The Washington Academy girls basketball team bus had slogged its way through snow, slush and ice along U.S. Route 1 to a store in Ellsworth — some 55 miles from home in East Machias — when the Raiders learned their Eastern Maine Class C championship game against Orono, set for just two hours later, had been postponed Monday afternoon.
“I talked to our AD [Blaine Steeves] before I went into the store and the game was still on,” said WA coach Gary Wood. “When I came out, the AD was on the phone saying the game was off.”
So the team bus turned around and headed home, as did the school’s band bus and fan bus, which both had reached Milbridge en route to the Bangor Auditorium before getting the news.
The Eastern C finals featuring the WA and Orono girls and boys teams from Lee Academy and Sumner of East Sullivan, originally scheduled for Saturday night but moved to Monday due to a snowstorm last Friday, now will be played Tuesday at Alfond Arena on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono. The girls game starts at 5:05 p.m., followed by the boys game at 6:45 p.m.
The Eastern Maine Class A finals, featuring the Hampden Academy and Messalonskee of Oakland girls and Bangor and Edward Little of Auburn boys, also were postponed for the second time Monday. They will be played Tuesday, at 6:05 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., respectively, at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Western Maine Class A boys and girls finals, also postponed last Friday, were played as rescheduled Monday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
The Maine Principals’ Association announced Monday’s postponements via press release at 2:10 p.m., just after notifying the participating schools that the games would be pushed back one more day due to Monday’s snowstorm and the related treacherous travel conditions.
“The inclement weather lasted longer than we anticipated based on all the forecasts,” said MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Burnham, who was in steady contact throughout the day with the schools involved as well as the National Weather Service. “The decision was made later than we would have liked, but with the roads getting worse instead of better and there being a number of accidents, we made the decision based on the safety issue.”
The WA team bus left school at 12:15 p.m. for the 85-mile drive to Bangor, and arrived back home about 5:30 p.m. with no championship hardware aboard, only the chance to board the bus again about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.
“Obviously we were disappointed,” said Wood. “We were looking forward to playing, but these kids are good at taking things as they come, so they’ll shrug it off and we’ll be ready to play Tuesday.”
The Orono girls basketball team, meanwhile, was being feted with a “human gauntlet” through the school’s hallways to the music of The Outfield’s “Winning it All” when it learned the game was being postponed.
“We let the girls out at 1:50 and told them to go to the middle school for one final film session with coach [Jessica] Libby,” said Orono athletic director Mike Archer. “Then when they got there, Jess’ computer supposedly wasn’t working so they were told Mr. [Orono principal Jim] Chasse had something set up they could use, and that would get them back to the high school.
“Once they got to the ramp between the two schools, the rest of the students were set up in a gauntlet that led to the gymnasium.
“The girls had no idea what was going on, they were very surprised.”
By the time the Orono players emerged from that human tunnel and walked into the gym about 2:05 p.m., they got the same news their opponents got aboard their school bus.
“I was surprised they let us know so late, but there might have been something going on we don’t know about,” said Libby, whose team held a brief shootaround after the rally before heading home. “But it affected Washington Academy more than it did us.”
One other issue facing the Class C teams and tournament officials was where their rescheduled games would be played.
The Bangor Auditorium wasn’t available, because on Tuesday it will be set up for Wednesday’s Bombardier Recreational Products Ultimate Playground Spring Tour, a previously scheduled show featuring Can-Am ATVs and other Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo product displays.
The MPA initially announced the Class C games would be played at the University of Maine, with its Memorial Gymnasium — aka “The Pit” — and Alfond Arena both under consideration.
But with Memorial Gymnasium capable of seating just 1,200 fans — 1,500 with the possible addition of portable bleachers — the MPA and university officials worked to gain access to the 5,600-seat Alfond Arena, an agreement that ultimately was worked out about 4:30 p.m.
“The university was very helpful and accommodating at the last minute to help make this possible,” said Burnham, citing the efforts of UMaine Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations Will Biberstein and athletic department administrative assistant Ranee Dow.
Biberstein said some afternoon and evening events scheduled Tuesday at Alfond Arena had to be displaced in order to accommodate the high school basketball games, but that the UMaine hockey team already had been scheduled to practice Tuesday morning.
“With as many people coming to support their teams, to have the games at the Pit may have put us in a position of having to turn people away, and we certainly didn’t that to be an issue for fans,” said Biberstein. “So we’re excited to get the opportunity to have the games at Alfond Arena and have the chance to provide these student-athletes and their fans a first-class experience.”
The Class C teams will have to adjust to the distance between the baskets at Alfond Arena court and the background a considerable distance behind them, which will represent a significant change in depth perception from the Bangor Auditorium, whose walls are just 20 feet or so beyond the baskets.
They’ll also have to adapt to a longer court, with the standard college court 94 feet from end to end compared to 84 feet for the regulation high school court.
“It will be the same for both us, so both of us will have to adjust,” said Wood. “As for the length, it shouldn’t bother us too much because we play at UMaine-Machias all summer.”
No matter where the games are held, the teams that have advanced to this point of the Eastern Maine high school basketball season remain focused primarily on the opportunity to compete — albeit delayed — for the chance to advance to this weekend’s state finals.
“I think the kids are so excited to still be playing at this point that it doesn’t matter where they play,” said Libby. “We’re just so excited to be playing in the Eastern Maine final, and as far as where we play we’ll be in the same boat as Washington Academy.”
Before the current Bangor Auditorium was built in 1956, the Class L boys basketball tourney was held at UMaine’s Memorial Gym.