January 14, 2013

It's a new game for high school coaches

Parents, athletes and social constraints force changes.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Scarborough High School boys’ hockey coach Norm Gagne, 66, and now in his 38th year as a coach, draws up plays during a practice at MHG Ice in Saco. On coaching, he said: “It blows my mind to see how much it’s changed.”

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Paul True, Lake Region’s girls’ basketball coach, is also the athletic director. When hiring a coach, he says, he looks for “a good person, honest and genuine.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

But the biggest change, said Gagne, is the role of parents, many of whom pay thousands of dollars through the years to have their children play on travel teams.

"Today's parents have their eye on their kid, and rightfully so," said Gagne. "But many are not realistic."

Before coming to Scarborough, Gagne coached at Lewiston. He said he left there because of parental interference.

"It was unfortunate, but I have my principles and I wasn't going to back down from what I believed in," he said.

One thing that can't change, said Gagne, is the coach's philosophy and principles.

"I think when I first started, like a lot of coaches, I was a little rough around the edges," said the 68-year-old Gagne, who has over 600 career victories. "But I never got away from the discipline. I always made sure my kids understood what I expected of them and how to do it the right way."

His philosophy is simple: "You earn your position and playing time, and you do it in practice every day with your work ethic and knowledge of the game."


Talk to any parent, any athlete, and you're likely to get a different answer as to what they expect from their coaches.

"I would say everybody wants to win," said Don Briggs, whose daughter Ashley plays basketball at Scarborough High.

But Briggs, who helps run the highly successful Firecrackers AAU basketball program, added "there are different levels of winning , . . Do you have to win it all to have pride in what you do?"

Last year, for example, Ashley Briggs was a freshman on the Red Storm team that advanced to the regional finals before losing to eventual state champ McAuley. It was a totally unexpected run for Scarborough, which returned only one starter from the previous year.

"If you look at that season, I don't think you'll find a person in Scarborough who didn't think it was successful," said Briggs.

Polly Hardy, whose son Chris played soccer at Gorham High for Tim King, agrees that winning is overrated when evaluating a coach.

"I would hope it's not all about wins and losses, but about helping him build character and to be a better person," she said. "I want my child's coach to teach skills that can translate on the field and off. How you represent your community. It's really about character and I feel that's what Tim (King) brings to this program."

Briggs, who played for Ron Cote (who now coaches his daughter at Scarborough) in the 1980s at Biddeford, said it's more important that "those kids have a positive experience from a competitive standpoint and from an educational standpoint."

He said he wants his daughter to play for someone "that they can maintain a relationship with after. That proves that (the coach) cared about (the player) beyond the things that they could do on the basketball court."

Don Briggs has such a relationship with Cote. They have remained close throughout the years -- Briggs even coaching with Cote when he took a job at the University of New England. "Our relationship," he said, "has come full circle."


Players look for that relationship too.

At York, Randy Small coaches both football and boys' basketball. He can be intense, loud and demonstrative on the sidelines. He has been known to curse at times, though never directly at a player.

His players don't mind.

"Sure some (cuss) words pop up time to time," said Thomas Kinton, who plays both football and basketball. "But who cares? It gives us motivation, gets us ready to play."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Paul True, Lake Region High School girls’ basketball coach: “Parents are much more involved, and it can be a very positive situation if the coach fosters that relationship and puts an emphasis on communication.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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