Note: This is the second of two columns devoted to those who have helped pave the way for me in athletics.
As I mentioned last time, I owe a great deal of gratitude to people, most notably teachers I had at Bangor High School who invested so much in me at the time. People like John Stubbs and Roger Reed, who I also assisted during my summers home from the University of Maine at Farmington, really helped me find meaningful avenues to use my love of sports.
While at Farmington, Len MacPhee became the women’s basketball coach. I had become acquainted with Coach MacPhee while active in the local Baptist church we attended together. As we talked further, he needed someone to do public address announcing for their home games and the scorebook for their road contests. This was my first foray into PA announcing duties. I would go on to help my final two years with the women’s program, while also performing the same role for the men under Coach Dick Meader.
I was also charged with contacting the media after contests. Back then there was no internet. Post game involved calling several television stations and newspapers with the results.
Meanwhile, during the summer of my junior year while assisting Coach Reed in the Bangor summer program, I established contact with someone who also would have a major impact on my life. Ron Brown stopped in from time to time to check out the goings on at Red Barry Gym as his eldest son Scott was playing in the middle school program. Coach Brown was interested in writing a piece about my love of basketball for his mid-week column in the Bangor Daily News. During our conversation the topic turned to my future in the game of basketball. Ron planted a seed that night, encouraging me to give coaching a try. I told him I was content doing what I was doing and really hadn’t considered coaching.
Ironically, during my senior year at Farmington while on spring break, Brown would be named the boys varsity basketball coach at Bangor Christian. Shortly after his hiring, I remember speaking with him about the possibility of coaching and asked about joining his staff. That summer I would go on to assist with the program he was establishing and helped with the junior varsity team that fall, while assisting with the varsity. Now mind you, I probably wasn’t much help to him that year, I was more the apprentice learning from the master. My foot was in the door, though.
Looking back, much of what I am able to be involved with today I owe to Ron Brown. Not only did I get into coaching but during the summer prior to the season at Bangor Christian, Ron worked tirelessly on a book entitled Simply the Best: The Cindy Blodgett Story. Much of that summer I spent working alongside Ron doing research and interviewing people for the tome, which was published that fall.
While I only would coach one season with Ron Brown, the variety of things he was involved in created a number of opportunities for me. Up through 2000, he ran a summer basketball league at the Bangor Auditorium, in which I compiled the league standings and statistics. He also started Maine Roundball Magazine, which was dedicated to the promotion of all levels of basketball throughout Maine. Later on, when the print publication ceased and became an online magazine, I was a regular contributor with my Boys Basketball Beat.
Following that 1995 basketball season, Dave Mansfield and I had a number of conversations. Mansfield Stadium was relatively new, having opened in the summer of 1992. Dave was and is the stadium manager. Up until that time the stadium didn’t have a permanent public address announcer. Mansfield thought it would be nice and would enhance the offerings of the stadium if they had a voice which was consistent. The more we were in discussion, I decided to come on board as the stadium’s public address announcer. Some 1,800 plus games later, the rest is history.
As I enter my twentieth season at the stadium, this one conversation has really blossomed to create numerous opportunities. From there I’ve been able to expand into high school football, and have been asked on numerous occasions to fill in at several places.
That fall, I received word Ron Brown would no longer be the head coach at Bangor Christian. That very same afternoon, while keeping the score clock for a John Bapst soccer game, Bob Cimbollek approached me about keeping his book for basketball. Remember, I was well acquainted with Cimbollek through high school phys. ed. I had also worked on a number of projects and camps for him over the years. His teams also participated in Coach Reed’s summer league while I was involved as well. During further conversations I asked about helping out and being a varsity assistant in practices.
Prior to the beginning of the 1996 tournament, Cimbollek introduced me to yet another key contact in athletics, that someone being George Hale. I knew George, had spoken with him, but I really didn’t know him. I was interested in keeping the statistics for him with WABI radio and he obliged by having me help out. I spent ten wonderful tournaments in the WABI corner. As the years went by, Hale offered me opportunities to provide color commentary for some broadcasts. The highlight during my ten years in the corner was calling the 2001 state final between Bangor and Deering with Jon Small.
Despite several years away from calling games, I was able to resume broadcasting in 2013 with Ken Holck and Houlton’s WHOU radio at the Eastern Maine Tournament. During this year’s tournament, I was able to do all the boys quarterfinal games for the video streaming coverage on the NFHS Network.
Over the next few years with Coach Cimbollek my coaching responsibilities grew. Following two years as the varsity assistant, Coach Cimbollek had enough faith in me to offer me the freshmen job. Despite the objections of some, Cimbollek stood by me the whole way.
After spending five years on the bench with Coach Cimbollek, he resigned following the 2000 season. As is the custom, when a new head coach comes on board, they can decide who they wish to have on their coaching staffs. Mike Miragliuolo and then Jason Mills, who followed Mike after one season, both saw fit to keep me on board. They didn’t have to do that but I thank them.
Following the 2008 season, my coaching career would come to an end, although it may or may not be a temporary end. With Coach Mills getting done and looking back on the daily grind over the past 14 years, I was tired and needed a break. I didn’t like who I was becoming, I was obsessed. Basketball was the first thing I would think about in the morning and the last thing that would enter my mind before hitting the pillow. I could no longer cope with the emotional ups and downs inherent in coaching. Even though I was coaching at the junior varsity level, if things didn’t go well, I was miserable to deal with. Heck, I didn’t even like dealing with me.
When Rick Sinclair was named athletic director and boys basketball coach in the summer of 2008, I went up to his office, sat down, and informed him I would not be part of his coaching staff. I expressed my desire to still be involved as athletics were still a major part of my life. I was given the opportunity to keep the scorebook for both the boys and girls basketball teams. While it may seem like a major demotion, I hadn’t been happier in basketball in a long time. I was still involved yet I slept much better at night.
The fall of 2008 brought another athletic opportunity of sorts. I had just been hired as the service coordinator at Aging Excellence, which provides in-home care for senior citizens. At our annual banquet the company owner, Beth Lawrence, approached me about running in the Beach to Beacon road race the following summer. Our company was putting a team together and she wished to put together a large contingent. I had never considered running a 10K prior to her urging. Of course, being relatively new to the company, how could I say no? With Beth’s persistence, I ran the race in August 2009, and have every year since. While I certainly don’t compete among the top runners, I did achieve a personal best time this year. My time was about fourteen minutes faster then the first year I ran the race.
Looking to challenge me more physically, our current franchise owner, Abbey Davies, coerced me into entering last spring’s Dynamic Dirt Challenge. I left the four-mile obstacle course sore, muddy, and exhausted. I also left with the pride that I had challenged myself beyond what I thought I could do.
So what would my life look like if people like John Stubbs and Roger Reed hadn’t encouraged me the way they did in the fall of my freshmen year of high school? Having spent so much time in life’s toy department, I might have more money or live in a nicer home if I had more focus on other things. Maybe so, but my life would definitely be different and probably less-fulfilling. What if I hadn’t encountered people such as Len MacPhee, Ron Brown, David Mansfield, or George Hale? Would I be talking about, writing about, and generally be involved in sports?
No, I am not a self-made man and neither are you. As we think back to those who have helped each of us gain a modicum of success, let us remain humble, yet diligent in our pursuit of excellence, regardless of the arena.