Jim Ray, who coached the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team to 350 victories, five regional titles and one state championship over 26 seasons, is stepping down. File photo

Jim Ray, the longtime Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball coach, has said for years that he’s not easy to play for, but Friday, upon reflection after announcing he’s stepping down after a 26-year tenure, he suggested that perhaps the opposite was true.

“I think I was actually easy to play for,” Ray said. “What you see is what you get. Work hard or we won’t get along.”

And those who played for him learned a lot about basketball and life, and won a lot of games along the way.

After 350 victories, five regional titles and the 2015 Class B state championship, Ray, after taking several weeks to reflect following the season, has decided the time has come to move on.

“(Coaching) is a lot of work,” Ray said. “It’s not just showing up for games on Tuesdays and Fridays, or whenever we play now. I absolutely loved being on the floor with the kids, but I wonder if maybe it’s better now for someone else to have a chance.”

A Caper through and through

Ray graduated from Cape Elizabeth in 1980 as the program’s career leader in assists before going on to star at the University of Southern Maine (he scored over 1,100 points, is still the program’s career assists leader and is in the school’s Sports Hall of Fame). After a year teaching and coaching at Fryeburg Academy, then following a stint serving as a boys’ varsity assistant, then the girls’ coach and one year as the baseball coach (his team overcame a 1-5 start and got to the state final) at his alma mater, Ray took over as the Capers’ boys’ head coach in the winter of 1994-95.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity provided to me,” Ray said. “(Former Cape Elizabeth athletic director) Keith Weatherbie gave me a chance 26 years ago. I’d had him as a Little League coach and he was great to me. I played for great coaches in high school, Vic Woodbury, Leroy Rand and Dave Halligan (whom Ray coached against for years after Halligan moved on to Falmouth High School). (Hall of Fame coach) Bob Brown was my biggest mentor basketball-wise. Luckily, I had assistants who bought into my philosophical approach.”

Ray won his share of games over his first decade, but that span also featured frustration, as Cape Elizabeth lost in the Western B Final in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 (Ray joked then about the Capers being the “Buffalo Bills of Maine high school basketball). After the 2002-03 campaign, Ray’s contract wasn’t initially renewed, but after a highly publicized battle, he was eventually rehired.

The following season, Ray produced one of his finest coaching moments, leading eighth-ranked Cape Elizabeth to a stunning upset of top-ranked Falmouth on Joe Geoghegan’s buzzer-beater in the Western B quarterfinals. The Capers made it to the state final in 2008 (losing to Maranacook), 2009 (falling to Camden Hills) and again in 2011 (again losing to Camden Hills).

The pinnacle

Finally, in 2015, on another epic buzzer-beater, this one from Ethan Murphy, Cape Elizabeth won its first title in 27 years, erasing a late deficit to beat Medomak Valley, 44-42.

“I couldn’t have scripted that any better,” Ray said. “That’s one time I’m glad I didn’t call timeout.”

Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray, with son Tom by his side, receives the game ball after the Capers’ 44-42 win over Medomak Valley in the 2015 Class B state final. File photo

“I’ve never met anyone more organized than (Coach Ray) is in every aspect of the game and he stole a state championship because his kids knew what to do with just a few seconds left,” said Brown, a member of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame, who first met Ray when Ray attended his summer basketball program in the late 1970s. “When you play for him you learn fundamentals. Passing, defense, rebounding, the whole nine yards. His consistency is remarkable and he’s a man of character. That’s what impresses me the most.”

“Jim was probably the best coach I ever hired, though there were other great ones” added Weatherbie. “I used to say that he did more with less talent than any other coach in Maine. He was an extremely hard worker and expected the same out of his athletes. I had played basketball in college and thought I knew a lot about the game, but I was always amazed watching his practices. His knowledge of basketball was incredible and also what had to be done to improve a player and his team. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

The Capers returned to the state final in 2019, but dropped a 49-47 double-overtime decision to Caribou in front of a full house (this time, the buzzer-beater didn’t drop for Cape Elizabeth, as Tanner Carpenter’s potential game-winning 3-pointer at the horn was off-target).

“I’ll never forget the hush that came over the crowd when that ball went up,” Ray said.

