BANGOR — It’s difficult to stand out in a standing crowd of high school basketball players when you’re about 5-foot-9 and you’re at a dinner, not a game. Dustin Cole pulled it off nicely. He chose to wear a wide, colorful bow tie.
Then the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches announced they had chosen him as the 2014 Mr. Maine Basketball recipient and Cole returned to the dais. He had the spotlight all to himself. That it was just for a few minutes didn’t bother him at all.
Maine’s best high school senior players were celebrated Friday night at the new Cross Insurance Center. A dancing carton of french fries, a Big Mac and assorted other items off a McDonald’s menu – hey, that’s the lead sponsor for 26 years – provided a bit of levity to nearly four hours of appreciation with a few doses of suspense.
Would Cole, the face of Bonny Eagle High basketball for four years, finally get to take a statewide basketball honor home with him? Zach Gilpin and Isaiah Bess of Hampden Academy stood with him as the other male finalists.
Would Allie Clement of McAuley High cap an astonishing and successful high school career by hearing her name announced as Miss Maine Basketball? Tiana-Jo Carter of Lake Region High and Parise Rossignol of Van Buren were the other finalists.
Yes and yes. Afterward, they did look like slightly overwhelmed and relieved teenagers. In the audience, Phil Bourassa, who was Cole’s head coach, felt his own relief and happiness. He could relate. Only 10 years ago he was the Biddeford High quarterback who walked away with the Fitzpatrick Trophy, which goes to the best high school football player in Maine.
Bourassa never won a state football title at Biddeford. Cole never got the chance to play for a state basketball title. “Trust that we would both trade in our individual awards in a heart beat,” said Bourassa. “The Gold Ball (trophy) has been quite elusive for this guy.”
Believe him. If you play a team sport, the most satisfying reward is one reached as a team. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Super Bowl or a Maine high school title. No one outside the family knows how discouraged Cole was that Bonny Eagle didn’t win the championship. “It made him go out and work harder,” said Dan Cole, his father.
Which makes Cole and Clement two sides to the same coin. Clement’s work ethic is top-of-the-charts. She and her teammates have four state titles as a result. Friday night’s award was the frosting. Sweet.
Other takeaways from Friday:
• Ron Cote, whose longtime basketball coaching career at Biddeford High was interrupted by a seven-year stint coaching the University of New England men, received the D. Robert Brown Contributor Award and used his acceptance speech to praise Brown, who last coached at Cheverus. There are few men and women whose ideals impacted many more coaches. Brown is one.
• I.J. Pinkham was saluted by a representative of USA Today for being one of the top finalists for America’s high school coach of the year. Pinkham, the boys coach at Boothbay Region High School for nearly 40 years with about 600 victories to his credit, recalled the sight of his algebra students voting for him online, using their cell phones while in class. He shook his head. What had he gotten himself into?
• Josh Titus and Patrick Thibodeau, the managers of their Edward Little and Greely High basketball teams, returned again to present the East Division and West Division Spirit of the Game awards. Titus, who lives with autism, and Thibodeau, who was born with Down syndrome, played in the final season games in 2008-09. Both scored. Their stories were retold in a CBS Sports documentary aired during an NCAA Final Four pregame show.
The emotional video was shown again Friday night. Connor Kane of Dirigo High, whose father is Spruce Mountain girls Coach Gavin Kane, is an honor roll student with autism and assists his father as manager and coach. Kane was the West Division recipient.
Zach Gilpin of Hampden Academy was the East winner. Gilpin’s father died during his sophomore season. Zach, dealing with his grief, was tutored at home and took classes via TV monitor. On Senior Night that season, he gave up his starting spot to a teammate. He also insisted a teammate be the first to hoist the Eastern Maine trophy.
Winners do take different forms.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: