FRIDAY NIGHT RITES
George Hale is wearing a blue WABI Radio jacket and New Balance sneakers. He’s in the booth above Bangor’s Cameron Stadium, tangled up in black cords and remote transmitters, setting up for another broadcast, another Friday night of Bangor Rams football. When he’s finished he turns to me and says: “All right. Now ask me anything you want.”
“How old are you?”
“More than you.”
“That’s right. I’ve been doing this since 1957, not to mention I’ve been calling the University of Maine for more than 30 years. I still do TV for them, the Bangor football, all kinds of basketball—you name it, we do it. And if anything, this field is better today than it was back in ’57.”
“Did you know the NFL once played a game on this field? The New York Giants versus the Green Bay Packers.”
“When was that?”
“When was that? Al, what was that, 1959?”
Al Hackett, a retired University of Maine admissions officer and Hale’s broadcast partner, has just ambled in. “It was my wedding day,” he reports.
“What was the date?” I ask.
“What was the date?”
On the other end of the booth a boy in a blue Lawrence High School Bulldogs jacket cranks a dial so that AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is blasting across the bleachers.
“Turn that goddamn thing down!” Hale bellows. “I can’t even get on the air with that thing on!”
Hackett chuckles. It’s 5:40, and the Rams have just taken the field for warm-ups.
“I’m 74 going on 75 in December,” says Edward Tracy, whose black baseball cap is emblazoned with the name of his employer, Seaboard Security.
“During the day I’m crossing kids out on Broadway. This is my first year doing the games, my second year with Seaboard Security,” he says.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s the only job I can get. I was a roofer for over 55 years. I worked on that one a long time ago.”
He points in the direction of what looks like a middle school.
“What school is that?” I ask.
“I don’t know what it’s called.”
Tracy tells me his job is to walk up and down the bleachers, shooing kids off the railing. “Don’t ask me why,” he says. “I’d do more but I can only stand so long on my knees. Don’t ever have your knees done.”
“Was it the roofing?”
“No. I worked on tar and gravel, so I wasn’t on my knees much. No, one night I went out drinking and the next day I fell 40 feet and landed on a concrete floor. The roof collapsed and I went down with it.”
“When was that?”
“I was 62.”
Fans are starting to trickle in, an even mix of adults and students, armed with school jackets, blankets and game programs, picking their spots in the bleachers. By the side of the field, the cheerleaders have arrived. It’s 6:15 and the stadium lights are slowly overtaking the sun.
Kristina Dephillippo is a junior and this is her second year on varsity. Abby Goode is a sophomore, so this is only her first.
“Cheering in front of fans is definitely the best part,” according to Dephillippo.
“The crowd. Definitely the crowd,” Goode agrees.
“Yeah, every Friday we wear red and white to school,” Dephillippo says. “Game days are always really exciting.”
“How many cheers do you have?” I ask.
“We have like 25,” Dephillippo says.
“Are they hard to memorize?”
“It’s not really that hard.”
“The first year it’s really hard,” Goode interjects.
“But after that it’s not that hard at all,” Dephillippo says.
“What’s your favorite cheer?”
“‘Offense Get Tough,’” says Goode.
“Definitely,” says Dephillippo.
“It’s the longest,” according to Dephillippo. “And it’s really catchy.”
“And bouncy,” says Goode.
According to the scoreboard, 26 minutes and 41 seconds to go until game time.
THE PEP BAND
I introduce myself to two students sitting on the bleachers with their instrument cases. “I’m doing an article for the newspaper,” I say. “Do you care if we talk?”
“Let us talk,” replies Jackie Seamans. She’s a senior alto clarinet player who is also president of the Bangor High School band. Her friend is senior trombonist Elissa Coffin.
“How many kids in the pep band?”
“In the pep band? Fifty or 60,” Seamans says. “But some don’t come.”
“Yeah, a lot of them skip,” Coffin pipes in.
