His wife, Joanne Palombo McCallie, was honored Monday by having a banner unveiled that displayed her name in the company of the UMaine greats whose jersey numbers have been retired before her eighth-ranked Duke University team’s 75-34 win over Maine.
McCallie, a former Brunswick High School star in her first head coaching job, directed the Black Bears to a 167-73 record, four league championships and six NCAA tourney berths from 1992-2000. The player who was the catalyst for four of those seasons is now the head coach at Maine: Cindy Blodgett.
The enthusiastic crowd of 3,17 created an atmosphere similar to the McCallie-Blodgett heydays.
“To be honest, it was a little emotional for me seeing all the people coming out to honor Joanne and Cindy and what they did here,” said John McCallie. “It brought back all the great times, all the great crowds we used to get here and the excitement. It brought tears to my eyes. We had eight fantastic years here.”
Joanne P. McCallie, who left Maine for a seven-year stint and a berth in an NCAA title game at Michigan State, admitted she was “overwhelmed” by the atmosphere and festivities.
“I didn’t know what was going on. You get a little funny feeling in your tummy. It was a beautiful thing,” said McCallie, who is known as Coach P. “I’m so grateful to Cindy and the effort made by the athletic administration. It was a speechless kind of thing.”
Blodgett said it was “tough” controlling her feelings.
“I had so many different emotions. My loyalty is to my team and to get them ready. And I think we did that. Then there’s the human element. She was my coach and I love her dearly and I really wanted her to have a special moment when she came back to Maine.
“I thought the whole administration really did a nice job,” said Blodgett.
The Duke players were appreciative of the way their coach was honored and of the Maine hospitality.
“I think [McCallie] was really happy and emotional. It was a big time for her and for us, too,” said Duke freshman center Allison Vernerey. “It was great. We felt welcomed.”
“It’s always exciting to see new places and to bring Coach P back home to see where she started her coaching and everything,” said junior center Krystal Thomas. “It has been fun.”
“The lobster was great,” said junior Karime Christmas.
The fans came from all over the state and the attraction was twofold: the return of McCallie and getting the chance to see a nationally-ranked program.
“I always followed Joanne when she was here,” said Bangor’s Carol Beagan.
“I wanted to see some really good players, not that Maine doesn’t have any,” said Portland’s Beth Lawrence.
“Duke has such a high-quality team,” observed Brewer’s Mike Dalton.
Bangor’s Andrew Williams and Brewer’s Brittany Sulinski were also interested in seeing the Blue Devils.
Scarborough’s Don Briggs is involved in AAU basketball and took several girls to McCallie’s summer basketball camp at Duke. Many were on hand.
“Duke is so athletic. It’s great for our kids to see this,” said Briggs.
Don Olen used to be a season-ticket holder during the McCallie days even though he is from Falmouth.
The outpouring of support didn’t surprise him.
“Maine fans know what Joanne did for the sport,” said Olen.
“It was wonderful to see Joanne and Cindy together. It was like a return to glory,” said Bangor’s Keith Mahaney.