BANGOR, Maine — Lisa Blais was a trailblazer. So were Rachel Bouchard and Joanne Palombo.
They not only helped put high school girls basketball on the map in Maine, but they also proved that girls from the state could play at the highest level after high school.
Blais Manning, Bouchard and Palombo-McCallie were among the 22 inductees at the inaugural Maine Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony at the Cross Insurance Center on Thursday night.
A shadow was cast over the ceremony, however, when it was revealed early in the day that legendary Jonesport-Beals High School boys basketball coach Ordie Alley was not being inducted. Alley was on the original list of the inductees released in late March, but his name was later rescinded. He also was removed as a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2003.
Thursday’s inductees were unwilling to comment on the decision.
Blais Manning, Bouchard and Palombo-McCallie were inducted as players along with Brett Brown, Thomas “Skip” Chappelle, Danny Coombs, Don Crosby, Matt Donahue, Brad Moore, Steve Pound, Doug Roberts, Jack Scott, Joe Harrington, Matt Hancock, Jon MacDonald and John Mitchell.
The coaches inducted were Bob Brown, George Wentworth, Dick Whitmore and Paul Vachon.
The late Jim DiFrederico was selected to the Hall as an official, and Bob Butler was chosen in the contributor category.
There were nine Legends of the Game who were recognized for their accomplishments: Wally Donovan, Bill Mansfield, William Hanscom, Estella W. McLean, Clara Swan, Durward Heal, Charlie Wotten, Tony Tammaro and Anita Belanger.
Also recognized was the 1944 Waterville High School boys team, which went undefeated and won the state and New England championships. Mitchell was on that team.
Blais Manning was a four-time All-State player at Westbrook High School, leading the Blue Blazes to four state championships before she went on to play at Old Dominion. She paced them to an NCAA championship in 1985, thanks to her 158 assists.
She finished her career with 514 points and 314 assists in 125 games.
“It was an amazing time back then,” Blais Manning recalled. “Women’s basketball was just starting to get real big and exciting. We had crowds coming to the games. To be able to get together again and show the accomplishments of everyone who played back then is amazing. It’s surreal to me.”
The girls basketball tournaments began in 1975, and Blais Manning graduated from Westbrook in 1981.
“I remember watching the tournament and thinking that I wanted to be a part of it and help make it something big. It is amazing how far it has come. You’ve got all these girls getting basketball scholarships now. It’s incredible,” she said.
Duke University coach Palombo-McCallie, who starred at Brunswick High and went on to play at Northwestern, said her induction was “beyond special.”
“Not just because it’s the inaugural class, which is so great in itself, but the way we all connect and the way we all know each other. I think back to Bob Brown teaching me how to shoot and being at [Whitmore’s] basketball camps. I think about Paul Vachon’s daughter [Amy] helping to lead us to a win over Stanford [in the NCAA Tournament for the University of Maine]. Rachel was on my staff at the University of Maine,” said Palombo-McCallie, who has a 518-190 coaching record between her stints at Maine, Michigan State and Duke.
She also noted Blais Manning helped pave the way for her and other girls basketball players.
“She did something extraordinary by leaving the state and winning a national championship at Old Dominion” said Palombo-McCallie, a two-time all-state selection who added that she has become good friends with Hancock and pointed out that he was the MVP of the Duke Fantasy Camp.
She credited her father and mother with deciding to stay in Maine and allowing her to grow up here when they could have moved away.
“I’m a Navy kid, and we could have been stationed somewhere else, but my mom [Christina] put her foot down and said this is a great place. It was a pivotal decision,” she said.
Bouchard, a two-time all-stater, a Gatorade Player of the Year and a Converse All-American at Hall-Dale High School, went on to become a North Atlantic Conference Player of the Year at the University of Maine.
She also was an All-American.
“To be able to stay in the state and represent my home state was a thrill and an honor for me,” Bouchard, a real estate attorney in Yarmouth, said.
She said trailblazers, such as Emily Ellis, Liz Coffin, Palombo-McCallie and Blais Manning, set the standard for future generations.
“They were hard-nosed, gritty, tough players that we wanted to grow up to be like. We aspired to be them,” Bouchard said. “I had the benefit of growing up [during that time]. And for me to be in a room and on a list with them is a truly humbling experience for me.”
One of the unique tandems involved a father-son being inducted together.
Bob Brown coached six high school teams and three college teams and has won over 600 games in his 42 years as a head coach. He has won four state championships.
Son Brett was a two-time all-state player at South Portland and an All-American and was a captain at Boston University before getting into coaching. He is the head coach of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
“It’s really hard to describe. … It’s very prideful,” Bob Brown said. “It feels good. I don’t know how many will ever get the chance to be as fortunate as I am to be going in with my son.”
“It’s a fantastic honor,” Brett Brown added. “It’s extraordinary timing. It’s a true pleasure to come back to Maine and coming back under these terms is even more significant. We shared so much of my upbringing around the game. I grew up watching a lot of these players. My dad coached against some of them. It’s a real honor to be among this group.”
Harrington, who starred at Morse High of Bath and played at the University of Maryland, said he met a lot of the inductees for the first time.
“It was fantastic. There was a great turnout,” he said.