To paraphrase that dapper womanizer from the beer commercial and social media memes, I don’t always defend the Maine Principals’ Association. But when I do, I prefer to recognize what similarly thankless lives we lead.

Parallel lives, even. When you attempt to provide the eye in the sky at activities that involve children, an emotional game, heavily invested parents and rabid fans from parts unknown, you subject yourself to an inordinate amount of criticism. Sometimes it’s fair criticism. Other times, it’s hateful, vitriolic, one-sided foolishness that make you question why you didn’t choose a different line of work.

So I have developed a kinder, gentler, more appreciative outlook upon the organization that oversees Maine high school athletics. For all the abuse the MPA absorbs from people who view it as an inanimate object, I see the Augusta-based facilitator as a coalition of well-meaning ladies and gentlemen who sincerely try to provide the best platform for our kids and the games they play.

The past week shed light on a couple of challenges the MPA has confronted in the modern era. One, the appointment of predetermined, all-day “Super Saturday” state championship sites, has created an infinitely better atmosphere for athletes whose sports weren’t considered revenue-producers or headline-grabbers before the turn of the century. The other, an impending change to the way the basketball tournament is presented electronically, is bound to fall into that “thankless” category as the MPA adjusts to the new reality of how we consume our live sports.

Lewiston edged Scarborough for the Class A boys’ soccer title Saturday in front of what was, by objective or subjective measurement, the greatest crowd ever to watch that sport in Maine. Although not fortunate enough to see the event live, my heart started racing and the hair on my arms began squirming simply from my surveying our staff’s fantastic photography of the event.

I soon realized that my visceral reaction wasn’t from the joy of the multicultural celebration or the knowledge that inimitable, immeasurably dedicated coach Mike McGraw finally got to grab the brass ring, although those both were wondrous side effects. It was from seeing the mass of humanity in the backdrop, wedged into Fitzpatrick Stadium, captivated by “the beautiful game.”


Full disclosure: Most of us who gravitate to this business start out as football, baseball, basketball or hockey guys. Soccer, field hockey and lacrosse had to grow on me, but that doesn’t diminish the passion I now have for the games and for the athletes who play them so splendidly. Grow, they have, and the same is true for the stature they have achieved in our region.

Reporters and photographers who have walked this beat since the 1990s or earlier can tell tales of covering state championship contests, one or two in a sitting, at random neutral sites. Field hockey in the mud at Farmingdale. Soccer in a snow squall at East Millinocket. It made sense at the time because it was the way it always was done.

With the advent and increased availability of FieldTurf, the MPA has gone to rotating sites and wall-to-wall state finals for all its outdoor sports, starting with baseball and football and more recently adopting the same model for the others. All eight soccer games Saturday were played either in Portland or Presque Isle. What a beautiful development for sports that formerly toiled in the shadows. Now fans can shell out one admission price and spend an entire, majestic, autumn day watching each game played at the highest level.

“Win-win” is overused terminology, but this arrangement surely qualifies. Yes, of course it potentially generates more revenue for the MPA and makes the event easier to manage. But most importantly it makes our student-athletes feel like major leaguers for a day.

Maine Public Broadcasting gave talented teens the big-time treatment for four decades with its tireless coverage of the basketball tournament. This week, the hoop community was sad to learn that our PBS affiliates will bid only for the right to produce the state finals, leaving the regional title games and semifinals up for grabs.

It’s a worrisome transition, because our local channels are unlikely to preempt their prime-time, 5 o’clock news and soap opera schedules to carry something geared to a special-interest audience. My guess is that viewers should prepare themselves to see at least some of those contests streamed on the internet, a strategy that makes sense in the new-media world but will leave some elderly and rural viewers cold.


Credit the MPA for putting the earlier rounds of its expanding tournament up for bid. It would be easy to close the ranks and limit media access to local radio, making more people likely to pony up $8 to buy a ticket and watch the games in-person.

Part of what makes February vacation week so special is the way it draws in people and opens up a statewide conversation, even for those who don’t have the time, transportation or health to attend. Keeping live coverage in play is a sign that the sanctioning body gets it; that it knows it holds the keys to an event that is bigger than itself.

The MPA doesn’t get enough recognition for the good stuff it does to promote young people and put healthy lifestyles and friendly competition in the spotlight. So today I will put on my sport coat, raise my glass and say thank you.

Stay proactive and prolific, my friends.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his fan page at

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