BANGOR, Maine — Paul Vachon made many trips to the Bangor Auditorium when he was leading his Cony High School girls basketball team to seven state Class A championships during his remarkable 23-year career as the head coach.
He compiled a 451-40 record and won 11 Eastern Maine championships at the Augusta school before retiring after the 2008 season. He will be inducted in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on May 5 at the Augusta Civic Center.
Vachon, who is now the athletic director at the school, said he based his coaching philosophy on watching games at the Bangor Auditorium.
This will be the last season that the Eastern Maine basketball tournaments will be held at the Bangor Auditorium because the facility will be replaced by the new Cross Insurance Center next season.
“With the crowds there, the coach is non-existent,” said Vachon. “The kids play to the crowds. I loved watching tournament games there. You’d see the northern Maine teams and the coastal teams racing up and down the floor, making plays. It’s not a matter of the coach calling the plays, it’s the players making plays. You allowed the kids to play.”
So Vachon followed suit with an aggressive up-tempo style of play that produced Cony’s incredible success.
Vachon said there was a feeling at the auditorium that a game never was decided until the final whistle.
“You could have been up by 25 points but it felt like you were up by two. You never thought you were out of a game. The crowds made you believe [you were still in it]. It was so much fun, it really was.”
But it wasn’t just the games that made the auditorium special.
“You’d be allowed to practice once up there. It was so special. It was a magical hour,” he said. “You’d get out of school early. The kids would get to dribble on the floor and find the dead spots. Then they’d just want to hang out in the locker rooms. The locker rooms were dingy but so unique.
“It will never be duplicated,” said Vachon. “I’m very fortunate to have coached and played there and to have watched my kids [Aaron, Adam and Amy] play there.”
Vachon was a starting guard on the 1973 Cony team that beat Rumford 67-61 for the state Class A title.
Former Old Town High School star Lauree Gott agreed that the Bangor Auditorium never will be duplicated.
She said she was “more nervous on that floor than anywhere else” even if playing a familiar opponent.
”You knew there was going to be a big crowd. It was totally different. You never knew what was going to happen at the auditorium,” she said. “It was so much fun to play there.”
Stephanie Carter Thompson, former Schenck High School of East Millinocket standout, recalled the first time she was there during her sophomore year.
“After the game, coach [Steve] LeVasseur told us to to just look out into the crowd, watch the people and remember this moment,” said Thompson.
Like Vachon, Thompson has had the pleasure of watching her daughter, Morgan, play in the auditorium. Thompson’s husband, Darrick, is the Schenck coach and Morgan plays for her father.
“It was always a special feeling and I have the same feeling now,” said Thompson.
“My most memorable game was my last game there because it was the last game I got to play with my teammates and I broke Julie Bradstreet’s scoring record at the time,” said Thompson.
Mike Webb has had the distinction of refereeing and coaching at the auditorium.
He is coaching the John Bapst High School girls and his first memory refereeing a game at the auditorium took him back more than 30 years. His partner was the late Red St. Louis.
“I was pretty nervous. I was only 21 or 22,” recalled Webb. “Red said before the game, ‘Mike, don’t worry about it. I’ve got you covered. I’ll take care of everything.”
He said once he made his first call, the nerves relaxed.
“It was quite an experience,” he said.
Webb refereed for 20 years and has coached for 12 years, two at Hampden Academy and 10 at John Bapst.
His first memory as a coach was a heartbreaking 43-35 loss to Presque Isle in the Eastern Maine B final in 2006.
“It was [Bapst’s] first year in B. We had a big lead but they came back and beat us,” said Webb. “One of their players [Katie Delong] hit a 3-pointer to put it away. She must have been five or six feet beyond the arc.”