AUGUSTA — The Boothbay Regional High School basketball coach asked for a timeout. Trailing by 13 points with less than 40 seconds to play in the most important game of their season, I.J. Pinkham had no more strategy or tactics to discuss.
He simply wanted to give his five starting players a curtain call to hear the applause from the fans who rose from their seats inside the Augusta Civic Center early Monday evening. The clapping wouldn’t stop.
The numbers on the big scoreboard overhead said the Boothbay Seahawks would lose, 67-54. That mattered, but not in the way you might think.
The ovation was the sound of pride and appreciation for a team of teenagers made smaller some two weeks ago by the suspension of six of their teammates.
Three starters and three substitutes, all underclassmen, decided it was more important to attend a party where alcohol was available. Six players traded in a chance to win a state basketball championship for a night and fun that was too fleeting.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Every year, in one season or another, a player or players drink or party and break a commitment. Some communities turn a blind eye or believe in second and third chances. Accountability is watered down and the message is lost.
Monday morning I drove winding Route 27 for 12 miles through Edgecomb, Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor. Balloons in the school colors, blue and gold, hung from posts and bounced in the stiff breeze. A sign, blue words on gold background, simply said: Seahawks.
I talked to people in a restaurant and businesses in the harbor area that’s overrun with tourists in the summer and lonely in mid-February. Some told me that maybe they’re not the best examples for their children. In isolated places like Boothbay, people do drink, do party.
But these same people believe in commitments and I.J. Pinkham. The suspensions for the rest of the basketball season weren’t questioned. This was Boothbay, not Westbrook, where suspensions were rescinded this past fall. Boothbay, people like to say, is not like anywhere else.
Six players are nearly half of a varsity basketball team. Six players from a student body of only 218 in a small midcoast community where everyone knows your name, your family, and where you buy your lobsters is a big deal.
How could six players do this to Pinkham and their community?
“They live for the moment,” Pinkham said before the Western Maine Class C quarterfinals game with Hall-Dale High began.
“Yes, I am disappointed. For them. I don’t care about winning another state championship. It’s not about me. It’s about them, looking back five or 10 years from now and realizing what they accomplished, because it is so hard.”
Pinkham as basketball coach and as high school math teacher is the ideal. Dry wit, quiet listener, interested in the lives of his players and students. He has coached and taught for 37 years at the high school in Boothbay Harbor.
He has coached teams to nearly 600 victories. He is a survivor of throat cancer. He is 66 years old, honest, relevant and respected.
Which is why Pinkham is so believable when he says this isn’t about him. Yes, it was a punch to the gut. His heart went out to his senior captain, Andrew Hallinan, the son and grandson of Boothbay lobstermen.
“He took on the role of leadership. He put this team on his shoulders.”
Hallinan spent more time in practice, working with the freshmen and sophomores who were called up from the junior varsity. The game for the Mountain Valley Conference championship (a defeat to Dirigo of Dixfield) was coming up. Then there was the tournament.
Boothbay reached the state championship game last year and lost. Hallinan and his teammates thought they were good enough for another chance. Boothbay was 16-2 when the season ended and seeded second in the Western Maine tournament behind Dirigo.
The jayvee players thrust into varsity roles were so young, they didn’t have driver’s licenses. Hallinan drove them home in his truck. It gave him time to get to know them better.
Hallinan saw many of his six suspended teammates at Monday’s game. He saw their parents. The players had called their captain, apologizing.
“I told them I didn’t have time to focus on them. I had to focus on my new teammates and help them,” Hallinan said. “I’ll talk to (the six players) sometime. I’m not ready yet.”
He turned away to rejoin his teammates for their bus ride home. His father, Bob Hallinan, intercepted him. “I’m proud of you,” he said quietly, touching an arm. Andrew Hallinan nodded. Thanks, dad.
“He never asked why this had to happen to them,” said Bob Hallinan. “He moved on. He wanted to help the teammates he had as much as he could.”
If you ever feel the need to question the value of sports in our lives as athletes or fans, remember I.J. Pinkham and Andrew Hallinan and the other Seahawks who played the game with only a chance to win.
The best lessons can come at the worst times.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: