Cross Insurance Center celebrates a decade of high school basketball tournaments

By Larry Mahoney, Bangor Daily News Staff

After playing her first three high school basketball tournaments at the Bangor Auditorium, Van Buren High School star Parise Rossignol got off the bus her senior year to play at the brand new $65 million Cross Insurance Center, which had replaced the Bangor Auditorium.

It was the 2013-14 Class D East (North) Tournament.

The Bangor Auditorium had been demolished in 2013 after a 58-year run.

The Bangor Auditorium had cultivated its own charm even with its leaky roof and dead spots on the floor. The closeness of the fans to the court created a vibrant atmosphere and the noise level made it difficult for coaches to communicate with their players.

The Cross Insurance Center is celebrating its 10th year of hosting the schoolboy and schoolgirl basketball tournaments this month. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020-21 tournament. 

Bangor Daily News file photo/Kim Higgins
COACH LOOKING ON — Dexter girls basketball coach Jody Grant watches his team during a 2023 Class C North quarterfinal against Fort Kent at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“I remember thinking it was like a professional arena,” recalled Parise Rossignol Leffel. “Everything looked brand new. Everything was beautiful and top-notch.

“You weren’t crammed into a tiny locker room any more,” she said. “There was even a clock in the locker room. There was a big screen scoreboard. The sound system was great. It was special.

“We were used to playing in small high school gyms. We were all super excited to play there,” added Rossignol whose team won their quarterfinal and semifinal games before losing to eventual state champ Washburn in the regional final.

There was certainly a significant adjustment that the players had to make at the Cross Center.

The lighting was much better and brighter, the shooting background was different and the court was 10 feet longer to accommodate one of its tenants, the University of Maine.

There was a lot more space in the facility.

The rims were also different so shots that may have bounced in at the Bangor Auditorium may not have done so at the Cross Center and vice versa.

Rossignol always found the Cross Center rims to be friendly even when she continued her career playing there for the University of Maine’s women’s basketball team.

“The baskets were great. I got a lot of nice bounces there,” chuckled Rossignol who, in her final season at UMaine (2018-19), shot an eye-opening 60.3 percent from the floor (73-for-121) there  including a sizzling 58.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc (43-for-74).

 She averaged 16.4 points per game in her 12 games at the Cross Center that year.

“I loved playing there,” she said.

Her father, Matt, coached her team after an exceptional playing career at Van Buren High and the University of Maine.

Both father and daughter scored over 2,000 points at Van Buren.

He played his high school tournament games and some of his college games at the Bangor Auditorium and coached at both venues.

“As a player, the fans were more on top of you at the Auditorium, which you liked. But, as a coach, I preferred the Cross Center because you were a little more separated from the crowd so you were able to keep your communication with the players somewhat private,” said Matt Rossignol.

Like his daughter, he was very impressed with the Cross Center and its amenities which included six concession stands spaced around the concourse.

“I felt the Cross Center was going to develop a charm over time and it has,” said Matt Rossignol who added that the tournament itself was very well run.

“It was first class,” he said.

The bleachers that made up a portion of the Bangor Auditorium seating were replaced by seats with backs at the Cross Center.

“You don’t have to worry about sitting on a stick of gum on the bleachers now,” Matt Rossignol quipped.

Dexter Regional High School girls coach Jody Grant has coached at the two facilities and said when he went to the Cross Center for the first time, it was “bittersweet.

“The Cross Center was brand new and state-of-the-art but you can never replace the old-barn feeling that you had at the Auditorium,” said Grant. “When you coached a game at the Auditorium, the players couldn’t hear you on the floor.”

Like Rossignol, he got to coach his daughter, Peyton, but that was only at the Cross Center.

“It was really fun playing there. It was a great atmosphere,” said Peyton Grant, who is now playing her college basketball at Shepherd University in West Virginia. “The lights were bright and you were playing on a longer court. But you got used to it.

“The locker rooms, the bathrooms, everything in the building was very nice,” said Peyton Grant who added that it was better than a lot of college facilities.

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