NEWPORT — Seth Bradstreet III knows what it’s like to have a community behind you. He’s felt it for decades.
A player on the 1977 Nokomis Regional High School men’s basketball team that for 45 years was the most successful in program history, Bradstreet walked down the street or into a store or restaurant and had people who hailed him and wanted to talk about the trip to the Eastern Maine Finals all those decades ago.
“What this community did for us as a team, we remember today,” he said. “For years, even decades, people would come up to you and be like, ‘Hey, I remember that game.’ For decades people have been slapping us in the street.”
Now Bradstreet sees it again. He sees how the Nokomis community has fallen head over heels for this boys’ basketball team, which faces Falmouth in the Class A State Championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
A win would give Nokomis his first state championship in program history and thrill his hoops-crazed fan base. Forward Cooper Flagg, a 6-foot-7 freshman whose thundering dunks created an electric atmosphere at last week’s Class A North tournament in Augusta, only intensified the buzz that engulfed the Warriors this winter.
“They’re all looking for something positive to support,” said Bradstreet, 62, a farmer who often works at The Farmer’s Table, a Corinna restaurant owned by his wife, Debbie. “People work 51 weeks a year to take a week off in February to go to Bangor, now Augusta, to watch basketball. The follow-up of this team is simply amazing.
The Northern Maine Tournament and its aftermath provided proof of this. Nokomis fans included much of the more than 4,400 fans who packed the Augusta Civic Center to the back rows for the final against Brewer. And when the team returned to Newport, they were met by a convoy of fire trucks and police cars from the school district’s eight towns to escort them to Nokomis. Some, from kids to older fans, took off their shirts and waved them in the cold night air to celebrate the Warriors’ victory.
One can only imagine what the reception would be if Nokomis beat Falmouth for the state championship on Saturday, giving eight towns – Newport, Corinna, Palmyra, Plymouth, Dixmont, Etna, St. Albans and Hartland – the prize they coveted for a long time.
“They love this team,” said Terrie Murray, secretary of Nokomis High School and resident superfan, emphasizing the second word. “Not just because they win. They love them anyway. A lot of it, you have parents who went to high school and then they have kids (who play). It’s just a tradition that continues.
A walk around the area shows the support the team has from the community. Signs reading “Bring Home The Gold” and “Proud of Our Warriors” are in the windows of The Farmer’s Table. Newport Glass Inc. also has a sign. The same goes for Sebasticook Recreation & Sport, also in Newport, and American Legion Post 73 in Corinna.
Bear’s One Stop in Newport has a sign that owner Bob Berg makes sure to update. Before a quarter-final match with Messalonskee, the sign read, “Good luck Messalonskee. You are going to need it.
“Oh, they’re the talk of the town,” Berg said. “This is probably the best thing to happen to Nokomis High School and the city in a long time. You can’t go out 15 minutes, and someone asks about it, or talks about it: ‘They should play defense’, ‘They should do this’, ‘They’re doing well’, ‘We like the dunks,’ ‘I like this guy.’ It’s always the same thing.
While chatting with employees Carter Rice and Amanda Wentworth, Berg coined a phrase to describe the interest and excitement – ”Nokomis fever”. It is appropriate.
“They’ve taken the whole basketball world by storm this year,” said Rice, a senior at Nokomis High.
“I graduated in 2006 and still went to the games,” Wentworth added. “It’s not something that happens often. It’s a good time to go see them play.
Bradstreet said it was the same at his restaurant. As he passes, he hears warriors talking.
“Every day,” he says. “They relive every game.”
The Warriors have seen that support all season as crowds filled the stands at home games. As freshmen Cooper and Ace Flagg walked through college, preparation for this season was already underway.
“They’ve kind of kept tabs on them since middle school,” Murray said.
It’s been a celebration of love since the beginning of the season.
“It’s awesome,” second-year goaltender Alex Grant said. “There are people we don’t even know who come to our games, cheer us on, give us high fives after the games. It’s really favorable. The whole community, everyone, they have seen our whole team rise since we were little. They were always talking about ‘high school level, you’re going to do something’. Making it a reality now is such a fun feeling.
The interest has always been there; it was just dormant. Bradstreet spoke of the reception his team received in 1977, and Murray, whose daughter, Michelle, played for the 2001 women’s basketball team that won the school’s only state basketball title , recalled that the community also went wild for these Warriors. But the men’s basketball program fell on tough years after reaching the Class A North semifinals in 2018, winning just one game two years ago.
“We haven’t had a lot of positive things to talk about here in the last four or five years,” Bradstreet said.
That changed this season, as the state’s history unfolded before them.
“This year, everyone came to life,” Cooper Flagg said. “It was really special to see everyone come out and have us excite everyone in the community again.”
Flagg’s stardom has sparked statewide interest, but he’s not the only factor sparking interest from the Nokomis fanbase. His dunks and passes are talking points, as is Ace Flagg’s work around the basket. And the defense of Connor Sides. And Grant shoots. And Madden White’s game in transition.
“Almost every conversation has the word ‘team,’ which I find impressive,” Berg said.
“This is a band that knows how to play the game,” Bradstreet said. “They understand the game, they pass the ball well. Cooper could score 50 points per game if he wanted to, but he gets 10 or 12 assists. He can find them. They all do. They understand and play the game very, very well.”
Murray, the school secretary, said the team’s chemistry endears it to people inside and outside the school.
“Cooper and Ace are wonderful. But the team as a whole plays so well together,” she said. “And each knows exactly where the other is going to be.”
As the team came together, it had the same effect on the community. It can be difficult to get a network of eight different cities aligned on anything, but when it comes to the Warriors, everyone is united.
“When we get something to rally around, man, we’re all one,” Bradstreet said. “We are Nokomis. It’s who we are. At some point, it’s going to get tough again, and there’s going to be tough decisions, and we’re going to be divided on some issues, but we’re going to remember this Class 22 for a long time.”
Photos: Central Maine parishioners attend Ash Wednesday services