Wednesday, June 7

Sidelines: Drew Bonifant says goodbye to central Maine sports

Confession time: From the moment I took this job, from the very first day I came to work, I had second thoughts.

It was September 2016. I was 29 years old. I was from Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and with the exception of college had never lived anywhere besides the area around Concord since I was five. I was coming from the Concord Monitor, which I had grown up reading and where I had worked since I was in high school. A place that felt more comfortable to me than a favorite sweatshirt.

My nerves weren’t just stemming from where I was leaving, but where I was going. The Kennebec Journal in Augusta, Maine? Was I sure about this? I never knew anybody from up here. The drive up for my interview felt like it took the whole day. Today, I can tell you it’s really not that long a drive from Concord to Augusta. But five and a half years ago, it sure felt like one.

It was going to be a whole new area. Whole new group of people to cover. Whole new staff to work with. I wondered the question: Did I make the right decision? For a while, I didn’t know.

Now, I do. Yes, I did.

It’s again time to move on. I’m joining the staff of the Portland Press Herald, where I’ll continue covering fun, interesting and important sports stories in the state. It’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m eager to get started.

This new job, however, has a tough act to follow.

Working at the KJ (as well as the Morning Sentinel, as it came to be) put me in the company of great people, and in the presence of some great stories. I was introduced to so many players, coaches, athletic directors and countless others involved with sports in the central Maine area, and got to develop and strengthen those relationships.

I know I made the right choice because of those people. Fans who invest themselves wholeheartedly in the performance of their team. Players who understand and appreciate their ability to lift their schools and communities with their performance. Coaches who know I might be calling about a pleasant topic, but might also be calling with an unpleasant one, and who pick up the phone regardless.

It’s only been five and a half years, I’m not coming at this with the same long-term perspective that Travis Lazarczyk last year and Mike Lowe with the Press Herald this year brought to their goodbyes. But I got to see some highlights. Great teams that went on championship runs. Great players. Great venues. And great games.

Want some of those highlights? OK, sure.

• How about the Maranacook boys basketball team in 2020-21, which had a championship-caliber roster, lost a chance to formally prove it due to COVID…and then just proved it anyway by playing the highest level of basketball in the state?

• Or the 2016-17 Messalonskee girls basketball team, which came into the season with high expectations, went undefeated and ended up winning the Class A championship seemingly without breaking a sweat?

• How about the 2016 Class D South football final, when Lisbon beat Winthrop/Monmouth 20-17 on a touchdown with less than a second to go? How about the state final the very next week, when MCI beat Lisbon when a botched field goal turned instead into a game-winning touchdown?

• How about having the opportunity to document the just-completed basketball seasons for Skowhegan’s Jaycie Christopher and Nokomis’s Cooper Flagg? I’ve covered high school basketball in Massachusetts, where Division I talent dots the rosters. I’ve never covered a better girls basketball player than Christopher. I’ve never covered a better boys basketball player than Flagg.

So there were highlights. But they haven’t necessarily been the best parts of the job.

The best part has been talking to players after games, and seeing their face light up when they talk about getting the winning hit, making the winning basket or scoring the winning touchdown. It’s been hearing an athlete talk about his or her personal story, and feeling the story grow more intriguing with each detail they provide. It’s been getting to know coaches so well that talking with them on the phone feels like talking to a friend.

Like I said, it’s about the people. The people have been great. And they’ve made sure that, every time I ask that question from five and a half years ago, I get the same answer.

Did I make the right decision? I sure did.

Thank you all.

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