BREWER — After the last events of Saturday’s Class C track and field meet, Gavin Billings had a brief flashback to his first time on the state championship stage.
Three years ago, Billings made the long trip to Massabesic High School as one of just five Bucksport boys’ track team members competing in the year-end meet. That day was a challenging one for the Golden Bucks, who finished the day 29th in the 32-team field.
“We only brought a handful of kids, maybe,” Billings, now a senior and team captain, recalled of the meet. “We were at the bottom of every event we were in.”
In the three years since, though, the Golden Bucks have grown in experience and numbers. That growth culminated Saturday as Bucksport punctuated its meteoric rise with the biggest prize of all.
The Bucksport boys claimed an emphatic win Saturday in the Class C championships at Brewer Community School. The Golden Bucks broke away from the pack late in the meet to finish with 75 points, 19 clear of runner-up Traip Academy, and win the state title for the second time in program history (2004).
Bucksport’s first win on the day came courtesy of William Hileman, who finished in 4 minutes, 35.18 seconds to win the 1,600-meter run. The freshman beat out Lisbon/Oak Hill’s Hunter Burkhardt by 1.24 seconds to place first in a tight field that also included Sumner’s Logan Carter and Orono’s Liam Farrell.
“I have no idea how I did that,” said Hileman, whose time broke a previous personal record of 4:40.14 set one week earlier in the PVC Small-School championships. “I just ran, and somehow, I ended up first. … I don’t know how I survived, but I’ve never felt so good in my life.”
Nathan Paulauskas added an event win in the high jump for the Bucksport boys’ team as he cleared a height of 6 feet. Billings recorded a distance of 47 feet, 1 inch to give the Golden Bucks a victory in the shot put.
Bucksport also racked up points with a number of second- and third-place finishes. Hileman placed second in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:24.48, and Billings (javelin, 140-5) and Collin Simpson (long jump, 21-0; triple jump, 41-11) placed third in their respective events.
The win, though, was not just a product of Bucksport’s top finishers. With numerous athletes outperforming their seedings, the Golden Bucks were able to accumulate extra points that gave them some added breathing room as the day unfolded.
“We had guys who were seeded 14th and 11th placing seventh and fourth for us,” Billings said. “We were able to get a lot of points like that, which was great all around.”
After a decisive win one week earlier in the Penobscot Valley Conference Small-School championships, Bucksport athletes and coaches were optimistic about their team’s chances. Although head coach Matt Morrison was wary of the other challengers, he was confident his group would emerge victorious if it performed to the best of its ability.
“We talked about that all week,” Morrison said. “We worked to help get the kids in the right frame of mind so that they knew they were going to have to step up. If they did their best, they were going to come on top, which is what happened.”
With the exception of October’s state golf championships, Saturday’s track meets were the only state title competitions to have been held in Maine since the pandemic began. For Billings, who lost tackle football and wrestling seasons to the pandemic, the drive to bring home hardware was greater than ever after more than a full year without traditional sports.
“It means a lot after not having the fall and winter, especially because I was really looking forward to this year a lot,” Billings said. “To not have those was really crushing, but I was still happy to be able to have this season to show that we’ve all been working hard.”
Bucksport also had a good day on the girls’ side as it earned 56 1/3 points to place third in the 31-team field. Ava Knowles finished first in the shot put (31-2 3/4) and second in the discus (93-3) for the Golden Bucks, who also got second-place finishes from Johanna Stiles (100-meter dash, 13.00) and the 4-by-100 team (Stiles, Addie Morrison, Angelina Cotoni, Britney Bussey, 52.61).
The meet fell on what was the hottest day of the year thus far throughout the region. Yet temperatures in Brewer reaching the mid-80s on a June afternoon was, at the very least, normal — as were the scenes of athletes, coaches and spectators gathering for a statewide, year-end event.
“It’s a relief for everybody, and it’s just a great transition to summer for us,” Morrison said. “For everybody just to be here to celebrate their student athletes and celebrate their towns and teams, it’s a great validation and a good step forward.”
The GSA boys, who were in contention early in the meet, finished fifth with 45 points. Franklin Sealander won the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 16.72 for the Eagles, who got a 4-by-800 relay win from Andrew Hipsky, Clark Morrison, Noah Czuj and Tom Norgang (8:52.46).
GSA also took fifth place on the girls’ side with 52 points. Maranda Pert won the discus with a throw of 112-5 for the Eagles, and the quarter of Thea Crowley, Josie Czuj, Oceania Black and Violet Czuj added a second-place finish in the 4-by-800 relay (10:14.33).
Senior Logan Carter had a strong day for the Sumner boys with a second-place finish in the 800-meter run (2:09.28) and a fourth-place effort in the 1,600-meter run (4:42.85). Luna Perry-St. Peter placed eighth in the javelin (82-4) for the Deer Isle-Stonington girls.