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As players, coaches and fans return to arenas across the state for the high school basketball tournament, it’s hard not to reflect on the people inside.
They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, family friends, classmates and fans who cheer on the team.
Why do Mainers love the annual tournament, the Bangor Daily News asked last week.
“It’s seeing all of the people who come from the small towns, far and away, arrive in droves to support their teams that makes the tournament so special to me,” Paul Bouchard of Old Town told the BDN. “You can almost feel how much the experience means and how important this time of year is to them. The Class D schools don’t have sports like hockey, indoor track, swimming, etc., so for them basketball is king and they bring this sense of enthusiasm to Bangor!”
One of those Class D schools, East Grand High School in Danforth, provided one of the best storylines of last week’s quarterfinal games. The East Grand girls team, ranked sixth, knocked off the Class D North third-seed Machias, 45-27 on Saturday. East Grand had only seven active players suited up for the game.
Longtime broadcaster Dale Duff called the tournament time his “favorite week of the year.”
“It’s just part of the winter fabric now,” he said. “You kind of plan your whole winter knowing tournament week … You see so many people that you might just see in February. You try to catch up and discuss things. It’s just a good place to kind of get together once a year or so. It’s my favorite week of the year.”
That camaraderie and enthusiasm is palpable at the tournament venues in Bangor, Augusta and Portland.
The players and their coaches are, of course, central to this week’s events. A young athlete may have confessed a case of nerves at home, but during the pregame layup drill it doesn’t show because it’s time to put on the swagger. Confidence, after all, is the companion of champions.
Whatever the final score is, parents and family members are going to be more proud than they were at tipoff. Theirs is an essential role in this drama, offering a hug or an attaboy at the after-game meal. They echo the accolades, whether it’s a win or a loss. Family, friends and classmates are on the edge of their seats during overtime nail biters. They cheer for the surprise upsets.
And then there are the folks who have historically been fixtures at the hometown high school gym each Friday or Saturday night. No one is really sure — are they related to one of the ballplayers? Long ago, did a son or daughter trot up and down these hardwood floors and the habit of attending stuck? Or is it that they just enjoy witnessing the amateur ballet and epic battle that is a high school basketball game?
They, too, play a critical role. As do the referees, who are too often underappreciated — sometimes even loudly, and inappropriately, maligned. They are essential to every tournament game. And so are the tournament workers who make it all possible. Together, the whole event is a great example of the many people who hold our communities together.
Yes, the annual tournament is about basketball. “The excitement of taking the floor for a big game as a player, coach or official with a good band playing,” as Marty Bouchard of Kennebunk told the BDN about what makes the tournament special.
But, it’s also about family, friends, and community. “Community spirit and the excitement of the participants,” as David Gray of Farmington put it. Or, as Douglas Libby of Ellsworth said, “getting together with friends.”
This atmosphere, this week, showcases Maine at its best (don’t ruin it by yelling at the referees).