Zack Wickett got slam dunked by the Maine high school basketball tournament.
It was 7 a.m. Thursday, day three of the tournament, when a high school band, about 50 musicians, piled into Subway sandwich shop in Bangor. A closer at the Main Street store, the 20-year-old was the only worker on duty.
“I was kind of frightened because I was not prepared,” Wickett said Saturday. “I was hoping that they would call ahead. I can handle 20 people coming in all at once, but when 20 people are standing at the counter and 20 more are [in a line out the door], well, I didn’t know if I could handle it.
“It was an experience.”
With the 2020 tournament in town every day until Saturday’s Class B, C and D finals at the Cross Insurance Center, Bangor restaurateurs say that the crowds often come into their establishments in waves ― usually during the intervals between games.
“Sometimes we get busfulls of players and teams that come in here,” said Jessica Hall, general manager at Dysart’s Restaurant at 1110 Broadway, which is about 5 miles from Cross. “A lot of our business depends on who is playing. Schools that have to pass us ― from Dover-Foxcroft, Greenville, out that way ― to get to the auditorium, we’ll get their fans as they stop in on the way by.”
The tournament sold 49,723 tickets ― day and tourney passes ― in 2019 and 50,985 in 2018. That number doesn’t include the teams themselves and other groups that don’t typically pay admission, such as high school band members and cheerleaders and the tournament’s technical support staff, said Jerry Goss, a co-director of the tournament, which is run by the Maine Principals Association.
The economic impact of the tournament might gain added meaning this year because the contract between the city and the company that runs the Cross Center, Spectra, expires in July 2021. The principals association is also in talks with Spectra to lower the tournament’s costs, Goss said.
For this year’s tournament, Bangor hosts 16 teams each from Class B, C and D North, or about 250 players ― about 16 players and coaches per team, Goss said.
“The good companies [restaurants and hotels] gear up for the tournament,” Goss said. “It is difficult to find a hotel or motel in Bangor that isn’t booked up by the tournament.”
Many of the tournament fans come from all over the state and are return visitors, people who come despite not having kids in school, said Sam Moore, manager at Geaghan’s Pub and Craft Brewery.
“I know, talking it over with other businesses here, that everybody gets a big uptick during the tournament,” Moore said.
Bailey Roderick, a waitress at Geaghan’s who studies at Husson University but is from Presque Isle, said she sees a lot of people at work who come down from Aroostook County to watch games.
“You get to see most everyone you know,” Roderick said. “It’s like home away from home week.”
A physical education teacher and football coach at Mount Desert Island High School, Mark Shields, brought his wife Holly and son Jacob, an eighth-grader, to the tournament to watch Mark Shield’s students play. The family planned to eat out at the Ground Round or at the Ramada Inn, where they were staying, on Saturday night, depending on whether the Ground Round was full.
Like a lot of parents, Mark and Holly Shields drive their kids to tournaments all over New England. Their two daughters, now college students, went to volleyball tournaments all over the region when they were in high school, and Jacob plays basketball for three youth teams, Mark Shields said.
When the girls were in high school, the family stayed at five hotels a year.
“It’s a lot of miles,” Holly Shields said, “but it’s great for the kids. They grow up so fast. For us, tournaments are just a chance to do something together as a family.”