As the long lines of cars turn off Main Street into the Cross Insurance Center this high school basketball tournament week, it’s hard not to reflect on the people inside. They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, family friends, classmates and, perhaps most significant, the plain but oh-so-reliable hometown basketball fans who cheer on the team, year after year.
Mom and dad may be fretting for their child. He or she is nervous, they know, about the big game. Will he get some floor time? Will she make the right switch on defense? Inside the auditorium, the parents are the ones with tightened, thin lips, brows furrowed, eyes anxiously scanning the floor, silently offering up a prayer that their daughter or son plays well. The young athlete’s case of nerves likely was confessed at home, but during the pregame layup drill it doesn’t show because it’s time to put on the swagger. Confidence, after all, is the companion of champions.
The extended family members are less fretful and are more likely to beam with pride when the family name is announced over the PA system. Whatever the final score is, Grampy and Grammy are going to be more proud than they were at tipoff. Theirs is an essential role in this drama, offering a hug or an attaboy at the after-game meal. Uncles and aunts echo the accolades, whether it’s a win or a loss. Family, friends and classmates are on the edge of their seats during overtime nail biters. They cheer for the surprise upsets.
And then there are the folks who are fixtures at the hometown high school gym each Friday or Saturday night. No one is really sure — are they related to one of the ballplayers? Long ago, did a son or daughter trot up and down these hardwood floors and the habit of attending stuck? Or is it that they just enjoy witnessing the amateur ballet and epic battle that is a high school basketball game?
They, too, play a critical role. They are the cross-stitches of community. It is they who know a student-athlete has a better chance of succeeding in the classroom if he or she takes on the discipline, cooperation and sacrifice of team sport. When the young athlete passes the anonymous fan’s familiar face at the grocery store or on the sidewalk outside the movie theater, the teen simultaneously is being supported and held accountable, which is what a healthy community is all about. So, of course, that fan, too, makes the drive to Bangor, Portland or Augusta to see the big game.
Maine often is not “the way life should be.” It can be tough and cold and lean. But it’s worth savoring the special qualities of life here that make it all worthwhile. The annual basketball tournament is one of them.