THE BEST OF ME: One from the early days of my career

This is a column I wrote early in my career, perhaps 1985 or 1986. It was first printed in the Bangor Daily News. As I re-read it, the part of it that really staggers me — other than the immature writing style I presented back then — was the realization that two of those mentioned in this piece, Mark Sullivan and Scott Phelps, are no longer with us. May they rest in peace and may I re-dedicated these words to them and what they meant to the John Bapst family.

• • •

Tonight’s Bapst football game recalls ghosts of Crusaders past

It all began on a Friday evening in a car that was sitting outside the Airport Mall in Bangor. It was 1976.

Inside, the little boy’s mother shopped. Outside, her son, 10  years old, sat playing with the radio dials, trying to tune in something good to listen to. Maybe he’d fall asleep. He knew how his mother was when she shopped.

Somewhere on the AM dial something caught his ear. A football game.

In time, as he listened, he learned it was a high school football game. An LTC championship game. Little Ten (or 12, or 13) Conference meant nothing to the boy then. Only the team that was playing.

John Bapst.

By the end of the game, in which the Crusaders had defeated the Stearns Minutemen 35-0 to cap a perfect 10-0 LTC season, he was hooked. John Bapst High School. John Bapst football.

The names McKenna, Veilleux, McCarthy and Whitney became his heroes. In his yard, he was Scott Whitney hitting Russ McKenna for the first down. He was Scott Whitney handing the ball off to Tom McCarthy for a touchdown. He was Greg Veilleux dishing out a vicious hit on an opposing running back.

But, as happens to most 10 year olds, the dream fizzled forgotten with time.

Four years later, there that 10-year-old boy was again. Only now he was 14 and waiting again for his mother, who was sorting out bottles at the store she owned. He was listening to the radio.

Again, sorting through the stations, he came across it almost accidentally. A football game.

An LTC game. A John Bapst football game.

On this day, though, they weren’t playing for a state championship. They were playing the Hyde School of Bath. And a new name was forever embedded in the boy’s mind — Mark Peters.

On this day, Peters rushed for 248 yards as Bapst defeated the visitors 32-15.

He began to think. He was in eighth grade now. He knew he was going to John Bapst the following year. Maybe he would take in a game the next week.

He had never been to Garland Street Field back then. To him, a young boy from a small town, it was Schaefer Stadium.

So he went.

It was a gray day with a slight drizzle in the air. He sat and watched the Crusaders lose 34-8.

But names like Peters, David Pardilla, Owen Monday and Paul LeBlanc filled the gaps left by his heroes of ’76.

The boy went to Bapst, as planned. He sometimes worked the PA system at games. He saw football players come and go.

Mark Sullivan. Dave Bartlett. Jeff “Hawk” Higgins. Robbie Stone. Scott Smith.

Sure, they were Bapst football players, but they weren’t the same. The boy took classes with these guys. He walked in the same halls with these guys.

You can’t walk on the same level as your heroes, he thought.

It was different, that’s for sure. But the boy still had the Whitneys and Peters that he could always look back on with fondness. He has never met any of them to this day, but they still hold a special place in the boy’s athletic heart.

Friday night that boy will be back at Garland Street Field, watching John Bapst take on Madison High School in a schoolboy football game. He won’t be recognized, though. He’s in an adult’s body now.

Still, as he thinks of his growing up and the feelings and thoughts he had of those players of yesteryear, he has to wonder about something.

Will there be a little boy sitting in the crowd on Friday that will look up to Bapst quarterback Scott Phelps the way he looked up to Paul Whitney? Or will there be one who pretends he is Darren Vittum going off tackle the way the boy pretended he was Russ McKenna or Mark Peters?

Probably. After all, it is John Bapst football. And the ghosts of Crusaders present will become the ghosts of Crusaders past. And they always seem to hook the ghosts of Crusaders future.”

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