SOUTH PORTLAND — After an extended winter, Alexis Garrison finally was able to get her South Portland High softball team out of the gym and onto the field Monday.

She looked like any other coach, rapping grounders during infield practice.

But as a first-year varsity coach – and in her case, a first-time coach in a school setting – Garrison is different.

She’s just beginning to learn how to handle the responsibilities of a being a head coach.

“With new coaches you meet with them individually and spend more time talking about how we do things here – everything from how you lower the batting cage in the gym to this is all the paperwork that needs to be done,” said Athletic Director Todd Livingston, who hired Garrison to replace retired coach Ralph Aceto. “There are a lot of things that go into coaching in a school setting and it can be overwhelming.”

Garrison thinks her natural inclination to be “very organized,” will help keep her on top of the behind-the-scenes details.


A 2013 graduate of Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, Garrison has been more concerned about gaining the respect of her players.

“For me it was making sure the players know I know what I’m talking about and I will help them improve their game, and getting them to trust my decisions,” said Garrison, a Scarborough native who played at Cheverus High.

So far, so good, according to senior catcher Kiley Kennedy.

“You have to test the waters with a new coach,” Kennedy said. “It’s more about what you know. As long as they’re confident in themselves, then you’re confident in them. As long as she lays out the proper fundamentals – and she has – we’ll be good.”

This spring, 10 of the 16 SMAA softball teams have new coaches. Eight have never been a head varsity coach in any sport: Garrison, Brett Levin at Bonny Eagle, Cynthia Wescott at Cheverus, Anthony DiBiase at Deering, Chris Leclerc at Marshwood, Kevin Tutt at Massabesic, Dawn Armandi at McAuley and Travis Demmons at Windham.

Garrison, Levin and Demmons have no coaching experience at the high school level.


“It is challenging. I’m not even going to pretend it’s not,” said Levin, who has run the local youth softball program for four years and is a biology teacher at Bonny Eagle. “You’re learning the intricacies of who does what in and around the program, and there is no road map or directions.”

That’s why it’s important for new coaches to have people they can count on as mentors. Often the athletic director helps fill that role. Former coaches also are a resource.

At Windham High, Demmons was assigned a coach-to-coach mentor by Athletic Director Rich Drummond. Brody Artes, the baseball and girls’ basketball coach, has been Demmons’ go-to person as he transitions from coaching at middle school and youth leagues.

“I honestly don’t know how it would have gone without Brody,” Demmons said. “I’m using Brody as someone I can bounce ideas off. Could we take a spring trip and how do we fund-raise? How do we get apparel to outfit the team in future years? Things like that and even in-game play situations. If I have a question I know I can go to Brody.”

Drummond said he thinks of assigning mentors as “more of an informal” process but it’s something he has done twice previously with good results in his five years at Windham. He uses the designated mentor to provide a collegial sounding board.

“Travis is going to be very successful,” Drummond said. “He has a great demeanor, he’s organized to a T, a gentleman and will still push the girls hard. But he needs that support with a coaching colleague as well.”


Livingston said he’s just beginning to investigate the idea of coaching mentors and likes the concept.

Even without a formal mentor program, Livingston recognized that his new softball coach might need some veteran guidance so he asked Jeanne Bogdanovich to be a varsity assistant coach. The mother of former South Portland star pitchers Alexis and Erin Bogdanovich, Jeanne Bogdanovich had been the middle school softball coach.

“Because I know the people in the community as well as how softball has been run at the youth levels I can ease her transition,” Bogdanovich said. “Whatever questions she has she can ask me.”

Armandi has been an assistant coach for the highly successful McAuley girls’ basketball team for seven years and coached junior varsity softball for two seasons at Gorham.

Still, she knew a mentor would help. That’s why she asked John Moody to join her staff. Moody was Armandi’s coach at Gray-New Gloucester and was the Deering varsity coach the past three seasons.

“He has 20-plus years of experience, he’s coached at the college level,” Armandi said. “If we want to be successful, I need to surround myself with strong people with experience.”


The dean of SMAA softball coaches, Scarborough’s Tom Griffin, agreed. Griffin won his 400th game at Scarborough in 2014 with five state titles. He also remembers winning just four games in his first two seasons, and an ill-timed attempt to be a varsity basketball coach.

“I wasn’t ready to be a head coach,” said Griffin, who laid out four tenets for coaches to have success:

Be in a place with complete support from the administration. “And if you’re not, remove yourself.”

Surround yourself with good assistants to create a “team within a team.”

Have the ability to communicate with the players and make sure you have a plan.

Accept you will have critics and have the confidence to stick to your plan.

“The hardest part for a young coach is the issue with parents,” Griffin said. “I still get questioned. There are still critics. That’s the hardest part, making those decisions about who’s on the team, who plays where, where do the kids bat in the lineup. Not every parent sees it the way you see it.”

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