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Welcome to ‘The Capital.’ Augusta the new center of high school hoops

Posted Feb. 16, 2014, at 1:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Welcome to the Augusta Civic Center, the new capital of Maine high school hoops.

“The Capital.” I like it.

“The Mecca,” aka the Bangor Auditorium, is nothing but a memory. And not a moment too soon. The Cross Insurance Center stands in its place and, from all of the photos and videos I’ve seen, appears to be a beautiful, modern, much less leaky and creaky replacement. It will serve the great fans of eastern Maine well for many years to come.

But it is not the center of the state’s greatest sports spectacle. Maybe the Auditorium could make that claim because of its history and its place in the fabric of northern and eastern Maine culture. The old relic’s few charms were overstated because of its place in the hearts those folks, but the culture will continue to thrive without it. Nevertheless, the CIC goes to the end of the line.

The Portland Expo has the historic chops to replace the Auditorium, but it only hosts one round of the tournament. Once the quarterfinals are over, Western A and B move to the Cumberland County Civic Center, a building that could get as many facelifts as Phyllis Diller and still remain the worst basketball venue in the state.

So now the Augusta Civic Center is the king of the ring, or, the hall of the gold ball.

The building is not without its faults. It’s been known to spring a leak, too. The blue, purple and ketchup seats look and feel like they’ve been there since the 1970s, and really stick out like the eyesores they are when games are televised. Then again, it could be worse. If it’s a big enough game, you could find yourself sitting on an aluminum bench above the rafters.

But as the folks up in Bangor always were quick to point out, nobody’s here to marvel at the architecture. It’s all about what’s happening on the floor and the synergy between that and the people watching.

The regular pilgrims to the Mecca rhapsodized incessantly about the electricity of the building, the way the fans were right on top of the court and could almost reach out and touch a player or poke an incompetent official in the chest.

Here, the fans aren’t quite as, uh, cozy. The student sections are relegated to one end of the building, sometimes, not enough times, with the school bands. Maybe the acoustics aren’t as conducive to the ear-shattering noise levels of the Auditorium.

There is something to be said for noise. Just ask a Seattle Seahawks fan. But when you’ve got fans for both teams making it, it all just turns into ear mush anyway. You get to a certain decibel level, a level fans in Augusta reach just as frequently as those in Bangor do, and you’ve pretty much ruptured as many eardrums, rattled as many young boys and girls’ psyches, strained as many coaches’ vocal chords, as you could hope or humanely expect.

The atmosphere for the best tournament games at the ACC is just as electric as anything any arena as this state has ever hosted. I could bore you with a long list of games I’ve seen in this building that have made the hairs on my neck stand up for a good two hours after they were done, but I haven’t seen 1/10th of the spine-tinglers my good colleague Mr. Oakes and others have experienced in the building’s 41 years. I’ll leave the countdowns to them.

But the hits just keep on coming. A lot of people added three of Friday’s four Eastern A girls’ quarterfinals to their list, starting with the quadruple-overtime game between Oxford Hills and Skowhegan.

Saturday’s boys’ games weren’t quite as nerve-wracking, but the Oxford Hills boys had a nice introduction to what playing here is all about in their first ACC appearance ever. The place was far from packed, but don’t tell them they didn’t hear the gasps whenever super-soph Andrew Fleming performed his magic or feel the tension when Bangor’s Xavier Lewis nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear more gasps or feel more tension because the MPA decided to call it a day following the afternoon session, postponing the nightcaps due to the storm (the right call, if you ask me).

But that just means we’ll get a little extra on Monday, about, oh, 14 or 15 hours worth, when the Eastern A quarterfinals conclude and the D girls’ and C boys’ tournaments begin.

That’s eight games, with teams and fans coming from Hampden and the Twin Cities, Portland and Dixfield, Rangeley and Searsport, and countless other towns and townships in between.

Coming here, to “the Capital” of Maine high school hoops.

 

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