BANGOR – Ed Kotahla and Mike McGee stood in front of the scorer’s table at midcourt as their basketball teams went through warmup drills. A typical pregame coaches conversation, a few chuckles and grins masking the nerves before matching wits in a point-worthy game between rivals Bangor and Lawrence.
Who knew back in the 1970s, when they played against each other in summer youth games, that someday the two would meet as head coaches — one guy starting anew with high school basketball in Maine, the other ready to call it a career when the season ends.
Their meeting came Wednesday night at Red Barry Gym in Bangor.
“(Kotahla) is a great hire for Bangor,” said McGee. “You couldn’t find a better person or a better guy than Ed.”
“If this really is it, (McGee) has a lot to be proud of. He’s built a very competitive program,” said Kotahla. “His teams are as hard- nosed and defensive-minded as any in the state.”
Both men are basketball lifers. It’s just that the game has taken them in different directions for the past 30 years.
Kotahla left Maine, and coached high school and college teams in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Michigan. Three years ago he came back to his home state as an assistant with the University of Maine men’s team.
“For me, coaching and teaching at Bangor is sort of a homecoming, back in Maine coaching high school,” said Kotahla. “I started as Jim Bessey’s freshman coach a long time ago. I was blessed to be part of the college game for the last 15 years, but high school is where my roots are.”
McGee bleeds Lawrence blue. Always has. First as a player and now as coach for three decades. But before the first game of the season he said he handed in paperwork to let administrators know this is his last year.
“I love this team, I love ’em. I came in with some wonderful kids back in the 1980s when I was freshman coach. Now I’m going out with great kids. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the state to be doing what I’m doing and I get to go out of my terms.”
Kotahla and McGee coached their teams hard on this night. When the final buzzer went off, Lawrence had a 52-49 win.
“Some things, like the length of the game, lack of a shot clock, it’s forced me to rethink a lot of the things I’ve learned,” said Kotahla, “but it’s a return to what I know originally. It’s gone well and it’s fun.”
“I’m kind of a historian of the game,” said McGee, “and going to these gyms for the last time is tough. Saying goodbye is tough.”
One high school basketball season. Two coaches viewing it from different perspectives.
GARRETT LIBBY of Old Town was the top scorer in the Big East B basketball conference through December, averaging 23 ppg.
He is the grandson of Don Sturgeon, who won state titles at Old Town as a player (1957) and coach(1967).
GRACE MACLEAN of Bangor broke a 27-year-old Penobscot Valley Conference/Eastern Maine Indoor Track League high jump record at the on Friday. Her jump of 5-feet 6-inches broke the league record set in 1986 by Kim Hamm of Bangor (5-5).