JONESPORT, Maine — Controversy and even tragedy marked many of the stories that captured the attention of Maine sports fans in 2012.
From the controversial departures of successful high school basketball coaches to a team having to vacate a state championship for using an ineligible player, and from a former University of Maine football star and NFL player committing murder-suicide to the highs and lows of UMaine’s men’s hockey program, there was much to lament throughout the last 12 months.
But when it came to selecting the WZON/Bangor Daily News Maine sports stories of the year, the voting public opted for a more uplifting storyline.
The emergence of Jonesport-Beals star Garet Beal as the state’s top high school basketball player after leading the legendary Down East powerhouse of just 58 students to its first state championship in nearly two decades last winter, and his subsequent acceptance of a Division I scholarship to continue his playing career at the University of Maine next year, dominated the online balloting by garnering 46.15 percent of the total vote.
That story easily topped Bangor High School boys basketball coach Roger Reed’s decision to resign from that post after 27 years and eight Class A state championships to run for the Maine Legislature after school officials said he would be unable to coach and serve as a legislator at the same time.
The Reed story — which concluded with him winning a seat in the House of Representatives in November, garnered 11.44 percent of the vote.
That was followed by the University of Maine men’s hockey team reaching the NCAA Regionals last winter and then having one of its worst starts in program history this season (9.94 percent); the Dec. 1 murder-suicide involving in which Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and former University of Maine star Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself (8.82 percent); and the decision by the Maine Principals’ Association to vacate the 2010 Class A state championship won by the Cheverus of Portland boys basketball team after its investigation determined that Indiana Faithfull, a transfer student from Australia who went on to be named the state’s Mr. Basketball, was ineligible to play for the entire 2009-10 season (6.75 percent).
Beal was an impact player at Jonesport-Beals from the outset of his freshman season in the fall of 2009, joining sophomores Justin Alley and point guard Matthew Alley to spur hopes along Moosabec Reach for a run that would rekindle memories of the five consecutive state titles won by the Royals between 1970 and 1974 that established the school as the epitome of small-school basketball in Maine.
Jonesport-Beals reached the regional semifinals in Beal’s freshman year before falling in the final seconds to a Schenck of East Millinocket team that went on to win the 2010 state championship.
A year later the Royals advanced to the EM final before being stunned by perennial power Central Aroostook of Mars Hill which, like Schenck, went on to win the gold ball symbolic of the state title.
Last winter, buoyed by a sense of urgency given that Justin and Matthew Alley were now seniors, the Royals went all the way, defeating Deer Isle-Stonington to win their first Eastern Maine crown since 1999 and then topping Forest Hills of Jackman for their first state title since 1993.
And all the while Beal, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound swingman, established himself as arguably the best player in Maine as a junior.
Beal averaged 22.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.8 steals, 3.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game last winter during Jonesport-Beals’ 19-2 season and was named both the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year and a Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team honoree.
“Garet is a dream to coach,” said Jonesport-Beals head coach Gordon Faulkingham at the time. “He’s a coach on the floor, the first to practice and the last to leave. He’s too unselfish at times and a great teammate.”
Beal mulled transferring to a prep school for his senior season but ultimately decided to stay at home, both for his senior year at Jonesport-Beals and for his collegiate future when he committed to Maine in early November.
“Just about all the time I’ve played basketball, it’s been my dream to play in college,” said Beal at the time.
He also was recruited by a number of other mid-major Division I programs, including the University of New Hampshire, Ohio University and Lafayette.
“I’ve had it in my mind that I liked Maine, but I wanted to sit on it for a while and make sure I was making the right decision,” he said.
Before Beal heads off to the state university, he hopes to lead Jonesport-Beals to another state championship, and so far he and the Royals are off to a successful start. Jonesport-Beals begins the new year with a 5-0 record good for first place in the Eastern D Heal point ratings, and Beal is averaging 34.0 points per game.
In addition to the top five stories in the final balloting, other stories considered in the online voting included the decision by Washburn school officials not to rehire Mike Carlos after he led the Beavers to their second straight Class D girls basketball state championship and Carlos subsequently guiding the Houlton boys soccer team to the Class C state title this fall; the ongoing work by the MPA to expand the state’s high school football world from three to four classes; the MPA placing Lee Academy on two years of probation for athletic recruitment violations involving inducements to student-athletes attending the school; the University of Maine abandoning its plan to renovate Memorial Gymnasium as a game site; and Calais High School removing a ban on a student who celebrated after a basketball game by running onto the court and “Tebowing” — taking a prayer stance popularized by NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.