Competitive drama of Maine high school basketball as strong as ever

Much has been blogged, tweeted, text messaged, and otherwise written and said about the alleged declining quality of high school basketball in Maine.

And much of the current chatter is the same as it was a year ago and the year before that and the year before that.

It’s a wonder we have any kids left who can actually dribble the ball past halfcourt.

I’m not here to say it’s better or worse, for most everyone who opines on the subject has a different way of making that judgment.

Suffice it to say high school basketball has changed dramatically throughout the last generation, and while much of the criticism seems to be directed at today’s players, truly there are many places where blame might be assigned.

One area that’s fact rather than opinion involves demographics. There aren’t as many kids playing basketball in Maine these days because there aren’t as many kids — one price to be paid for ranking among the oldest states in the nation in terms of average age.

And today’s kids have so many more options than they did back in the dark ages when the only winter sports sponsored by many high schools were basketball, cheering and an occasional wrestling team. Swimming, indoor track and field, ice hockey, and skiing all have taken their share of today’s available talent pool, not to mention a range of other non-athletic activities that have cropped up in the computer age.

Is coaching better or worse than it was a generation ago? How about officiating? How about the organizational structure of the sport at the youth levels? How about the off-season programs for the older kids?

No doubt all of these factors and many more are ingredients in the current state of Maine high school hoop world but rather than blame one thing for any problems the sport faces perhaps some introspection from all areas of the game are in order.

I remain content to define good or bad in this instance as I have done so since I could first pass a basketball, or more likely shoot it.

And that’s the competitive drama of the game, which to me remains as strong as ever. Whatever the skill level is, it’s fairly consistent from school to school in their respective divisions, meaning plenty of evenly matched games and many teams harboring realistic championship dreams.

There’s also excellence to be found both among Eastern Maine teams and individuals this winter just as in previous years — even though many of the top squads boast fairly youthful rosters.

Few connoisseurs of the sport can watch Hampden Academy whip the ball around the perimeter with only a rare dribble while getting all five players involved in seeking out a good shot and not be impressed. Look at the leaderboard in all four classes, and strong teamwork is the common denominator.

And the roster of standout individual players, led by Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals and including the likes of Zach Gilpin of Hampden Academy, Isaiah Bess of Penquis of Milo, Kyle Bouchard of Houlton, Mitch Worcester of Washburn, Garrett Libby of Old Town and Ben Walls of MDI, just to name a few, are talents worth watching.

Sure, everyone has the right to criticize, but when it dominates the conversation it seems like an opportunity lost because there remains much to like about high school basketball in Maine.

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.