Buckle up Mainers, for it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
No, I’m not talking about the seasonal holiday(s) that come to mind. Sorry, Andy Williams. Friday marked the big winter holiday — at least to me — the first day of regular season high school basketball games.
After no season in 2020-21 due to the pandemic, Maine high school hoops came back with a bang, albeit masked, last year. The 2022-23 season shapes up to be the first completely normal one since 2019-20. I was in college then. This year’s high school juniors were middle schoolers. Sheesh.
Please note that I do wish you all a wonderful holiday season. And I don’t mean to ignore the other winter sports. Shoutout to all of the ice hockey players, track and field athletes, swimmers and skiers. But basketball is my passion, and I know so many Mainers share that with me.
Ahead of the opening night of countable regular season games, I asked the four public school varsity head coaches in the city for their thoughts on what this time of the year means to them. Their responses had similarities but also differences. I look forward to catching all of their teams this year. The Portland boys’ figure to be especially strong. Elsewhere in the city, the Cheverus girls’ look to repeat as Class AA state champions, and the Cheverus boys’ should go far. Here’s what the Portland Public Schools’ boys’ and girls’ coaches had to say.
“The start of the season means getting back into the gym and doing what I love. Getting back to work with my team,” said Abby Hasson, the Portland girls’ coach in her third season.
“It’s the time of the year to show the coaches [and] spectators how much you have improved over the offseason — if you are a player,” said Michael Murphy, Deering girls’ coach in his 15th season.
“The start of basketball season is like ‘it is the best of times and it is the worst of times’,” said Joe Russo, Portland boys’ coach in his 33rd season. “The excitement is dampened by having to make personnel cuts to the rosters.”
“The beginning of the basketball season is very much like the changing of the seasons,” added Todd Wing, Deering boys’ coach in his 10th season. “It brings excitement and optimism. Kids are fresh and happy to be in the gym together and that energy is passed on to me. It never gets old.”
I know basketball season is a favorite for other media members, too. I won’t throw them under the bus in case those conversations were off the record. The crown jewel of the basketball season is the late February/early March state tournament, but I say we might as well get excited now. There are so many storylines to follow. The talent level in high school hoops improves every year. I expect home court atmospheres to build off a solid foundation last year, and the lack of COVID restrictions will likely attract more people to games. Streaming from the likes of WHOU and Munzing Media allows people from away, or just at home, to watch the people they know. Following high school hoops has never been easier.
Catch some local action this winter. The Deering girls’ host Portland on Dec. 22 at 6 p.m., vice-versa on Feb. 7, 2023 at 7 p.m. The Portland boys’ host Deering on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. and visit the Rams Feb. 7, 2023 at 7 p.m. Deering, Portland and Cheverus all play each other at home and away, too.
There’s no better time of the year for Maine sports than the high school basketball season, and I hope you take the time to experience some of its magic. I promise, you won’t regret it. High school hoops season — the most wonderful time of the year!
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].