True confession: The first time an editor told me there was a Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame, I gave the guy a look as if he belched in the middle of a eulogy.

It affirmed my amused conviction that there is a regional, state or international hall of fame for everything. Square dancing. Table tennis. The trombone.

This one in the Twin Cities didn’t even have a physical building, for crying out loud. And while we’ve bred our fair share of jocks along the banks of the Androscoggin over the years, Auburn-Lewiston didn’t strike me as a hotbed of athletic prowess in the vein of, oh, I don’t know Waterloo, Iowa?

Happily, I was wrong.

The Chamber of Commerce will enshrine its 24th A-L Sports Hall of Fame class this evening at Lost Valley. Joining our cities’ coolest time capsule: University of Maine football and baseball star Mark Coutts; pole vaulting brethren Peter and Paul Slovenski; Bill Higgins, a three-sport stud back when kids were encouraged to be one; and world-traveling figure skater Richard Gilbert.

When I recall that initial conversation about a dozen years ago, I remember thinking the selection committee would be scraping the bottom of the barrel with team managers and greens keepers by now.

Yup, wrong again. You won’t find many brighter examples of the local sports tradition than these five men, and the competition was so stout that most of them have been on the waiting list for years.

Without taking too many residential liberties, the committee has ushered nearly 100 natives into the Hall since its inception in 1984. The list includes Major League baseball players and boxing champions, golfers and track stars, Olympians and unsung coaches. Take a trip to the function room at Gipper’s Sports Grill some time. The food and drink will hook you, but so will the plaques and memorabilia cases.

One of my favorite functions of the Hall is that it also extends annual awards to the best high school and college athletes with Auburn-Lewiston connections. It’s both encouraging and optimistic.

See, my initial reaction to the A-L Sports Hall of Fame revealed two damning details about my generation and the one in tow. We don’t care enough about our history, and there aren’t nearly as many of us playing sports as there used to be.

I had the privilege of speaking with three inductees this week. While each raved about the environment that fostered their success, they acknowledged the forces tearing apart youth sports in America today: broken families; wrong motives; video games.

Will the A-L Sports Hall of Fame have enough involved citizens to put together a banquet in 2037? And will there be three or four living athletes worthy of the hoopla? Hope and pray so. In the meantime, I’ll be attending the gala in the here and now, taking another bite out of my own ignorance.

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