Jim Carter has spent a lot of time in libraries and museums over the years, even basements and attics when necessary.
That’s where much of the history of high school basketball in Aroostook County is to be found, in long-ago stored scorebooks, yearbooks, scrapbooks and memorabilia that reflect an era of sports that wasn’t captured on web pages and livestreams.
“You’ve got to travel, and you’ve got to be able to contact people in order to find all the resources that are available. It takes a while to do it,” Carter said.
Carter, a 1964 Presque Isle High School graduate who coached and taught at Caribou High School for more than two decades, collected statistics, all-star teams and pictures of the conference’s players and coaches of the year from throughout the Big East Basketball Conference’s formative era from 1985 through 2007.
The league was originally created to help the remaining Class A schools in The County at the time — Presque Isle and Caribou — fill their schedules as the other Aroostook schools began dropping in class due to steadily shrinking enrollments. Carter’s recently published third book about The County’s hoop history, “The Big East Basketball Conference,” reflects the rise of that northern Maine league.
“I thought someone’s going to have to accumulate all this because it will be lost if nobody does,” said Carter, the boys varsity basketball coach at Caribou during the Vikings’ final four years of Class A play from 1998 through 2001.
“I went about putting that all together so now there’s a documentation of this so if people want to look back in time and say, ‘Why did they form the Big East and who did what in 1999,’ they can look back and see the stats and read about why the Big East was formed. Now there’s a record of it.”
That’s Carter’s primary mission as a historian, to provide perspective for Aroostook County’s modern basketball scene based on its beginnings generations ago.
He devoted much of an earlier book, “Early History of Aroostook County Basketball & Eastern Maine Tournament,” to schools that no longer exist, such as Island Falls, Oakfield, Merrill, Ricker Classical Institute in Houlton, Patten Academy and Sherman, most of which were absorbed into larger schools during the consolidation of the late 1960s.
“Even with the book I’ve done on the early basketball history of The County, I wanted to provide some knowledge so people here would know how their programs got going and whatever success they had and who participated,” Carter said.
Carter’s second book, “Wildcat Basketball,” chronicles the history of the sport at his alma mater, an effort that got an unexpected boost while he was researching another topic at the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle.
“I was doing some research one day and the librarian noticed what I was doing because I’d ask questions once in a while, and she came up and said, ‘I’ve got something you might really enjoy looking at,” Carter said.
The librarian went to the basement and returned with several scrapbooks for Carter to peruse. They turned out to be scrapbooks made about the late Bill Hanscom, who coached at Presque Isle from 1931 to 1956 and guided the Wildcats’ boys basketball team to a 369-188 record and its only state championship in 1932.
One look at the scrapbooks, donated to the library by Hanscom’s family, and suddenly an era of Presque Isle basketball was right in front of Carter’s eyes.
“Every once in a while you hit a gold mine,” he said.
One subject of interest Carter hasn’t been able to track down, at least visually, is the basketball courts County teams called home long before consolidation, the typically tiny gymnasiums often incorporated into town halls.
“I’d like to find pictures of the interiors of these small gyms where they played, but that’s a real tough one to do,” he said. “I’ve got a picture of the outside of the old Oakfield gym but I don’t have anything of the inside, which is what you’d really like. Obviously the technology and the cameras weren’t readily available back then like they are today.”
Those gyms had their own personalities, often with a wood stove in one corner of the building just beyond the edge of the basketball court to supply heat during the winter basketball season.
“In some places I even remember people saying there was a big grate in the middle of the court and there would be a stove downstairs and the heat would come up through the grate,” Carter said.
“I’ve thought about doing something on the old gyms, but I don’t know how I’d accumulate those pictures.”
Jim Carter sells “The Big East Basketball Conference” and his other books by donation, and may be reached at 207-551-3452 or Jcarter001@maine.rr.com.