AUGUSTA — Let the debate rest. Please.

Trust me, it won’t. Long as there are public and preparatory schools seeking to peacefully coexist in the Maine Principals’ Association basketball tournament — and by my calculations, that shall be forever — we’ll hear the cries.

How loudly they reverberate depends upon how often the (perceived) rich, out-of-state, recruited kids win.

Dirigo kept the world safe for democracy in many peoples’ minds, or at least preserved late-night police and fire escorts that irritate detached neighbors, by outlasting Lee Academy, 74-67, Saturday night at Augusta Civic Center.

Its internal flame admittedly accelerated by a 10-point loss to the Pandas in the 2011 Class C championship, Dirigo was C’s best team in the state from smothering start to finishing flourish in 2012.

Five-on-five, they could compete with any high school team in Maine, are capable of beating all and would bury most.

They work together in intuitive union like the parts underneath the hood of a 1969 Dodge Charger. In a hardwood context, they’re a throwback to those bygone times, when your town and school colors were your primary identity as a player.

Not your regional AAU travel juggernaut. Not your star player’s mythical, regionally biased and utterly meaningless ranking on an internet thread.

The Cougars were a true band of brothers; a puzzle that snapped into place and produced a work of art suitable for framing almost every winter night.

And that’s the point everyone with an isolationist, community school-centric argument continues to miss flagrantly.

There is priceless value in having played a sport together since you were in diapers. In knowing the best and worst and most incriminating secrets about your teammates. In not having to play the annual game of getting-to-know-you that prevails at prep schools.

It’s the same continuity that vaulted Valley High School of Bingham to 101 consecutive wins and six straight state championships.

Yes, even in Class D, home of open-door private, parochial and correctional schools by the bushel.

At least a half-dozen wins in that historic streak came at the expense of Bath’s Hyde School. Hyde was the original Lee, that nagging itch in the middle of every basketball fan’s back in Jay and Dixfield for the first half of the 1980s.

How dare those outsiders swagger into our precious Maine tournament and threaten to take away that trophy that rightfully belonged to our kids. And believe me, those of you who aren’t old enough or weren’t paying attention in those years, I’ve sanitized that stance and made it far more politically correct than it was expressed then.

That same boarding school still trots a team onto this floor every February. This might be an expedient time to point out that Forest Hills of Jackman — 2012’s other poster team for fraternity and familiarity, a school 54 students strong — rallied from a 19-point deficit to knock off Hyde in the Western Class D boys’ final.

Championship game history, present and past, tells us that the public side of this debate is a specious one that almost nobody cares about until something infringes upon their own self-interest.

Of this weekend’s eight games, merely one state champion — Catherine McAuley, Class A girls — represented something other than a regional school unit.

In Class D, the enrollment most affected by prep school and most susceptible to the tables being tilted, the Waynflete (2003) and Lee (2005, 2007) girls and Gould Academy (1975, ‘76), Hyde (1997) and Calvary Chapel (2004) boys are the only less-than-100 percent public schools to win a state title.

Ever. Dating back to Eisenhower on the boys’ side and Ford on the girls’.

Fewer than five percent of the Gold Balls ever handed out in Maine high school basketball are glistening in the trophy case of a private school. And that, not to mention a hundred legal reasons, is why the MPA will never change the format.

The tournament we know and love will be every bit as pristine as it would be without those tuition institutions.

You think the public teams aren’t littered with players from neighboring towns? Athletes who conveniently ended up playing on a team that was better than the one belonging to the community where their head holds down a pillow each night? Puh-leeze.

Dirigo — and don’t its loyalists let you know it — is a team grown exclusively on the playgrounds and in the elementary school cafeteria/gyms of Dixfield, Peru, Canton and Carthage.

Which is precisely what makes this team and this title so special. It would have been cheapened, and grossly, if Dirigo hadn’t been required to survive this game Saturday night.

Truth is, Dirigo 2012 beats Lee 2012 — and probably Lee 2011 — at least five or six times out of 10.

Saturday, in the final eight minutes of a game that was tied at every other quarter checkpoint, Dirigo went 7-for-7 from the field.

Made the right passes. Drew the fouls on the right guys. Demonstrated the awareness you would expect from a team in the deepest sense of that word.

And proved that they were the best Class C club in the state, a distinction that would have been hollow without the punch-counterpunch participation of one Lee Academy.

No debating that.

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


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.