LEWISTON/AUBURN – Dan Campbell knelt over one of Edward Little’s track athletes as he stretched out the runner’s legs. After bleeding red and white as the team’s head coach for years, Campbell stepped down, but remains an assistant with the program.
`On this day, he wore a blue and white T-shirt with a Lewiston Blue Devil on it to practice.
“It’s a reminder,” Campbell said. “We don’t lose to Lewiston. Period.”
As if to reinforce his point, Campbell yelled over to a group of sprinters just finishing a workout.
“Do we lose to Lewiston?” Campbell crowed?
“No,” they replied in unison.
That attitude has helped Edward Little defeat Lewiston in track and field for as long as anyone can remember.
“I know in my days, if we had a dual meet against Lewiston, we were looking at 50-75 points,” said current EL head coach Ryan Laroche. “We would sweep the sprints, we would sweep the throwing events, and they would score a few points here and there.”
Those days, it appears, are gone. Lewiston has caught up. For the first time in over a decade, a Lewiston team, the indoor track squad, defeated Edward Little in competition. And it did so regularly, culminating in a KVAC title and a second-place finish at the indoor state meet.
“Now that we won the indoor track conference title by 46 points, of course under a different format, it’s a little different,” said Lewiston coach Ray Putnam.
Building over time
The Blue Devils’ ascent to the level of state title contender hasn’t happened overnight. Seven years ago, Putnam had a hard time keeping athletes on the team when he took over the program.
“They had a completely different program in here,” said Putnam. “I remember my first practice seven years ago, the kids looked at me, I started showing them speed dynamics training philosophy, and I’m teaching the program, and they looked at me and said, But coach, you don’t understand. We’re Lewiston, we’re going to lose.'”
Three years later, Putnam had his current crop of seniors as freshmen. There, he saw promise. As they matured, Putnam and the team saw the gap between themselves and the Red Eddies close slowly.
“We didn’t even exist,” said Putnam. “We had meets against them, and their boys and their girls would beat us by over 100 points. You knew the kids were going to feel bad after the meet, and what they initially did is pretend they didn’t care. Then, when it got a bit closer, only beating us by 50 points, then you could see them way out in front of you, like Oh, there they are.'”
Behind Putnam, the Lewiston team stretched and jogged by.
“Look, I’m talking to a reporter and not doing anything right now,” Putnam said. “Yet, four years ago, if I was doing this, they’d all be over there sitting down. I’ve said from the beginning, we’re not going to make it to the next level until the kids take the team over. This kind of winning attitude has to come from them.”
Not rolling over
But just because the team on the Lewiston side of the bridge has swelled and started to find success doesn’t mean athletes at EL have started shaking in their running shoes – yet.
“The Lewiston/Auburn rivalry, it’s one of the biggest in the state,” said EL thrower Garner Lavallee. “I feel in any sport it’s huge, but seeing how indoor track sort of happened this year, it’s going to drive us even more.”
And, as Putnam was quick to point out, while Lewiston won the KVAC indoor title this season, Edward Little is still the reigning league outdoor champion.
“Make no mistake about it,” said Putnam. “(Edward Little) is still the team to beat. They are the defending conference champions, and if you are the defending conference champions, you are the team to beat. We’re not the team to beat here, they are.”
Campbell’s tradition of starting the spring by pumping up the athletes with talk of the Lewiston/Edward Little rivalry got a louder response this year, too.
“This year it was a little louder than usual when the kids said yes,” said Laroche. “There’s definitely more of a push because they’re better.”
Ironically, Laroche said, Edward Little may also be better than it was last season.
“I think we’re stronger than we have been in the last three years as well,” said Laroche. “I’m kind of looking forward to the big meets when we go head-to-head with the league and the state.”
And of course, that includes the Blue Devils.
“EL, they have been ahead of us, and even now that they’re behind us after indoor season they still have a great team,” said Lewiston runner George Foster. “We’re still going to be trying to keep a place ahead of them. They have a lot of talent.”
Healthy all around
While this budding rivalry has yet to manifest itself in large hordes of face-painted fans, pep rallies or parades, it has certainly motivated both teams. At Lewiston, there is a renewed sense of pride associated with the team.
“It’s helping us get looked at better by the rest of the kids in school,” said Lewiston senior Matt Cyr. “In track and field, it’s really motivational when the school gets behind you.”
At Edward Little, numbers are up from last year, too, and there is a much bigger buzz about school.
“I would liken it to what happened with Lewiston hockey the last few years,” said Laroche. “After Edward Little won two state titles, I’m sure there were a lot of people across the bridge saying they needed to bring the program back and claim what’s rightfully theirs. I think you’re going to see a lot of that same atmosphere here. Our numbers are up, our attitude is very positive. By far, this is the most an Edward Little team has talked about what’s across the bridge in track and field ever.”
The other sign a rivalry has been created? Respect on both sides.
“One of the nicest pluses out of it that a lot of people don’t necessarily see if they’re not at the meets is the camaraderie between the two teams,” said Laroche. “It’s very healthy competition, but at the same time, our guys are congratulating their guys when they’re in a race that we’re not and vice versa. The first guys to congratulate each other after the 200 every race are (Kurt) Thibeault and (Colby) Brooks, no matter who wins, and that’s good for both programs. It’s healthy and it’s competitive, but there’s some friendship mixed in the rivalry that we also haven’t seen in the past.”