By Jonathan P. LaBonte
Mayor of Auburn
Last spring, I was provided an opportunity to visit Edward Little High School for a day to visit with students as part of an effort to connect students with community. My role was to connect the civic activity of Auburn Hall with their daily life.
How to make the position of mayor and what happens in city government relevant to these students, I found, depended on the particular group in front of me and where their questions led.
As they walked in, I recall one particular group of students talking about the baseball team and how the season was going. It was the perfect lead in to speak to this group of students about the role of sports in Auburn’s economic development (as I’ve highlighted in previous reports). But it also allowed me to talk to them about how their efforts, and often their success, can play a large role in developing community, not just purely the dollars and cents of the economy.
I’m reminded of that day because of what I saw and experienced last Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center as our young men of Edward Little took on the Portland Bulldogs for the Class AA North basketball championship.
Besides the flashy throwback pinstripe warm-up suits worn by the Eddies, what had to strike anyone walking into that court was the overflow crowd of both families and fans and students. At the Augusta Civic Center, each of the four teams playing in a session are assigned a quarter of the seats for their fans. The Auburn faithful clearly outnumbered any of the other teams and easily encroached on their sections to make room for them all.
The student section was packed full of EL youth, decked out in red, white and blue. What I learned during the lead up to the game is that a group of students organized a theme for these games, and they rally students to attend, even by offering a van pool program, by promoting it on social media and elsewhere.
The student excitement was so catchy I found myself needing to get in on the action and wager with Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling that the losing mayor had to buy the other breakfast in their city. While I had hoped to lure Mayor Strimling to Rolly’s Diner for crepes, I will be traveling to Becky’s Diner instead to buy him some pancakes.
The community support shown by the thousands of fans and the school spirit shown by the full crowd of students—those are assets a city cannot buy. They are built through relationships, and they are built over time.
These young athletes and their competitions become an important way for community members of different backgrounds, different experiences and different neighborhoods to connect around a common theme. The positive energy is contagious and has so much potential to spread to other areas of community.
The same goes for the young men on the team and their coach, Mike Adams. I have not had to travel far in this community to hear about coaching he offers these young men, both on the court and off. And for many, his mentorship has helped to set them on a positive path in their life with other influences could bring it the other way.
In the most recent city budget, when the city council voted to allocate a small amount of funds to improve the playing conditions at the basketball courts at “The Gully,” it was Coach Adams who reached out to share how excited kids in that neighborhood were that they were getting new hoops.
A group of young athletes come together as a team and compete. The community and school spirit help pack a gym to cheer them on. And then that same community makes an investment directly in them, and not just in an outdoor court, but also opportunities to hopefully build a life in Auburn and continue the tradition.