Teams on the bus go ’round the state



The evening view of the back of the bus as the Mount Desert Island High School varsity boys’ soccer team heads home from a quarterfinal victory in Presque Isle. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA TRAVERS PHOTOGRAPHY

The evening view of the back of the bus as the Mount Desert Island High School varsity boys’ soccer team heads home from a quarterfinal victory in Presque Isle.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA TRAVERS PHOTOGRAPHY

BAR HARBOR — The drive from Mount Desert Island High School to Presque Isle takes about four hours. But traveling through an endless corridor of trees along Interstate 95 north of Bangor can make it feel more like four days.

The route to Presque Isle follows I-95 to its northern end at Houlton, then continues north on U.S. Route 1 parallel to the Canadian border through Littleton, Monticello, Bridgewater and Mars Hill.

MDI sports teams and other activity groups regularly make long treks around the state for games, meets and matches. MDI plays Aroostook County schools Caribou and Presque Isle in many sports. A few teams, such as volleyball and swimming, regularly travel south to the Portland area.

The trips south are just as likely to encounter nasty winter weather as runs to Aroostook, veteran bus driver Doug VanGorder said. “It seems like every big swim meet in Southern Maine, we come home in an ice storm.”

During the regular season for each sport, the games requiring long trips are reserved for weekends to minimize school-day disruption. But all bets are off when it comes to postseason playoffs. This year, the MDI boys’ soccer team qualified for a quarterfinal playoff game in Presque Isle on a Tuesday afternoon in late October.

In order to leave time for meal and bathroom breaks, the trip began from MDI at 9:30 a.m. for a 4 p.m. game. Coach Tyler Frank carefully timed a meal stop at a diner in Bangor so players would be neither hungry nor too full at game time. A short bathroom stop at a highway rest area in Medway, near Millinocket, provided another chance to stretch legs. While there, someone grabbed one of the soccer balls from the bus and kicked it around the rest-area lawn.

“There’s opportunities to socialize. They have a good time with it,” said Brent Barker, who was on the soccer trip as assistant coach. He’s also the head coach for varsity girls’ basketball. “Everybody’s different. Some of the kids will sleep most of the time, just zonk out. That’s how they prepare for the game.”

For this particular trip, the soccer team had prearranged via Facebook to play a video game together on Nintendo DS game consoles. Some teams get in the habit of playing cards or other games. Some listen to music or podcasts. And yes, some do get homework or reading done.

“Most of the kids have made the trips enough times that they get accustomed to it. They know how to pace themselves, like not drinking too much water when the next stop is still a couple hours away,” said Barker.

Coaches and players agree that the mood on the bus before a game is not predictive of how the game will go. Trips home after victories on the field are more fun, the boys said, but they enjoy each other’s company regardless of the outcome.

On arriving at the field at Presque Isle Middle School for the quarterfinal game, the team headed straight for the locker room to change and get ready to warm up. VanGorder took the bus to refuel.

Frank worked to calibrate the players’ energy level, asking them not to run hard during passing warm-ups. After the hours of sitting on the bus, the team stretching routine was even more important than usual.

This game went well for MDI, the first quarterfinal victory for boys’ soccer in several years. The team made their ceremonial lap across the field to greet fans. Many families had made the trek in their own cars to be part of the day.

Coaches have a big job with logistics of the bus trip, since some students will ride one or both directions with family for various reasons. One soccer player was taking a class at another school the morning of the Presque Isle game, so he traveled to P.I. separately but rode home with the team at night.

Thanks to a gift from Presque Isle Athletic Director Mark White – pizza waiting in the bus for the team after the game – a full dinner stop wasn’t necessary. A stop at a Houlton strip mall offered restrooms, fast food and a grocery store. The team decided to buy flowers at the IGA as a thank-you for Frank and managed to get them onto the bus without spoiling the surprise. Rye Murray stepped forward to present them after Frank had finished the head count and the bus had started for home.

Fueled by the later hour, the win on the field and some more food, the team shared some stories about their favorite bus trip activities. They’ve had rap battles – William Miller is the champion of those. They had what they call a “hoedown” on the bus (and in the locker room at half time of the game, they said). This involves Zakari Charette or Eli McDonnell playing an upbeat harmonica tune while the entire team keeps time clapping.

The long day ended when players and coaches pulled into the parking lot around 11 p.m. But many of the group will be back on the bus in just a few weeks.

Long rides are common for MDI students, but not as much as for more rural schools. In the basketball season, both the Ellsworth and MDI teams kill two birds with one stone, making one weekend trip to play Caribou and Presque Isle on two consecutive days.

“We’ve been doing that weekend trip for five or six years,” Barker said. “As a coach, I really appreciate our athletic director letting us do that.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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