Progress has a price.

It’s also guaranteed to generate dissension and devil’s advocacy.

So it is with the hypothetical school consolidation of Jay and Livermore Falls, a proposal headed to the taxpayers and voters a week from Tuesday.

Those in favor view a merger as the best use of resources; a necessary evil, perhaps, in an era of shrinking enrollments and diminished job opportunities. They believe a union will furnish current students and future generations the best possible education.

Perhaps they’re right. Maybe they’re not. It is a social, educational and economical experiment with few reliable case studies.

Rumford and Mexico? Farmington and Wilton? Strong and Phillips? Different towns. Different dynamics. A different time in America with different distractions and different family structures.

There is so much none of us can predict until it happens. But here’s one thing we do know: Bringing together the Tigers and Andies into one locker room and under one gymnasium roof will wreck the best sports rivalry in the state.

Yup, I said best. As in No. 1. Go ahead and make your arguments to the contrary. I’m listening. And I’m disagreeing.

Jay and Livermore Falls could gather for a rousing game of checkers and it would be more intense than what most of you outsiders consider a rivalry.

Lewiston-Edward Little? Please. Other than the occasional football game with a playoff berth on the line, name one Battle of the Bridge that is must-see.

Time’s up.

St. Dom’s-Lewiston? Twice a year the Devils and Saints play a hellacious hockey game. Separated in enrollment by a thousand students, the schools don’t meet in any other arena. So much for a rivalry.

Biddeford-Thornton? Nope. Portland-Deering? Getting warmer, but the presence of so many other big fish within a 10-mile radius — Cheverus, South Portland, Scarborough — waters it down.

Rivalries don’t pervade everyday life in the city the way they do in the communities with hills, trees and smokestacks.

Mountain Valley-Dirigo? Not exactly. That’s a rivalry of convenience, created 22 years ago when the real rivals, Rumford and Mexico, begrudgingly joined forces and looked to their Dixfield neighbors to bubble up those competitive juices.

The Tigers and Andies exist in a universe of their own. If you don’t believe it, you’ve never been to a football, basketball or baseball game between the two.

And you certainly didn’t buy a ticket to the boys’ basketball game Friday night in Livermore Falls. It was a throwback throw down, straight out of motion pictures, one that no player, coach, spectator or reporter will forget until the day they put us in the ground.

“That was the best atmosphere for a basketball game I’ve ever been a part of,” Livermore Falls coach Travis Magnusson said.

Magnusson has seen his share.

He graduated from Georges Valley of Thomaston, itself a casualty of upcoming consolidation with Rockland. There, coastal clashes with Wiscasset, Boothbay and Lincoln always could be contentious. Later he starred at the University of Maine at Farmington, where student body decorum was never a guarantee when an in-state rival rolled into town.

His wife, the former Karen Sirois, played and is now the coach at Cony High School, where girls’ basketball was religion and state championship games a divine right under predecessor Paul Vachon.

All good. All the stuff of poetry readings compared to the latest Jay-Livermore Falls backyard brawl.

Magnusson had a choice seat for a 58-54 Livermore Falls win that featured a couple of brief fights, an ejection, four technical fouls and two hours of unrestrained, non-stop, rock concert-quality noise.

And before the sportsmanship police start clicking their tongues and wagging their fingers, let it be known that this game was a perfect demonstration of athletic directors, referees and coaches controlling the situation without being officious. Many of their colleagues could learn from it.

“How can you top that?” Magnusson asked. “This atmosphere was better than a Celtics-Lakers game. Better than Duke-North Carolina. How can that not count for anything?”

Laugh if you want, but he isn’t exaggerating much. And his second rhetorical question is the one that should at least bounce between your ears over the next nine days if you have a dog in this fight.

Sports sometimes gets overstated in the game of life, but it also gets a bad rap from the hand-wringers who don’t recognize the importance of its role in education.

“I’ve read a lot of positives in the newspaper about consolidation,” Magnusson said. “Let’s talk about some of the negatives. I don’t think any of these guys want to consolidate.”

The emotions might bubble over just enough to offend the squeamish. But the extra-curriculars and posturing that provide the backdrop for any Jay-Livermore Falls game are evidence of a greater good.

Emotional investment that dates back three and four generations. Belonging to something bigger than self. Two communities galvanized in a way that permanently hyphenating them might never accomplish.

Jay-Livermore Falls sports is more than a diversion. Right now it’s a necessary salve in uncertain times.

One mill has closed. The other hangs on by a thread of uncertain thickness. Families come and go and student populations continue their steady decline.

The competition and the pageantry provide identity. They are inseparable from the culture.

Joining forces would change that culture in a way that Magnusson — and yours truly — believe should at least give us pause.

“Livermore Falls is a special, special place,” he said.  “I don’t think enough people realize that.”

So is Jay.

Together, they might evolve into an academic and athletic powerhouse. Separately, they’re already one-of-a-kind.

It’s an x-factor worth weighing before you check an ‘x’ in that box on Jan. 25.

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


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