February 21, 2009

Sports and the Community

Marc Comtois

Growing up in northern Maine, no week was bigger than Tournament Week--what we call February vacation here in Rhode Island. It is still a big deal. Basketball teams and their supporters congregate at the Bangor Auditorium from all over the northern 3/4s of the state, all for the purpose of representing "Eastern Maine" in the various Class and Division State Finals.

It seems like it's always been so.

To an outsider, it may seem strange that basketball is such a big deal in Maine...until you realize that there isn't much else to do in the winter, now, is there? So the High School Basketball season--and the tournament that crowns it--are major social and cultural events in the Pine Tree State.

Bangor Daily News, which I delivered growing up way back when, editorializes about "Tourney Time" and offers some perspective on the importance of sports to our youth and how the support of the community to the old town teams is so important:

And then there are the folks who are fixtures at the hometown high school gym each Friday or Saturday night. No one is really sure — are they related to one of the ballplayers? Long ago, did a son or daughter trot up and down these hardwood floors and the habit of attending stuck? Or is it that they just enjoy witnessing the amateur ballet and epic battle that is a high school basketball game.

They, too, play a critical role. They are the cross-stitches of community. It is they who know that a student athlete has a better chance of succeeding in the classroom if he or she takes on the discipline, cooperation and sacrifice of team sport. When the young athlete passes the anonymous fan’s familiar face at the grocery store or on the sidewalk outside the movie theater, the teen is simultaneously being supported and held accountable — which is what a healthy community is all about.

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Funny you mention Maine.

About ten years ago my older brother, after twenty years of practicing dentistry in RI, had enough and sold his practice here and bought one in Maine.

Among the reasons was Delta dental's lowest in NE reimbursements, so money was an issue (he had one child at the Portsmouth Abbey, heading for college, and another in public high school and with which they weren't happy with the quality).

He also noted that the demographics of his patients was becoming poorer. Not poor people per se - he'd long since stopped taking Medicaid patients because they were notorious for not showing up, having an entitlement mentality and then waiting months to get paid the below-market reimbursements from the state). No, this was working people who could no longer afford to do optional work - engineers were being replaced by waiters and waitresses in RI.

His best friend from an RI high school had already moved to Maine, and the pros and cons of staying in RI finally became overwhelmingly cons.

He'd and his wife would never consider moving back to RI. Nor would his high school friend, nor would another ex-RI friend of theirs.

Maine's taxes are as bad as RI's, but at least they maintain their roads and the public schools are at least average ... and of course they come nowhere near to approaching RI's corruption.

Whenever I visit they always rhetorically ask "so, is it still corrupt down there?" (of course they know the answer, and ask when I'm going to see the light and leave RI for good.

Too cold for my taste, and if I ever were to move I'd lean toward a lower taxed place.

But this all raises the thought that part of RI's terrible national reputation for business climate and political corruption derives from ex-Rhode Islanders themselves.

Certainly if I were employed by a company that was considering sites for placing a facility, knowing what I know I'd be pounding on the table telling them that RI is not a place they'd want to be conducting business, nor to subject their employees to RI's income and property taxes, lousy schools and decrepit roads.

I think it's safe to say that there are already tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of former Rhode Islanders telling companies and business climate surveyors that very thing.

About a year ago the ProJo ran a story on RI being the only other state besides Michigan to be losing population, and then ran one of those online surveys asking folks if they'd leave RI if they could (or something to that effect).

Even I was shocked at the hundreds upon hundreds of responses of current Rhode Islanders either actively planning to leave, pining to be able to leave, telling their children to leave after graduating college, and former Rhode Islanders who'd moved to the Southeast or elsewhere talking about the better quality of life and how they'd never come back.

Posted by: Tom W at February 21, 2009 12:21 PM


I remember hearing that folks in Northern Maine were not happy when the state changed the Maine license plates for vehicles. The new plates featured lobsters. The saying up north was if they could'nt afford a lobster on their dinner plate they did'nt want one on their license plate.

Posted by: Phil at February 22, 2009 3:51 PM

Tom W

I read your comments after writing to Marc. Last October I met a fellow canoeist on the St. Croix river before we began a holidy weekend trip. He noticed my Rhode Island license plate and told me he had attended PC and had good things to say about Rhode Island in general and how much he had enjoyed his stay. He had returned to Maine to teach school in a middle school. His father who was in his party was a retired Maine teacher.
One of the great things about the St. Croix is that one can chose to camp on the Canadian side of the river after the delightful Class I and II rapids.

Posted by: Phil at February 22, 2009 4:09 PM


RI is a wonderful place to spend some time, so long as you're not a resident.

If you have the means, it's also a wonderful place to own a second home, and spend less than six months here (lest the tax man come after you).

The problem is that either as an employer or employee, RI is a terrible place to have one's taxable residency, and a terrible place to be engaged in the private sector trying to make an honest living and pursue the American Dream.

Posted by: tom W at February 23, 2009 9:13 AM
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