March 4, 2013

Bidding adieu to Bangor Auditorium

An era that began almost 60 years ago ends Saturday with the final championship basketball games.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BANGOR - Alan Snell thought for days about what he would say.

click image to enlarge

John Hepburn, left, of Boothbay, and Isaiah Bess of Penquis go up for a rebound Saturday night during the last basketball game at the Bangor Auditorium – the Class C boys’ state final. Bess scored 27 points to lead Penquis to a 61-54 victory.

Michael C. York/Special to the Press Herald

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He has been announcing high school basketball tournament games at the Bangor Auditorium for about 20 years, and has been part of the crew that makes things run smoothly since 1977.

"I started out by opening the doors to let the teams in," he said.

Saturday night, Snell had the honor of announcing the final high school game at the Bangor Auditorium, the Class C boys' state championship game won by Penquis over Boothbay, 61-54. He thought about trying to say something profound. Instead, he simply let the moment speak for itself, which was perhaps more fitting.

He allowed the Penquis players to celebrate while fans drowned the court in sound one last time.

The Bangor Auditorium, opened in 1955, host to its first high school championships in 1956, will be razed this spring and replaced by the 6,000-seat Cross Insurance Center.

The Auditorium was always about more than just basketball. Presidents spoke there. Rock concerts were played there. Trade shows were held there.

But it's legacy will always be tied to the great moments that played out on the basketball court. People still talk about Mike Thurston's half-court shot at the buzzer that helped Caribou beat Westbrook 65-63 for the Class LL crown in 1969. They remember Joe Campbell's reverse layup at the buzzer as underdog Bangor beat Deering 57-56 in 2001 for the Class A state crown.

Matt Rossignol poured in 51 points for Van Buren in an Eastern Class B semifinal win in 1985. Cindy Blodgett led Lawrence to four consecutive regional and state crowns from 1991-94, packing the building for every game.

Waynflete's Martha Veroneau and Penquis' Isaiah Bess provided more memories in the final two games. Veroneau scored Waynflete's final 16 points, 34 overall, to will the Flyers to the Class C girls' title, a 59-55 comeback win over Calais.

Bess scored 27, with two thunderous dunks, in Penquis' victory over Boothbay.

Veroneau, who played with twin sister Catherine and younger sister Anne, said this day was all about memories.

"This team is like a family," she said. "We've been together for so long,. But to actually have my two sisters on the team -- these are memories that we're never going to forget and going to be able to share the rest of our lives."

And winning the title at the Auditorium, she said, made it more special.

"This is the first time we've played in this building," she said. "It's really cool how much tradition this building has and that we were able to be a part of it this year."

Tony Hamlin, the Penquis coach who won a Class A title at South Portland back in 1993, had circled Saturday's date long ago. He knew what it would mean to win the final game at the Auditorium.

"Oh yeah, we thought about it all year," he said. "I told them in November, we'd like to be in the last game played.

"You say those things, you don't really think they're going to happen. But dreams do come true."

And then, he added, "I hate to say it's fitting that an Eastern Maine team won it, but I'll say it."

Maybe it is. The Auditorium was, after all, the gathering place for folks from Aroostook County and Downeast Maine every February.

This was where they spent their vacation, watching their children, their friends' children, their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or simply other teams play for a Gold Ball.

Richard McQuesten of Charleston had come to the Auditorium for so many years that he had his own seat: G16. "Always on the visitors side," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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