Video replay for high school basketball? Be careful what you wish for
Mar. 4—It's been just over a week since Thornton Academy senior Will Davies made a shot that Maine basketball fans will be talking about for decades.
Davies' shot as time expired lifted the Trojans to a 52-51 victory over Bonny Eagle in the Class AA South semifinals. Bonny Eagle fans cried foul, that the shot came after the final buzzer, and we acted as if such a thing was unprecedented in Maine high school basketball.
It happened three years ago. It might've slipped your mind because the last three years have been, oh, let's just say, eventful.
It was the Class C North boys' championship game, Central Aroostook versus Dexter. Central Aroostook held a one-point lead until Dexter's Parker Ponte sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Tigers the win. Just like with Davies' shot against Bonny Eagle, video and photos of Ponte's shot came fast on social media. It appeared the ball was still in Ponte's hand as the backboard light went on at Bangor's Cross Insurance Center.
Fans around the state reacted exactly how you think they would. They lost their collective minds. The same thing happened in the aftermath of the Bonny Eagle-Thornton game. We're nothing if not predictable.
Davies' shot was close. Bang-bang close. Don't let anyone tell you it wasn't. There are some who point to a still photograph of the ball in Davies' hand as he takes the shot, the red light around the backboard glowing like a neon accusation. The brain doesn't work with the shutter speed of a camera. In real time, it wasn't obvious.
In hindsight, the officials missed the call. Davies' shot was a blink late. At our best, we tell the Thornton players they caught a break, but don't get used to it. We can comfort the Bonny Eagle players, let them know we appreciate their effort and remind them the universe is not a fair place. This is one of those times, but they'll get over it. At our worst, we flood social media with stills of the shot from various angles and cry that justice must be served!
All of the life lessons we constantly hear are taught by participating in high school sports? They aren't taught by ranting and raving on social media.
Of course, the end of the Bonny Eagle-Thornton game once again awakened the cries for replay in Maine high school basketball.
Would replay be the worst thing to happen to high school basketball? Not by a long shot. Abrasive fans retired that trophy long ago. But adding replay to the game brings up an important, if open-ended, question.
What are we doing?
For years, there's been a push to add accoutrements of higher levels of sports to our high school games. Shot clocks and instant replay, for example. Some fans have made the argument that adding these things to Maine high school basketball would better prepare our student athletes for the college game. That's the absolute worst and last reason to do anything.
No matter how big the crowds get or how much attention we give the tournament, high school sports is, and always will be, community sports. It's not a proving ground for players looking to move on to college. The vast majority will not. Mainers who do move on to college ball have never been deterred or poorly prepared to take that next big step. Ultimately, these games are played with nothing more on the line than civic pride. For 32 minutes, my community was better than your community.
Nobody wants to get calls wrong, but when do we say we are already doing our best? We already have a hard time recruiting and retaining officials. Now you want to parse their decision-making down to the millisecond? In the NBA and college hoops, sure, go for it. Those officials are professionals and well-paid. Asking high school refs to study a call that comes in a blink is asking an already stressed workforce to do too much.
Three years ago, when this happened in the Dexter-Central Aroostook game, Bonny Eagle Athletic Director Eric Curtis was firmly against replay in high school basketball.
"My personal opinion would be that replay does not belong in high school sports," Curtis said at the time. "It would be tough with the cost, and where does it end? Do we start doing replays on foul calls?"
Now, understandably, Curtis' position has evolved.
"Of course, this one stings! I think as time goes by and technology improves, we have to adapt. I would not be in favor of replay in regular-season play or to replay every questionable call in a game, but I think end of quarter or end of game situations like this, yes," Curtis said via text message. "Replay would still be very difficult to make happen in all venues so that it was consistent. I would still not want it until it was the same in all locations. It wouldn't be fair to happen in one location but not the other."
Opponents of replay in high school hoops are fighting against the stream, because proponents of replay have precedent on their side. High school hockey is allowed to use replay in arenas in which the system is set up for college, junior or professional games. It was used last season in the Class B state championship game between Brunswick and Camden Hills at Cross Insurance Arena, the same building where Bonny Eagle and Thornton played. In that instance, officials verified a no-goal call after the puck was kicked into the net.
The can of worms is already open. It's only a matter of time before its contents are poured all over basketball.