The elephant in the room everyone was talking about

By Mark Haskell | Feb 19, 2010

When it comes to work, basketball tournament time is unquestionably my favorite time of year. Unfortunately, it is also the busiest. The semifinal playoff rounds have concluded and I've already attended 13 games in either Bangor or Augusta.

I think it would be fair to say that high school basketball in Maine rivals high school football in Texas or high school hockey in Minnesota because when the playoffs roll around, there's nothing like it. And that's why this time of year, no matter how long the hours or how intensive the work, I can't get enough of it.

While I remain excited, something about this year feels different.

This year there has been many intriguing stories involving the tournament, whether they are stories involving the games themselves or otherwise. Yet the biggest story to me isn't Cheverus standout Indiana Faithfull being allowed to return to his team via a court order nor is it whether of not the Camden Hills boys repeat as state Class B champions.

No, for me it's a story out of South Portland, where a team of juvenile delinquents were, until recently, among the many teams this season that were vying for a state basketball championship.

You read that right. And for those of you out of the loop, let me fill you in.

The school is A.R. Gould. Not to be confused with Gould Academy of Bethel, A.R. Gould of South Portland is a school within the confines of the Long Creek Youth Development Center and, according to their website, "is approved by the Maine Department of Education and has the responsibility to educate juveniles adjudicated by Maine state courts."

The team went undefeated in Western Class D, sported an 11-0 record and were the No. 2 seed in their respective playoffs.The Bears were upset Wednesday morning by sixth-seeded Vinalhaven, which will now advance to the regional final.

The Bears played all 11 regular-season games at home, because they are either not allowed to play at other schools, or the other schools won't allow them. Either reason for me immediately causes concern.

Look, I'm not knocking these young people. Everyone deserves a second chance. And while some of these children probably really are bad eggs, there are just as many who may have been a victim of circumstance or were in the wrong place at the wrong time or just grew up in a bad home and were products of their environment.

But whether they fall into the former or the latter category, why were they being rewarded with an opportunity to compete for a gold ball, the state's most coveted piece of high school basketball hardware?

There are children that failed a class, that were declared ineligible for their postseason games, and were forced to watch the teams they worked with every practice this season from the stands. There are children out there that violated team rules and, because of their poor judgment, will be or were also forced to pay admission to go the Augusta Civic Center or the Bangor Auditorium and watch their teams compete in the playoffs.

Yet these children from A.R. Gould, who did things that were so bad that they had to be taken away from society and put into a juvenile detention center to rehabilitate, are allowed to take the court and compete for a gold ball?

These children deserve a second chance, but they deserve it when they are done serving their time and can return to society and attend a more traditional high school. You don't get desert before dinner, you don't get to play with your toys until your chores are done and you certainly shouldn't be able to compete in a basketball tournament that many law-abiding student-athletes wait their entire lives to take part in.

Personally, I literally dreamed my entire life for the chance to get to take the floor at the Bangor Auditorium, run through the talented gauntlet of teams and have my teammates and I raise the gold ball above our heads for all to see. It didn't work out for us. But to see a bunch of children who didn't do all the right things and didn't make smart choices have the same opportunity, to me, is insulting.

Let me do, for a moment, what I like to do and throw a fox into the hen house, so to speak.

Hypothetically, let's say there are a bunch of really talented basketball players out there, we'll take the best player from 12 individual schools that just don't have what it takes to compete for a state championship. Now, let's have those players all get arrested for some horrendous crime and have them all get shipped to A.R. Gould.

That's right, I said it. Let's get all the great high school basketball players out there to commit crimes and get them all "enrolled" at A.R. Gould, where they will have a better opportunity to win a state championship than they might have before. Of course, I'm having fun here, but this is a precedent that could possibly be being set.

I'll even put this out there. When I was probably 12 years old and a bit naïve, I had some friends in my neighborhood that definitely fell into the "bad egg" category. We all decided to go to the store to get some chips and soda or whatever and unbeknownst to me, those five or so kids I went to the store with were being watched at that particular store because they had been shoplifting there for six months.

After we were all busted, I was brought home to my house in the back seat of a police car, where I wailed and told my parents that I didn't know they had been shoplifting and that I had nothing to do with it.

They believed me. I was still grounded for two months.

As a child I didn't realize why they had grounded me. "Didn't they hear me? I said I didn't have anything to do with it!" I thought to myself as I was outside raking a yard that didn't really even need to be raked at all. But as I turned from a teen into an adult I realized why: They had to set a precedent.

If they hadn't grounded me, they'd essentially have been telling me that I did not have to hold myself accountable for anything. What I learned from that was maybe I shouldn't hang out with those kids and I should go in another direction. And I did.

That was a lesson I learned, and I learned it because my parents took away my freedom to do whatever I wanted. I wasn't going to get a chance to go do something really fun or something I'd always dreamed of doing. I was grounded.

Just as it happened for me many years ago, I believe a precedent needs to be set here. Bad eggs should not be able to compete for a state championship. And we may have really dodged a bullet here, because had A.R. Gould worked its way through all its playoff opponents and won the state Class D title, the state would have undoubtedly had quite a bit of egg on its face.

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