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Memories of The Mecca'

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A look back at some memorable tournament moments

BANGOR After 57 years and countless breathtaking moments, the Bangor Auditorium is hosting its final high school basketball tournament. Starting next year, the new Cross Insurance Center will be the home to the tourney, with the old auditorium scheduled to become a parking lot.

Soon, the Mecca of Maine high school basketball will be no more.

The Auditorium has been an iconic part of the Bangor skyline since 1955; the quirky and beloved structure has played a huge part in making high school memories for thousands of Maine kids over the years. To play in the Auditorium is to be a part of the state's sporting history.  

Sure, there have been detractors the Bangor Auditorium has its share of flaws. The roof sometimes leaked. The architecture especially the inverted roof could generously be described as odd. Heck, we here at The Maine Edge even turned it into a UFO for one of our April Fools stories a few years back.

Nevertheless, that building has spent most of the past six decades as an indelible part of the fabric of this city and the hoped-for February destination for every basketball player in Eastern Maine. From Calais to Caribou, from John Bapst to Jonesport, from Millinocket to Mount Desert Island boys and girls from every town in the region have dreamt of glory on that floor.

2013 marks their final opportunity. Yes, the tournament will continue. And yes, the new arena will gradually play host to some memories of its own. It's a beautiful state-of-the-art facility. But the echoes of Maine's hoops Mecca will remain long after the building itself has gone.

In the spirit of saying good-bye, we asked some local sports media personalities for some of their favorite tournament memories. These guys have seen a lot of hoop dreams come true on that floor over the years; here are just a few.

Dale Duff

'I think it was 1986; that was the year. It was kind of a famous night. It was Championship Night it was Mt. View vs. Houlton on the girls side and Rockland vs. Dexter on the boys side. And there was a leak in the roof.

'It was a bad leak. We wound up with a delayed start; they weren't sure if they could even have the games. Play had to be stopped several times, but they wound up playing through. And of course, the boys game wound up going five overtimes.

'Right in front of me, the floor director had people with towels. And every time the action was at one end of the floor, he'd shout Go!' Those kids would run out, wipe down the floor and get back to the sidelines."

'The most exciting finish for me was the Joe Campbell tip-in that defeated Deering in 2001. Zak Ray took a shot but it came up short. [Campbell] had his back to the basket; he jumped and tipped the ball in all in one motion and won the game.'

Jim Churchill

'As a fan, there was one game that was a springboard for my love of the game of basketball and the tournament in particular.

'I grew up in Brewer, and when I was a kid, I went to a tournament game where Brewer as an 8-seed upset Bangor as a 1-seed. I just remember the close game, decked out in black and orange with my father up in the stadium section. I remember Dan Tennant heaving the ball toward the ceiling of the auditorium and almost reaching it.

'I was hooked at that point. I had just started to play the game and I knew nothing about the rivalry at that point, but I sure got it after that.'

'As a broadcaster, my most memorable moment was probably the last Eastern Maine 'A' Championship back in 2005. Dale Duff and I were broadcasting what would be the last-ever Class A tournament game at the Auditorium.

'Hampden won that game. It was a dramatic rise; they had come from nowhere that year. I saw the students charge the floor and wondered where my kids were I had two at Hampden Academy. Turns out my daughter was one of the leaders of the barricade busters.'

Clem Labree  

'One of my favorite tourney moments came in 1997 when Kim Condon of Presque Isle suffered a significant ankle sprain in the semi-finals against Old Town and could not finish the game. 

'The Class A tourney was still played in Bangor at that time and the Eastern Maine championship was the next night. The big question was whether Condon would be able to play the next night which seemed unlikely. 

'As the story goes some parents or coaches sliced a potato and rubbed it on her ankle during the night to get the swelling down and help in the healing process. Condon played the next night and helped the Wildcats beat Cony for the regional Championship scoring 18 points. The very next week she scored a state record 41 points to help beat Portland in the state championship.' 

Labree also mentioned Campbell's tip-in to beat Deering, the performance of Limestone's Tony Tobin in 1993 when he scored 124 points in that tournament, the massive crowds that packed the auditorium every time Cindy Blodgett played and the dominating post play of Schenk's Stephanie Carter as some of his other tournament favorites.

Brian Sullivan

'My sophomore year at Bucksport High, I got called to swing up from JV to varsity. So I got a chance to get out there in a quarterfinal game that year.

'We had a player with the nickname of Diesel.' Diesel had three brothers their nicknames were Propane,' Octane' and Butane.' Anyway, Diesel was kind of the emotional leader of our team who led us out onto the floor.

'No one ever mentioned to us that the auditorium floor rises up as you come in. So we're all swept up in the emotion of the moment, running out onto the floor with Diesel in the lead. He tripped and hit the floor. We wore the full-on mesh warm-up suits, so he just slid on that mesh all the way out to center court. We called that the Diesel spill.''

'I was on the team, but I didn't play that much. I did get on the floor with 12 seconds left; I got a technical foul. That's my 12 seconds of fame.'

'I love the tournament I love the small-town passion for the game.'

Jeff Solari

'The first year I broadcast games from the auditorium was 1988. I was a senior at MDI doing the games on WDEA in Ellsworth.

'That year Ellsworth won the Eastern Maine championship behind what has become known as the Miracle Minute.' Tim Scott scored maybe 13 points in the final minute or so of the game to lead Ellsworth to a stunning come-from-behind win.

'Another time, I was courtside shooting for WLBZ during the state championship game between Mountain Valley and Camden-Rockport. When you shoot night games, you try to conserve tape because you will need to rush back and edit in a hurry for the 11 p.m. news.

'Well, Andy Bedard had a monster game; he was hitting threes from so far behind the line, I didn't start rolling soon enough on some of them. I mean, he would cross midcourt, take a few dribbles and shoot. Amazing. He was playing for Mountain Valley and they won the game. I think he finished with around 50 points.' (Note: Bedard scored 53.)

'A personal favorite is the second half of the 1995 Eastern Maine Class B Boys championship game; MDI and Orono. The Trojans went on a massive run and built a big lead. Orono coach Dave Paul called a timeout off a three-point basket by MDI.

'And as the players walked to the bench, a sea of thousands of green-clad islanders rose to their feet and went nuts. It was as loud as I've ever heard it in there. It was MDI's first and only regional title in school history. We'll never have that kind of scene again with the new bowl seating versus have fans seated on opposing sides.'

 'Media is lucky enough to be in the building when fans are not. I remember a few years back the Houlton Christian girls coming in between sessions. They and a few workers and media people were the only ones in the Mecca.

'The girls came to midcourt; they sat down and just stared up at the seats, lights and ceiling, like a scene from the championship game in Hoosiers.' They took out cameras and video cameras and spent 15 minutes immortalizing the moment and memories.

'While they lost by about 40 that night, I'm not sure they will even recall the score as much as the experience of coming to Bangor and playing a tourney game in that old building.'

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