PORTLAND – They laughed together. They held hands when they bounded off the team bench. They took their turns cutting down the net on the basket.
Sydney, Sarah and CeCe Hancock are the daughters of brothers Kevin and Matt, who were popular stars at Lake Region High a generation earlier. Saturday, the girls were the daughters of anyone living in Naples, Bridgton, Casco and Sebago.
They and their teammates beat York, 50-24, for the Western Maine Class B basketball title Saturday at the Cumberland Country Civic Center. That Lake Region returns to the state championship game next week is one reason that T-shirts with Lakers Pride seemed to be everywhere in the grandstand.
In a state that pauses each February to renew its love of high school basketball, Lake Region is trying to reclaim lost success. The girls last won a state title in 1975, the first year of state tournaments for girls. The boys last won in 1985.
The Lake Region area is hungry and it shows.
Tom Wilberg is a son of Falmouth, the community tagged with the labels of successful, sophisticated and affluent. He was a freshman when Falmouth beat Camden Hills for the state title in 2010. After Lake Region beat York, Falmouth beat the York boys, 67-46.
Last Saturday, Wilberg saw blue lights in his rear-view mirror. He had played in the tournament quarterfinals earlier that day. Now he was driving too fast. He pulled over and waited for the Falmouth policeman to ask for his license.
“He saw my name and asked how we did (last Saturday),” said Wilberg. “I told him we beat Maranacook.”
Wilberg was issued a warning. The son of Falmouth was grateful.
The Gallagher-Todd clan from York gathered their coats and hats to leave the Civic Center. The afternoon had become longer than expected. On the ride up the pike, matriarch Eleanor Todd, 84, told her family Saturday was a historic day for her. Four grandchildren were playing for basketball championships.
Shannon Todd was a freshman guard on the girls team that lost to Lake Region. Cousins Aaron Todd and Michael Gallagher played in the loss to Falmouth. That left Stephanie Gallagher, a guard on the nationally-ranked University of Southern Maine basketball team.
The USM women won the Little East Conference title, earning another trip to the NCAA Division III tournament, making Saturday a bittersweet day for these sons and daughters of York.
York, York Beach, York Harbor and Cape Neddick have been called bedroom communities to Boston. New faces, new families move in all the time.
“We indoctrinate them,” said Melinda Todd Gallagher, who played on York basketball teams nearly 35 years ago. She was half joking. The point being, high school sports, and especially the basketball teams, introduced newcomers to natives.
Hours later, South Portland sophomore forward Jaren Mueller looked up into the full grandstand motion. More, he gestured with his arms. More noise, more emotion. Two entire sections, from the floor of the Civic Center to the roof, rose as one. The son of South Portland didn’t realize he had that power to command, even after he and his teammates beat Bonny Eagle, 56-52 for the Western Maine Class A title.
“I was just trying to get the crowd going,” said Mueller, after the team photo was snapped. “We feed off their energy. We needed them.”
So his neighbors and friends responded. The electricity crackled.
This is what separates the public schools and the private schools. Cheverus and Catherine McAuley and Waynflete and Hyde players are the sons and daughters of their school communities — not the communities in which they live. That’s a big part of what drives the sometimes contentious debate over private schools playing public schools in tournaments.
I have always believed the private schools elevate the quality of the game and the quality of the experience. But I hear the other side where a community’s pride in its sons and daughters overrides other emotions.
“I never thought my girls should attend another school,” said Kevin Hancock, father to Sydney, a Lake Region senior. Older sister Abby graduated a couple of years ago. Sarah and CeCe are a sophomore and freshman. There dad is Matt Hancock.
“We understand what basketball means,” said Sydney Hancock, the backboard net draped around her neck.
“I’ve heard the stories about my father and uncle. You feel all this support.”
Wilberg understands. He won’t hear individual voices when he plays. No athlete can listen and play at the same time effectively. But he knows who he represents and it’s not just his school.
Glenn Todd walks into businesses in York and its neighboring towns. With or without his son, Aaron. At this time of year, friends and strangers approach with congratulations or offerings of good luck.
Things have changed in high school basketball. Low scoring, poor shot selection, in-your-face defenses. Mainers’ affection for their basketball tournaments hasn’t changed.
It’s personal. It always will be.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: