class C South Carrabec of Anson at 1 p.m., and Class B South Cape Elizabeth will visit Class A South Fryeburg Academy at 4:30 p.m..

“All five classes are represented as well as five corners of the state,” Butler said.

The Jonesport-Beals versus Deer Isle-Stonington and Forest Hills versus Carrabec games will be part of doubleheaders, as their boys teams will also square off.

All of the players will receive commemorative T-shirts celebrating Title IX and there will be special programs with inserts. The tagline for the event is “50 years of Empow[her]ment.”

For Butler, the event has a special meaning.

His daughters, Mary and Katie, were outstanding multi-sport athletes at Bangor High School. Mary went on to play basketball at Brown University where she was a captain. Katie played basketball at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

His mother, the late Joyce Butler, and his aunt, Joan Butler, were both big sports fans who enjoyed watching his daughters play.

“My mother used to say she was ‘so tickled’ that her granddaughters got the opportunity to play sports,” said Butler, noting that his mother and aunt never had those opportunities.