BANGOR, Maine — When Larry Gardner’s Fort Fairfield girls met Arnie Clark’s Woodland team in Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class D championship basketball game, it was a bit of a rivalry reunion for the head coaches.
The former boys head coaches were back on opposing benches for a tournament game again: Only this time it was as girls head coaches.
“It’s great to coach against Arnie again,” said Gardner, who coached Fort Fairfield’s boys teams for nine years and just finished his 11th as the girls varsity coach. “We used to play Calais and Woodland in the regular season with the boys and see them a couple times a year.
Last year, the coaches’ girls teams hooked up for a preliminary playoff game.
“Last year, they were No. 2, we were No. 15, and they just hammered us,” Gardiner said. “We’ve had a lot of different matchups over the years.”
One of the more memorable ones was in 1986, after Gardner’s Tigers survived an overtime thriller 72-69 against Van Buren in which Alan Madore scored a tourney game record 54 points.
“We played his Calais boys back in 1986 in the quarterfinals. They were number two and we were seventh, and we ended up losing by six or eight points,” said Gardner. “Arnie came to the Van Buren game to scout us and I remember seeing him right under the basket when we scored on a heave from the other end of the court to tie it and send the game into overtime.
“He was heading out the exit, but after the ball went in, he turned right around and went back to the stands.”
Back then, Clark’s Blue Devils were undefeated. It was the same situation this time around, although the classes and seedings were different. This year, Gardner’s Tigers were seeded third, Clark’s unbeaten Dragons were top-ranked, and it was the Class D rather than C tourney.
“Larry’s kids are always well-coached. You don’t hear him over there raving and hollering about stuff he should have taken care of in practice,” Clark said. “It was nice for me to have a chance to coach against him again. I have all the respect in the world for Larry Gardner.”
Personal history aside, Saturday’s 49-34 victory for Woodland brought some other memories back for Gardner.
“There’s a little history between Fort and Woodland,” Gardner said. “In 1984, we beat them in the Eastern Maine [boys] final. In 1988, we beat them in the quarterfinals after being down 18 in the third quarter.”
The two coaches won’t have a chance for a rematch next year as Clark’s Dragons are switching classifications again.
“Hey, that’s fine. We don’t mind,” Gardner said. “They’re going back to C next year, so we won’t have to worry about them.”