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Thursday September 21, 2017
Posted: Feb 10, 2015

Ranking the top five high school sports tournaments

Sidelines: Central Maine Sports Blog

364516_59981-20150203-Winslow-No7The high school basketball tournament began Tuesday night, although some would say it doesn’t officially tip off until Friday, when teams take the floor in the state’s biggest arenas for the quarterfinals. Regardless, this is the best time of year to be a high school sports fan.

Honestly, there is never a bad time to be a high school sports fan. Just some times are better than others. So I’m going to rank the top five post-seasons in Maine high school sports. If you disagree, let me know why.

1. Basketball. The high school sports calendar peaks during February break, and it’s not even close. First of all, it takes place when we need it most — in the middle of what is invariably the most depressing month of the year. Football is over, spring training hasn’t started, March Madness is still a month away, and professional basketball and hockey are in the throes of their meaningless regular seasons. We need something exciting to get us through all of the stale air and slush.

Well, not only do we get basketball to carry us through the muck, we get a smorgasbord of basketball. We get 14-hour Saturdays of wall-to-wall hoops. We get the best players in the state. We get a sneak peak at next wave of great players as freshmen and sophomores. We get unlikely heroes and big-time players creating legends in the biggest games. We get buzzer-beaters and blowouts. We get to re-live the moments that bring us back to Augusta, Bangor or Portland year after year and watch new ones unfold. It’s a celebration of what high school athletics are all about, and nothing, not even leaky roofs, loudmouth parents, incompetent officials, heartless bureaucracies, or restraining orders have been able to ruin it.

2. Ice hockey. It’s a truncated version of the basketball tournament, for obvious reasons. But it has just as much passion as and, in some parts of the state, even more tradition than its winter counterpart. It’s the perfect climax to the winter season and a bucket list experience for any sports fan in Maine, even if you’ve never laced up a pair of skates.

3. Wrestling. Yeah, another winter sport. I’m sure the fact that we’d otherwise be cooped up inside the house or shoveling another foot of snow has something to do with it. But this is another sport where you can feel the passion the instant you walk into the gym, and yet still see some of the most incredible displays of sportsmanship you will ever see in your life. It’s an individual sport with group bonding few team sports can match, yet kids are less and less inclined to participate. Numbers have dwindled to the point where we’ve already lost the Class C regionals, and now the Maine Principals’ Association is considering eliminating Class C altogether, That would be a shame.

4. Football. Super Saturday is great, but unlike basketball or hockey, football is actually better when it’s not played at a neutral site. The conference championships are Americana. The first thing I think of when I think of towns like Pittsfield, Winthrop, Wales, Lisbon, Turner and Jay are the conference championships I watched there. It’s basically the closest thing we have to the old days when an entire town would turn out to watch the local team play on the Fourth of July. It’s the one day of the year I look forward to a small-town traffic jam.

5. Track and field. Conference meets are fine, but this is essentially because of the state championships. It’s a one-day event, but it’s a pretty incredible day. First, states often conflict with graduation or graduation activities, so you’ll usually see seniors sprinting for the exits as soon as their event ends. Given that, and the fact that it’s the last event in the school careers for so many athletes, it’s a surprisingly emotional day for so many. Athletes tear up. Coaches tear up. Parents tear up. Beyond that, it is the ultimate showcase for some of the greatest athletes this state produces. It’s quite a sight when an entire stadium stops what it’s doing to watch a Kate Hall run 100  meters or a Jesse Labreck jump nearly six feet and erupt in applause when they’re done. There isn’t the tension that you’ll find in most other sports, which is part of what makes it appealing. It’s competition for the pure joy of competition.

And you don’t have to wonder if you’ll have to drive through a foot of snow to watch it, either.

 

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