“Wait a second,” Seamans says. “Are you going to put this in the paper? Our teacher might get mad.”
“Should I scratch that part out?”
Seamans pauses. “This is really going to be in the paper?”
“Yeah. Is that all right?”
“This is awe-some.” Seamans grins broadly.
“What kind of music do you play?” I ask.
“Well, when Bangor scores a touchdown, we do the school song. We can usually see it coming and we get ready. They score it, we play it.”
Edward Tracy is gently telling a couple of young girls to move along. He winks up at me.
“Otherwise we do mostly contemporary songs made for band,” Seamans continues. “Like ‘Zoot Suit Riot’ or ‘La Bamba.’”
“Who sings ‘Zoot Suit Riot’?” I ask.
“Who does that?” Seamans says. “I think it’s Brian Setzer Orchestra.”
Coffin is flipping through her music. “No, it’s Cherry Poppin’ Daddies,” she says.
“Right,” Seamans says.
“Do you know what a zoot suit even is?” I ask Seamans. She furrows her brow and looks at me like I’m an idiot.
“Yeah,” she says.
I ask Seamans if at school there’s a band clique and a cheerleader clique.
“I don’t associate with a lot of people in band,” she says. “If you ask me, they’re friggin’ weird.”
“They do have their own uniqueness,” Coffin says
“Those are my people down there,” Seamans says, pointing to the cheerleading squad, which is lined up on the asphalt track, hands on hips, at the ready. One of the cheerleaders has a red milk crate over her head.
THE COLOR GUARD
Over to the side of the bleachers, by the heavenly smelling hot dog stand, two guys dressed in combat boots and camouflage crash their helmeted heads together. A couple other uniformed students are worrying over their flags, which are neatly furled. This is Bangor High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, and senior Brandy Sawyer is the cadet battalion executive officer.
“Our mission is to motivate young cadets and people in the community to become better citizens,” she explains.
Junior Tyler Noonan, who is a 2nd lieutenant, says the ROTC has a color guard for occasions like tonight. But there’s also an honor guard “that does a 21-gun salute at funerals and whatnot.” There’s also a rifle team, which placed fourth in the nation two years ago, and a drill team.
“We have a competition tomorrow,” Noonan says. “And we win a lot of competitions.”
“Do you want to buy a discount card?” Sawyer asks. “It’s for our military ball.”
“I don’t have any money on me,” I lie.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that excuse before,” Noonan grumbles.
The color guard is beginning to gear itself up for the march out to the field, so I flip my notebook closed and start to walk away.
“Hey, wait a minute,” one of the uniformed kids yells after me. “What about putting my name in the paper?”
“What’s your name?”
“Shawn Seamans. That’s with an s-h,” he says.
“Do you have a sister in pep band?” I ask.
Out on the brightly lit field, two cheerleaders are holding an 8-foot-tall, white-paper sign that reads: “Bangor Put the Puppies in the Pound.” Over the PA, the announcer lists the starters for the Bangor offense, beginning with its aptly named quarterback Chris Bombardier. When he hears his name, Bombardier jogs to center field through a row of high-fives from his teammates and then—presumably by mistake—crashes through the sign instead of waiting for the rest of his team. The cheerleaders look at each other puzzled and walk the two ripped halves over to the sidelines.
BACK IN THE BOOTH
George Hale and Al Hackett, headphones on, loosen up their spines following the national anthem. A blinking light somewhere on one of the transmitters indicates that they’re on the air. Game time is finally here.
“All the world has gone crazy,” Hale says smoothly, “but the kids here are doing their job. Are you all ready, Al?”
“I wasn’t turned on,” Hackett says, fumbling with a cord.
“Oh, you weren’t turned on,” Hale says. “You know, I’ve been accused of that several times.”
It’s 6:56 and Lawrence kicks off. The ball tumbles end over end in the brisk night air, and over the scoreboard a breeze picks up the American flag.
Maine Times, October 2001