Sidelines: It's time to bring back some forgotten Maine sports events from yesteryear – Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel

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Remember Score-O? The all-St. Joseph's basketball tournament? Events such as these should be brought back, Dave Bailey writes.
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The Stearns-Millinocket battle for the New England high school basketball championship was front-page news in 1963.
Maine’s sports history may not be as illustrious as some other states, but it’s still filled with original ideas.  
Some things didn’t age well (anyone remember pro roller hockey in Portland?), but some concepts that seemed odd at the time returned years later and did pretty well: Maine was a minor league basketball graveyard before the Maine Red Claws/Celtics arrived, and the Maine Nordiques junior hockey team has long outlasted the minor league version from the 1970s.
It’s in that spirit that I propose a few discarded bits of Maine sports history that should be dusted off and given a good, hard second look. 
The New England High School Basketball Championship
Starting in the 1920s, a tournament was held every March to declare an undisputed New England boys hoop champion. Typically, Maine would send one or two teams — usually a champ and/or runner-up from the highest classification — to face other state powers for regional supremacy. 


The most famous tournament, at least from a Maine perspective, was in 1963, when Stearns defeated Morse 56-54 for the New England title in front of 12,000 fans at the Boston Garden, just a few weeks after Morse topped Stearns 61-60 in double overtime for the Class LL state title in Bangor. In 1999, the Maine Sunday Telegram placed the Stearns-Morse battles at No. 5 on its list of the 20 greatest Maine sports moments for the 20th century.
After Class A champ Cony won the 1978 New Englands in Durham, New Hampshire, the State (now Maine) Principals’ Association pulled out of the tournament, citing financial concerns.
So why bring back a money-loser? Today, we have corporate sponsors, for better and for worse, that can help foot the bill. Sure, the thought of a New England tournament having an official toilet paper might seem a little crass, but at least promoters and the schools wouldn’t incur any debt, right? Throw in streaming rights, and a revived tournament might have a fighting chance to break even. And don’t forget to add a girls’ version.
And speaking of unique basketball tourneys, how about …
The ‘Mad Monk’ tournament


No, this wasn’t a tribute to Rasputin, the famed early 20th-century Russian mystic known as the “Mad Monk.” In 1985, legendary St. Joseph’s College men’s basketball coach Rick Simonds scheduled a four-team holiday-season tournament that guaranteed St. Joseph’s would win.
How? All four schools were called St. Joseph’s. 
In addition to Simonds’ St. Joseph’s in Standish, schools bearing the same name from Vermont, Brooklyn and Long Island participated in an event that drew attention from Sports Illustrated (back when that meant something), the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News. St. Joseph’s — in this case the host Monks — defeated the Vermont St. Joe’s 95-56 to win the title.
Obviously, this event needs to return in some fashion. While Vermont’s St. Joe’s closed in 2019, the University of St. Joseph in Connecticut added men’s basketball in 2018 (in fact, its first coach was UConn legend Jim Calhoun). 
And hey, if the Monks want to punch above its level, Division I St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania has Gardiner’s own Lizzy Gruber on its women’s team.
Former St. Joseph’s men’s basketball coach Rick Simonds, shown in 1997, came up with a unique basketball tournament in 1985.


Score-O — alternately known as Slap Shot — was a 1980s-90s intermission staple at Maine Mariners, Portland Pirates and University of Maine hockey games. The premise was simple: Shoot the puck from the far blue line and into the net, and win a new vehicle, whose presence on the ice always elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd.
Of course, the puck had to go through a tiny hole not much bigger than the puck itself, but some of us had no problem putting off our bathroom break to see if some lucky fan would beat the odds.
 My personal favorite Score-O memory came in February 1999, when I was a UMaine student during the Black Bears’ national championship season. Jacob Fraser, a UMaine freshman from Winslow and a former Black Raiders hockey player, fired the puck into the hole, but contest officials ruled it didn’t go all the way through and Fraser was denied a new Dodge Ram. The already-loud Black Bear crowd shook Alfond Arena to its foundation when they chanted “GIVE HIM THE TRUCK!” and booed loudly when the officials didn’t budge.
(Postscript: A couple months later, a local businessman bought Fraser a Chevy S-10, a not-too-shabby consolation prize.)
These days, intermission contests consist of someone shooting a puck into an open net for a gift card or kids bopping a beach ball across the ice. Where’s the drama in that?


Bring back Score-O. And bring back the drama.
The Maine State League
Before smart phones, computers or TV made watching baseball a convenience, every community from bustling cities to tiny hamlets had a team to call its own. The only way to watch the grand old game was to watch it in person.
It was in this atmosphere that Maine briefly had its own professional league. The Maine State League operated in 1897 with teams in Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Portland and Rockland. Alas, the league lasted only six weeks before calling it quits in June. According to Will Anderson’s seminal book “Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine?”, bad weather kept fans away from the ballparks. Another attempt in 1907-08 didn’t fare much better — the ’08 season ended with only the Bangor and Augusta teams playing each other, according to Anderson’s book.
Score-O was a featured attraction at Maine Mariners AHL games, as this Portland Evening Express ad from 1977 shows.
So why revive such an obvious failure when you can watch the Amarillo Sod Poodles on your iPad? 
First, despite the presence of  leagues designed to give Division I college players more playing time — the Cape Cod League, the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the Futures League, etc. — there likely are plenty of players at the Division III level looking to play summer ball. And Maine has its fair share of D-III baseball programs (not to mention community colleges). Surely many of those guys don’t want their seasons to end in May.
Second, there are plenty of baseball facilities in Maine that gather little more than flies during the summer. In addition to numerous college facilities, facilities such as the Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach and Mansfield Stadium in Bangor could always use more attractions.
A summer college league for Maine players, based in Maine cities? It goes together like mustard on a hot dog. 
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