WESTBROOK — A face in the crowd caught Lou Lampron’s eye. So did another and another. Familiar faces, but faces he didn’t usually see at a middle school basketball tournament late in March.
Lampron turned his attention back to the team of sixth-grade girls he was coaching in the Westbrook Paper City Classic.
“I knew something was up,” said Lampron, who was becoming more uncomfortable by the minute. “I didn’t know exactly what.”
He was about to be hit with more affection and appreciation than he wanted to handle last Friday night.
Later he would say he didn’t see it coming. He had been too busy making sure the basketball tournament he started 20 years ago would complete its 11-day run without too many glitches.
Twenty years? Who was counting? A lot of other people, it turns out. For all his giving, Lampron was about to get back.
We live in soured times. We’re suspicious of people doing good things, certain they have a hand reaching into our pocket for their payoff. Then you meet a recently retired Frito-Lay salesman who believes all youngsters should have opportunities.
“My son was cut from his (junior high) basketball team 26 years ago,” said Lampron. “I didn’t think that was right.”
Lampron made phone calls to the homes of other boys who were cut. He’ll start a team, he told them. Would they play?
He went to the Westbrook school board, appealing for a no-cut policy for sub-varsity teams. Nice idea, he was told, but they’d have to think about it.
Six years later, one of his daughters was cut. He started a girls’ team, and then a tournament for them and seven other teams from neighboring towns. Lampron didn’t believe in aligning his teams or the tournament with a sanctioning body or a league. He went to people in the Westbrook community. Would you help?
This year’s tournament ended Sunday with the championship games. Forty-two boys’ and girls’ fifth- and sixth-grade teams competed in 100 games played in four Westbrook gyms over the 11 days.
On Monday, Lampron woke up at dawn, as usual. It took a moment or two to remember that the Paper City Classic was over for this year.
Lampron went back to sleep. The next time he opened his eyes, it was 2 p.m.
Tuesday, he was at his desk in his Westbrook home, checking the bills that had to be paid and the money raised. Part of the proceeds takes care of the teams’ budgets for next season and the tournament. Other money will go to the Maine Special Olympics. Still more money funds a $500 scholarship for a Westbrook High girls’ varsity player who played in the Paper City Classic.
Every girl on this year’s varsity team will be eligible.
“My goal is to set up a scholarship for the boys next,” said Lampron. “I think we can do it.”
He and his two dozen or so volunteers are the motor of the tournament. He doesn’t have to twist arms for help. Those who find fun and satisfaction in giving gravitate to him. Parents of former players, former players, and old and new friends keep coming back. What can I do, Lou?
Steve Berry is one example. Every year for the past 10 or so, he goes to his supervisor at the Hannaford warehouse, asking for an additional crate of oranges. Berry quarters one for each player and brings two sacks to each game.
Kelly Benson, a former player, is now the fifth-grade girls’ coach. When she’s not coaching her team in the tournament, she is Lampron’s eyes at the gyms he can’t get to.
There are concession stands to coordinate and run. Volunteers, conscious of the workload of school custodians, help clean up. The custodians are among Lampron’s supporters. At age 64 he’s so busy and thankful, it’s infectious.
Depending who’s guessing, anywhere from 40 to 60 of his former players came to the new Westbrook Middle School gym on Friday night. His wife and four adult children stayed out of sight until the big moment. They haven’t attended recent tournaments and their presence would have set off the alarm bells if Lampron had seen them.
Younger brother Tony Lampron, the former boxer and trainer of Joey Gamache, was there and visible with his wife, Camilla. But then, Tony works the clock or the scorebook on weekends, while Camilla has made food for the concessions and taken tickets.
Tony Lampron knew what was up. Many did. It was a surprise to Lou Lampron until Joe Aube, a friend and volunteer, came onto the court with a microphone. “He gave me the dirtiest look I’ve seen,” said Aube, laughing.
The Westbrook Community Center inaugurated a Volunteer of the Year Award in Lampron’s name and gave him the first plaque. Banners were made, including one with the names of 20 years of young Westbrook players. It was a large banner.
“I had a tear or two in my eye,” said Lampron. “I never expected all this.”
In the bleachers, Kenny Winton felt his own eyes tear up. He looked around and saw he wasn’t alone. This was a pure feel-good moment, not something that was manipulated. How does one say thank you to a man who’s defined labor of love one more time?
Winton’s two daughters, Kayla and Tori, played for Lampron more recently. Winton is the volunteer in charge of admissions at all the gyms.
“He was always such a positive person around us,” said Tori Winton, now 16. “I wouldn’t say basketball was low-key with him but he made it fun. It was good to see him appreciated.”
The top playoff teams asked him to be part of their team photos. The father of the girl from Wells who won the girls’ foul-shooting contest, and a new mountain bike, had to call back to tell Lampron how much the tournament meant to his daughter.
Those are the moments Lampron lives for. “I’ll do this until I can’t.”
Twenty years. And counting.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]