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Memories of high school basketball/Bangor auditorium intertwined

Posted Feb. 12, 2013, at 8:46 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 12, 2013, at 9:37 a.m.

My personal memories of eastern Me high school basketball, and the Bangor Auditorium, are marvelously intertwined! My dad became principal of Ellsworth High School, in 1953, just in time for the second year of those great “Jack Scott” teams at EHS,that won two state championships in a row, 1953 and 1954, the latter team losing to Hillhouse high school, 54-53, in the semi’s of the ’54 New England tourney in Boston Garden, the first game I can ever remember listening to on the radio!

Ellsworth “languished” after that, for years, the highlight was an appearance in the ’56 tourney, on the auditorium floor, the first game I watched there. EHS was a low seed, and got blown out, but the auditorium was a great hit. EHS had a great rivalry with Bangor for those years, and I can remember a great Bangor team, with Carl Daigle, “dandy Dan” Drinon, and others, who did so well in the New England tourney afterward.

My family was from Stonington, and even though my dad went to EHS in ’53, we always had many loyalties, in basketball. Stonington had two great teams, winning it all in ’61 and ’62. Dick Bridges, Steve Robbins, Gary Webb, Glenn Webb, Bob Leali, and many others ran wild on that auditorium floor. Stonington played a western ME team from Porter, in the state game in Bangor, and demolished them 98-45 or something close to that. 98 points was a lot, long before there was ever a three point shot! It was a great thrill for a team from such a small school to experience that victory in the basketball “Mecca” of eastern ME. Early in that particular era, Stonington had a great rivaly with MT Desert high in NE Harbor, coached by the legend, Bunny Parady. We hated them, but it was only on the hardwood, we had many friends from that area. I watched Mt Desert in many games on the auditorium floor!

Ellsworth regained former glory with two State Championships for Stuart Taylor, in ’64 with Dick Jude, Charlie Hammond, Ralph Sargent, Dennis Tracy (Karate man!) and Larry Gross starting. I believe they played Winthrop for the state title, a very close game, decided by a Charlie Hammond tip in with only seconds on the clock. Ellsworth won it all again in ’66 with Wayne Mayo, John Linnehan, Jr, Jimmy Markos, Buddy Wood, and company. Those great names have a way of staying with a person, and coming up later in life as those dedicated players, were very successful in other endeavors. One of the greatest rivalries of that particular time was between EHS and Orono! They had great teams also, and EHS had to deal with them on the auditorium floor too.

My dad was chairman of the State Principals Assn, around 1959, and was deeply involved in running high school sports at the state level. He was head of the eastern ME class L committee for years, and spent a lot of time, not during games, at the auditorium, getting ready for it all. I was just a youngster but went with him often and spent many hours exploring the auditorium and all its many cracks and crevices. There are places in that building that most people have not seen, yet they were my personal “playground” at that time!

I was a student at UMO in the late 60′s and my dad would let me have any “comp tickets” that he had, and was not going to use. I lived in a trailer park in Brewer, and being that close, the temptation was terrible. I skipped some of my classes, and “vegged out” on tourney basketball for those two years.

Despite all the championships won by teams I had particular loyalties too, the single greatest thrill was the large school championship in ’69. I had been a fan of Caribou, for some time, and enjoyed watching the games, mostly on TV, but once in a while in person when I could. I always pulled for the county teams as they seemed perennial “underdogs” and was thrilled when the Caribou team won the east that year, and found myself there for the big game.

Back in my school days at Ellsworth, I was not good enough to play on the varsity team, but was always involved in it in some manner, and we used to play pick-up games a lot, in our spare time. One of the things that kids then did, a lot, was to stand in back court and throw up a bomb, that would win the game, as the clock ran out. It is amazing to see, by experimenting, just how many of them you can actually make!

A young man from Caribou did just that, when it really mattered. The game with Westbrook was in the last seconds of regulation, tied, and Caribou had the ball out in backcourt. Mike Thurston had the ball, and let a two-handed shot go, from well into backcourt (10-15 ft in my memory) and the buzzer went off with the ball in the air. Miraculously it went in, cementing the championship, in a thrilling end whose memories will live forever in the minds of those who witnessed it.

To show you how things “basketball” come around, the “trailing official” on that play was none other than Charlie Katsiaficas, of Ellsworth, the first high school coach when my dad went to Ellsworth, and the man who coached the great EHS teams of the early 50′s. Charlie left teaching and went into business, but he always was around the game afterward, and had sons who later achieved fame at EHS. Charlie was one of the most respected officials that ever ran games, in eastern ME. He immediately signaled that Mike’s shot was good, and the WABI TV replay clearly showed it also, as the buzzer goes off while the ball is airborne.

And in a clear “twist of basketball fate” Mike Thurston, who threw up that thriller, in the last second, went on, himself, to become another of the most respected officials that ever ran high school games, in the east. Mike was a great player as a kid, and a true “gentleman of the hardwood” later in life!

They will tear the old place down, just like they tore down the old “auditorium” that it replaced, but they will not be able to “tear down the memories” as long as those of us who grew up in that place, are still around to talk about it!

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