Basketball Hall of Fame to bring 13 regular-season games to Cross Insurance Center
BANGOR — When Jamie Russell informed his players on the Central of Corinth girls’ basketball team that they would be playing a game at the Cross Insurance Center during the upcoming holiday break, the Red Devils reacted like they had just opened an extra Christmas present.
“Their first question was if it was a Christmas tournament,” Russell said. “I said ‘No, this is for real, this is for Heal Points, this is the regular season,’ and they were like ‘Holy Cow!’”
The Central girls will play Searsport at the Cross Center in a Class C North matchup Thursday, Dec. 27 — one of 13 countable varsity games featuring teams from Augusta to Fort Fairfield and from Calais to Greenville scheduled over two days as part of the first Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
Play begins at 10 a.m. Dec. 27 with a boys clash between Penquis of Milo and defending Class D state champion Greenville. Subsequent games that day match the Piscataquis of Guilford and Penquis girls at 11:45 a.m., the Washburn-Fort Fairfield girls at 1:30 p.m., the Searsport-Central girls at 3:15 p.m., the George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill-Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln girls at 5 p.m., the GSA-Calais boys at 6:45 p.m., and a Class A battle between Brewer and Cony of Augusta at 8 p.m.
Six more games follow on Friday, Dec. 28, beginning at 10 a.m. with a top Class C North boys matchup between Houlton and Mattanawcook Academy. That will be followed by the Houlton-Stearns of Millinocket girls at 11:45 a.m., the Stearns-Dexter boys at 1:30 p.m., the Schenck of East Millinocket-Dexter girls at 3:15 p.m., the Central-Lee Academy boys at 5 p.m., and the 6:45 p.m. finale between the Lee Academy and Calais girls.
Tickets are $5 per person each day for the full slate of basketball.
Event organizers, who first began discussing an idea floated by Maine Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and former University of Maine men’s basketball coach Skip Chappelle last year, see the event not as a fundraiser but a chance to expose its physical home in the Cross Insurance Center to more fans as well as give back to those who support the sport in Maine.
“With the expense of the hall, if we break even we’ll be happy,” said Tony Hamlin, chair of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame’s board of directors, during a press conference at the Cross Center on Dec. 12. “We’ll probably incur some losses but it’s worth it.
“We hope having the event right after Christmas allows some people to get in here, spend some time in the concourse and see the Hall of Fame and get in touch with basketball.”
The idea of sacrificing a regular-season home date in exchange for playing a regular-season game at the Cross Insurance Center initially was floated to Penobscot Valley Conference member schools last spring as well as to Class B schools in the region.
Class B schools were reluctant to go along with the idea, Russell said, because of the loss of gate revenues from a home game and the fact that many already get a chance to play in the Cross Insurance Center once a year if they are on the schedule of John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, which plays its home games at that facility.
PVC schools were eager to respond to the opportunity to play a game on the 94-foot collegiate-length court that serves as home to the Classes B, C and D North regional tournaments each year.
“Teams accepted it on a first-come, first-serve basis,” said Russell, also an MBHOF board member involved in the scheduling.
Most of the games already were scheduled for Dec. 27 or 28, so there was not a lot of shuffling required to fit the MBHOF Classic schedule, Hamlin said.
From a coaching perspective, Russell said the tournament will provide an opportunity for teams to familiarize themselves with the facility in hopes they will return to play again come tournament week in February.
“To me, it’s about environment, just the simple fact of getting in there and getting on that court,” he said. “It’s longer than our court [a regulation high school court is 84 feet long], and you’re looking at the background from when you shoot and anything else from where you’re sitting on the bench.
“I don’t think you can ever duplicate the pressure of the tournament or the crowd — I don’t anticipate that we’ll have crowds like the tournament — but just to get out on the court I think is worth giving up a home game.”
Hamlin said the hope is for the MBHOF Classic to become an annual affair, though event organizers will meet after this year’s games to make that determination.
“We want to raise the consciousness and level of awareness with the hall and do something that will benefit the community,” he said.