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Elusive Championship

The Elusive Championship
by a Reeds Brook Middle School student
based on an article by Bob Hawes

Have you ever heard of the expression “Things happen”? “History happens” could be quite a popular saying, too, because sometimes, during the most unlikely scenarios, history does happen, as it did on March 19th, 2005. It was the Class A Maine State Championship game, and the stakes had rarely been higher for the students on the Hampden Academy Broncos boys basketball team. But to truly be appreciated, the history of HA basketball needs to be known.

Way back in the fall of 1912, the first records of Hampden Academy Basketball were written, barely 20 years after the game was invented, and long before the NBA evolved. There was one team for the boys and two for girls. The Hampden Academy Gossip, June 1912, stated that the boys in their first year “won over half the games they played, and that is a good record considering the weight of the team and the disadvantages of practice.” There is no known record of who Hampden played. However, in 1918-19, some of the competitors were Winterport Athletic Assoc., Bangor YMCA, Searsport Athletic Assoc., Mattanawcook Academy, and the Old Town Scouts. Games played in those days had much lower scores than games played today, as shown in a game against Brewer High School, 1918, when Brewer beat Hampden with a score of 14-13. One more difference was the time of the game. The games back then were played in three twelve minute periods, and according to The Gossip, “each period was full of thrills to the last second.” Today, high school games are played in four eight minute quarters.

The Hampden Academy players now have the spacious Skehan Gym (dedicated to school administrator John Skehan) to play and practice in, and before that they had what we now call the “Old Gym.” But there is an even older gym that Hampden Academy once used heavily. It wasn’t really a gym at all, but the town hall. It was the first floor of the town hall that was used as the “multipurpose room.” Hampden Academy alone used it for most school dances, band practice, orchestra practice, cheerleading practice, class plays, musical productions, class photos, and of course, basketball games and practices. You can imagine how little time the teams had to practice and play. In the little time that they got for playing, the hall was so crowded that people’s toes were touching the court boundaries. The crowds would throw back the basketballs thrown into the “stands.” These were not ideal conditions for playing basketball and in 1953 the “Old Gym” was constructed. In the late ‘70s, the Skehan Gym was built, and soon there will be an even more modern gym when the new Hampden Academy opens its doors in 2012.

Up until 1976, no Hampden team had ever won a state title. Then came the Hampden Academy Girls Varsity team. Compiling an impressive record of 14-2 during the regular season, the team went into the playoffs ready to win, and win they did. They defeated Nokomis and Old Town to make it to the Eastern Maine title game. Thanks to an astounding 28 rebounds by Kim Martin (now Kim Haggan), Hampden beat Fort Kent to secure a spot in the Maine State Championship game. This was to be the first Class A State Championship at the Bangor Auditorium: Hampden vs. Mt. Blue. No seniors started for the Hampden team, but instead, two juniors and three sophomores. It was an intense game, and in the fourth quarter, when Kim Martin fouled out, Grace Baker was put in. The game came down to the wire, and Hampden was behind by one with just a few ticks left on the clock. Baker got the ball and quickly fired up a shot. The ball sailed up in the air, eyes following its path, heading right for the hoop. The buzzer went off and swish, the basketball sunk through the basket! Hampden had won its first ever state championship!

In an interview, Kim Haggan still vividly remembers the incredible experience of what seemed like “the whole town of Hampden swarming onto the court.” Now a teacher at Reeds Brook Middle School, Mrs. Haggan credits her coach, Don Veneziano with much of their success. She recalls that before every practice, Veneziano had them run the “four mile loop” (four roads in Hampden that when combined make a four mile run). But despite the coach’s toughness, Kim Haggan thinks that he was terrific. She also remembers her team being very close, providing great teamwork.

Now the boys team had the road to the famous “Gold Ball” (the trophy given to the winner of the championship) paved for them. The boys would not be able to repeat the girls’ success, though, until 2005. Sure, they had their chances. In ‘76-77, ‘81-82, and ‘99-00, they were just one win away from their own championship, but could never win that one game. In that year, 2005, though, Hampden’s chemistry was just right, and the boys made it all the way.

The coach of the 2005 boys’ basketball team was Russ Bartlet, who came on board with plenty of experience. Bartlet’s father, Bill Bartlet was a coach for Junior Pro Basketball in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Russ used to attend the games at the age of three or four, and he became the unofficial team mascot, all the while learning the game. He was the assistant varsity coach at Caribou High School before his success in Hampden. Bartlet came to Hampden in 2004, where he met a group of boys that would have the will to win a state championship!

The 2005 team consisted of Evan Farley, Dan McCue, Blaine Meehan, Jay Uhrin, Brad Evans, Nate Aurelio, Sam Hodgdon, Jordan Cook, Pat Moran, Josh McNutt, Max Silver, and Tyler Ross, with Gary Colson as Assistant Coach, and Lucas Frace as Manager. Jordan Cook, a towering 6’ 10” center, with an even bigger impact on the team, was named MVP of the tournament. He later went on to play basketball on the University of Maine Black Bears squad. Coming into the tournament, Hampden was ranked number 9 in Eastern Maine. Going through the Eastern Maine tournament, Hampden upset No. 1 seed Bangor and No. 2 seed Oxford Hills of South Paris. They also beat No. 13 Brewer to become Eastern Maine Champions.

Up next was the State Final. For Western Maine, well-known Deering High of South Portland; for Eastern Maine, the Hampden Academy boys, a team that had yet to win a state championship. A well-fought game came to an end with an outcome of 59-49, Hampden up by 10 points. Now both teams had finally won championships! Spectators came streaming onto the court, surrounding the players and lifting them on their shoulders! Although this was not as dramatic a win as the girls,’ it was still a tremendous accomplishment.

The win over Bangor got the most praise from the media, with the No. 9 team upsetting the No. 1 team. Jessica Block of the News Staff reported that (BDN 7 Mar, 05), “The win was likely the biggest upset in the Eastern A boys tournament since 1988, when No. 8 Presque Isle beat No. 1 Lawrence of Fairfield (86-81) in double overtime.” Eric Russell said (BDN 7 Mar, 05), “If you looked at the seedings, the top-ranked Bangor boys basketball team had a seemingly easy path to the Eastern Maine Class A final; a quarterfinal against Hampden Academy to set up a semifinal against the winner of No. 12 Leavitt and No. 13 Brewer. So much for seedings.” An overconfident Bangor coach Roger Reed said before the tournament that he expected his team to easily win the Eastern Maine title that year. It just goes to show that expectations don’t always come true.

One more history making-fact is that the girls were the first team from to win a state championship at the Bangor Auditorium, and the boys were the last team to win a state championship at the Bangor Auditorium. The state championship was moved to the Augusta Civic Center after 2005. So a “congratulations” goes out to the boys and girls basketball teams at Hampden Academy, who have both finally won the elusive championship!