BANGOR – It wasn’t pretty and it had plenty of imperfections, but the old barn on Dutton street held a special place in the hearts of Mainers.
“The Bangor Auditorium, the enthusiasm it brought was just unbelievable,” Orono girls basketball head coach John Donato said.
In a state devoid of pro sports, what Madison Square Garden is to New York, the Bangor Auditorium was to Maine for over half a century.
“The crowd we could barely hear our coaches talk and we were just so pumped up ready to go. I haven’t had an experience since like that,” former Washburn and current Husson women’s basketball guard Joan Overman said.
From the county to downeast, central Maine and Bangor, communities of all sizes flocked to watch.
If you were lucky you may have even gotten to see a little slice of history too.
“We (Penquis) played the very last game, in the state championship against Boothbay, in the auditorium. It was a Saturday night, we got done at 9:30/10 o’clock. The lights were turned off and that was the last time a ball bounced in that edifice,” former Penquis boys basketball head coach and Maine Basketball Hall of Fame chairman Tony Hamlin said.
There are countless memories from the auditorium, including the leaky roof game between the Houlton girls and Mt. View in 1986.
“My game must’ve taken close to three hours, the boys game after that ended around one o’clock in the morning,” Donato said who coached Houlton at the time.
It also played host to UMaine legends.
“It was Lawrence high school versus Cony it was kind of Cindy Blodgett’s last game the place was absolutely packed and then what I remember about a third of the crowd left after the game,” local sportscaster Dale Duff said.
Since 2013 the new home of the tournament in Bangor has been the Cross Insurance Center.
The fan experience pales in comparison though.
“The fans were vertical on either side you were everything was right down on top of you,” Hamlin said.
“To a young boy at that time it was thrilling somewhat intimidating,” former United States Secretary of Defense and Bangor boys basketball player William Cohen said.
As the auditorium aged a more accommodating venue became necessary.
“It was certainly time for a change. The auditorium, you know, when I started going was kind of antiquated in 1986,” high school basketball fan bob Beatham said.
Over the last six years the Cross Center has started to forge its own path.
“It’s a different time, certainly a great place to play and you’re starting new memories right here,” former Bangor boys basketball coach and current Hermon boys assistant coach Roger Reed said.
“Kenzie Worcester and the Washburn Beavers when they won their fifth championship. Had never been done before,” Duff added.
Cony vs. Lawrence was born at the auditorium, while the Washburn Van Buren finale christened the Cross Center.
“Yea it’s been cool me and Kenzie we’ve had some good battles going back to middle school,” former Van Buren and current Maine women’s basketball guard Parise Rossignol said.
“It means a lot that two people from the county can have so much success and I hope other people up there as well,” former Washburn and current Husson women’s basketball guard Kenzie Worcester said.
People haven’t fully embraced tourney time at the Cross Center yet, but over time they will – because Mainers will always be passionate about basketball.
“It’s like Hoosiers, it’s a rural isolated area. People trample up to the gym on Tuesday and Friday night and that becomes a social event for them and Maine is unique in that regard,” Hamlin said.