Former Boothbay Register sports reporter Keith Alley summed it up greatly to open his March 8, 2001 front page article:
"What happened on the floor of the Bangor Auditorium Friday night will go down as one of the most magical and compelling events in Boothbay Region sports history.
"Thirteen young men, led by one of the all-time great coaches, made their mark in history and gave the most deserving community in the state their ultimate prize, a Gold Ball symbolic of the State Championship. The Seahawks ended a perfect tournament run and a 19-3 season with a 71-66 victory over previously unbeaten Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford."
Twenty years have passed since that special night and that exceptional season, so we thought it would be appropriate to relive the moments through the reminiscences of some of the coaches and players who brought a basketball community together by bringing home the crowning award in high school basketball – the Gold Ball.
The 2001 team is the only Boothbay Region High School boys basketball team to win a state championship. The Seahawks have returned to the big stage twice since then but didn't get to hoist the champion's hardware.
The “thirteen young men” were seniors Ian McConnell, Bob Deetjen, Michael Leighton, Mike Tomacelli, Evan Hyson and Kelly Farrin; juniors Bill Hardwick, Lou Climo and Tim Pinkham; and sophomores Joe Parkhurst, Todd Hyson, Jesse Erskine and Max Arsenault.
The coaching staff included head coach I.J. Pinkham and assistants Dennis Rice, Chuck House, John Gosselin and BRHS senior Tanner Grover.
“The 2000-2001 Seahawks were a dream team, but I think their story started with the 1999-2000 season. In 1999-2000 the Seahawks finished the season 18-0 and breezed through the tournament with wins over Traip, Madison and Winthrop. They then faced Penquis Valley for the state championship and were defeated 58-45. That season became a huge motivator for the 2000-2001 team,” said Coach Pinkham.
“Both the teams were the biggest 'gym rats' I have ever coached. If they weren’t in the gym with the coaches, they were playing at the YMCA or were in the high school gym with Merritt and Tanner,” said Pinkham, the winningest high school boys basketball coach in Maine, with 659 victories.
“I remember being in the locker room in Augusta following our 2000 loss to Penquis,” said Tanner Grover. “Everyone was devastated. Everyone but Ian. He gathered all the underclassmen together in the corner and reminded us that 'We were the ones that always won.' And he was right. As talented as the class ahead of us was, our own group had always found a way to win.
“The day after the Penquis loss, Michael Leighton called me and asked if he could get into the high school to shoot. We had a key so the three of us went up there. He and my Dad wound up playing a one-on-one pick-up game to 101. It was exhausting to watch, but indicative of how motivated we were to press on. We would continue to open the gym, usually on Sunday afternoons, and play countless hours of pick-up basketball with all the guys. One thing about our group is that in addition to being motivated, we also just really liked playing.”
Pinkham said the team had great senior leadership and every player on the 13-man squad “saw significant playing time in 10 regular season games and most in 15 games, so the team had excellent depth.
“The team was a very close group and very supportive of each other. There was no drama; everyone understood their role on the team and accepted that role.”
Regular season recap
The 2000-2001 regular season started well, with three fairly convincing wins. Then the Seahawks hit a bump in the road, losing by two points at Winthrop two days before Christmas and, in the first game after the new year, rival Wiscasset came to town and returned home with a 64-59 victory. Wiscasset came out of the locker room ready to knock off Boothbay, jumping out to a 20-10 lead and posting a five-point lead at the half. With the stands packed with fans from both communities, Boothbay managed to tie the score at 40-40 going into the final frame. With under a minute to play, according to Alley's report in the Register, Boothbay had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer – a shot they hadn't connected on all night. Wiscasset kept the lead, going 4-for-6 at the foul line to seal the victory.
After the Wiscasset loss, the Seahawks rattled off nine straight wins in three weeks. One of those wins in the middle of the streak was a 15-point win at home over the Jay Tigers.
Then on Jan. 27, two days after a hard-fought, revenge win over Winthrop at home, the Seahawks took the long bus ride to Jay to play the Tigers in the “Tiger dome.” Boothbay was in control most of the game but the Tigers got hot from outside at the right time and led by five with 40 seconds to play. Seahawks' chances fell short and the Tigers got their revenge win, 68-66.
