When the Presque Isle boys took the floor against Ellsworth at the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 18, two adoring fans cheered from the lower balcony.
As they have during every Eastern Maine Basketball Tournament for almost 40 years, Faye Albert and Joan Butler sat in the approximately same seats to watch the game. They had caught the 9:05 a.m. Class B quarterfinal between the Medomak Valley and Nokomis girls, then stayed for the boys’ match-up.
Yet while they sought a Presque Isle victory — even while seated among boisterous Ellsworth fans, no less — neither Albert nor Butler has ever lived in the Star City. They hail from Houlton, in fact, but during the tournament, they become all-County fans, cheering for every Aroostook team that plays at the Mecca.
“We enjoy the Aroostook County teams,” Albert said. “They’re first on the list. And we enjoy the local teams (around) here as well as the County teams.”
Butler’s not just a basketball fan; she’s played the game, initially as “pick-up basketball with the local boys and girls” in Houlton. A 1953 Houlton HS graduate, Butler played girls’ basketball in that era when “no-body came” to the games and the girls’ team “could only use the gym in the afternoon.” She was a forward on the Shiretowner squad.
Albert never played basketball; she enjoyed golf and tennis, often playing nine rounds at a Houlton golf course after her workday ended. She graduated from Houlton High School in 1948.
Albert and Butler worked in the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad’s Houlton offices until the railroad con-solidated all satellite offices at Northern Maine Junction in 1974. “I had 16 years in at that time. I had to move south. There weren’t any jobs around Houlton,” Albert said. She bought a home in Veazie; Butler purchased a house in Bangor.
While they worked for the B&A, Albert and Butler could attend only evening and weekend games during the tournament. Then, as now, they cheered for the Aroostook County teams and, when the auditorium housed the Class A tourney, local squads like Bangor, Brewer, and Hampden.
Over the years, Butler cheered for her nephews and nieces playing basketball for Houlton. She did take time off when “the family came down to play. A lot of people we knew played for County teams.”
In time her extended family partially relocated to the Bangor area. This past season Butler and Albert cheered for the Bangor girls and particularly for 6-1 freshman Mary Butler, who scored 19 points as the Rams defeated the Brewer Witches in a Feb. 14 prelim.
“She’s my great niece,” Joan Butler said. “We’ve been chasing her around to the local games.”
“My first-generation nephew, Chris Gray, he was a great basketball player for Hermon when they won” the Eastern Maine Class B tournament years ago, she said.
By the time they retired — Albert in 1992, Butler in 1995 — the women found the perfect place to watch tournament action. “Up on the first balcony” on the home team’s side, “we’re back five or six rows,” Butler said.
“We like to go for the warm-ups and stay for the entire session,” Albert said. “We won’t sit in the bleachers; the seats are too hard.”
“Those seats in the balcony, they are curved; they’re more comfortable,” Butler said.
Before heading to a tourney session, Butler intently studies the Bangor Daily News sports pages to learn which teams play when. She often takes a yellow highlighter to the pages to mark interesting sections.
Albert and Butler strategically plan their tourney visits. “If we go to a morning game, we’ll go for lunch and then come back,” Butler said. “We love the mornings; we’re fresher.”
Over the years “we see some of the same people,” she said, referring to other fans and tournament officials. If Houlton is the home team, she and Albert chat with people they know. One year Butler asked a woman, “Aren’t you the lady who bought a car from my brother, Ken Butler?”
“Sure am,” the woman replied.
Because they do not switch sides, there are times when Albert and Butler find themselves sitting among fans cheering for the team playing a lower-seed Aroostook squad. “We sit still and mind our business,” Butler said. “None of that cheering and making noise for our team; that wouldn’t be polite, cheering while we’re sitting with the other team.”
The women make moderate noise, at best; “we’ve never been thrown out,” Albert noted. “We’ve behaved pretty well.”
“I try to represent the team well and my gender, too,” Butler said.
“Probably the highlight of our tournament years was following Cindy Blodgett’s career,” Butler said. “It was an exciting and unique opportunity to follow her from high school through college.”
Although they follow the University of Maine women’s basketball teams, Albert and Butler do not watch professional basketball. They prefer the game played at the high-school level, where “the kids play their hearts out. It’s not a ‘run-dunk,’” Albert commented.
Besides watching the tournament action, the women like the bands. “We enjoy John Bapst and their band,” Albert said. “Bangor has such a big section of drums now. When they get going, it’s real loud and it’s real good; they really get the fans fired up.”
“The Houlton bands have really done a fantastic job over the years,” Butler said.
Neither she nor Albert has experienced high adventure during a particular tournament, but “a couple of years ago, I got lost in the Bangor Auditorium that I’ve been in all these years,” Butler sheepishly admitted.
Spotting an acquaintance sitting in the balcony across the way, Butler left her seat and navigated the auditorium’s corridors and stairwells for a short visit. “On the way back I got lost,” she recalled. “I ended up down every hallway and set of stairs. It took me a half hour to get back to my seat.
“Finally I got back, and Faye said, ‘Where have you been?’ I told her, ‘I don’t know, but I’ve seen every part of the building,’” Butler said.