In the Crease: As love for tournaments grows, so too should the tourney season

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And so ends the busiest week of the winter sports season.

Really, it’s the busiest week of the high school sports calendar, and it’s not even close: The Maine Principals’ Association awarded no fewer than 20 state team championships in the past nine days. Another five days from now, 20 teams will vie for 10 state titles, games featuring the 20 regional champions crowned in feverishly paced regional basketball tournaments that also ended … yesterday.

It’s a crazy, spin-around-with-your-eyes-closed-and-try-to-find-a-pinata kind of fun, but it is, after all of the driving and hiking and more driving, still fun.

The centerpiece of this whole week is, of course, the MPA’s basketball tournament: One hundred and fifty two teams in five classes spread out over four venues in three cities over, after an early snowstorm, nine playable dates.

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It is madness.

But that’s why we love it.

We love things like the high-flying, fast-paced Spruce Mountain boys’ offense, which nearly knocked off Wells, which did knock off unbeaten Yarmouth in the Class B South final. To watch them move up and down the court at a frenetic pace is amazing.

We love things like seeing a well-oiled machine like Gray-New Gloucester repeat as a regional champion, and see a sophomore on that team, Bri Jordan, recognized as the tournament’s MVP. A sophomore. On a stacked team. Great stuff.

We love things like seeing Oxford Hills avenge its one, head-scratching regular season loss with a 33-point beat-down in a semifinal, and then slay a tough-as-nails Deering squad that pushed the Vikings to the brink in the regular season, as well. And in overtime, no less.

We love seeing up-and-coming teams like Lewiston battle against teams like Deering, and push them to the brink in a quarterfinal.

We love seeing teams like Monmouth defy the odds and emerge from the murkiest of all of the regional fields to make it to a final. And we love watching teams like the Mustangs — those teams that grind, and scratch and claw their way through games without a true “big,” and without one singular superstar.

We love seeing teams like Winthrop play to their potential, able to use the talents they have and, despite wearing the mantle of “favorite,” meet expectations every step of the way.

We love all of it.

This state, and the region north of Gray and to the left of the Maine Turnpike in particular, has been blessed over the years with a number of great teams, some great individual talent, and a gaggle of great communities that rise to support those teams when they win, and more importantly, support them when they do not. That support is also part of what makes this week, and these tournaments, so special.

So perhaps, then, it’s time to consider an alternative to the head-spinning schedule.

Parents, fans and even athletes who watch and participate in skiing should have a chance to watch their friends on the basketball team compete in this glorious tournament. Those basketball players should be given an opportunity to watch their classmates run, jump, grapple, swim or dive for state titles in track and field and swimming.

Hockey is already separated from the rest, and Class A in the four-class system had its own week fewer than 20 years ago.

I get it: The idea is to minimize hours lost in the classroom by holding all of these events during the February break. But for as much as a student is learning in the classroom, they are learning as much — if by a different method — participating in team sports and tournaments.

Given the logistics, rearranging the basketball tournament would probably not be the best use of time or resources. But moving swimming, wrestling or track and field — all sports that are contested indoors and are not reliant on weather — wouldn’t be such a hardship. There are many schools in Maine with top-notch athletic departments, with multiple teams involved in multiple championships, and it would be great to see mutual support from those teams when another from the same school makes its way to a title game, or to a championship meet. Under the current structure, athletes are unable to do both, and spectators and boosters must choose.

Because as much as we love the basketball tournament, we love seeing all of our local athletes recognized for their own accomplishments without being overshadowed.

We love seeing Mt. Blue continue its dominance in Nordic skiing.

We love seeing two of the best athletes at Lewiston High School earn top marks at the state Class A swim meets.

We love seeing Mountain Valley’s Nick Newman race with reckless abandon down a ski hill.

We love seeing all of this.

And so, too, would their friends, family and classmates, without having to choose which of their beloved school sports is more important.

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