Eastern Maine Class C basketball players, coaches and fans got a chance to experience what tournament life might be like in the post-Bangor Auditorium era this week, and it seemed to be pretty good.
Feedback from the shift of Tuesday’s regional finals to Alfond Arena at the University of Maine in Orono when the Auditorium wasn’t available for the twice-rescheduled games has been virtually all positive — far from the prevailing sense that the 50-something-year-old barn on Buck Street in Bangor is the only place to crown Eastern Maine B, C and D champions now and in the future.
The move to the Alfond provided a fresh setting — at least for the high school basketball community — complete with replays on the scoreboard and easier access to seating than the Auditorium practice of fans arriving to watch the second game of a doubleheader often having to wait in the hallways until fans in the lower bleachers leave after the first game.
And, yes, there was even crowd noise, which had been a concern given that the fans are more removed from the Alfond court situated inside the facility’s hockey rink than from the Auditorium floor less than 20 feet from the first row of bleachers.
Perhaps the biggest complaint was that the reflection of the overhead scoreboard at Alfond off the glass backboards was a minor distraction for free-throw shooters not used to it.
But while some folks still will lament the lateness of the Maine Principals’ Association decision to postpone Monday’s games amid the treacherous driving conditions of the day, few can argue with the solution reached by the MPA and the University of Maine to address the dilemma of not having the Auditorium available Tuesday because of a previously scheduled trade show.
The university played the role of good citizen in accommodating the games — as it should given its reliance on Maine taxpayers for the bulk of its financial wherewithal — and the result was a first-class experience for the teams and fans.
Don’t expect Alfond Arena to be part of any long-term solution for what to do about future tournaments if the pending referendum on whether to build a new arena in Bangor is not approved. The Alfond already has its fill of tenants, particularly the University of Maine hockey team that aspires to play deep into March each year.
What this episode does suggest, however, is that the high school basketball tournaments will be just fine in a new Bangor Auditorium or Maine Center or whatever any new civic center/arena in the Queen City might be called.
Teams will continue to covet the opportunity to compete for championships no matter where they are staged, and the updated amenities a state-of-the-art facility would provide teams and fans will merely bring the tournament — and other events that come to Bangor throughout the year — into the 21st century.
Tuesday’s impromptu move of the tourney to Alfond Arena clearly showed that while the Bangor Auditorium as it is has served the state’s high school basketball community admirably for more than five decades, not only is it not irreplaceable for the purpose of luring new activities to the city, it also has the potential for breathing new life into existing events.
The city says the money is there, between Hollywood Slots proceeds and tax increment financing funds.
Ultimately the voters of Bangor will make that call on May 4.