AUBURN – Athletes enjoyed the adulation, but a community got the credit at the 24th annual Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Figure skater Richard Gilbert, track and field champions and coaches Peter and Paul Slovenski and multi-sport stars William Higgins and Mark Coutts were celebrated Sunday night by a near-capacity crowd at Lost Valley.

The four living athletes and presenters wasted no opportunity to recognize the culture of backyard ice rinks, youth sports leagues and positive role models that catapulted them to success in sports and beyond.

“It’s a night for me, but I think it’s really a night for all of you,” said Coutts, who lettered in football and baseball at the University of Maine after graduating from Edward Little High School.

“I look at the guys I grew up with from Auburn who played with me in Orono. We all went to the College World Series. I think that says a lot about what you people do.”

This year’s class also demonstrated that different disciplines and paths can lead to the same triumphs.

In contrast to Coutts and Higgins, Peter Slovenski was ahead of his time in the early 1970s as an athlete who discovered his specialty, the pole vault, possibly at the expense of stardom in other sports.

Slovenski was introduced by Rep. Mike Beaulieu, one of his first youth football coaches. Beaulieu recalled Lewiston High School basketball coach Fern Masse attempting to recruit Slovenski as a point guard. Slovenski politely turned down the offer to focus on his track prowess.

“He set a goal for himself. You didn’t find many young people with that level of commitment in 1972 and 1973,” Beaulieu said, “and you won’t find many today.”

Pole vaulting took the elder Slovenski sibling to an all-Ivy League career at Dartmouth and ultimately to Bowdoin College, where he has coached the track and field program for 20 years. He humorously remembered his formative years in the event as avoidance over excellence.

“I got into the pole vault in seventh grade to escape the other track and field events,” he said. “That first day of practice was painful business. We had to run about twelve 400-meters in a row. People were off to the side collapsing and throwing up.”

Beaulieu said that his first glance at the Slovenski household revealed a front porch with every sporting goods item known to man. It was also a competitive environment under the watchful eye of the boys’ father, legendary Bates track coach Walt Slovenski.

No surprise, then, that Paul Slovenski accelerated through the ranks five years later and achieved his own championship exploits at LHS and Bates.

“I was lucky to have parents who let me to go to Bates every day, sometimes even when I had homework,” said Paul, currently athletic director at a college preparatory school in Toronto. “They must have known I was interning for a career in sports.”

Higgins gave a brief speech in which he described himself as “nervous as hell,” but the record shows that he was an unflappable competitor. That success carried over into adult leagues, the golf course, and ultimately the basketball court as a noted official.

“I was surprised that Billy was nervous tonight,” Peter Slovenski said. “He was never nervous when he fouled me out of several games.”

Gilbert died of bone cancer in 1997. Attending the ceremony on his behalf were his sister, Lorraine, and longtime skating partner, Canadian Olympian Faye Marshall.

“He was my best friend, a colleague, a perfect partner and my guardian angel,” Marshall said.

The Hall of Fame, a community activity of the Chamber of Commerce, honored three high school teams with “Flashback to Fame” awards on the 25th anniversary of their state championships.

Lewiston started a boys’ tennis dynasty with its first-ever Class A title that year, while EL captured its only girls’ tennis and gymnastics crowns to date.

“I’m a 1982 graduate of Edward Little High School. The boys won zilch,” said Coutts, whose acceptance speech ranged from light-hearted to tearful. “So thank you, girls.”

Coaches Ron Chicoine and Anita Murphy (tennis) and Ray Putnam (track) were honored for leading their Lewiston teams to current state titles.

Annual President’s Awards were bestowed to local high school and college athletes Brent Dube, Kristen Gaylord, Kathryn Moore, Zak Ray, Amy Sarrazin, Rob Stockwell, Troy Barnies, Matt Cyr, Brittney French, Emily Lewandowski, James Morin, Toby Poirier, Kurt Thibeault and Jared Turcotte.

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