February 10, 2013

The last hurrahs for the Bangor Auditorium

The Bangor Auditorium, a stage for so many graceful high school basketball players through the years, prepares for a graceful exit.

By Tom Chard tchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

It was a place to be part of a community, to convene each school vacation week in February and root for a high school basketball team. The Bangor Auditorium became a place for memories, a wonderful place to see a game. It became The Mecca. Soon it will be no more.

Kennebec Journal photo/Jeff Pouland

click image to enlarge

The Bangor Auditorium has been a fixture of the city’s skyline since the mid-1950s. It will be replaced by a 6,000-seat building with all the amenities, but it will never be replaced by those who treasure its architecture and hours watching basketball inside its walls.

Michael C. York photo

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To commemorate the Bangor Auditorium, there will be a shoot-around at the Auditorium on March 16-17. All former players are being invited back to take one last shot or shots on the court. The invitation also extends to the public. Former players Bill Burney of Augusta and Steve Pound of Greenville are organizing the event in conjunction with the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.

"We're going to have different shooting games," said Burney. "We want to send the Auditorium off in good fashion."

So make sure you bring your sneakers and your shooting eye.

The Maine Principals' Association is planning a tribute to the Bangor Auditorium. On the cover of the Eastern Class C tournament program, there will be a picture of the Bangor Auditorium at the top and the new Cross Insurance Center on the bottom. Then, before the Class C girls' state championship game March 2, the MPA will present a plaque to the city of Bangor in appreciation of all the Eastern Maine tournaments held at the Auditorium.

- Tom Chard


Cindy Blodgett:

"I really think it's our equivalent of Madison Square Garden."

Matt Rossignol:

(As a kid) "you went there dreaming about when it would be your time."

Missy (Belanger) Tracy

"Once you go there as a player, you dream of getting back."

Jim Bessey

"You couldn't audible. Your players couldn't hear. You had to have visuals."

Yarmouth won the Class B state championship there last season.

"Winning the state title was great, but winning it there made it even better. When the players walked through the doors and saw the arena, their eyes lit up," said Smith.

Skip Chappelle, the former University of Maine basketball coach and standout, played in the first basketball game at the Auditorium on Dec. 22, 1955, for Old Town High against Bangor.

Eight days later, the Boston Celtics beat the Syracuse Nationals on the same floor.

"The size of the building was huge to us back in those days," said Chappelle. "When we first went inside, one of the first things we wanted to do was go to the top of the seats and look down at the court. There's an incredible amount of history from the small towns to the larger schools."

Old Town won the state title in 1957 and advanced to play in the New Englands at the Boston Garden.

"Because we had played in the Bangor Auditorium, we weren't in awe playing in the Boston Garden," said Chappelle. "I know it sounds crazy but it was true."

The stands on both sides of the court rise sharply to the ceiling. From the upper reaches of the Auditorium, the players look diminutive. With 5,000 to 6,000 fans, the noise can be deafening.

The capacity of the building has varied over the years. Because the stands aren't completely pulled out for the Eastern Maine tournament, the capacity is just over 5,000.

When the Downeast Classic, a college basketball tournament comprising eight teams, including Maine, Colgate, Rutgers and Rhode Island, was played from 1959-61, Chappelle, the Black Bears' standout, swears there were 7,000 crammed into the building when Maine won the event in 1960 and 1961.

When Chappelle coached Maine, the Black Bears played DePaul -- the top-ranked team in the country at the time -- at the Auditorium on Jan. 6, 1981. Maine kept the game close before losing, 85-77.

"When we scored to cut it to four points, I had never heard noise like that," Chappelle said. "It was absolutely incredible. When the place was rocking, it was a loud scenario."


Throughout Eastern Maine, elementary-school kids accompanied by their parents would go to the tournament every year to watch their local heroes play. They couldn't wait until they played for the high school.

Steve Pound, 62, works for the Cianbro Corporation of Pittsfield in workforce development. He grew up in Millinocket, about 70 miles north on Interstate 95 and home of Stearns High.

"Growing up, the whole thing was to play for Stearns High, which was synonymous with the tournament," said Pound. "The tournament was the biggest event of the year. I remember asking my father one year when I was young if we could go to the tournament. He told me he didn't know if we would have enough money, but just before the tournament he said we could go. He told me to ask a friend and off we went."

Pound is Stearns' all-time leading scorer. He scored 68 points in the first game of his senior year and averaged 40 points per game as the Minutemen won the 1968 Class LL state title with a 59-57 overtime win over South Portland at the Portland Expo.

Counting regular-season games against Bangor and the Eastern Maine tournaments, Pound estimates he played more than 12 times at the Auditorium.

"I took the whole atmosphere in. It was wonderful. You always remembers those things," he said.

Bill Burney, 61, of Augusta still holds the Eastern Class A tournament record for points in a game. Playing for Cony, Burney scored 53 points in a quarterfinal against Presque Isle in 1969 at the Auditorium.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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The welcome sign remains out at the Bangor Auditorium, although there are precious few days remaining to welcome visitors. This year’s Eastern Maine tournament will be the final one at the venerable building.

Michael C. York photo

click image to enlarge

Watching your step has been a key part to watching a game at the Bangor Auditorium. Steep inclines prevail and the higher you go, the smaller the players appear on the court. But that has always been part of the fun in a building that has provided so much fun to so many over the years.

Michael C. York photo

click image to enlarge

Bill Burney

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