February 14, 2013

CENTER COURT: Memories of the Bangor Auditorium

By Travis Lazarczyk tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The first time I covered a basketball game at the Bangor Auditorium was in 2001. It was the Class D boys championship game. Valley beat East Grand, 90-81, to win the fourth of a state-record six consecutive gold balls.

click image to enlarge

THE MECCA: The Bangor Auditorium, with its V-shape and seating that puts fans right on top of the action, can get extremely loud. The Auditorium will host high school basketball games for the last time this year. The building will soon be torn down and replaced by the Cross Insurance Center.

File photo by Jeff Pouland

click image to enlarge

LASTING MEMORY: Lawrence’s Cindy Blodgett, far right, Taffy Witham, left, and Marsha Hamlin, center, after winning the Eastern A title in March 1992 at the Bangor Auditorium.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

It was a Thursday night, and I was on a tight deadline. Even before the game was over, I typed away at the keys on my laptop, one eye on the court and one eye on the screen to make sure I wasn't writing gibberish. The Valley students sat directly behind me, and they were loud.

That was the first time I realized how loud the Bangor Auditorium gets.

As the game ended and the Cavaliers celebrated, I continued writing. There was no wireless Internet, and I decided to finish my story at press row before running upstairs to the office to fight the other reporters for the one phone line we all used to file our stories.

Seconds after Maine Principals' Association officials presented the gold ball to Valley, my table shook and my laptop jumped. I looked up, and to my left, there was Valley guard Nick Pelotte, standing on the table, the gold ball raised above his head. He smiled the smile of a guy who had just completed his high school basketball record with a perfect 84-0 record.

A swarm of Valley fans ran to the table to celebrate with Pelotte, and for a moment, I was trapped in their moment. I did the only thing I could. I continued working.

They cheered, and in the middle of it all, I worked. That was the second time I realized how loud the Bangor Auditorium gets.

This season's high school basketball tournament is the last one in the Bangor Auditorium. The old building, built in 1955, is being replaced by the Cross Insurance Center, which is going up right next door, behind Bangor's giant Paul Bunyan statue. In the 57 years since it opened, the Bangor Auditorium has been the place for high schools across eastern Maine to spend February vacation.

"All the years I've been varsity, I've been thinking of it. It's a great opportunity," Waterville senior J.P. Michaud said after his team beat Old Town on Wednesday to earn a spot in the regional quarterfinals at the Bangor Auditorium for the first time since 2001. Asked if he had any memories of the last Waterville team to play in Bangor, Michaud said no. He and the Panthers are rebuilding tradition.

Thousands of basketball players dreamed of playing in that V-shaped building, where all the crowd noise seemed to roll down those wings of bleachers and hang above the court, making it impossible to hear the person next to you. Coaches had to account for the crowd noise as well as the day's opponent.

"At the Augusta Civic Center, even though they pack that place, the noise of the crowd seems distant," Mt. Abram girls basketball coach Doug Lisherness said. "In the Bangor Auditorium, they sound like they're right on top of you."

They are right on top of you. Fans sitting in the lower level bleachers are just a few feet from the court. High school bands are usually seated in the lower bleachers, adding more volume to the spectacle.

A couple of weeks after the Valley game, I was back at the Bangor Auditorium when Bangor's Joe Campbell dropped jaws from Kittery to Madawaska. Trailing Deering by one point as time ran out, Bangor's Zak Ray missed a desperation shot. Campbell was there for the rebound, and scored as time expired. Bangor 57, Deering 56. Crowd goes wild. History is made, again.

(Continued on page 2)

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