As long lines of cars turn off Main Street into the old, soon-to-be-replaced Bangor Auditorium this high school basketball tournament week, it’s hard not to reflect on the people inside. They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, family friends and, perhaps most significant, the plain but oh-so-reliable hometown basketball fans who cheer the team on year after year.
Mom and Dad may be fretting for their child. He or she is nervous, they know, about the big game. Will he get some floor time? Will she make the right switch on defense? Inside the auditorium, the parents are the ones with tightened, thin lips, furrowed brows, eyes anxiously scanning the floor, silently offering up a prayer that daughter or son plays well. The young athlete’s case of nerves likely was confessed at home, but during the pregame layup drill, it doesn’t show, because it’s time to put on the swagger. Confidence, after all, is the companion of champions.
The extended family members are less fretful and are more likely to beam with pride when the family name is announced over the PA system. Whatever the final score is, Grampy and Grammy are going to be more proud than they were at tip-off. Theirs is an essential role in this drama, offering a hug or an “attaboy” at the after-game meal. Uncles and aunts echo the accolades, whether it’s a win or a loss.
And then there are the folks who are fixtures at the hometown high school gym each Friday or Saturday night. No one is really sure — are they related to one of the ballplayers? Long ago, did a son or daughter trot up and down these hardwood floors and the habit of attending stuck? Or is it that they just enjoy witnessing the amateur ballet and epic battle that is a high school basketball game?
They, too, play a critical role. They are the cross-stitches of community. It is they who know that a student athlete has a better chance of succeeding in the classroom if he or she takes on the discipline, cooperation and sacrifice of a team sport. When the young athlete passes the anonymous fan’s familiar face at the grocery store or on the sidewalk outside the movie theater, the teen simultaneously is being supported and held accountable, which is what a healthy community is all about. So of course, that fan, too, makes the drive to Bangor to see the big game.
And what a game it is. Football has been compared to a military action, with front lines, aerial and ground assaults, field generals and players anonymous under their helmets. Baseball is like a square dance, an agrarian, 19th century game which does not acknowledge time and the rules of which escort players around a diamond.
But basketball is like jazz; five players following a loose progression but free to improvise within the confines of the offense. The guard’s pass is made only when the forward makes the baseline cut; the roll to the hoop must precisely follow the crisply set screen. Like soccer and hockey, basketball is an in-the-moment game providing the joy of intuitive, high-speed decision-making for player and fan alike, revealing the mettle of a team’s soul.
Maine often is not “the way life should be.” It can be tough and cold and lean. But it’s worth savoring the special qualities of life here that make it all worthwhile. The basketball tournament is one of them.