BAR HARBOR — The first sign two years ago that the world was about to change came in the form of an abrupt cancellation of one of Hancock County’s biggest wintertime draws.
As is custom every year, Harbor House organizers approached mid-March 2020 getting ready for its biggest annual event, the Great Harbor Shootout. Yet just a day before the tournament was set to begin, the coronavirus brought it to a halt.
“You go from being ready for a huge tournament to have everything wiped out, just like that,” said Harbor House Event and Community Relations Director Diana Novella. “It was definitely a moment of, ‘Wow, things are really getting crazy.’”
After a second cancellation last year, the Great Harbor Shootout is finally back. The tournament will be a bit smaller this year, but it will still bring hundreds of players from around the state to Hancock County for three days of basketball.
This year’s Great Harbor Shootout is set to begin next Friday, March 18, and conclude next Sunday, March 20. The event will feature 64 basketball teams competing at four locations on Mount Desert Island as well as one on the mainland.
Sixty-four teams is slightly less than the usual number for the Great Harbor Shootout, which drew a record 83 teams in 2019 and was set to break that record at 86 in 2020 before the cancellation. Yet even if an event with a marginally smaller field was necessary this year, it will still be a packed week of basketball throughout the area.
“We didn’t know how many teams we were going to get, but we’re excited for what we have,” Novella said. “We have a wait list, and we were able to take the most teams we could possibly take. Sixty-four teams is a great number.”
With players, coaches, parents, fans and tournament volunteers from all over Maine set to descend on MDI late next week, the event will be a big draw. Novella estimated the 2020 Great Harbor Shootout would have brought approximately 4,000-5,000 people to the area prior to its cancellation.
The lack of a tournament bringing those parties to the area the past two years has been a major loss for the local hospitality industry. It’s also been unfortunate for Harbor House, which has been able to make do thanks to some generous donors but is more than happy about the return of its biggest fund-raising event.
“We’ve been lucky, but we have had to make some changes to some of the things we’ve been doing,” Novella said. “The money from it goes to toward our sports programs, so it’s great to have it back. We’re ready for a great tournament.”
This will be the 29th edition of the event, which was first held in 1992. Games will be played at MDI High School, Mount Desert Elementary School, Pemetic Elementary School, Trenton Elementary School and the MDI YMCA. The field will consist of 20 boys’ and girls’ high school teams each and 12 boys’ and girls’ middle school teams each.
First National Bank is the presenting sponsor for this year’s tournament. Other sponsors are Darling’s. W.S. Emerson, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Governor’s, Evergreen Home & Hearth, Versant, American Glass Company of Waterville, Claws Rockland, DBL Plumbing, Pike Industries and Smith’s Towing & Recovery.
Although the tournament was originally slated to have a mask requirement for players and spectators and no concessions, those plans have been rescinded following the MDI Regional School System’s decision Monday to make masks optional. There will be no spectator limitations.