The Seahawks came close to losing their fourth game in the next to the last game of the season at Wiscasset, winning by a single point in overtime, 66-65. With 1:30 to play, Boothbay held a 61-56 lead, but the red-hot Matt Haeberle (four 3-pointers in the last quarter) led Wiscasset back to send the game into the extra frame. The hosts had a chance to win in overtime but their final shot fell short.
Finishing 15-3 after an easy win at home over Georges Valley to close out the regular season, the Seahawks were seeded first in the Heal point standings and headed to the Western C tournament in Augusta.
Boothbay put it all together in Augusta, winning all three games pretty handily. The team defeated ninth-seeded Telstar by 14 points, fourth-seeded Georges Valley by 17 points and, in the Western Maine championship game, crushed second-seeded Traip by 35 points.
Bobby Deetjen received the tournament’s Harry C. Edwards Award as the most valuable player. He scored 73 points in the three games.
On to Bangor!
Piscataquis Pirates 21-0 vs. Boothbay Region Seahawks 18-3, March 2, 2001.
“I remember scouting Piscataquis and being terrified. They had set up a scrimmage against Falmouth prior to the state championship. I went with my dad, Merritt and Mike McConnell,” said Coach Grover.
“They waxed Falmouth, a great team in their own right. Piscataquis’ star player, Buddy Leavitt, was a load at 6’7” but preferred to hang outside and shoot 3’s. Randy Burgess was a hard-nosed 6’4” post presence. And Keith Dawson and Kyle Pulkkinen made for a tenacious backcourt. They mixed it up defensively; various presses, half court traps, zone, man, etc. And they had depth. This was a team that wanted to turn you over and transition, whereas we were much more methodical.”
“The beginning of the game was scary as they got off to a great start and we were down a bunch,” said Pinkham. “Leavitt was hurting us big time. Bob Deetjen came to me and said, 'Put me on him.' So we made the change, and it was a turning point. We did scramble back to lead at the half (by three points).”
“At the half Ian had told me he could beat his man anytime, and he did control the game in the second half,” said Pinkham.
Boothbay built an 11-point lead in the third quarter, scoring the first eight points. But Leavitt and company didn't quit. Leavitt hit back-to-back three-pointers and, after 24 minutes of play, the Seahawks held a slight lead, 52-47, as the Seahawks fans cheered loud and often – as did the Pirates' fans – before the final eight minutes began.
The final period was as exciting a frame of basketball as you want to see or can emotionally stand." – Keith Alley.
With just under three minutes to play, Leighton gave Boothbay a 61-56 lead by making two free throws.
Again, the Pirates showed they wanted to finish the season as undefeated champions as they narrowed Boothbay's lead to just one point. Despite an open layup by Leighton (off a great pass from McConnell) and a free throw by Deetjen, Leavitt hit two more baskets from the lane and the Seahawks' lead was just two.
With 32.7 seconds left on the clock, Leighton stepped to the free throw line again and sank both shots. However, Keith Dawson buried a three-pointer, giving the Pirates a fighting chance to steal the game.
The final 20 seconds were the most intense in the game.
When the Seahawks were trying to inbound the ball, Mike Tomacelli was called for an illegal screen, giving Dawson a chance to tie the game or give the Pirates the lead with a one-and-one free throw situation. However, after a Boothbay timeout, Dawson missed the first shot, and Deetjen came down with the rebound and was fouled. The Western Maine MVP sank both of his free throws, giving Boothbay a three-point lead.
Dawson was given a chance to redeem himself if he could make a three-pointer to tie the game, but McConnell applied great defense to thwart Dawson's attempt and Hardwick came down with the rebound and was fouled. Hardwick, who had the game of his career with 28 points to lead the Seahawks, made both free throws and, as the final seconds ticked off the clock, Seahawk Nation stood, cheered and then rushed onto the court to congratulate the state champions. Boothbay 71, Piscataquis 66.
