“Fifty years from now, they’ll be marking the point on the floor (where) Mike Thurston shot that shot.”

– Radio announcer Dewey DeWitt in the aftermath of Caribou’s 65-63 victory over Westbrook in the 1969 Class LL boys’ basketball state championship game.

There’s no way to mark the spot because the floor is gone, demolished six years ago along with the old Bangor Auditorium. But Mike Thurston’s improbable buzzer-beating basket – heaved from just behind the midcourt line – remains a part of Maine basketball lore as “The Shot Heard Round the State.”

In Caribou, a city of fewer than 8,000 residents in Maine’s northeast corner, the tale of Thurston and his teammates resurfaces like frost heaves every March, only with more fondness each succeeding year.


“It was an unbelievably exciting game,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, then a sophomore at Caribou High and among the hundreds who stormed the court that night after the dramatic finish. “The emptying out of the bleachers of all the Caribou fans was completely a spontaneous action. It was an amazing moment.”

That 1969 state title remains the only one for the Caribou High boys’ basketball team. Fifty years later, the city is embracing another championship run. The Vikings will play Cape Elizabeth for the Class B state title at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday afternoon.

David Wakana, assistant principal and athletic director of Caribou High, predicted that the stands will include more Caribou fans than supporters of Cape Elizabeth. A local bank is sponsoring a student bus for the 300-mile trip. Caribou has a pep band and its native sons and daughters are sprinkled throughout southern Maine.

The March 9, 1969, Press Herald clipping from the title game between Caribou and Westbrook. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“Throughout the (regional) tournament in Bangor our side has been full, with everyone wearing maroon,” junior guard Alex Bouchard said. “It’s been awesome and it’s really helped us to know all these people are there to watch us and support us.”

Caribou coach Kyle Corrigan said his players are well aware of those who came before them.

“It’s one of those things in Caribou,” he said, “if you don’t know about the Mike Thurston half-court shot, then you’re not really from Caribou.”

On Wednesday night at Caribou High, the current team attended a reception along with members of previous Caribou teams to reach the state finals. They watched the grainy black-and-white footage of that ’69 finish and listened to DeWitt’s radio call.

“You know the outcome,” said Peter Curran, who at 6-foot-7 was the tallest member and one of seven seniors on the championship squad, “but you still wonder if we can do it.”

‘AS I RECALL, IT WAS ALL NET’

The 1969 Class LL championship game was held on Saturday, March 8. Westbrook, led by talented guard Matt Donahue, built an eight-point lead with four minutes remaining only to see Caribou cut the deficit to three points in the final minute. With 10 seconds left, Caribou’s burly forward, Mike Kelley, scored from close range and was awarded a free throw for being fouled in the act of shooting. He made the foul shot to tie the score at 63.

Caribou boys’ basketball players meet others who have made it to the state finals at a reception Wednesday in Caribou. Photo courtesy of David Wakana

Westbrook loyalists have long disputed that call, noting that the Blue Blazes had no reason to foul. The 3-point arc wouldn’t come into being for another 18 years, so Westbrook could have afforded to give up a basket and retain the lead.

“You know who fouled me?” said Kelley, 66, a retired potato farmer who still lives in Caribou. “The guy who fouled me was (teammate) Pete Curran. He was between me and the basket. It wasn’t any of the Westbrook players.”

Westbrook immediately inbounded the ball and pushed it up court. With 5 seconds left, Don Douglas had an open look from 14 feet but his shot hit the back rim and caromed out to Curran. Thurston clapped his hands for the ball. Curran passed it. Thurston dribbled twice, avoided a defender, dribbled twice more, then let fly from just beyond midcourt, his right hand remaining upraised in follow through, as another Westbrook defender attempted to block his path.

“As I let it go,” said Thurston, 67, “I remember thinking, ‘If this thing is long enough, it could be good.’ ”

“As I recall, it was all net,” said Collins, 66. “We were all on our feet. My gym teacher, Irvin Belanger, who subsequently went on to be superintendent of Caribou schools, was a few rows ahead of me. I remember his turning and looking at everybody behind him in amazement when Mike Thurston made that historic shot.”

It wasn’t a fluke. Thurston, Curran and Kelley all remember a scrimmage at Presque Isle two days earlier – arranged for Caribou to keep sharp during the two-week layoff between the regional and state finals. At the end of a third quarter, Thurston sank a buzzer-beater from three-quarter court, near the opposite foul line.

Presque Isle coach Gary Osgood came over laughing, according to Thurston, and said, “‘ Save that one for Saturday night.’ ”

WESTBROOK TOOK IT IN STRIDE

Thurston went on to teach elementary physical education in the Old Town school system, and coached junior varsity basketball and varsity softball teams. He also served as a basketball referee, including at several state finals. Thurston said he’ll make the trip from his home in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, to attend Saturday’s game and reunite with some of his former teammates.

The Caribou High boys’ basketball team gets ready for practice Friday at Cross Insurance Arena after a five-hour bus ride from Aroostook County to Portland. Caribou plays Cape Elizabeth in the Class B final on Saturday. The only time the Vikings won a state championship was 50 years ago. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

At least one of the current Caribou players had not known of Thurston’s historic shot. Guard Austin Findlen, the only senior starter, grew up in New Sweden and didn’t attend school in Caribou until seventh grade.

“I hadn’t heard of it until the beginning of this year,” Findlen said. “It’s definitely exciting and means a lot to all of us and it definitely means a lot to all the community members. It shows that basketball is more than just a game.”

Even the Westbrook players have come to embrace their role in the drama. Donahue led all scorers with 26 points, but still blames himself for falling into a sound sleep on the afternoon of the finals. It was his first time in a hotel, and the bed was much more comfortable than the one he shared at home with his older brothers.

“I swear I woke up around the third quarter,” said Donahue, who was a talented basketball player at the University of Southern Maine (then known as the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham) before becoming an artist. “I was kind of in a daze before then.”

Ever the free spirit, Donahue didn’t fret about the outcome once the game ended. He remembered approaching Thurston after all the excitement died down and extending a hand.

“I said, ‘Hey buddy. Nice friggin’ shot.’ ”

Douglas, whose miss from 14 feet set up Thurston’s game-winner, played minor league baseball in the Cubs system and ran a successful title company in Yarmouth before retiring. He was in Bangor last weekend to see Caribou win the regional title.

“After 50 years, I have no problem rooting for Caribou,” he said. “With the benefit of a little bit of perspective, you realize you were part of Maine schoolboy basketball history.”

A senior in 1969, Douglas has no regrets about not waiting a few seconds longer to take Westbrook’s final shot – or for failing to look for Donahue to shoot the ball instead.

“It was my shot to take and I took it,” Douglas said. “Unfortunately it clanged out, but it set up a storybook ending.”

Collins also was in Bangor last weekend to watch the Vikings win the regional title, and on Friday rearranged her schedule so she could attend the game Saturday and still deliver a speech in Bangor.

Since the Caribou boys won the state title in 1969, they have been back to the championship game twice – losing in 1975 and 1983. Caribou did win a girls’ state title in ’83.

Bouchard, one of the current Vikings, said he doesn’t want to settle for second place again. He said it’s time for the boys to bring another Gold Ball back to Aroostook County.

“If we end up doing that,” he said, “it will for sure be remembered a long time.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this story.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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