BRUNSWICK – For the first time in 39 seasons, Peter Gardner won’t be coaching the boys’ soccer team at Brunswick High this fall.

Gardner, who turns 66 this month, retired last spring after guiding the Dragons to six Class A state championships and 12 regional championships.

Brunswick Athletic Director Gene Keene didn’t have to look far to find a well-qualified replacement.

Mark Roma, a 1985 Portland High grad who has spent the past decade serving as an assistant coach for the men’s soccer team at Bowdoin, has taken the reins of the program from Gardner.

“Obviously, he’s coming in and replacing a coaching legend in Peter Gardner,” Bowdoin men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary said, “but I don’t think they’ve could have landed a better coach and a better person.”

Roma, a former goalie who played two seasons at the University of New Hampshire before an elbow injury ended his playing career, previously served as an assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team at Portland High and for boys’ teams at Falmouth and Yarmouth.

“One of his great strengths here, apart from his coaching, was his ability to relate to young men,” O’Leary said. “He has a calm demeanor and really is unflappable under pressure. He was terrific in identifying players who were in need of being taken aside and (hearing) a kind word.

“I think he’s going to be a terrific coach at Brunswick High School.”

It was a big step for Roma, who is entering his eighth year as a special education teacher at Brunswick High.

“It was one of things I didn’t want to say, when it was all said and done, I wish I had taken that high school job,” Roma said. “I’m glad I did it. It’s been even more fun than I thought it would be.”

Coaching high school players is much different than coaching college players, Roma said.

“It’s a little more teaching,” he explained. “I spent the first (part) of our practices teaching them the skills I wanted to make sure they knew. It got me a good look at what I had, and it helped improve the quality of play.

“Now I’ve got a grip on what our strengths are and what we need to work on.”

Gardner, who became head coach of Brunswick’s first varsity soccer team when he began coaching math at the school in 1973, is glad his replacement also teaches at the high school.

“Being in the building is such an advantage,” he said. “There are way too many coaches who deal with just the Xs and Os, but when you’re in the building you deal with it all. You keep an eye on your kids. You just don’t keep a eye on the stars. You keep an eye on all of them.”

Keene agreed.

“I think we’re extremely lucky to have Mark, who is an extremely good educator, in the building to take over the soccer program,” he said. “Obviously, coaching is teaching and he’s a very good teacher.”

During preseason, the Brunswick players noticed some changes in how the team functioned.

“The practices we’re doing are harder, but we’re not running as much,” said Greg Walton, a senior goalie.

“We’ve got a limited amount of (practice) time and I wanted the ball at their feet the entire time,” Roma said.

Keene doesn’t expect Roma to be a carbon copy of his predecessor.

“I told Mark I don’t expect him to be Peter Gardner,” the athletic director said. “I told him to be himself, and he would be all right.”

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH