Walking through the under belly of Wesleyan University’s Freeman Athletic Center in Middletown, Connecticut, I came across the Colby College hockey team.
I was there for the 2017 National High School Squash Championships. The Mules were there to play hockey.
One by one, earphones plugged in to drown out the outside, they were lugging their gear from the bus, heading to their locker room, their eyes focused on what was to come.
Suddenly, I was focusing on what once was.
Colby College. Waterville. Maine.
Well, almost home.
Waterville is located about a 50-minute drive from my hometown, but it’s a place I’ve been to too many times to count.
As an athlete. As a sports writer. As a coach. As a fan.
Colby College was a place I knew well.
One of the highlights of my life occurred at Colby College way back during my sophomore year in high school.
The school was playing host to the Maine State Cross Country Championship meet and that day I happened to have the race of my life, finishing 27th … right on the heels of our No. 2 runner who was usually more than a minute in front of me.
From start to finish, I felt great. It was a hilly course and I loved it. It’s one of the highlights of my athletic career (27th? Shows you how pathetic my overall talent level was, I suppose).
The Waterville-campus continued to play a role in my life after I started working at the Bangor Daily News. I was covering a lot of Husson College basketball games back then and it was a pretty intense in-state rivalry with Colby that made those sojourns down I-95 so worth it.
I saw countless good Division 3 college basketball games inside the Wadsworth Gymnasium, and many good players.
For a few summers, when I was in my 30s, I got to work on the basketball courts that Colby College offered up. I was coaching basketball in those days and working basketball camps in the summer.
We stayed in the dorms, ate in the dining commons, and, like kids revisiting our college days, drank a little too much at night.
So, yeah … Colby … great memories.
It wasn’t long after the hockey team walked past me that Colby’s men’s basketball team entered the facility, as well. It too was facing Wesleyan that day.
“Any Mainers on the team,” I asked a random player, recalling the program’s love for in-state players. “I grew up in Bangor.”
“Bangor? Patrick Stewart is from Bangor,” a player replied, pointing up the hallway at the 6-foot-6 Colby senior walking well in front of us.
I left Bangor 19 years ago and never looked back.
That meant Patrick Stewart, if he had been born in Bangor, was likely just three years old when I left.
I knew nothing about him short of the fact of what I just learned. He was from Bangor and played for Bangor High School before going off to college.
Suddenly, I wanted to see him play. I wanted to see Colby play. I guess, for even a few moments, I just wanted to feel close to home again.
Where I live in lower Connecticut, about an hour from the Wesleyan campus, it’s a six-hour drive home — Short enough to be able to make the trip in case of an emergency, long enough to be just enough of a pain-in-the-ass to make it home regularly.
There are times when I miss Maine a lot. My family. My friends. The chosen few who have never left my heart and I think of every day.
Things trigger those memories. A song. A smell. A word.
Those Colby College athletes walking past me did just that.
So, after my squash duties were done, I made the walk back through the Freeman Center and I slipped into a side door of Wesleyan’s gym. I found myself a seat in the back row of the Wesleyan stands.
It was a close game at halftime, the two teams knotted up at 33-33.
Over the course of the second half, Wesleyan proved to be more athletic and the cold-shooting Colby team was no match for the home team.
The final score was 82-67.
Stewart, who finished with 11 points, two rebounds and an assist, came out of the game in the closing seconds. He walked down the bench, hugging each and every teammate, one by one.
It didn’t take me long to realize I just witnessed the last game of his college career.
Representing Bangor and supporting Bangor: I found myself applauding him as he reached the end of his bench.
Stewart played and started in all 24 of Colby’s game this season. He averaged 16.1 points per game.
Over the course of his five-year career — he missed his junior season with an injury and earned a medical redshirt — he had scored more than 1,000 career points.
And, I’ve since discovered that Patrick has a sense of humor.
While doing some research to write this, I discovered a Q&A with Stewart on the Colby athletics website. When asked by the school why he picked Colby, his opened his reply with, “Well besides the appeal of coming south for the warm weather …”
Bangor humor. My humor.
A second-team All-Maine player at Bangor High, Stewart plans on becoming a teacher. If I had to guess, that means he’ll become a coach, too. He’s following in a long line of many great Bangor High athletes if he does that.
Had I stayed in Bangor, and had life gone differently, I might have watched him grow up as a Bangor High player and appreciated him all the more.
Instead, it was a one-shot deal.
One game; one-half of one game, to be more accurate.
But for nearly an hour watching Patrick Stewart represent his parents, his hometown and Colby College, I got to feel a little bit closer to home.