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Inaugural Maine Basketball Hall of Fame class turns heads

Sports

Inaugural Maine Basketball Hall of Fame class turns heads

PORTLAND—The inaugural class of the long-awaited Maine Basketball Hall of Fame was unveiled to the public Wednesday morning at a ceremony at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

And is it ever an impressive group.

In all, 16 players, five coaches, one official, one contributor and one team will be part of the first class, representing all corners of the state, which will be inducted at a ceremony Aug. 21 at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Inductees on hand for the Wednesday's announcement included coaching legend Bob Brown (recently retired after one final triumphant stint at Cheverus), one-time Westbrook High School girls' star (and recently Scarborough assistant coach) Lisa Blais Manning, Rachel Bouchard (a standout at Hall-Dale High School and at the University of Maine, who served a short stint as an assistant coach and athletic director at Yarmouth High School earlier this century), Matt Donahue (a prolific scorer at Westbrook High School), Matt Hancock (a standout player at Lake Region High School and Colby College), Doug Roberts (a star at Rumford High School and Acadia and Clark Universities) and longtime Colby College men's coach Dick Whitmore (winner of 635 games).

Joining those seven at the induction ceremony in August will be players Brett Brown (a South Portland legend, who played for his Dad, Bob, in high school and now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA), Skip Chappelle, Danny Coombs, Don Crosby, Joe Harrington (a star at Morse High School in Bath, who went on to play at the University of Maryland and later was drafted by the Boston Celtics), Jon McDonald, John "Swisher" Mitchell, Brad Moore, Steve Pound, Jack Scott and Joanne Palombo McCallie (the former Brunswick High School standout and U. Maine women's coach, who is currently the Duke University women's coach and most notably in these parts, aunt of Miss Maine Basketball Allie Clement).

Joining Brown and Whitmore as coaches being inducted will be Ordie Alley of Jonesport-Beals, Paul Vachon of Cony and George Wentworth of Stearns.

"Basketball was made for me," said Brown, who coached everywhere from Belgrade to Cheverus to Boston University to the University of Southern Maine, winning over 600 games and four Gold Balls. "I've coached all over the world, but there's nothing like Maine. The only place I've really been happy was Maine.

"What an honor to be associated with people I've so admired in the game. Basketball has been such a part of my life. I remember back in early 1950s when Beals Island captured the state. I would sit in front of a TV that was snowy and you could barely make out the players. I remember Ellsworth closing the town to take a train to New Englands. The pride of the communities is so overwhelming."

In addition to the players, coaches, official (the late Jim DiFrederico), contributor (statistician, historian and storyteller extraordinaire Bob Butler of York) and team (the 1944 Waterville boys' squad, which won the state and New England championships), the Hall will feature Legends of the Game with a special plaque.

That group of nine includes Wally Donovan, who coached the aforementioned 1944 Waterville juggernaut, Durwood Heal, who designed the Heal Point System, Charlie Wotten, the state's first commissioner of basketball, Tony Tammaro, a longtime official, Bill Mansfield, a legendary coach in Winslow, William Hanscom, who coached Presque Isle's boys' team to its lone championship, Pioneer women's coaches Stella McClean of the University of Maine-Farmington and Clara Shaw of Husson and Anita Belanger, who averaged 55.6 points per game at Mattawamkeag High School in the 1950s.

A Maine Basketball Hall of Fame had been discussed for decades.

"A group of guys sitting down and talking was instrumental in getting this going," said Brown. "Everybody will tell you it should have been done years ago. Finally it happened. There are so many stories."

"It's an important day for Maine basketball," said Tony Hamlin, a longtime coach who is now the vice chair of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors and the chairman of the Selection Committee. "The idea started about two years ago and for the past eight or nine months, we've been going full steam with this. The impact that basketball has had on this state is profound and the fact we haven't had a Hall of Fame is a surprise. We wanted to do this the right way. The purpose is to honor the history of the game, by collecting and preserving artifacts. It's to pay homage to those who have impacted the game of basketball and is committed to preserving for the future the things around the game of basketball that are so impactful for small towns from Kittery to Fort Kent."

The Hall of Fame guidelines state that players are eligible for induction 20 years after their playing days are over (which explains why the likes of Lawrence High School and University of Maine legend Cindy Blodgett and former Deering High School and University of Maryland star Nik Caner-Medley were not part of the initial class).. Coaches with 20-plus years of experience are immediately eligible, while coaches with fewer than 20 years must wait 10 years after the completion of their final coaching assignment.

Hamlin, who was joined by fellow selection committee members Ron Cote and Fern Masse, during the introduction, said that a lot went into deciding who would be in the inaugural class.

"The nominating committee represented 720 years of basketball experience," Hamlin said. "The first Hall of Fame class for baseball had Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Christy Mathewson. The low-hanging fruit for Maine basketball is represented here in this room. They are obvious legends of the game. They left an indelible mark. We spent a lot of time deciding who were the most impactful. I don't know of anybody here who shouldn't be on this list. Basketball has put these inductees here. It has a special place in their heart. We tried to be geographically sensitive and gender sensitive in the way we presented the group."

After being introduced, those inductees on hand shared a common theme.

"It's truly an honor and I'm very humbled by it," said Manning, who not only is one of the state's legendary high school players, but went on to win a national championship at Old Dominion University. "You can't get here without great players and great coaches around you."

"This is a truly an honor for me," said Bouchard, who is a real estate attorney in Yarmouth. "When I walked in, very few of us knew who the other members being inducted would be, but for me, these are people I grew up watching. I learned from them. I was inspired by them. For me to be standing in their company is truly humbling."

As for Brown, Wednesday was an opportunity to reflect on how far he (and the sport) has come.

"I remember being a kid on the sidelines at Cony High School, waiting for the ball to bounce to me so I could take a shot," he said. "I remember some of the guys I played with in high school. I can tell you about playing at the Bangor Auditorium. I look back and I remember coaching in gyms back in 1960 where the only place that had water was an outhouse under the gym. Gyms that had a chandelier as the only light. I remember telling my team that the heat was a radiator in the middle of the gym, so if we call timeout, 'I'll give you a signal and everybody run to the radiator.'

"When we get together, the first thing we do is tell stories. Stories of games, stories of plays that happened. It makes me so proud and so humbled to be a part of this. I realize I'm here because of the people I coached. I'm here because they had integrity, character and work ethic. They allowed me to win games. Without them, I wouldn't be here. I was fortunate to start coaching at a school (Belgrade) with 57 kids and I found out what community really felt like."

Look for the Hall of Fame to grow in robust fashion in the years to come.

"Over a 10-year period, if we put 15 players in, we'll have 150 players in the Hall," Hamlin said. "In 15 years, it will be 225. That will capture the cream of the crop, I think. If we put five coaches a year in, in 10 years, we'll have 50 coaches. In 15, we'll have 75."

While many heroes will have their moment in the spotlight going forward, there will only be one original class and what a special group it is.

Brown, who was upstaged Wednesday as he has been so often over the years by his delightful wife of 54 years, Bonny, summed it up perfectly.

"This is one of the best things that's ever happened to me in my life," he said. "It's a surreal type of situation. With (Brett coaching the 76ers) and now this, it's hard to describe. I'm very proud and honored."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

For more information on the inductees, the Hall of Fame and on obtaining tickets for August's ceremony, see mainebasketballhalloffame.com.