St. Dominic Academy players celebrate their win over Stearns in Saturday’s Class D championship at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

WATERVILLE — His team had just won a state championship. Ray Bernier Jr., though, wondered if they were truly the best of the best.

It was May 16, 2012, and the Messalonskee Eagles had just defeated Scarborough 6-3 to win the Class A title at St. Joseph’s College. After the game and award presentations were complete, Bernier, an assistant coach for the Eagles, watched with intrigue as Dirigo and Calais took the field to warm up for the Class C game.

“We left, and there was another game right after, and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if we really are the best team in the state?’” said Bernier, now the head baseball coach at Thomas College. “There were a lot of other schools in the state with some really talented players, and that kind of sat with me for about 10 years every year.”

Bernier has done enough wondering. This time next year, his goal is for Thomas to host a tournament — the “Elite 8,” as he calls it — featuring Maine high school baseball’s eight regional champions at the conclusion of the traditional season.

Bernier had initially planned the tournament for this season with games running from Friday through Saturday of this week. During Thomas’ trip to Florida in early March, he sent information on the tournament to every baseball team in the state. Initial reception, he said, was overwhelmingly positive.

At of the conclusion of the season, Bernier had a solid commitment from Class D state champ St. Dominic Academy and interest from Messalonskee and two or three other unspecified schools. Yet with many unknowns just four days before, he decided it was in his best interest to push the inaugural edition to 2025.


“With short notice, there wasn’t really a lot of background dialogue,” Bernier said. “I was still in the middle of my season, so I maybe pushed it a little bit too fast, and I realized that once I started talking with these coaches. I want to do it right; I didn’t want to do it half-hearted the first time.”

Between a Thomas fundraiser and outside donors, Bernier said he raised about $6,500 to host the tournament. Included in the cost was event insurance in the event of injuries or other instances of liability. Among the sponsors was radio station WHOU, which had been signed on to stream the games live.

The Messalonskee Eagles celebrate after beating Bangor to win the Class A North baseball final in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Bernier intends to discuss the tournament with the Maine Principals’ Association in hopes of getting it sanctioned by the state’s high school sports governing body. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham, though, said the organization does not sanction events in the summer and noted some challenges such a tournament might have.

“It’s a unique and novel thought, but I don’t know how we could pull it off,” Burnham said. “It would obviously have to be right after the end of the (high school) season, and you already have the summer programs starting up. Many of the seniors have moved on and are working or doing whatever they’re doing next. Would it be going up against Babe Ruth? Legion? That’s a part of it as well.”

Messalonskee head coach Eric Palin had expressed some interest in the tournament following the Eagles’ Class A North championship run. After the team’s defeat in the state title game, though, he was left wondering what kind of squad Messalonskee would be able to field.

“We were interested, but after the season, I think we had some kids who wanted to take a bit of a breather and some time off,” Palin said. “You’ve also got kids doing travel ball and other sports over the summer. If we’d done a team for it, it would have been a skeleton of our normal team.”


Burnham said the MPA does not oppose such a tournament and added that there are no restrictions on teams using school names, as is done in high school summer leagues. That would allow Messalonskee to play as Messalonskee or St. Dom’s to play as St. Dom’s, at the approval of school administrations.

St. Dom’s was possibly the team most intrigued by the tournament. After an 18-2 season that included multiple wins over Class C teams and a victory over Class B Gray-New Gloucester, Saints head coach Bob Blackman wondered how his team might fare against even better competition.

“We had a couple boys who couldn’t make it due to prior commitments, but we were very close (to a full roster),” Blackman said. “Being Class D, we’re a team that maybe not a lot of people look at us as being competitive, but we felt we could compete. We were excited to go into it and prove that we were a pretty good team.”

Messalonskee Athletic Director Chad Foye said athletic administrators are not involved in most activities over the summer as those leagues take place outside of the MPA environment. Although a Messalonskee team would likely be allowed to use the school name, he said he was uncertain about some other logistical issues.

“There are some things that we (athletic directors) still oversee in the summer, but that wouldn’t be part of it,” Foye said. “I think they would be able to use the school’s name, but I’m not sure about uniforms or stuff like that. I think that would be a big gray area.”

Although no Maine high school sport offers a tournament the likes of the one Bernier is proposing, one has been discussed in boys hockey. A “Super 8” tournament taking the top eight hockey teams in the state regardless of class was discussed as recently as last fall, though most athletic directors were opposed.

There would, Bernier said, be a recruiting element to a tournament being sponsored by Thomas and held on campus. Yet the first-year head coach said coaches from other schools would also be invited to the event and added that the tournament’s primary purpose would be to give players more opportunities.

“I really just want to see it through for the student-athletes because I’ve been thinking about it for 10 years,” Bernier said. “I want the exposure for Maine baseball players. I don’t think that they get the full exposure that they should, and it’s a shame because there’s a lot of talented players in the state.”

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