Reading the many tributes to Andy Bedard upon his induction to the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, including longtime tag team partner Randy Whitehouse’s comprehensive feature on the now-long-ago Mountain Valley High School and University of Maine star, made me both super-nostalgic and sharply sad.

If you’re a person of a certain age who was just starting out the work-a-day life around those Mountain Valley Conference parts in the early 1990s, it’s impossible not to weigh in with the memories. That’s because they were just too good, and seeing what has happened to the game and the atmosphere surrounding it over the past two or three decades, we want to keep them alive.

Kalle Oakes

Maine high school basketball was in the twilight of its golden era as the official pastime of an interminable, intolerable winter. With apologies to hockey and skiing, both of which are terrific ways (but still nichy ones) to burn up those bitter-cold months, the average person in the Pine Tree State wants to sit in a heated room, unzip that jacket, sit down and be entertained.

Early 1990s hoops in the Sun Journal coverage area met and exceeded that need, almost exclusively due to the presence of Bedard and his 6-foot-7, man-child contemporary from Winthrop, T.J. Caouette.

A year apart in the classroom but inextricably linked by their 99th percentile athleticism and competitiveness, Bedard and Caouette were accompanied by a buzz entering their freshman seasons that I can’t recall for any Maine boys’ basketball player before or since.

Despite all that, there was an uncertainty when you purchased one of those hot tickets to watch the wunderkinds how much you’d actually get to see them play. Two esteemed coaches, Mark Karter of Mountain Valley and Dave Poulin of Winthrop, had to manage the playing time as much as the expectations.

Bedard stepped into a blue-blood, mill-town culture in which hard work and a willingness to set aside your own interests for the greater good were held equal with pure talent. If lesser role players committed their entire lives to the game and made it to senior year, by golly, they belonged on the court.

Caouette, meanwhile, walked into a locker room that returned almost everyone of significance from a Class C state championship the previous year, capped unforgettably by Jeff Love’s prayer at the horn to break Washington Academy’s heart. Fully grown and charismatic he may have been, but whom was he going to replace?

Well, sanity reigned when it became obvious magical stuff happened every time the youngsters took the court. By the the each was finished with his ninth-grade tournament debut at Augusta Civic Center – Bedard’s a double-overtime denial of Scarborough in the 1992 Class B West quarterfinals, Caouette’s a dunk-infested, record-shattering flattening of Freeport in C West’s opening round a year later – the Falcons and Ramblers clearly were “their” teams.

Because their careers didn’t perfectly overlap, and with their schools doing business at different enrollment levels, the Andy and T.J. Show happened only four times. It only felt like a dozen. And those games were like our little version of Woodstock, in that the people who weren’t privileged enough to be inside the building now insist they were.

Puiia Gymnasium in Rumford, home to a storied Class A powerhouse in the mid-to-late ’70s, was built to accommodate such a spectator crunch. Still, there wasn’t a seat to be had by the time the Falcons took the court to the haunting opening strains of Deep Purple’s “Knocking at Your Back Door.”

Winthrop’s gym had all the atmosphere without the elbow room. Tucked in a back wing of the old high school on Highland Avenue, its bleachers were about eight rows high on each side, with a modest stage to accommodate the inevitable overflow. When the Ramblers hosted one of Bedard’s Mountain Valley teams, either you purchased your pass in advance or you showed up an hour before the junior varsity tip-off, stood in a line out to the parking lot and prayed that the athletic director didn’t lock the door in front of you. Just think of it as Studio 202.

If you made the cut, you were in for a treat. Always friendly rivals, Bedard and Caouette both flaunted a skill set that wasn’t typical for their size. Caouette could stick the 3-pointer and catch or deliver a no-look pass with soft hands. Bedard jumped out of the gym, a la Rex Chapman, his physical equivalent of the day in my new home state. Both Poulin and Karter’s successor, Matt Kaubris, pulled the right strings with what were supremely talented supporting casts.

Together they all restored the roar for boys’ basketball in an era, frankly, when the girls’ game (thanks to Cindy Blodgett, Amy Vachon and the legendary Lawrence-Cony rivalry) had become more captivating.

Valley High of Bingham and its 101-game winning streak had similar impact less than a decade later. And of course Mountain Valley (2007) and Winthrop (2008, 2019) celebrated future state championship glory.

The fever pitch these days, though, isn’t nearly the same. Today, the one percent with Bedard and Caouette’s talent spend more time with their AAU teammates in the spring than on a playground court with their classmates in the summer.

Technology has provided more, if not remotely better, ways to while away winter. Older adults without children or grandchildren on the floor aren’t compelled to show up for an average MVC game on a Tuesday night. By and large, none of us have the same level of community involvement we did a generation ago.

Andy Bedard symbolizes the end of an era to me. I rejoice in the idea that he’s being immortalized, but I weep for the possibility that corner of the world has no such young superheroes on the horizon.

Kalle Oakes covered high school basketball for the Sun Journal from 1989 to 2016. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.