Thursday, January 22, 2009

On Location: Warren Centennial Gymnasium

"Indiana gets credit for having the most rabid basketball fans in the union, but Maine is a very, very active basketball state."- Former Boston Celtics point guard (1950-1963) and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Bob Cousy, reflecting on the Celtics' early barnstorming tours through New England.

Nine truly random (and occasionally bizarre) observations from Monday afternoon's high school boys' basketball game between the Cheverus Stags and the Westbrook Blue Blazes:

Collegiate influences on Westbrook High School athletics
The Blue Blazes ran onto the court with a canned version of their school's fight song (better known as the
University of Notre Dame's fight song) blurting out the speakers, while dressed in warm-ups emplazoned with the Columbia blue (hat tip: Columbia University) logo of their athletic teams, which is itself borrowed from the University of Wisconsin).

On a separate note, couldn't the school at least adopt an edited version of the University of Maine's "
Stein Song" as its fight song? It was, after all, penned by the city's silver son Rudy Vallee?

On the most illustrious and most polite programs in Westbrook High School history
Quick, name Westbrook High's most decorated athletic program.

If you guessed the football program, you'd be rrr...wrong. Ditto the boys' basketball program, girls' soccer, baseball, and any other sport that involves a ball or puck. That's because, according to the banners boasting each sport's historical successes, the girls' cross-country program has won the most state championships (10) among all of Westbrook's sports. As for the most polite program, that would be the rough and flinty wrassling program, braggers of four sportsmanship banners.

How the walking thesaurus entertains and flatters
Earl Cutter,
the voice of the Blue Blazes, can always be relied upon to spit out some clever (or corny, depending on your perspective) alliterative phrases and to boost the self-esteem of viewers by puffing up his diction. Tonight, for example, we were not basketball fans; we were basketball aficionados. Sadly, the acoustics of Warren Centennial and the nature of announcing a game on the hardwood does not match the rhetorical opportunities afforded by gridiron games on Olmsted.

The education writer Peter Schrag was proven right
Buried amid Schrag's daunting grocery list of the expectations we Americans have historically had for our educational system (win the Cold War; beat the Germans and Japanese in the battle for economic supremacy; outduel the Chinese and Indians in the training of scientists and engineers; Americanize millions of children from around the globe; make every child proficient in English and math; educate the blind, the mentally handicapped, and the emotionally disturbed to the same levels as all others; teach the evils of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and premarital sex; prepare all for college; teach immigrants in their native languages; teach driver's ed; feed lunch to poor children; sponsor dances and fairs for the kids; and serve as the prime social-welfare agency for both children and parents) is the relatively low-key expectation that the schools--particularly high schools--"entertain the community with Friday-night football and midwinter basketball." Well, mission accomplished.

When I walked into Warren Centennial about twenty minutes before the 4p tip-off, the Blazes partisans' side was three-quarters full, and, by game time, the rarely-used upper bleachers were put to use to accomodate the overflowing crowd. To be sure, Monday was a federal holiday. But the fact that the late afternoon start (as opposed to the customary 7p tip-off) attracted such a large crowd proves high school basketball still exists as a cheap entertainment option for the city's dwellers, despite being squeezed by more convenient entertainment options (read: television).

Department of Overkill
If you trudged into Warren Centennial not knowing the gym was home to the Blue Blazes, then I suppose it's necessary to have two banners advertising the fact that, well, the gym is "Home of the Blue Blazes" within about ten feet from one another. Would it be asking too much for the cartoonish version painted on the fuschia(?!) railings (as opposed to the non-embarassing version emblazoned on the scorer's table) to be altered to boast Westbrook's new (unofficial) motto: "We don't stink no more!"?

Speaking of stinking, the refs stunk
Actually, the refs weren't that bad.
I'm just upset one of them slapped Westbrook's boss Mark Karter with an early technical foul, because I'm always looking out for a replication of the savate front kick chasse bas he leveled at an unsuspecting chair at SoPo's Beal Gymnasium during a win two weeks ago.

