Lost in all the hoopla and excitement surrounding four teams playing for regional basketball championships was the history and significance of playing high school tournament games on the Alfond Arena court for the first time.
The first high school tourney game ever played on the University of Maine’s Alfond floor ended with a 42-39 final score and Washington Academy of East Machias winning its first regional girls basketball title, and by most accounts it was a rousing success.
“I thought the atmosphere and the facility were all great. I enjoyed the experience,” said Washington Academy coach Gary Wood, whose Raiders edged Orono 42-39 for their first regional title. “I was kind of wondering what it would be like, but as it turned out it, it was loud and the crowd was really into it.”
Maine Principals Association member Norris Nickerson said about 1,750 fans attended the Alfond title doubleheader.
“The MPA can’t say enough about how accommodating and great the people at UMaine were in helping us host these games here on fairly short notice,” said Nickerson. “Everyone was very pleased with how everything went.”
After snowstorms forced the postponement of the Eastern Maine Class C boys and girls finals twice, from Saturday to Monday to Tuesday, and their relocation from the Bangor Auditorium to Alfond due to the need to set up a recreation products trade show long ago scheduled for the Auditorium.
Monday’s snowstorm was particularly disruptive as WA’s team bus, fan bus and band bus were all well on their way to Bangor and already in Ellsworth when they got word that the games were postponed.
“It was really frustrating yesterday,” said WA senior guard Christy Smith. “We were really mad at the MPA (Maine Principals Association) because we called them five times to tell them we were on our way and then they canceled it when we were an hour away. But, it honestly wasn’t that hard to get fired back up today.”
So fired up that hardly anyone seemed to notice they were playing on the same court graced by collegiate stars like Cindy Blodgett, Jamie Cassidy, Rachel Bouchard, and Andy Bedard from Maine and current NBA player Jose Juan Barea from Northeastern University,
“Not really. They’re a little bit young to even remember the Blodgett days, so we all just kind of focused on the task at hand,” said Wood. “We didn’t even really talk about it other than I said it was a good opportunity to play there at the Alfond Arena.
“We decided quite awhile ago that we didn’t care who we played, where we played or when we played as long as we played.”
That was pretty much the same tact taken by the other coaches.
“They all know about this place and most of them have been here several times, so they were excited,” said Walter Crabtree, whose Sumner of East Sullivan boys team played Lee Academy for the boys East C crown in Tuesday’s second game. “We would’ve been excited if we’d played it on a playground, but this was just a great atmosphere and a tremendous venue.”
And although Alfond’s atmosphere and sight lines were quite different from what they were used to, players said it didn’t take too long to get acclimated.
“We all thought it was going to be a disadvantage, but once we got on the court, the adrenaline and the intensity really helped us, “ said WA forward Taylor Seeley.
“We’d never played here before, so we were quite hyped up and nervous, but once we got the jitters out, we were fine,.” said fellow Raiders senior Kayleigh Bridges. “Besides the big scoreboard reflecting on the backboard during foul shots, it wasn’t too tough to get used to.”
It was a first in other ways for both Washington Academy’s girls and Lee’s boys as they both won their schools’ first girls and boys regional championships, respectively.
It’s been quite a memorable season for Lee head coach Randy Harris and his Pandas players, coaches, and fans – all of whom are celebrating a 64-42 victory over Sumner.
It’s been a few years since Lee Academy started up a postgraduate basketball program attracting players from all over the country as well as internationally. It was a move that has helped both the high school and postgrad teams.
“I know people don’t like the fact we have 6-foot-7 Chinese kids, but I can’t explain what a wonderful experience it is to have Jasil Elder from Connecticut, a kid from China (sophomore Daniel He), and another from Lithuania (sophomore Arturas Makovskis) at my house the last few nights watching TV together,” said Harris. “Winning, and winning a championship is just gravy on top of this cultural opportunity we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
If that’s gravy, then making a little history along the way must be dessert.