Feeling the loss of Tourney Time

3 years ago

As local schools shut down for their annual February break, students are sure to be excited about getting some much-needed rest and relaxation during these crazy, COVID-19 times.

And while that excitement can be palpable, this year there is something missing.

Traditionally, February break heralds the start of the Maine Principals Association basketball tournaments in Bangor, Augusta and Portland. Thousands of fans from throughout the state would make the pilgrimage to whichever site their respective schools were playing.

For many, the tournament was more than just basketball. It was an opportunity for people to shake off the winter blahs and a chance to cheer on local student athletes, band members and cheerleaders.

Sadly, this year, because of the COVID-19 virus, there is no basketball tournament. It marks the first time in about 25 years that I am not packing up a suitcase and trekking down the interstate to spend nine days in the “big city” covering basketball games. 

Over that time span I witnessed countless memorable moments, with squads enjoying the euphoria of winning a gold ball or the bittersweet sadness of coming up just short as a last-second shot bounced off the rim.

As part of my job for the newspaper, I have probably photographed more than 500 tourney games and thousands and thousands of photos over the years, but the thrill never got old. With each passing game, the level of competition would grow. Seeing the tears of joy from players as they cut down the net or hoisted the gold ball for the very first time are some of the priceless moments I will always cherish.

Was it a lot of work? Sure. Did I often leave the Bangor Auditorium and later the Cross Insurance Center with a blazing headache, stiff back and sore feet? Absolutely. Did I love every minute of it? You bet.

The tournament was so much more than just basketball. It was a time to catch up with old friends and acquaintances from some of the former schools I once covered. It was also an opportunity to hang out with fellow photographers and reporters to compare shots or writing tips, all from the best seats in the house.

And of course it was a chance to enjoy some of the finer dining establishments in the city of Bangor.

By the end of almost every tournament, I would swear to my wife that I was done volunteering for this assignment. Those 14-hour days are harder to bounce back from the older I get. I would say that I was ready to pass on the responsibility of bringing game stories to the readers to one of the other reporters.

But then, usually by January, that all too familiar itch would return and sure enough, I would once again find myself getting excited about the prospects of another week of tourney games.

This year, however, there is no itch to scratch. No tournament to pack for. Instead, I will do something I have never done. I will take off the February break and spend it with the family. Sure the kids are now too old to go sliding, but I am sure we can come up with something fun to do.

Plus, chances are there will be at least one trip down the interstate for shopping and such, and of course that means one or two stops at a restaurant for some tasty treats. It won’t be the same, but it can be just as good in a completely different way.

Joseph Cyr is the assistant editor/senior reporter for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican & News, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. He can be reached at 532-2281 or via email at jcyr@bangordailynews.com