Want to polarize a room anywhere in Maine? Figure out someone’s political persuasion in the space of one conversation? Provoke a few cheap laughs in mixed company?

Easy as pie. Just say, “Lewiston.”

Proven more effective than dropping the names LePage or Trump, the reaction is more immediate and unequivocal. Even apologists groan and smirk disarmingly before serving up their half-hearted defense.

The same tone prevails on social media, where the expression “Dirty Lew” achieved permanence in our local lexicon. Our cynical pals spout snarky one-liners about welfare, tenements, potholes and ill-timed traffic lights.

That is the politically and socially sensitive stuff, if you can believe it. We play along even if it isn’t willful, replying with a polite ‘LOL’ or a passive-aggressive ‘like.’

It’s the price of letting haters dictate any conversation. Pretty soon it becomes the presumed truth, and our attempts to champion anything positive fall upon blind eyes and deaf ears.

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This all occurred to me Saturday night as I looked down from the crow’s nest upon the ice at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

There, while my colleagues and I fretted about words and details on deadline, dozens of students, parents and community members tiptoed the slippery surface without a care in the world. Hugs and kisses were exchanged, happy tears shed, pictures clicked, as Lewiston High School celebrated yet another state championship.

No. 21 in the illustrious history of LHS hockey was merely business as usual for the Blue Devils, who probably need to include an expanded trophy case in the price tag for that pending, new, on-campus athletic facility.

In the April 2015 to March 2016 Year of Our, ahem, Devil, Lewiston has: Ended a 14-year “drought” on the ice (one that included six runner-up finishes); won states with arguably the best boys’ soccer team Maine has ever known; claimed the Class A boys’ track and field title in dramatic fashion before sending captain Isaiah Harris to further championship and record-shattering glory at Penn State; claimed the latest in a long line of conference/regional/state triple crowns in competition cheerleading (with another New England title perhaps in the future); and produced the boys’ cross country champion in Osman Doorow.

Lewiston also won a regional championship in girls’ tennis. Extend this sample size by one month and you can add a girls’ hockey title and berth in the boys’ basketball regional finals to the list. You also don’t have to dive deeply into the archives to dredge up state supremacy in boys’ tennis and regional championships in baseball and boys’ lacrosse. And if I play this game any longer, I’ll forget and offend another team that regaled us with its excellence.

Now, go ahead and ask someone who lives outside a 10-mile radius of the Twin Cities which schools dominate high school sports in our state. I doubt any of them will include Lewiston, and if they did, it would be in an honorable mention capacity.

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You would hear the names Thornton, Falmouth, Scarborough and perhaps Bangor mentioned, although the Queen City appears to be waning in that discussion as our population center migrates farther southward. Here in the tri-county, we often salute Dirigo as “Titletown” for its ability to win consistently with a pool of only 300 students.

The first three on the list are all proud, and yes, affluent communities that invest unswervingly in their athletic programs from cradle to cap-and-gown. They have a reputation, at least, of sending a majority of their students to the college of their choice.

Perception is reality? I say no. The truth is that in the time elapsed between the past two mud seasons, no school in the state can exceed Lewiston’s share of championship bling.

In a community where we too often dwell on what’s wrong, this consistent level of high achievement is evidence that we are doing many things right. Maybe it’s time to start calling ourselves the “Blessed Lew.”

Lewiston is lucky to have great coaches, dedicated and qualified from the feeder system on up. It has a terrific athletic administrator, Jason Fuller, who grew up in the system, advanced through it and is emotionally invested because of it. It has a superb principal, Shawn Chabot, who has been a coach and understands the value of sports.

It has parents who see to it that the kids play, year-round, in an era when play is a lost art. It enjoys a successfully diverse ethnic community that should serve as an instruction manual to a world that still can’t get its crap together in that regard.

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We rave and wring our hands about the importance of education, but we place far too much emphasis on test scores, just as those of us who love sports overstate the value of the scoreboard. Sports are a splendid barometer of the physical and mental health of a community. They teach lessons that transcend the classroom. They tell me more about a child’s ability to handle the aches and pains of adult life than does his or her performance on an English essay.

The success I see year-round at the rink, on the tennis courts, at Don Roux Field, in Augusta Civic Center, tells me that great things are going on between the walls at Lewiston High School and inside the boundaries of this city.

I don’t need to know anything else, and you don’t need to apologize when some blustering boob issues a tired, ultra-stereotyped view of this town.

If you’re a current or former athlete, a taxpayer, an educator or a journalist from this locale, hold your head high. Lewiston is good as gold.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer who lives in Monmouth, but has proudly called Lewiston his ‘work home’ for nearly 30 years. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 and like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.

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