May 29, 2012

Steve Solloway: Celebrating 25 years of excellence

Tim Scott worried that he might have to stand in front of a crowd of 100 or so strangers and speak. It was a legitimate concern for a soft-spoken 18-year-old from Ellsworth who had let his considerable athletic talents speak for him.

Missy Kelsen wasn't thrilled about the idea of attending yet another sports banquet. She'd rather respond to cheers at a game involving Deering High than listen to the applause that followed the retelling of individual accomplishments.

Her first reaction was to ignore the invitation from The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in that spring of 1988. She was asked to attend a gathering of the state's very best high school athletes in all sports. The best of the best would be named at the end of the reception. Two teenagers would be hailed as Maine's male and female Athletes of the Year. Kelsen remembers that her parents urged her to attend.

What did this mean? Naming Athletes of the Year had never happened before. There was no track record. Scott and Kelsen had just received their diplomas. Summer and new chapters to their lives beckoned.

Twenty-five years have passed. Forty-six other names line up behind Scott and Kelsen, who now have perspective on what it means. On June 22, two more names will be added, selected as always by a panel of media, coaches, officials and administrators. In the days and weeks leading up to this year's reception, we'll remember all of them.

Rob Pendergist (1989) of Ellsworth, Ryan Werner (1991) of Scarborough and Jamie Cook (1993, 1994) of Kennebunk became national figures in NCAA decathlon competition. Cindy Blodgett (1994) of Lawrence played in the WNBA. Roger Levesque of Falmouth is a professional soccer player. Sarah Marshall Ryan (2002) graduated from McAuley High and earned a starting role at Boston College, playing for basketball for coach Cathy Inglese. Kelsen played for Inglese at the University of Vermont.

Ben True (2003) of Greely is rising to near the top of American long-distance running, and Mark Rogers (2004) from Mt. Ararat became a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers.

All of the Athletes of the Year were accomplished.

Kelsen left Maine for the University of Vermont in a pre-Internet world. She was a starting guard for teams that pushed the Rachel Bouchard-led University of Maine off the North Atlantic Conference pinnacle. Her senior season was a dream. Twenty-six straight regular-season victories and three more in the NAC tournament, capped with a win over Maine in the title game.

Vermont earned an at-large bid to the 1992 NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. The Catamounts lost by one point to eighth-seeded George Washington in the first round, finishing with a 29-1 record. Kelsen had 17 points to go with four rebounds, three assists and three steals. When she graduated, Kelsen was Vermont's career leader in steals with 328. She was in the top 10 in 10 career categories.

Her quick hands matched her quick mind and quick feet. At Deering High, she was a prolific base stealer in softball.

"She was the best I've seen," said Mike McDevitt, the long-time women's basketball coach at St. Joseph's College. Best all-around Maine schoolgirl basketball player in his opinion. In Vermont, some put Kelsen on their list of top-10 all-time players at UVM.

Basketball, truth be told, was Scott's first love in high school, followed very closely by baseball. Soccer? That was his fun sport to stay in shape.

"I think every kid in Maine at that point in their lives would say basketball," said Scott. "You couldn't find a seat when we played at home." He can't forget the noise when Ellsworth brought its huge fan following to the Bangor Auditorium during the Eastern Maine tournaments.

His father, Jack, was a superb athlete and played in the Red Sox organization. Dick, one of his three older brothers, was drafted by the Yankees and made it to the major leagues with the Oakland A's.

Now, Scott hits ground balls to youth teams he coaches. "I haven't pushed my children into sports." Meaning he doesn't need to relive his accomplishments through his children.

"It's been 25 years? (Since he heard his name announced as 1988 Male Athlete of the Year.) I can't believe it."

He can't forget, either.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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