Some of you might have heard the rumor that I moved to Lexington, Ky. If you’ve been sports-savvy for more than an hour, you probably can guess how the local media invests its time. To wit, whatever a University of Kentucky men’s basketball player eats for breakfast is headline news.

Former Wildcats enjoy godlike status throughout their lives. This past week, journeyman NBA shooting guard Jodie Meeks was traded from the Detroit Pistons to the Orlando Magic. Meeks played a staggering three (count ‘em) games in Motown during the 2015-16 season. He tends to get hurt while rising from the bed and putting on his slippers in the morning. Still, his relocation was the top story on the 6 o’clock sports segment that day.

I share this story partly as confession, because for most of my years I have believed it was a Maine phenomenon.

Maine does many things well. Lobsters, potatoes, beaches, craft beer and road construction, for example. As for producing world-class athletes, well, it always felt like not so much.

Y’all had a nice little run with Joey Gamache and University of Maine hockey and women’s basketball for a while at the end of the previous century. Seth Wescott has given golden reasons to gloat in the new one. Otherwise, in a concerted effort not to flood the front page or the top of the broadcast with the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, we (old pronouns die hard) were prone to trumpet even the most minor accomplishments of Ricky Craven, Mike Bordick or anyone else who’s sister’s neighbor’s brother-in-law’s dentist had a summer home in Islesboro.

Those fortunes all made a dramatic turn in the past three weeks, didn’t they? First, and what a betting man would have imagined foremost, Brian Dumoulin of Biddeford put Maine front-and-center with his starring role in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ push to the Stanley Cup.

By comparison to Maine’s brief flirtation with summer on the ice, its holiday weekend on the track has been a majestic fireworks display. Isaiah Harris, a Penn State sophomore-to-be from Lewiston, Freaking, Maine, is one 800-meter race-of-his-life (Monday, 8:50 p.m., NBCSN) away from a ticket to Rio de Janeiro and next month’s Olympic Games.

Harris remarkably is one of seven athletes from the Pine Tree State to make a run (or jump or throw) at international glory in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Kate Hall, Riley Masters, Ben True, Carsyn Koch, Matthew Forgues and Becky O’Brien all earned their day in a spotlight that probably seemed a million kilometers away when they were sweating it out as 9-year-olds at their respective communities’ track and field camps.

It’s a welcome reminder to a cynic such as I: One mustn’t be a Kentucky blueblood or a Florida blue chip to achieve athletic greatness. All that is required are a dream and the right combination of parents, teachers, coaches and community volunteers to steer a young man or woman toward that vision. This sensational sporting summer shows the world, and more importantly the good people in that corner of it, that for all Maine’s remoteness and financial and meteorological challenges, it has the infrastructure necessary to breed champions.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would be remiss if I didn’t dredge up the finer points from two positions I previously embraced in this space.

1. Forget the negative hype, think of Harris and remind yourself every day that Lewiston is a fine place to raise a family and produce successful young adults. We shouldn’t need a 19-year-old’s accelerated flirtation with the Olympics to stamp this in our brains. In addition to his God-given athletic gifts, Harris is an overcomer with an iron will. Those traits have their roots in both nature and nurture. They didn’t happen in a vacuum, without an incredibly unselfish, vigilant, strong community pitching in at every twist and turn of a promising life.

2. Also, while the vast majority of media and spectator attention in Maine is aimed at high school football and basketball, those games arguably are the ones with the lowest chance of the participants becoming professionals or top-flight amateurs. The odds are substantially better in hockey or baseball, the traditional team sports in which individual skill is more easily assessed apart from the supporting cast. Better, still, in individual endeavors where talent may be sharpened in solitude, for hours at a time. In other words, I don’t endorse helicopter parenting or living vicariously through your children, but if you must, invest your time wisely and steer your youngster in the direction of a rink, slope, batting cage, jumping pit, putting green or tennis court.

Then, who knows? We might see you embracing your progeny on the front page of this publication or atop the evening news.

You aren’t competing with the Wildcats, Gators, Tar Heels or Crimson Tide, and that isn’t the worst fate in the world.

Kalle Oakes recently retired from the Sun Journal sports department after 27 years. He now lives and works in the land of horses, bourbon and John Calipari. His email is [email protected]


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