Another Maine high school basketball tournament has come and gone. Ten teams brought Gold Balls back to their communities. The caravans of fans headed to Augusta, Bangor and Portland won’t be seen again for the next 11½ months.
As far as Maine sporting events go, late February is as big as it gets. Fans travel long distances just to see their teams play for 90 minutes in the wee hours of the morning and late at night.
There was unforgettable action on the court. Ask a Sumner player or fan what it was like when the boys’ team upset the No. 1 seed in the tournament on a shot with one second left. Ask an MDI player or fan what it was like when Julia Watras hit a buzzer-beater to force overtime and keep the girls’ team’s season alive. Ask an Ellsworth player or fan what it was like when the boys’ team ended its hex against the Trojans with a dominant win in the quarterfinals. Those are moments none of those students, coaches or fans will ever forget.
Yet the moments that make tournament time the best two weeks on the Maine sports calendar aren’t limited to what we see on the floor. Yes, the action is what we long to see, but the reality of tournament time is about more than a ball and a hoop. It’s about seeing entire towns come together to rally around what unites them.
We’ll never forget being at the tournament last year and overhearing a Deer Isle-Stonington fan say, “Everyone from my entire town is here.” The same was true this year when 2,500 Caribou fans made the 301-mile trip from Aroostook County to Portland for Saturday’s title game. It was true when the conversations in the arena concourses turned from English to French when Madawaska and Van Buren fans arrived at the Cross Insurance Center. In a state full of people from very different places and backgrounds, basketball is an opportunity for us to come together.
Hancock County might not have brought home a Gold Ball this year, but with five of the six local high schools sending at least one team to the regional semifinals, every community should be proud of their hometown teams. Whether through the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, they’ve shown the power of sports at its grandest, and, in doing so, have brought out the best in us all.