AUGUSTA – In a shocking development that we don’t get to report nearly enough, the kids from Leavitt Area High School and Gardiner Area High School won.

I mean in the important sense of the word.

Yes, the Eastern Class A boys’ basketball tournament met an abrupt end Saturday for two resilient and courageous hoop programs. Leavitt ran out of gas in the second half and took its medicine from the University of Bangor. Gardiner ran a few athletes short against Mt. Blue.

They were here, however. And if you’re a high school basketball fan and you haven’t been living on a commune in Montana this winter, you know that itself was a win that doesn’t require validation in a trophy case.

Through no fault of their own, the Hornets and Tigers had the planks of a promising hardwood season cut out from under their feet; Gardiner at the beginning, Leavitt closer to the end. Many alleged grown-ups whined and spat venom about the silly (Gardiner) and salacious (Leavitt) details of that suburban turmoil.

The kids? Well, they did what kids typically do: Shook their heads in embarrassment, circled the wagons and said we’ll do fine by ourselves, thank you too much.

Not that our bright future completed its unlikely journey without competent adult supervision. Excuse me for a minute while I step back from the keyboard, stand and applaud two gentlemen who were a credit to their somewhat accidental avocation, Christian Gurney of Leavitt and Pat McNally of Gardiner.

Gurney walked into a dreadful – no, make that impossible – situation on Jan. 31, when Leavitt fired head coach Mike Remillard and elevated its JV skipper to the top job.

Again, if you just spent three weeks digging yourself out from underneath a large boulder, as part of a halftime speech challenging his players’ manhood, Remillard admitted that he instructed them to place their hands in their shorts.

Aside from turning the Hornets into the butt of jokes and juvenile cheers at every stop for the rest of the season (sorry, Bangor, but “we’ve got gold balls, you’ve got no balls” is neither classy nor clever), Remillard’s lapse robbed the rightful attention from a senior-laden team on the cusp of the playoffs.

All Gurney did was steer Leavitt to three straight wins and a quarterfinal playoff berth that has escaped the program a majority of seasons in the last three decades. In the Hornets’ other two games under their interim boss, they led Edward Little and Bangor at the half before falling to two teams with a combined record of 36-1. No shame in that.

In some ways, McNally’s task was even gloomier. He assumed the Gardiner post literally on the eve of the season opener after a contentious school board meeting, one at which the committee upheld an earlier edict that coach Dana Doran could not require a dissenting player to cut his hair.

Doran and his top two assistants stepped down in protest. McNally, a longtime youth coach and the father of University of Maine recruit Sean McNally, took the thankless task of warm body. Stung by the distractions, as well as early-season injuries and illness, Gardiner sputtered to 4-7 before clawing out eight wins in a row prior to Saturday.

In an age when old-school coaching tactics seem paradoxically ridiculous but sometimes necessary, Doran’s reasonable request and Remillard’s unreasonable one threatened to tear apart two seasons. Their successors stopped it from happening. They smiled a lot, instructed a little, and answered every snoopy question from people like me.

McNally and Gurney are Everymen in some respects. But I hope the Leavitt and Gardiner communities recognize them as heroes.

Most of all, I hope they thank the guys who really made it happen: Two teams of student-athletes who took us all on a magical journey.

In spite of us.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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