I distinctly remember being 9 years old and looking up to the Fort Fairfield High School boys basketball team back in 1988 as they won the Eastern Maine Class C championship, before losing in the state championship game in Augusta. I'll never forget getting an autographed picture of the entire team from coach Larry Gardner, longtime family friend, and current coach of the girls team. I still have that picture tucked away in a box of my own press clippings and pictures from my high school basketball days. For me, basketball was the greatest thing in the world. I dreamed of one day playing for my beloved Celtics, helping them raise banners to the rafters like my favorites Bird, McHale and Parrish did in the 1980's. I played all the time, nights, weekends, even at lunch time when I could sneak off to the nearest hoop. I looked forward to being in high school and helping take the Tigers to the Bangor Auditorium to play in front of all those people with the ultimate goal of bringing home the first gold ball to town.
Well, my dreams of gold or playing for the green never came to fruition, but my old high school had a chance this past weekend to win its first ever championship in basketball, as the Lady Tigers went up against the Greenville Lakers for the right to call themselves the Class D State Champion. Now, for those of you who don't know, I come from a very small town, around 3,000 people, up in Aroostook County. Basketball in The County is kind of like football in Texas. By this I mean when it is game night, everyone goes. The bleachers are full of people. Doesn't matter what the weather is like, people are there cheering the teams on. It's what you do in the winter months on school nights, you support the local high school boys and girls. You travel with them to see them play. You wear the school colors proudly. You know all the kids names, whether you actually know them personally or not.
Back to this past weekend. With the Lady Tigers playing for the gold ball in Augusta, you bet we went. The game went back and forth for the better part of three quarters, before the Lady Tigers kicked it into high gear and pulled out the victory! It was incredible to watch your home town team cut down the nets and hold the gold ball high above their heads with pride! It's funny actually, it was a dream I always had as a kid, and I think it felt just as good to see it happen from the stands by 12 girls I didn't know at all. I am pretty sure my sister and I each shed a tear or two in joy to be honest. Something like that means so much to a small town, and it was so good to be there to witness it. I'm most happy for coach Larry Gardner. He has been a top notch coach, having patrolled the sidelines for both the boys and girls teams since the 1980's. He puts in countless hours with the kids, starting them at a very young age with Tiger Cubs and Tiger Basketball Camp in the summertime. He is a great teacher of the game, working with every player on the team, from the best player all the way to 12th person on the bench. Congratulations to you Coach Gardner, you and the girls earned it!
I hear that there was a throng of people (if I can use that term) waiting for the team when they arrived back in town yesterday afternoon. That's the beauty of high school basketball in a small Aroostook County town. The entire town comes out to cheer them on, making signs, honking horns and clapping loud and proud. It almost makes me miss home, almost. I'm just saying...