HAMPDEN, Maine — Isaiah Bess had envisioned playing a new sport at his new school this fall.
But the nascent football career of the incoming Hampden Academy senior, a transfer from Penquis Valley High School in Milo, lasted just one day.
Bess attended the first two preseason football practice sessions with the Broncos on Monday after mulling for several days the possibility of switching fall sports from soccer — in which he had helped Penquis Valley compile a 29-match regular-season unbeaten streak (27-0-2) from late 2010 through the end of the 2012 campaign.
“I just wanted to try something new,” Bess said between those practices. “It’s my last year of high school.”
But Bess, also a Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team choice in basketball after leading Penquis Valley to the 2012 Class C state title, earlier this year made a verbal commitment to continue playing that sport at Stonehill University, an NCAA Division II school in Easton, Mass., after he graduates from high school next spring.
Stonehill recently hired Chris Kraus as its new head coach to replace David McLaughlin, who resigned in June to become associate head coach at Northeastern University.
But Kraus had done much of Stonehill’s recruiting of Bess, and Kraus’ ascension to the head coaching post left firm Bess’ verbal commitment to accept a basketball scholarship from Stonehill and also ultimately led to his decision not to try football this fall.
“The Stonehill coach didn’t think [playing football] was the best thing for him to do,” said David Bess, Isaiah’s father, who spoke to Kraus by phone late Monday afternoon. “Stonehill has a point.”
Kraus subsequently called Isaiah Bess to discuss the situation.
“Coach said he thought it would be best if I didn’t do a fall sport,” said Bess, who will now focus on acclimating himself to his new school and studies while also preparing for basketball season. “At first I was a little shocked and a little upset because I kind of wanted to play a fall sport, but he was concerned about an injury and [the scholarship] is a lot of money to kind of put up for grabs.”
Had Bess continued with football, he was likely to play wide receiver, a position that may have allowed him to take greatest advantage of the height, jumping ability and sure-grip hands that have helped the 6-foot-4-inch swingman become one of the state’s top basketball players of recent vintage.
Bess averaged 26.5 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game last winter while teaming with guard Trevor Lyford to lead Penquis Valley to a 21-1 record and the program’s first state title since 2000.
An honorable mention BDN All-Maine choice after his sophomore year in 2012, Bess was a first-team Penobscot Valley Conference all-star and an Eastern C all-tournament selection for the second straight season in 2013 before being named to the BDN All-Maine first team.
He scored his 1,000th career point in the quarterfinals of last winter’s Eastern Maine Class C tournament en route to being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Bess, who grew up in LaGrange, first indicated an interest in transferring to Hampden Academy last spring, citing several factors that led to the decision reached by him and his parents.
Among those considerations was the fact that Hampden Academy had moved into a brand new $51 million facility and has a current enrollment of approximately 725 students, more than triple the 211 students listed for Penquis Valley during the most recent MPA reclassification process that was completed last spring.
“A lot of people just assume it’s because of basketball, and that’s kind of unfair,” said Bess at the time. “The main reason for me is academics. It’s a Class A school so there should be more [academic] options, and I think going to a bigger school would help me get ready for college and would be a whole new challenge for me.”
Bess, his mother and sister are now living at a property the family owns in Alton, a community that provides school choice for its students in grades 6-12.
Alton currently is part of RSU 34, which also includes Old Town and Bradley. But before joining the RSU Alton had a standalone school department with its own facility for pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade and school choice for grades 6-12.
As part of the law establishing regional school units around the state that consolidated many administrative functions, such standalone school departments maintained pre-existing options involving school choice, meaning that Alton retained school choice for its students in grades 6-12, according to RSU 34 superintendent of schools David Walker.
The Bess family’s establishment of residency in Alton provides Isaiah Bess the option of attending any high school.
“It’s wherever his parents can transport him to,” said Walker.
Walker, who was Bess’ school principal several years ago in LaGrange, said most Alton students attend Old Town High School although others attend several other schools around the region.
Bess played on Hampden’s summer basketball league team when he wasn’t competing for his MBNation AAU club during the most recent off-season.
He is poised next winter to join a Hampden Academy varsity basketball squad that is the defending Class A state champion and two-time reigning Eastern Maine Class A titleist.
Bess will be part of a roster that returns fellow BDN All-Maine first-team honoree Zach Gilpin and guards Cam Scott and Nick Gilpin, an incoming sophomore whose 30-foot shot at the buzzer enabled the Broncos to edge Lawrence of Fairfield 40-39 in the Eastern Maine final.