“I was impressed with the confidence and poise that the Seahawks displayed in the Class C final. Obviously, this was a very focused, determined group of young men. It is refreshing to compete with a program that has class.” – Jamie Russell, Piscataquis coach, Boothbay Register Letters to Editor
Remembrances and more
I have lots of thoughts and memories about that special season. First, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and dreaming for many of us. I can vividly remember driving all over the state in elementary school to travel team tournaments, talking to my father and imagining what it would be like to win a gold ball. Second, that team was really gritty and benefited from all of the experience of prior teams.
Our 18-0 team in 2000 was much more talented, and when we lost to some pretty weak Jay and Wiscasset teams during the season, I don't think many thought we could win it all. But we did. We also knew how to prepare and what to expect having played in the state game the year prior with Ben, Tyler, and that amazing crew.
Finally, the championship game itself was a blur. I remember talking to my parents in the stands before the game, and then time fast forwards to me sitting in the bus on the way home with the gold ball at my side. I don't remember thinking at all during the game, so the possibility of losing didn't have a chance to cross my mind. Bobby, Mike, Tomacelli, Kelly, Evan, and I had been in big game situations since third grade, and we had 1000% trust in each other. It was an awesome experience, and I am grateful to have been a part of that team.
I am currently still in Boston completing my medical residency at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital after getting my MD from Yale in 2017. I finish in June and we will be moving back to Maine. Laura and I bought a house in Bowdoinham, and I will be working in primary care at Mid Coast in Brunswick. We have two children, Abraham, 7, and Louise, 4. I would be the worst player at men's league for sure at this point.
The team lost most of the rotation from the previous year, so it took time for everyone to learn how to play together. By the time the tournament rolled around, we were the most talented and prepared team in Augusta.
Even though PCHS was extremely talented, I never thought there was a chance we would lose. Even when we went down early in the game, everyone remained calm and followed Coach Pinkham's lead.
My most vivid and favorite memory of the whole experience was seeing Tanner with the net around his neck after the championship game. We had worked towards that moment for years, and to have it end the way we always envisioned was special.
Every person knew their role and put the team first. We all had one objective, and that was to win a championship.
I really can't believe 20 years went that quickly!
I live in Morrill with my wife and two kids, 10 and 6. I'm the director of the Mid-Coast School of Technology in Rockland.
It was ingrained in our minds that we were going to win. It wasn't just us. There was a great group of parents that gave us support. That was the cool side of it.
The three of us, Ian, Bobby and me, knew what we had to do to win. No one cared who led the team in scoring; we just played together as a team. Bill Hardwick did about anything we needed him to do to win, and Tanner gave us great inspiration.
The championship sparked everyone. The community came together to celebrate. I remember after the game, people I didn't even know telling me how much fun they had. I don't remember much about the end of the game, just rolling around the floor with Merritt in celebration!
I remember winning the opening tap against their big man, Buddy Leavitt, and thinking, "No big deal, we've got this. Just another game."
This was a great time and great thing for the community. Signing young players' T-shirts, getting greeted on the street ... it was magical.
I am hoping we can get another cycle of championship basketball. I guess it might be time to get more involved like the parents did when we were growing up.
I live on Barters Island, Boothbay with my wife, Lisa, 4-year-old son Parker and 3-year-old daughter, Rylie. I am a self-employed lobsterman/tuna fisherman; owner of SweetMeat Tuna sales and co-owner of L&L Concepts modular homes. I played college basketball at Hartwick College for four years, where I received my bachelor’s degree in business management with a minor in economics.
Growing up, Boothbay had a basketball culture, and no high school class embodied that culture more than the class of '01. They were always playing basketball, whether one was in school, on the travel team, at the Y, you name it. Not just Leighton, Deetjen, McConnell and the surrounding cast, but Tanner, too. By the time they became juniors, led by the extremely talented class ahead of them, they had already tasted what it was like to play in a championship game, and what it was like to lose. It was only natural that the following year in 2001, they were ready to take it all.
I was just an outsider who fit perfectly in the system that the class of '01 had spent the prior 10 years building together. With Coach Pinkham at the helm and his decades of experience, Coach Rice, and, of course, Tanner – who knew the players better than anyone – how could it have gone any other way?
The '00-'01 team was just a great group of guys who enjoyed playing basketball. Everyone had a sense of humor and there was hardly a moment when the team wasn't smiling or joking in practice or before – often even during – games.
