VINALHAVEN — Tim Kane has been around athletics all his life, but nothing compares with the sporting life on an island school.

“There’s things you deal with that you don’t normally deal with at mainland schools,” said Kane, who is in his first year as Vinalhaven’s principal. “But it’s enlightening and it’s fun. It’s a fantastic community and a great school. They definitely support their athletics at this school.”

Kane played sports at Mt. Blue, and has coached at the high school and collegiate levels. As challenging as those coaching jobs were, he’s seeing athletics from a different perspective on an island 15 miles off the coast of Rockland in western Penobscot Bay.

He has a hand in all aspects of school life, including athletics. And he may even get his license next year so he can drive the team bus, if needed.

For schools like Rangeley and Buckfield, a trip to one of the island schools can be taxing, but, the Lakers and Bucks may only do it once, maybe twice, in a school year.

For the island schools, planning and preparation is nearly constant. Every away games requires a ferry trip and a bus ride. And those are the simple trips.

“Our athletic budget, our travel is very expensive, but the people are willing to pay it,” Kane said.

Vinalhaven is passionate about its sports teams and the clubs have a good following.

In addition to the ferry and long bus rides to distant East-West Conference schools, the Vikings have to plot around overnight stays, missing classes and dodging bad weather on a weekly basis. Most of their games are on weekends, but there are some long weekdays, too.

When the Vikings can’t catch the final ferry leaving Rockland at 4:30 p.m., they’ll often have a local fisherman meet them in Rockland for a trip home in a lobster boat. Their closest away game is on North Haven, another island which still requires a quick boat trip across the Fox Island Thoroughfare. The closest conference foe on the mainland is Richmond.

“This is just a way of life and a way that these kids can compete,” said Sandy Nelson, the athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at Vinalhaven. “I don’t know how they could ever play sports if they didn’t double up or go on the weekends.”

Nelson has an extensive coaching background in Massachusetts and was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame for her playing and coaching career. She’s in her first year at Vinalhaven.

When her basketball team reached the playoffs last winter, the team travelled to Buckfield to play a preliminary game. The Vikings advanced and also won a quarterfinal game in Augusta. That meant a pair of hotel stays for the team the night before tourney games, and early ferry trips for the Vinalhaven fans. One tournament year, the school booked one of the ferries for themselves for the return trip following a boys’ tourney game.

“They’ve got a system right down,” Nelson said. “It’s amazing how they make this whole system work.”

In addition to planning, it also takes great flexibility when weather interferes. It also means players and coaches have to be committed and able to work around travel and schedule changes. Last weekend, the Vikings finished a doubleheader sweep of Buckfield and raced back to the island for the prom that evening.

“It’s hard on the kids because you have this amount of work you’ve got to get done and you’re getting stuck on the mainland or not able to get back and forth,” Kane said. “You’re emailing back-and-forth with your teachers and there’s a lot of makeup time.”

Because of distance, it’s hard for Vinalhaven squads to find scrimmages. Few teams are willing to make the trip for an exhibition, meaning the Vikings again hit the road for those opportunities. In recent years, the Vinalhaven basketball teams went to Jonesport-Beals for exhibition games. Most other scrimmages come only if they can schedule something with a local school on the mainland.

Rangeley’s Heidi Deery can relate. She’s seen some of the same challenges in Rangeley as a basketball coach and parent that she’s seen with some of the island schools.

“They have some of the same worries that we have as far as business and whether the island can sustain its community and their school,” Deery said. “We have the same concerns in Rangeley. Can we get enough jobs to get people here to keep the school going? They have a huge influx of summer residents like we do. So when you look at the teams in the East-West Conference that go to Vinalhaven, we’re much more like Vinalhaven, even though we’re not on an island, than the Buckfields, Richmonds or Valleys.”

Between travel issues and trying to entice teams to play them, the Lakers have faced similar obstacles. Being so far away from many other schools, it’s a challenge for the Lakers to find stronger competition outside the EWC.

“Back when we played Waynflete and NYA, they were big Class D teams, and we wanted to play them because we knew we were going to see them in the tournament,” said Deery, who was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame the same year as Nelson. “We had to beg them not only to play us, but also to come to Rangeley.”

The Lakers ended up either driving to Waynflete or NYA for those games, or playing them on neutral sites, like Central Maine Community College. Last winter, Rangeley played both Islesboro and North Haven on neutral sites in an attempt to get more teams on the schedule while limiting travel and costs.

Because these schools face similar problems and strive for similar goals, working together may be crucial as Western Class D (soon to be Class D South) continues to evolve.

“As a girls’ coach, we work hard to support them so they’ll have the opportunity to have home games like we do,” Deery said.

Kane, who coached at Mt. Blue and Dirigo as well as Bates and the University of Maine-Augusta, says a summer program may be in the works to help support the future of athletics on Vinalhaven. The middle school numbers are low, but there’s promise in the elementary grades. He’s hoping that maybe a limited summer program could coincide with student schedules in the off season.

“In the upper elementary grades, we have a lot of kids,” Kane said. “We’ll start working with the elementary kids and hopefully build it from there.”

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