Long trips covering great distances and many miles are not unusual for students at Maine Maritime Academy, but usually those trips are taken by boat or ship.
While most of their fellow students were returning home for Thanksgiving break, the Mariners’ men’s and women’s basketball teams were flying across the country to the opposite coast to take part in the third installment of a first-ever, cooperative annual tournament involving the maritime academies in Maine, New York and California.
“It all started three years ago and we hosted the first one two years ago,” said MMA women’s basketball coach Craig Dagan. “It involves California Maritime, SUNY Maritime in New York and us plus another team to fill in the four-team field. This year, Coast Guard got involved and it was California’s turn to host.”
Even with soaring energy costs in late summer and fall making the trip to San Francisco more and more expensive, cancellation was never really an option.
“It was a pretty expensive trip, but the presidents had committed to it,” said men’s coach Chris Murphy. “Cal Maritime had already come east two years in a row, so there was never any question that we weren’t going to do this.”
Most expenses were covered by the school, but both teams raised extra funds through raffles and concession sales to cover the cost of “extras” like a cruise to Alcatraz; stops at the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the University of California campus in Berkeley; and a bus tour of San Francisco.
“Overall, I think the trip was a marvelous experience for everyone involved, including the coaches,” Murphy said. “I think it strengthened the bonds between the men’s and women’s teams and their support of each other. From the basketball side, we didn’t play particularly well at first, but we accomplished some things.”
There were other intangible benefits as well.
“I think from a recruiting standpoint, it helped,” Dagan said. “Kids love it when they hear they’re going to California and that we have a trip planned for North Carolina next year.”
The two-day, eight-game tourney took place in time for the players and coaches to return home, or at least to their home away from home in Castine, for Thanksgiving.
“When we came back, we had six days off from basketball with Thanksgiving break, so there was plenty of time to recover and get over the jet lag,” Dagan said.
Neither coach believes the reciprocal trip will be repeated in the near future but hopes it won’t be a one-and-done arrangement.
“We’re already looking at alternative trips on our schedule next year and I think, because of the economy, it will be very hard to move entire teams that distance,” Murphy said. “I’d like to do it again, but maybe if we wait a few years, we can cycle it back up and do it again. It’s another way to keep the maritime academies close.”
The 6,000-miles-plus trip certainly seemed to bring teammates and coaches closer.
“I think I can honestly say this is probably the nicest group of young men I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and I’ve been coaching at the college level for over 25 years now,” Murphy said. “Just to spend some time with these guys and get to know them a little better while watching them interact with each other was very rewarding for me.”