We just gelled well together. There were four of us that would alternate who was the leading scorer each night, and other teams struggled with our height too. McConnell could find anyone anywhere on the court, which benefited me a lot because I preferred to find the open spaces more than create my own shots. Deetjen was a beast inside but he would make you pay from the outside as well, and Leighton's athleticism was tough for other teams to deal with. He could hit from mid-range or drive right by you on the baseline. Tomacelli would make teams pay for leaving him open for a three-pointer, or by getting others open with a hard screen. And I can't forget about the others. Whether it was on the floor, on the bench, or in practice, every player mattered and nobody was replaceable.
The support we had from the community can't be overstated either. Some home games felt like the entire town was crammed into our little set of bleachers. That gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of energy. I hope following generations have been able to experience school pride like we did.
I'm a software engineer at Capital One in Portland, and live in Pownal with my wife, Courtney, two children, Henry, 3, and Paige, 1, dog Abby, and 13 chickens.
An outpouring of emotion from the whole community – I remember and still have an overwhelming amount of joy when I think about the crowd storming the court – joy for my teammates, for I.J., a sense of pride for every Seahawk who had been there before us, and also the community at large. Between our junior and senior years, the town treated us like rock stars – we autographed so many basketballs, T-shirts and tourney programs – it’s really kind of weird to think about, but it felt great to give a pay-off for all that adulation.
Lastly, I remember the fire truck parade through town following the game. We were coming home from Bangor; it was spitting snow and we were well past midnight. But that didn’t stop the droves of fans from parking their cars alongside the road and honking like maniacs; it was a real spectacle. I swear the commotion began as the bus crossed over the Lincoln County line. As we made our way and looped through downtown, I remember “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash blasting over the radio. I don’t know about the Casbah, but the Harbor was certainly rocking. After the parade, the whole team came over to my house. Kelly Farrin had brought a video camera with him and documented a behind-the-scenes video of the whole day. We watched the tape and relived what by that point had seemed like a dream. I went to sleep around 4 a.m. and when I woke up and saw the gold ball on my kitchen table, that’s when I knew it was real.
I'm currently living in Boothbay and have been most recently working as a loan processor for First National Bank. I graduated from University of Southern Maine with a BA in media studies, concentrating in writing. I was the girls varsity basketball coach at BRHS from 2012 to 2017. It was a great experience to be able to coach at my alma mater. I have two nieces, Everly, 3, and Piper, 1. If they wind up taking an interest in basketball, maybe someday I'll find myself back on the sidelines helping them and their peers however I can.
We all had a vision which drove our work ethic to a new level. All of us were in sync all season and knew what the task was at hand. “Get it done in 2001!” was our motto. This had been the goal to become state champs ever since we played our first travel team schedule back in the early ’90s. Coach Mike McConnell led our talented bunch into high school where we became men and learned the value of hard work from Coach Pinkham and Coach Rice. Great coaches, supportive families and the love of basketball fueled our desire to become a talented basketball team who gave the Boothbay Region community something to look up to.
On March 2, 2001, my 18th birthday, we made history for the Seahawk men’s basketball program and brought home to Boothbay a gold ball which we all will never forget. Tanner Grover was a huge part of keeping our team’s vision together. His love for the game of basketball was truly an inspiration growing up, and drove all of us to be the best we could be. He knew our strengths and weaknesses but formed a great relationship with Coach Pinkham to devise a plan to overtake our hardest opponents. I am proud to be part of a great moment in Seahawk basketball history.
After high school, I earned an associate’s degree in culinary arts from New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont. I worked in high end kitchens at Hot Tin Roof in Key West, Florida, Azure Cafe in Freeport, and Primo Restaurant in Rockland. Winner of Lobster Chef of the Year and Lobster Claw Down competitions, I am owner/chef of Carriage House Restaurant in East Boothbay. I married my lovely wife, Marcy Ann Farrin, on July 4, 2020. I am an avid sailor and fisherman in my spare time.
Author’s note: I am most grateful to Tanner Grover for his help in getting me in touch with these players for this article, and to the players, Coach Pinkham, and Grover for responding with their memories.