Although I’m from Maine and have been in the sports journalism biz for more than 20 years, I had never covered high school football in the Pine Tree State until this season.
Every week, we chronicle the big plays and star players, but what about the stuff surrounding the game? Who has the best hot dogs? The worst parking? The best band?
Every game site has its unique characteristics and quirks — many of which are easier to notice once a blowout goes into running-clock mode — and your humble servant jotted some notes following every game he covered this fall.
I attended games at Cony, Gardiner, Lawrence, Skowhegan and Winthrop, so this informal one-person survey is culled from those five places. Hopefully I can get to some of central Maine’s other fields next year.
Here’s a look at the scene behind the scene, from a newbie’s point of view:
Best band: Lawrence’s musicians could play that catchy fight song in their sleep, especially after the Bulldogs hung a combined 126 points at the two games I attended. And the fans knew every word to heart.
Best pregame entrance: A tie between Skowhegan, Gardiner and Lawrence, whose players ran through an inflated Maine Army National Guard helmet onto the field.
Best use of conserving our precious resources: The Cony fans who made rams-horn headgear out of old “Class of 2022” signs.
Worst use of conserving our precious resources: Gardiner’s decision to not print game-day rosters and forcing fans to download them via smartphone. Believe it or not, not everyone in Maine is addicted to smartphones, and it’s easier to check a hard copy when you want to quickly look up who made that crucial third-down tackle.
Best pregame meal: The spicy sausage bomb at Winthrop will make you wide-eyed well before game time. At one game, I heard a fan proudly proclaim to a friend during halftime she bought the last one available.
Best halftime snack to keep you warm: Cony’s fried dough hit the spot on a cool, breezy night. The PA announcer helpfully reminded the fans that it was $3, and “not six dollars like at the Windsor Fair.”
Worst example of inflation: When I returned to Fuller Field a month later, the price of the fried dough had swelled to $4.
Best way to encourage competition: Lawrence has THREE separate concession stands at Keyes Field: the Senior Snack Shack, which benefits the senior class; the Football Boosters Snack Shack, which benefits, you guessed it, the football boosters; and way, way down near the end zone, the Band Stand, which I presume benefits the school band, or at least gives them enough energy to play that fight song again. (I picked the Band Stand and enjoyed a pair of homemade pulled pork sliders.)
Best natural setting: The hill that overlooks Maxwell Field in Winthrop, home of the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall Dale Ramblers. It gives the football game a cool music-festival vibe. Runner-up: The foliage behind Skowhegan’s Reginald P. Clark Memorial Field.
Most unusual stadium item: The two wind turbines overlooking Cony’s Fuller Field. Although they saw plenty of action at a couple games I attended when the wind was blowing.
Best uniforms: Got to go off the board and say Bangor, whose duds were all white with red ram horns on a white helmet. The Rams looked very classy despite losing 58-6 to Lawrence. Runner-up: Skowhegan’s orange alternate jerseys, although after wearing them in a 47-7 loss to Thornton Academy, the River Hawks might not want to wear them again.
Best use of history: Most fields have plaques commemorating past benefactors and coaches, but the entrance of Lawrence’s Keyes Field might have the oldest: a pair of plaques dedicating the field to the town in the memory of Martin L. Keyes, dated 1937.
Best mascot: The Gardiner tiger, with the homemade, loose-hanging costume, screams “high school mascot.” In a good way.
Best merchandise stand: Skowhegan, easily. The booth was packed with River Hawks swag, and judging by the lines and the fans’ black-and-orange attire, I’d say it was doing pretty good business.
Worst parking: Maxwell Field, Winthrop. Finding an empty space near the field a half hour before game time is like winning the lottery, or at least the 50-50 raffle.
Best bargain: Skowhegan offers a hot dog, drink and chips for $3. Perfect for when you spend your dinner money on baseball cards.
Best PA announcer: Gardiner’s Sam Shaw is an icon, and he was in great form for the Tigers’ first home game in three years.
Best example of going big for a big game: Cony High upgrading to GRILLED hot dogs for the eight-man championship games at Fuller Field.
Best stadium: I’m going to cheat and go with Messalonskee’s field, even though I was there for a field hockey game and not a football game. Roomy concourses, sparkling turf, spacious press box … I’ve been to NCAA Division III fields that aren’t this nice.