The Capers struggled in 2019-20, winning just four of their first 15 contests, but they captured their last three, then gave Ray his 350th victory in the quarterfinals as the No. 7 seed, upsetting No. 2 Spruce Mountain, 44-35, before losing to Wells, 49-36, in the semifinals.

“We’ve always been about working hard as a team,” Ray said. “We’ve always had talent, but maybe not the depth of talent of (rival) teams. The kids just worked hard and got the most out of each other and enjoyed it. It was special to have kids like that.”

For over a quarter-century, Ray influenced hundreds of young men, including his sons, Tommy and Nick.

“It was special to coach at my alma mater and coach my two boys,” Jim Ray said. “It was the best experience and I’m grateful to have had it.”

He could be tough and demanding, but in time, his charges realized the importance of his life lessons.

“I was as hard on Andrew Dickey (Class of 2010) as anybody, but I loved him and he knew it and I’ll never forget after he went to the University of Maine-Farmington and came back at Christmas break freshman year and he said, ‘Coach, now I understand,'” Ray recalled, fighting back tears.

Theo Bowe, Class of 2011, who, along with his former coach, was one of the finest players to ever put on a Capers’ uniform, said that Ray’s influence served him well long after his playing days concluded.

“Playing for Coach Ray was an incredibly valuable experience for developing basketball skills, but more so for developing life skills,” said Bowe, who is about to graduate from Harvard Medical School and begin a medical residency in Philadelphia. “He was an expert in teaching young people to take responsibility for their actions, to develop a work ethic and to work well as a member of a team. While winning was always the goal, Coach Ray was clear that it was to be done the right way, with preparation, dedication and teamwork. The lessons I learned and skills I gained playing for Coach Ray have served me very well beyond the court.

“As a high school player, one of the most concrete examples I witnessed was the way in which he ran his Saturday morning basketball program for young members of the community. Little third graders would come in at the beginning acting as you would expect, hard to get to focus, running all over the place, etc., and Coach Ray treated them all with respect and kindness. He had a knack for making kids feel important, by talking to them as equals, and they would respond to that respect by rising to the occasion. By the end of the program, kids knew they were responsible for telling Coach if they were going to miss next week and they were expected to put the basketballs away at the end of the day. They developed real life skills and had a ton of fun and seeing that made me realize that what Coach does with the high school team is no different. He treated every member of his basketball program with genuine respect and he maintained high expectations for himself and his players throughout. It was impossible to not want to perform your best when seeing that example being set by him every day.”

Ray, who teaches industrial technology at Cape Elizabeth High School, wouldn’t rule out a return to the bench, but for now, he’s looking forward to “doing other things I enjoy.”

At press time, no plans for Ray’s successor had been announced.

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Jim Ray’s records at Cape Elizabeth

Year       Final record       Tournament result

1994-95          10-10          Lost in Gorham (Q)  

1995-96           8-10           No playoffs

1996-97           7-11            No playoffs

1997-98           12-8           Lost to Greely (S)

1998-99           15-6           Lost to York (RF) 

1999-00           16-5           Lost to Gorham (RF)

2000-01           16-7           Lost to Gorham (RF)

2001-02           19-3           Lost to Gorham (RF)

2002-03          13-7           Lost to Greely (Q)

2003-04          8-13           Lost to Lake Region (S)

2004-05         12-7            Lost to Wells (Q)

2005-06          17-3           Lost to Falmouth (S)

2006-07         12-9            Lost to Mountain Valley (S)

2007-08          19-3           Lost to Maranacook (SF)

2008-09          17-5           Lost to Camden Hills (SF)

2009-10           19-2          Lost to Falmouth (RF)

2010-11            17-5           Lost to Camden (SF)

2011-12            7-12           Lost to Wells (pre)

2012-13            14-6          Lost to York (S) 

2013-14            11-8           Lost to Yarmouth (Q)

2014-15            19-3          CLASS B CHAMPS

2015-16            15-5           Lost to Falmouth (S)

2016-17            12-8           Lost to Falmouth (S)

2017-18            13-8           Lost to Wells (RF)

2018-19            14-8          Lost to Caribou (SF)

2019-20           8-12           Lost to Wells (S)

Total Record: 350-184

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