It was 1975.
Former University of Michigan football player Gerald Ford was President of the United States, the Bee Gees were “Jive Talkin’,” and everybody was learning the dance moves to Van McCoy’s “Hustle.”
It was also a memorable year in Maine’s sports history.
It was the first season the Maine Principals’ Association sanctioned high school basketball tournaments for girls.
The boys large-school tournaments dated back to 1922 and the tourney for Classes L, M and S at the Bangor Auditorium began in 1956. There was a real curiosity to see how the girls would perform on the big stage. In eastern Maine, that meant playing at the Bangor Auditorium.
Everyone knew the girls weren’t going to be as big or as skilled as the boys and the games weren’t going to as fast-paced.
But it didn’t matter. Nobody cared.
It was long overdue.
The girls deserved their chance to showcase their abilities and everyone was looking forward to it.
The first schoolgirl tournaments were played three years after Congress passed Title IX, the federal civil rights law that stipulated that women and men were to receive equal opportunities to participate in sports at the college level. That included athletic scholarships and similar provisions (i.e. equipment, game and practice times, tutoring, coaching, locker rooms, dining halls, travel/daily allowance per diems).
It didn’t take very long for the girls to make an impactful statement at the 1975 Eastern Maine tournament.
A girl from Dexter was trying to chase down a loose ball, running full speed as it rolled toward the press table. In a desperate move to try to keep it in play, she dove head-first, landing with a resounding thud on the court.
She was hurt and was quickly attended to by the trainer and her coach. After a few minutes, she wiped the tears from her face and slowly made her way to the bench.
She would return later in the game.
It was at that moment everybody realized that these games meant every bit as much to the girls as they did to the boys.
Mainers have a tremendous passion for basketball and now they were going to be blessed with another source to fuel that passion.
That first year turned out to be a gem.
Three of the four state championship games were decided by eight points. The Class C final between Hall-Dale and Katahdin went to triple overtime with Hall-Dale pulling out a 64-62 victory.
In the other state games, Gardiner topped Morse of Bath 70-62 in the A final, Lake Region of Naples beat Van Buren 63-55 for the B title and East Grand of Danforth was the D winner, 49-41 over Richmond.
Two of the impactful people that year were Gardiner forward-center Crystal Pazdziorko and Katahdin coach Dick Barstow.
Pazdziorko was a dynamic post player who was fun to watch. She was a fierce competitor and an outstanding rebounder who had a nice shooting touch to go with nifty inside moves.
She would take those attributes to the University of Maine, the first in a long line of players with Maine basketball tournament experience who would be important contributors to the Black Bear program.
The classy Barstow would go on to a hall of fame coaching career that produced more than 650 wins, four state championships including two each at Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and two at Presque Isle, and seven Eastern Maine championships.
He has been inducted into three halls of fame.
There have been so many memorable players who have gone on to star at the college level.
But only two own the distinction of winning four Eastern Maine and four state championships while scoring over 2,000 points in their high school careers: former Lawrence High of Fairfield star Cindy Blodgett of Clinton and Washburn High’s Kenzie Worcester.
Blodgett’s Bulldogs captured A titles from 1991-1994 and Worcester’s Beavers claimed D championships from 2012-2015.
Blodgett’s scored 2,596 career points while Worcester netted 2,001 with the final 37 coming in a dramatic 60-54 victory over Rangeley in the 2015 state championship game.
Blodgett went on to become the University of Maine’s all-time leading scorer with 3,005 points and Worcester is the No. 2 career scorer at Husson University with 1,869 points.
Blodgett and Worcester were both point guards who not only were talented but they were also driven to keep improving and worked tirelessly to do so.
They also had something that very few have: tremendous court vision and awareness along with high basketball IQs that enabled them to think two steps ahead of other players and virtually always make the right play.
They could slow the game down in their minds and anticipate.
And they were gamers. They wanted the ball with the game on the line. They were not afraid to fail.
But there have been so many other dynamic players who were worth the price of admission and there are more coming.
There have also been special teams and unforgettable games.
The one team that was always a fan favorite was Allagash High School.
Virtually every girl in the tiny high school was involved in the basketball program when Allagash won back-to-back D state titles in 1976 and ’77. There was no shortage of McBreairtys on the team and there were also key players like Kadi O’Leary and Darlene Kelly. There were also plenty of Haffords.
In 1976, the population of the town of Allagash was 800.
So many players from small high schools have made impacts at the next level like Ashland’s Liz Coffin, Van Buren’s Parise Rossignol and Wisdom High of St. Agatha’s Tracy Guerrette. They starred and served as captains at UMaine after playing for small schools.
Austrian exchange student Sigi Koizar played for Class C Stearns of Millinocket before captaining the Black Bears.
The games themselves have produced plenty of buzzer-beaters and upsets. Everybody has a few they will never forget.
There also are families with a long history of tournament participation.
Kristi Wildman Tapley played for Stearns, and she has had four daughters play for Stearns in the tournament: Raychel, Emma, Katherine and Alisyn.
Whether it was Title IX that served as the impetus for the addition of the schoolgirl basketball tournaments or not, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the foresight to expand the high school tournaments to include the girls.