BETHEL – Political pundits draw the distinction of “Two Maines,” with an invisible socioeconomic and philosophical border that seems to slide a few more miles south every year.

A similar dynamic prevails in Class D high school basketball. There are public schools, where the kids played duck-duck-goose together years before they learned a three-man weave and where basketball is religion. And there are private schools, where the athletes converge from diverse backgrounds and hoops are merely another element in a structured dress rehearsal for college.

Gould Academy challenges the stereotypes. Winners of the Western D boys’ title for the first time in a quarter-century, the Huskies (17-0) are a prep school program, but they share the spirit of a consolidated school where K-through-12 sharpen their pencils in the same building.

“They all understand each other,” said coach Todd Siekman, now in his ninth year at Gould.

Maybe that’s because most of them have the same speech patterns and grew up with same core values. Like Deer Isle-Stonington, representing Eastern Maine in Saturday’s state final (3 p.m., Bangor Auditorium), Gould’s lineup includes a majority of players who pronounce ‘r’ like an ‘h’ and whose families own oceanfront property.

Point guard T.L. Tutor grew up in Islesboro. That’s where he met coach Todd and son Ian Siekman, who also hail from the popular vacation spot and still live there in June, July and August.

Tutor and Siekman’s fellow senior, Seth Gray, gets most of his mail on Cranberry Island in the shadows of Acadia National Park. And sophomore sixth man Scot Baribeau calls North Haven home.

Blend in two not-so-identical twins from California – 6-foot-5 Tyler and 6-0 Evan Bruens – and you get a team that’s closer to the “Hoosiers” motion picture model than you might imagine.

“We were able this year to hang out together and gel more and really become a unit instead of five separate players,” Tyler Bruens said.

The moderate success of private schools such as Gould, Hyde of Bath, Elan of Poland Spring, Bangor Christian and Calvary Chapel of Orrington has prompted some traditionalists to question why they are allowed to participate in the same tournament as community high schools.

Public schools dominate the bottom line, however. Twenty-four Class D boys’ championships have been contested since John Bapst defeated Gould in an all-prep final in 1982. Private institutions have won only two of them: Hyde in 1997, and Calvary in 2004.

Valley, Central Aroostook and Jonesport-Beals have dominated ‘D’ for more than a generation on the strength of tradition, fundamentals and familiarity. Gould had to work harder to establish all three.

“T.L. and Ian play together in Islesboro during the summer. The Bruens brothers stay here in town and play here in town. Scotty goes to North Haven and plays with his friends there,” Todd Siekman said. “They play, but they don’t get to play together. We did the team camp last summer, and several of them went to Colby camp together. We’re probably going to do that this year if we have enough bodies who haven’t graduated.”

When the Huskies split up at the end of their final school trimester last spring, Gould didn’t show up on the Class D radar screen with Richmond, Central Aroostook, Deer Isle-Stonington and Valley.

Gould went 9-7 and missed the tournament last winter.

“We had a pretty good team, and we were kind of disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs,” Tutor said. “This year we came back and put it together.”

Missing the previous postseason also meant that the Huskies didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the Augusta Civic Center and its many nuances that are larger than Class D life.

One aspect of the regional tournament didn’t bother the Huskies: The open-air arena. Gould plays its home games in the decades-old Farnsworth Fieldhouse, a cavernous building in which every spoken word reverberates and nobody’s arm is strong enough to hit the glass ceiling with a basketball. Farnsworth’s dimensions slightly resemble Bangor Auditorium without the ascending bleachers.

“Everything is beautiful compared to this,” said Tyler Bruens, “so that made going to Augusta easier.”

The Huskies never truly adapted to the watchful eyes of three officials, as opposed to the customary two that watch regular-season games. Foul trouble haunted the Huskies throughout each of the three rounds, with MVP Tutor (13.3 points per game in the tournament) and Siekman (7.7) held in check.

Come-from-behind wins over Valley in the semifinals and previously undefeated Richmond in the title game have given Gould the confidence that its senior leadership and skill can match one more small town opponent’s closeness and cohesion in the state game. Some players have even dared to stare at the most recent Gold Ball in the Gould trophy case, captured in 1976.

“I never thought I’d be playing for one,” Tutor admitted. “It’s something I just dreamed about.”

Like thousands of other kids who grew up on Maine’s rockbound coast, no doubt.


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