Like any old building, it has its flaws. It's cold and drafty sometimes, and way too hot other times. Everyone's relieved when the roof doesn't leak during games, or when a week of basketball tournament games goes on as scheduled without any old parts breaking down.
But the Bangor Auditorium, which hosted its last high school basketball tournament game on March 1, has history on its side.
The basketball part of the arena, of course, is old-fashioned. There are Maine high school tournaments at the Augusta Civic Center and the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. In Augusta, the concession stands are behind one of the baskets, creating a depth perception problem that knocks some teams right out of the tournament. In Portland, the seats are so far away that watching a game from the front row is like trying to watch your neighbor across the street.
At the Bangor Auditorium, everything is enclosed. There is little space behind the baskets or out of bounds, so the sound bounces off the walls loud enough that it can be impossible to hear the person talking next you.
“To this day, I wonder how anyone can play in that atmosphere,” Lawrence coach Mike McGee told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s amazing to look straight up and see the crowd. Your mouth is dry, all you want to do is drink water, and it makes you wonder how all those great athletes were able to perform in that setting.
“Since we’ve gone to the [Augusta] Civic Center coaching hasn’t been the same for me,” McGee added. “The fans are so on top of you in Bangor. You hear a giant roar when you score and now it’s just silence by comparison. They can hear me all over the Civic Center, and back when we played in Bangor we had to use play cards because the players could never hear me.”
Several newspapers and television stations have done tributes to the Auditorium over the past couple weeks. As the BDN wrote, “The Bangor Auditorium is filled with the echos of the basketball heroes it created, from Mike Thurston making a halfcourt shot as time expired to win the 1969 Class LL state championship for Caribou to Joe Campbell’s buzzer-beating basket that rallied Bangor past Deering of Portland for the 2001 Class A crown.”
Campbell's shot is one of the most famous in state history. He came from the other side of the basket to get a rebound and reverse layup just before the buzzer (Many still insist Bangor got a few extra seconds on the play because the clock operator was slow to re-start the clock.). Within a couple seconds, the floor was covered with Bangor fans. During this year's Eastern A boys tournament, Hampden freshman Nick Gilpin hit a 30-footer to beat Lawrence at the buzzer – a shot that made SportsCenter's list of Top 10 plays for the night. A group of adults formed a wall to make sure the Hampden fans didn't rush the court. No one thought to do anything like that in Bangor.
Maine has long had a problem keeping its high school graduates in the state or even in the area. That's especially true when you get north of the Portland area. Many big schools have seen their enrollment drop over the last 20 or 30 years. Presque Isle used to be in Class A and is now a normal-sized Class B school. Waterville has around 1,500 students in the late 1970s, and now has well under half that.
But even with the economy faltering and the small towns getting smaller, they still had the Bangor Auditorium.
"So many people, when they say 'That's the worst place to play,' they're not from northern Maine or eastern Maine,” Lindsey Welch, who played at Nokomis and now coaches at Winslow, told the Morning Sentinel. “They don't know. I would get so defensive about the place. It's like family."
MR., MISS MAINE BASKETBALL SEMIFINALISTS NAMED
The 10 semifinalists for the Mr. and Miss Basketball Awards were announced recently, with the winners to be announced on Friday, March 8.
On the boys' side, the semifinalists are Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals, Spencer Carey of Lawrence, Anthony DiMauro of Boothbay, Charlie Fay of Falmouth, Quin Leary of Edward Little, Garrett Libby of Old Town, John Murray of Medomak Valley, Aaron Todd of York, Mitch Worcester of Washburn, and Evan Worster of Forest Hills.
Beal is one of the favorites, even though his Jonesport-Beals team was stunned by Easton in the Eastern D tournament.
On the girls' side, the semifinalists are Leavitt's Kristen Anderson, York's Emily Campbell, Dexter's Lauren Crane, Presque Isle's Chandler Guerrette, Lake Region's Sydney Hancock, Camden Hills' Jordan Knowlton, Cony's Josie Lee, Gorham's Kristin Ross, Waynflete's Martha Veroneau, and Orono's Jillian Woodward.
Only three of those players are taking part in state championship games this weekend. Guerrette and Hancock will face off as Presque Isle takes on Lake Region in a rematch of last year's Class B state final, won by Presque Isle in a squeaker. In the Class C final, Veroneau and Waynflete will play Calais for the Gold Ball.
The biggest omission on the girls' side was probably Richmond's Jamie Plummer, who led the Bobcats to the regional title for the third consecutive year.
TWO PLUS TWO ON THE SIDELINES FOR EASTERN A GIRLS FINAL
The Eastern A girls' basketball final between No. 2 Bangor and No. 9 Cony was notable not just for Cony's run from the last seed, but also because both coaches – Bangor's Katie Herbine and Cony's Karen Magnusson – are pregnant.
Herbine – who is so animated on the sidelines she makes Jonathan Papelbon look subdued – is nearly six months along, while Magnusson is a little over four months into her pregnancy. Both were standout players at their current schools as high school athletes.
The game was anticlimactic. Bangor had a height advantage and outrebounded Cony, 54-29, in a 57-43 victory.