The recent incident involving Calais High School girls basketball players brought back memories of a skirmish that occurred when I was playing basketball at Stearns High School in the 1975-76 season.
It occurred during a practice a few days before the Class A tourney was to begin. The starting five was scrimmaging against our second five and as usual, it was intense and aggressive. Some of the best games we played weren’t against our opponents, but against each other.
One of the starters drove to the basket and suffered a clean, but hard foul. After a season in which we had battled to reach the number one seed and after many grueling hours in the gym, the starter got upset and some pushing and shoving ensued. It could have happened to any of us.
The coaches quickly stepped in and ushered us into the locker room. We then had a candid and, at times, heated discussion about playing time, our roles on the team, and our perceptions of coaches favoring some players over others.
At that time, it was one of the most agonizing half hours I had ever experienced. The cliques among our team were magnified. At one point, one of my teammates said he had reached his limit, quit and left. A couple of the other guys ran after him and asked him to return.
He did and our head coach, Paul Bessey, tried his best to bring us back together. At that time, I didn’t realize how difficult his job could be. He had been a great player in high school and then at the University of Maine. During former UMaine coach Skip Chappelle’s summer basketball camps, Bessey was always the coach Chappelle asked to demonstrate shooting drills. I remember thinking, does this guy ever miss?
He knew the game of basketball and taught us very well. I now better understand that he also had to be a counselor, almost like a part-time psychologist as he tried to blend the tender egos and explosive competitiveness of teenage boys.
On this day, he was working overtime and tried to bring us back together by focusing on the common goal that we all wanted: winning.
We all shook hands and tried to focus on our task ahead, but our lack of team chemistry lingered and may have been one of the causes of eighth-seeded Old Town beating us in the first round of the tourney after we had beat them twice during the regular season by margins of 20 points. Old Town was a hot team, with talented, streaky shooters and were well-coached by the late Bob Lahey.
The loss was a difficult dose of reality for a bunch of young basketball players, but one that others may continue to experience in today’s game. Real practices and games usually are not Hallmark moments. Teammates will not always get along and like each other. How well they can cope with this, show maturity, and work toward a common goal will often determine a win or a loss.