WESTBROOK — Former longtime Westbrook girls’ basketball coach Ben Palubinskas had reservations about succeeding Archie Manoogian, who led his team to four consecutive state championships and a jaw-dropping 76-game winning streak from 1978-81.
“He was a hard act to follow, that’s for sure,” Palubinskas said Sunday. “But he would always sit down and talk or give advice to me, or anyone for that matter. He loved basketball.”
Manoogian died Friday from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 83.
As a first-generation immigrant from Armenia whose parents survived genocide in their home country, Manoogian served his country as a U.S. Marine in the Korean War and fought in the conflict’s key battle at Chosin Reservoir.
He returned home from the war and enrolled at the University of Maine in Orono, where he received a degree in education. He was the first member of his family at the time to go to college. He started teaching and coaching shortly thereafter and didn’t stop until retirement.
“I thought of him as a father figure,” said Nancy Goan, who played basketball for Manoogian from 1978-81 during that magical run. “He was such a calm and gentle man. Even the last time I saw him, he greeted me with a kiss and smile.”
Manoogian’s biggest star during his stretch of four straight gold balls was Lisa Blais, who went on to play college basketball at Old Dominion and was a key contributor on the 1985 team that won the national championship. Outside of Cindy Blodgett, Blais may be the most storied girls’ basketball player in Maine history.
Goan said Blais was a big part of those teams success but said Manoogian deserved just as much credit for his level-headed and supportive demeanor.
“We had good teams, obviously, but he always made sure we took the glory,” said Goan, who still lives in Westbrook and teaches at the middle school. “It was just his style to stay in the background.”
Goan said she was ready to give up on basketball as a teenager until Manoogian helped instill more confidence in her. Most plays in clutch situations were drawn up around Blais, the star, but Goan remembers one time that she ended up with the ball in a last-second situation and made a shot to win her team the game and keep the 76-win streak alive.
“I’ll always remember that,” Goan said.
Manoogian stepped down as head coach of the Westbrook girls’ basketball team in 1985. He taught for a few more years and then retired, although he didn’t slow down.
A great athlete himself, Manoogian played pick-up basketball well into his 70s, Palubinskas said, and he and his wife, Marlene competed in several Senior Games competitions.
“He was very competitive but never lost his composure,” Palubinskas said. “That was a little different from me.”
In his retirement years, Manoogian spent a good deal of time lobster fishing in Casco Bay and hosting his family at a retreat on Little Diamond Island.
“He influenced a lot of kids that went through Westbrook schools,” said Palubinskas, who coached four regional championship teams during his time as coach but never equalled Manoogian’s title run.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org