Alas, the "Karter Kick Count" (that one's for you, Mr. Cutter) still stands at one, as the evidently chastened Coach Karter didn't deliver a boot to the team's bench.

Two admittedly bizarre observations about religious and nationalist imagery
Considering the school's catchy dry tagline ("The Jesuit College Preparatory School of Maine") and namesake (Bishop Jean Lefevre de Cheverus was a French Jesuit best-known for being the first bishop of Boston), it's unsurprising that Cheverus's regal purple and gold threads would feature at least some religious imagery. What is remarkable, though, is that the Christian cross tucked into the school's logo is dwarfed significantly by the "C" representing the school (see
here). Who do they think they are, The Beatles?

As for the nationalist observation, I couldn't help but notice a chunk of Westbrook's old hardwood bearing the school's logo is located just below the large American flag adhered to one of the walls. Ever the provincialist, I don't think it is a bad thing that we might be mistaken for pledging to a symbol of the Paper City (in fact, I think the
Maine state song and a yet-to-be composed city anthem should also be played before each game), but the placement of the wooden remnant is a little awkward, especially during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Got a shot clock?
Leading by about fifteen with three minutes remaining, Cheverus's guards broke the Blazes' press in the backcourt and found big man Lenny Cummings alone under the basket. Instead of finishing an easy layup, though, Cummings flung the ball to a teammate beyond the three-point arc, sparking a minute-and-a-half stretch of countless Cheverus passes, four Blazes fouls, two Cheverus free throws, and a whole lot of boredom for spectators.

Besides enabling teams to bore a crowd with pedestrian pass after pedestrian pass, the absence of a shot clock in high school basketball makes comebacks more difficult to mount. To be sure, Cheverus should be credited with jumping out to a quick lead (21-6 in the first quarter) and should also be complimented for their ability to sustain ninety consecutive seconds of mind-numbing possession. But the short games (four 8-minute quarters) already make double-digit deficits difficult to overcome, why continue to lack an instrument that would penalize milking the clock and promote more possessions by each team?

Got Crowd Noise?
Besides his childhood nickname "Soup," the late Westbrook High math teacher Robert Jordan was also known to students as "Warden Jordan," a nod to his habit of stalking the bleachers at sporting events to ensure the student section didn't get too rowdy. Sadly, given the apathetic state of fandom in Warren Centennial these days, Snorin' Jordan would be a more fitting handle were the soccer program's founding father still alive and kicking.

As noted before, the crowd in Warren Centennial was quite large. Despite its size, though, it was quiet. Now, we mature adults are excused for being reactionary participants, cheering only in response to the home team's three-point shot or big defensive stop. The student body and cheerleaders (who didn't live up to their job title until after the first quarter), on the other hand, shoulder the burdens for rattling the opposing team and for entertaining those of us who view our trips to Warren Centennial as a night out on the town.

The solution: Someone's gotta grab the students by the scruff of their necks (figuratively speaking, of course, as I'm not an adherent to the Carlton Method), drop them into an ironic wardrobe consisting of flannel and denim (to befit their yet-to-established Lumberjack moniker*), and broaden their repertoire by introducing them to, say, prison labor songs (here and here) that can be massaged into chants professing their allegience to the Paper City.

Then we might actually be able to say the home team has a home-court advantage.

- John C.L. Morgan

* Someone had to chop down the pines marked with the blue blaze, right?

1 comment:

Maine Ale said...

Hey John,

Our hero Rudy Vallee is mentioned in Chuck Palahniuk's latest book "Snuff." It a fictionally hilarious take on the adult entertainment industry infused with brilliant bits of history. One of these bits is the period of silent film where another Rudy...Valentino, became a household name worldwide. The book mentions the song our Rudy recorded in tribute to Valentino:

Link to book excerpt,

Vallee would make a great subject for a short documentary, no?