February Follies — not March Madness — is the highlight of the winter sports season for me. During this month the true amateurs from Maine and New Hampshire high schools culminate their seasons with a win or go home tournament games, races and competitions. Call me unAmerican, but I have never filled out an NCAA college basketball bracket, nor do I have any desire to,
The Division I college basketball game, as governed by the NCAA, is a joke upon the amateur sporting ethics of competing for the sheer joy of playing. Recognize that pundits seriously suggested that Zion Williamson, Duke's wunderkind LeBronesque basketball superstar, should sit out his freshman season and the NCAA tournament, for fear of any injury which might hurt his NBA draft stock, which was fantastically cemented within the first 10 games of the Blue Devils season.
Maybe the cynic in me has been rekindled by recent viewings of Netflix' "Race," and "Icarus," both compelling tales, one around the hypocrisy of the Olympic ideal as experienced by Jessie Owens' competition in the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics, the other about the prevalence of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) at elite levels of cycling, the Olympics, and particularly of the Russian teams, and American Olympic and professional sports athletes which continue to this day.
Don't think I am archaic enough to think that even American high school sports are not tainted by PEDs, and sports agents with ulterior motives and shoe contracts angling for the middle teenage player (can you say LaVar Ball?), but at least in our local high school teams, the Fryeburg Raiders and Kennett Eagles all appear to compete purely for the thrill of victory.
Make no mistake — February, not March — is the culmination to most high school winter seasons. So the fan of truly amateur sports can appreciate the growth and progress of the 5-15 Raiders girls basketball team to a convincing opening round tourney win over Leavitt by 57-21 last Thursday at the Wadsworth Arena. Definite long shots at the Expo Monday night versus top-ranked Greeley (18-0), Coach Coreen Eccleston's girls gave their all to the final whistle (in a 66-28 loss).
Likewise, Raiders boys hoopsters, finishing at 7-12, were an undersized group against much of their regular season opponents, but contested every possession, despite falling behind 19-0 in their eventual 53-35 quarterfinal loss to No. 2 York (16-3) in Class A South opening round tourney play in Portland on Saturday.
At Stark's Hill, Monday and Tuesday, Western Maine cross-country skiers reveled on the sublimely groomed trails through the scenic hills and flats of Fryeburg's gem in the woods — Stark’s Hill. On Tuesday, the Academy’s Alfie Walker topped 65 other boys to win the skate (freestyle) championship on his home 5.1K course. He was fourth in the overall pursuit race, while Zoe Maguire was on the podium of the Fryeburg girls, finishing third.
On the New Hampshire side of the state line, the winter season starts later than in Maine, and thus some tournaments have yet to begin.
In girls basketball, it should be thrilling to see how three one-loss teams (Kennett, 16-1, Hanover, 15-1, and Lebanon, 15-1) close out their regular season and advance through their brackets to some surefire barnburner tournament games.
Meanwhile, it appears that Jack Loynd's Kennett (10-6) boys of the hardwood are peaking at the right time to cause havoc in their tournament starting in two weeks.
In skiing, it was a humbling year on two counts for the Eagles, as two-time defending state champion ski jumpers, and record-setting six-time consecutive Kennett girls alpine champions had to tip their caps to Hanover this year. Kennett did retain the individual title in jumping with sophomore Zach Grzesik soaring to the championship in Plymouth last Thursday.
The KHS girls skied well, but had a hiccup or three in slalom, while the Marauders were steady enough to take the crown to Hanover. On the positive side for the Eagles, Eva Drummond and Ashton Coleman tied for third and got on the podium in GS. They along with teammate Skylar Sayers qualified for the Meet of Champions on Feb. 28 at Cannon Mountain.
Boys alpine skiers did open the ski championship events by bringing home the top trophy from Crotched Mountain on Feb. 11. Senior Dylan West successfully repeated at individual GS champion, while junior Connor Glavin was second in both GS and slalom. Glavin and West along with sophomore Bobby Graustein also qualified for the Meet of Champions at Cannon.
Kennett's hockey team started slowly at 1-5, but have since worked its way up the Division III standings to the eighth slot at 7-10 which if the Eagles can hold onto it will assure another tournament appearance on the road on March 2.
And there is always the grand-daddy of amateurism in skiing, the Cranmore Mountain Meisters, the world's longest continuously running citizen ski race, which will resume after a week's hiatus for vacation week. This humble (I am not a racer!) scribe made a second run of the season last Wednesday and dropped 7 seconds from my initial Meisters time, running the slower blue course on a snowy day which was seeing times slower than normal for most. I attribute my improvement to a more aggressive attitude on course, partly due to actually wearing a helmet, and to more stream-lined gear, thanks to the generosity of a real racer, Vikki Tinkham, who skied my heavy parka and those of several others to the bottom of the course. I suspect my parka arrived at the finish line in less time than my 45-plus seconds.
Late February, approaching March and the end of high school sports seasons, is that time in the Sun sports cycle during which we try to catch up with all former Raiders and Eagles who are out competing in college or other post-high school levels of sports. Please send information of any such high school graduated athletes we might highlight to firstname.lastname@example.org or Shinjo0227@yahoo.com.