The pull was too strong to resist.
I had to be there, courtside, just one more time.
From my office window across the street from the Bass Park complex, I now see poles sporting little blue flags and orange tape as preparations are underway in anticipation of a new arena being built on that site.
So the looming possibility the Bangor Auditorium I knew, intimately, for so long, might not be there in another year or so made me realize it was time to return.
From the early ‘80s through 1994 I spent every February vacation in the Bangor Auditorium covering the Eastern Maine Schoolgirl Basketball Tournament.
I am still such a high school basketball fan that, during tournament week, my car radio is permanently tuned to the local sports radio channel, and I swear our television clicks on automatically when the games are finally aired.
When I was covering girls basketball at what some fondly refer to as “The Mecca,” I would often arrive shortly after 7 a.m. to get ready for an 8:05 a.m. game.
More often than not, I was the only person at the press table. Many days, I didn’t leave the building until after 10 p.m. because I had a twofold assignment then: covering at least two games and writing a column for the next day.
If I did leave the building, it would be to run across the street, write up a game story and return in time for the next one, or to get fodder for my column.
I loved every minute of it.
It was the place to be in February.
So it was fun to get back into the auditorium this week and see for myself if anything had changed.
It really hasn’t.
The sights, the smells, the sounds are quite the same.
Maybe it’s a bit louder than I remember, but that’s good. You need those enthusiastic fans to be “the sixth man.”
The older fans are just as colorful as I remember, and they love their teams just as much as they ever did. You don’t have to ask them to know that. You just have to look and listen.
And you certainly can’t escape the aroma of those steamed hot dogs I lived on during those long February days.
The bands are still terrific, but I was surprised at the size of today’s cheering squads. I counted 15 for one team, and their gymnastic routines were most impressive. Obviously, that sport has grown and improved a great deal.
Of course, some things have changed for me, and one of the more significant was the “new-to-me” court that was installed in 1997 after I stopped covering sports. Sitting at the press table this week, I had quite a different view than I remembered. I kept thinking I’d gotten shorter, but in discussing that with a colleague, we agreed the new-to-me floor really is slightly higher than the old one, so the press table is lower than it was before.
When I mentioned it appeared more people were sitting higher up in the balconies than I remember, we realized it could be because a couple of rows of bleachers are no longer pulled all the way out.
And you don’t realize it unless you’ve known something different, but that third official certainly changes your press-table perspective. I’m glad there were only two officials when I was working because, unlike this week with three officials on the floor, I never had an official block my line of sight. That’s tough when you’re keeping score and can’t see who took the shot and missed, especially if no one is beside you to help you out.
Years ago, the media actually had what we called a “press room” off the corridor out back, where we could work in relative quiet between games, eat lunch if we’d brought it, or just hang out for a while. We shared that space with the bands.
Now that area is the food court, and just a little bit of space is left for the bands to assemble before heading out to support their teams.
Overall, the atmosphere is much as I remembered, but the girls game has changed. It’s better. It’s faster. It’s more intense. It’s more focused.
Today’s players have learned from their mothers and grandmothers, whom I wrote about, to be stronger, tougher and more confident, and it shows.
The old auditorium may be leaky, cold, drafty and uncomfortable, but nothing can reduce the glow of those young, shining stars charging down its court.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.