End of an era at MCI also a sign of the times

Long before there were Caron Butler and DerMarr Johnson and Brad Miller and Cuttino Mobley and Sam Cassell, there were guys like Skip Chappelle and Ed Guiski who enhanced their athletic and academic standing with a postgraduate year at Maine Central Institute.

For Chappelle, who went on to star as a player at the University of Maine and later became the Black Bears’ head coach, and Guiski, the longtime basketball coach at Dexter High School who played football and basketball at MCI before starring at both Boston University and what is now the University of Southern Maine, their postgraduate experiences on the Pittsfield campus were a major foundational step toward future success.

MCI’s postgraduate program has evolved markedly since Chappelle and Guiski attended the school during the 1950s.

The football team eventually was discontinued, while the basketball team took on a national reach during the 1980s and 1990s by attracting high-profile high school stars from throughout the country and beyond and earning a reputation as a place where both the student and the athlete in student-athlete could thrive by earning college-qualifying test scores in the classroom and full scholarships on the basketball court.

Sports Illustrated noticed. So did ESPN.

MCI has still been able to attract scholarship-level prospects to its postgraduate basketball program since the turn of the new century, but not as many and not as publicity-generating in nature as the likes of Butler, Johnson, Miller, Mobley and Cassell, not to mention David Johnson and Erick Barkley, themselves both first-round NBA draft picks.

The gateway to college and the pros has changed for today’s basketball-minded student-athletes, many of whom now transfer to schools geared toward preparing young athletes for the next level long before their postgraduate years.

In announcing the board of trustees’ decision to discontinue the MCI postgraduate basketball program as of July 1, school officials cited the fact that the program no longer fits the school’s mission — given that with the postgraduate team members now typically leaving school “as soon as they are placed in a college (often in March), they no longer attend MCI to experience a full year of academic, social and athletic growth.”

That’s a far different situation than existed when the likes of Chappelle — a 1988 inductee into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame — and Guiski — who will be similarly inducted on May 20 — walked across campus.

Also much different are the economic challenges facing today’s schools, be they public or private, independent or town academies. Money is tight.

And by replacing the 12 players who came to MCI each year — many thanks to considerable financial aid — with 12 fully paying boarding students, additional revenue will be generated while such basketball-related costs as travel, equipment, officials, salaries and scholarships are eliminated.

Rather than focusing such resources on a small group of students, they now may be redirected to have the greatest impact on all who attend the school.

No doubt the basketball fans among us will miss the occasional flirtation with the big time that the MCI postgraduate basketball program provided over the years, but as we scan our own checkbooks each week to make sure the ink we use should be black rather than red, it’s hard to argue with both the educational and business factors behind the school’s decision.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.