HARRINGTON, Maine — Sunday was yet another nail-biting, grab-me-another-beer-will-ya- hun? Patriots’ playoff afternoon sort of day.
For the New England nation of Patriot football faithful, Sunday’s game boiled down to watching angelic Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady versus demonic Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis in a brief moment in sports history that would determine which team is headed to this year’s Super-Bowl.
While many Down East families were busy Sunday afternoon getting nachos, hot wings, microwave popcorn and deep-dish pizzas ready to park in front of the kids and the big screen TV for the big playoff game, other families opted instead to gather at Narraguagas High School’s gymnasium in Harrington to watch their kids get some calories-free basketball exercise with the help of University of Maine-Machias basketball players.
Now married for nine years and the parents of Brantley, 8, and Brayden, 4, Mindy and Dan Kane share a life-long love affair with athletics. She played basketball in college and husband Dan played both baseball and basketball in high school. Now 41 and 36, respectively, Mindy and Dan share their enthusiasm for athletics with, at last count, the 81 K-5 students from Addison, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington and Milbridge who are now enrolled in their grass-roots children’s intramural program.
Their program includes not only winter-months basketball, but fair-weather soccer. As it did on Sunday, the basketball program enjoys the support of the University of Maine-Machias men’s and women’s basketball trams, with UMM players showing up to work with the kids on dribbling, passing, shooting and other basic skills. There’s even a “Little Dribblers” program that performs its ball-handling skills at halftimes of UMM basketball games.
“It’s great to have college-level players involved,” says Mindy. “After the drills they do with the kids, they’ll often put on a shooting and passing exhibition, and the kids think they are watching the NBA.”
Dan says the couple started the program as an alternative to hauling their boys 30-plus miles to the Ellsworth YMCA for athletics programs. “Around here, pee-wee activities don’t start until fourth grade, and we wanted our kids to be active sooner than that,” Dan said Sunday. “We decided that it would be better to have something for kids from here to do here, rather than have to travel to Ellsworth. It was a question of wanting them to be working out, not riding in the car.”
While there is a $25 fee for each child who joins the program, Mindy and Dan understand that fee is not nominal with some low-income families. “We work with families to meet their needs,” she says. “This is not about money. What money we raise between selling hats and concessions, we use to buy soccer goals and scoreboards that work for both basketball and soccer.”
Parents and grandparents of the dozens of pint-sized athletes involved seem grateful that the program is up, running and successful.
“It’s a better alternative than having him sitting in front of a video game,” Caroline Merritt of Cherryfield said of her 8-year-old grandson Jackson Murphy, who couldn’t wait Sunday to get on the court.
“It’s fun,” Jackson said. More fun than video games? That, he said, depends on the video game.
The Kanes are running the program on a shoestring. Concessions, ranging from bottled water to pepperoni pizza, bring in some income, as does sale of promotional baseball caps, at $10 each. Dan is particularly proud that the program has acquired 39 leather basketballs, no small accomplishment at $40 each.