Great people grew in our backyard

Posted Jan. 12, 2009, at 9:45 p.m.

I field a lot of questions as a sports columnist for this newspaper.

Granted, there is a bit of notoriety which accompanies such a weekly enterprise but, for the most part, it is a pretty calm endeavor.

Recently, someone asked me in public who were the most famous people with whom I dealt.

Hmmm… I’m thinking, sports people? Yes, he replied. OK. Let’s start with basketball.

I would have to say the most famous person I dealt with personally in basketball would have been the longtime Boston Celtics coach and general manager Arnold “Red” Auerbach.

When you were in the same room with Red, you could only think about two things: The history of the man that affected you so much growing up, and that huge cigar.

So far, so good, I’m thinking, and then I realized that I’ve come across some pretty special basketball people right in our own backyard.

At the top of any list I’d make locally would have to be former Bates College standout athlete and former Bangor High boys hoop coach Frederick “Red” Barry. I always felt the same around BHS’s Red as I did around Boston’s Red.

Funny thing is, the two were a lot alike, they just operated in different venues.

Any others in any other sport? The inquiry continued. How about football?

Remember Vagas Ferguson?

Yes, he did.

I had his sister as a student in my English class back in the 1970s in Indiana. Met him once. The Richmond, Ind., native, who starred at Richmond High School, would take his considerable gridiron skills to Notre Dame and the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers.

I met young Vagas one day when he picked Dawn up after school.

What I remember most about that day was how big he was. Oh, my, this guy’s neck is as big as my thigh, I’m thinking.

But in Bangor, Maine, there’s this guy Jimmy Nelson, who was equally as big and took his own gridiron talents to the University of Cincinnati after his success at Bangor High School.

Once again, we had our own famous people right here to watch, imitate and admire.

Funny thing about all this famous people stuff — some live right in our own midst.

The inquiry continued. How about any other sports?

Baseball, he asked?

Ted Williams, I said. Teddy Ballgame. 1959. I spoke briefly with the Splendid Splinter one day in 1959. I was too young to interview the tanned giant, but I was impressed all the while.

And then I’m thinking, what about Bob Kelley, the former baseball coach at Bangor High School, who had a pretty fair hardball career of his own going until an injury forced his retirement at an early age?

Like hundreds of others, I benefited from his teaching and his coaching skills, which developed from Kelley’s adjustment to a different level of expertise.

The casual conversation led me to examine the sports landscape here, and realize that Maine has produced some pretty high-fiber sports figures right in our own backyard.

30-Second Time Out

Former Caribou boys basketball coach Jim Carter checks in to tell us that once again he and Kevin Sjoberg are combining their vocal talents to cover high school basketball games on the Time Warner Cable TV Network.

Jim says the games are broadcast live locally in the Aroostook County area and later on in other areas of the state. The likeable Carter went on to note that, after Jan. 8, all games will be televised live in southern, central, and northern Maine as well as the Bangor area.

Jim went on to say that rebroadcasts will be done a few days after the actual game. This year, viewers can also go to Time Warner’s On Demand Channel and select from the library of previous broadcasts at no charge.

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