It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Tomorrow is one of those days that gets circled and starred in fire-engine red on every calendar I own, in part because the only sweat I’ll break will come from shuttling between football and soccer fields, asking kids how it feels to be sick to their stomachs.

High school sports teams convene for their annual sunrise service or opening double session on Monday, and finally there is a sense of completeness with my world once again.

Thus begins the three-week cram session leading up to what my cronies and I love and do best (contrary to the claims in the occasional angry letter to the editor from a guy who’s frosted that we didn’t cover his grandson’s Parcheesi championship).

From now until the last hollow echo of an aluminum bat in Standish or Bangor on or around June 16, life is devoted almost exclusively to 23 local high schools and their teams taking bus trips from Fort Kent to Kittery. And life is good.

Nineteen autumns into this exercise, I can dream up a thousand careers more lucrative but none more entertaining and rewarding. And what a bonus to ply that trade in Maine, where for all our problems and peculiarities, our athletes still play for all the right reasons with all the skill and passion exhibited elsewhere.

My first reminder of that toughness and tradition came Friday at the University of Maine football media day, where I was surrounded by familiar faces.

Hey, it’s Jared Turcotte of Lewiston. Look over there, isn’t that Levi Ervin of Lisbon and Jonathan Pirruccello of Turner? And wow, Jordan Stevens of Temple, Shawn Demaray of Livermore Falls and Jacob Folz of West Paris look positively monstrous standing in cleats on this artificial turf.

Others posed for their team picture after standing patiently through so many others during their formative years in Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook, Augusta, Portland, Brewer, China, Corinna, Windham, Enfield, Old Town and Bangor.

Some were on Coach Jack Cosgrove’s radar screen from their sophomore two-a-days. Many were their own best friend, splicing together highlight DVDs and getting enough love in return to merit preferred walk-on status.

All six of our locals are expected to contend for a starting job on offense, defense or special teams this season.

If the sight of those wide-eyed young adults walking with head and shoulders high in a Division I sports arena weren’t striking enough, their words did the job. To a man, they spoke of not being taken seriously by New Jersey and Massachusetts teammates; of needing to be twice as sharp and three times as diligent to prove themselves, simply because they grew up in cold, isolated, little ol’ Maine.

Memo to our city cousins: They made it. Let there be no doubt, they made it.

Thousands across the state will either begin or further nurture their own process of making it tomorrow, whether their definition of “making it” is running stride-for-stride with the cross country team at Maine or wearing the white coat in medical school at Johns Hopkins.

Either way, the lessons learned on the fields, courts, rinks, tracks and trails will embellish the experience. And by some ridiculous stroke of good fortune, you and I are privy to that learning process.

Let the games begin.


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