This friendship began in 1996 with a tap on the shoulder.
“Hi,” said the short, bespectacled man to the reporter sitting along press row during tournament week at the Bangor Auditorium. “I’m Harold Hoar.”
I didn’t know quite what to make of Harold at that moment, but what I learned over the ensuing 15 years is that he represented much of what is good about life in northern and eastern Maine, particularly the willingness to care for each other.
And his death last Sunday at age 64 leaves a void not only with family and friends but throughout Maine’s high school basketball world.
The Island Falls native had a mild developmental disability but dealt with that challenge proudly through a love of people and sports — especially high school basketball and his annual pilgrimage to the Eastern Maine tournament in Bangor for the last 31 years.
“Harold was down to earth,” said Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook athletic administrator and longtime baseball coach Murray Putnam, who knew Hoar for more than four decades. “He was flat-out honest and just the sweetest human being there is. And the best thing is that the last time I saw him he was the same as when I first met him. He never changed.”
Hoar greeted opposing basketball teams at Southern Aroostook on game nights with a heart-warming smile, a handshake and words of good luck. And the guests invariably responded with beaming smiles of their own — even though they knew he would be rooting for the other team.
“He was incredibly kind,” said Putnam. “He’d always be there when the visitors’ bus arrived. He took it upon himself to be a good-will ambassador.”
And he was a fan not only of the people involved, but the game itself.
“He was smart enough to know who he was, and in many ways he was a lot sharper than he appeared,” said Lynwood McHatten of Ashland, a basketball official for the past 37 years. “He could tell you who won the 1981 Eastern Maine championship, or he could pull names out of thin air of players who made the key shots in big games.”
Hoar had a special bond with Maine basketball commissioner Peter Webb, a fellow southern Aroostook County native who shared with Harold a devotion to that part of Maine and the kids who grew up playing basketball there.
“Harold was Harold, you got what he had to give and that was that he genuinely liked you,” said Webb. “He wanted you to know that and all he wanted in return was for you to like him. At times it takes a special person to help us realize that we need to stretch our attention far beyond simply ourselves.”
Hoar had an affinity for all basketball officials, welcoming those wearing the whistles at virtually every game he attended. Come tournament time, he’d let the officials know when the teams arrived on court before each game and later retrieved their warm-up jackets.
And the officials looked out for Harold.
Sometimes it was a donation to help defray his tourney week expenses or a ride home from a Southern Aroostook game. Sometimes it was more official, like his being named an honorary member of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials or his annual presentation at the Northern Maine board’s annual banquet.
“Harold was always part of the agenda,” said McHatten. “He’d get up and let us know what kind of season we’d had, and he’d always remember some game where he thought someone had missed a couple of traveling calls and mention the officials by name. We were all fair game, but Harold was never hurtful.”
A celebration of Harold’s life will be held Saturday at Bowers Funeral Home in Island Falls. In lieu of flowers donations may be made in his memory to the fledgling Maine Basketball Hall of Fame — 4 Union Plaza, Suite 11, Bangor 04401 — that is slated to be housed in the new Bangor arena currently under construction.
A tribute brick or a plaque bearing Harold Hoar’s name would be a fitting addition to the new building. For as much as he gained from being part of the tournament scene for so many years at the current Bangor Auditorium, what others have gained from getting to know him there is even more substantial.