Seacoast Christian basketball coach Lee Petrie talks with his players during practice on Thursday. Petrie began coaching both the boys’ and girls’ teams this year; the two teams practice together several days a week. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Like most high school coaches who also teach, Lee Petrie leaves his classroom once classes are finished and heads to practice.

But unlike anyone else, Petrie is pulling double duty as a coach. He coaches both the boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams at Seacoast Christian School in Berwick. And he does it for free, as a volunteer.

“I was a little nervous at first,” said Petrie, who coached the Marshwood High girls’ basketball team for 10 years before stepping down after the 2014-15 season. “I was nervous that (Seacoast Athletic Director Nikki Winship) had that much faith in me.

“But I guess I’ve always taken the underdog role. And taking on the Seacoast job is actually fun.”

This is Petrie’s third year coaching the Guardians boys’ team, and his first coaching the girls. He has eight boys and seven girls on his rosters. With an enrollment of just 90 students in grades K-12, Seacoast Christian is one of the state’s smallest schools.

But, said Winship, that doesn’t mean the Guardians can’t have a quality athletic program. She sees the presence of Petrie as a step in that direction.

“I’m incredibly grateful for his insights,” said Winship, a former Seacoast student in her fourth year as athletic director. “I don’t want to be just a normal school, I want to be at our best.”

Both teams are 0-2 in the early season, but Petrie, a social studies teacher at Marshwood Middle School, isn’t concerned right now with wins and losses. He’s trying to build a foundation.

Seacoast Christian freshman Ellie Leech guards a boys’ basketball player during their practice on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We’re trying,” he said. “We’re so far away from thinking state championship, but we’re trying to build it up so we’re getting more out of this than just basketball.”

For now, he wants the players to understand what it takes to build a successful program.

“These kids never played anything outside of November through February,” he said. “And they were still trying to compete on the same stage as a Forest Hills or Greenville. But now they’re starting to buy into what we’re saying. If you want to be at that level, you have to put in the time.”

His philosophy is pretty simple: He treats both teams the same. The teams run the same offensive plays, the same defenses.

“It’s basically teaching a lot of skill work,” he said. “We divide them up for the contact type things. But for the most of it, a crossover dribble is a crossover dribble.

“It’s really about how you handle the kids. It’s all about positive reinforcement, anyway.”

Freshman point guard Ellie Leech, who started as an eighth grader, is excited to have Petrie as a coach.

“I definitely appreciate what he’s doing,” said Leech. “He’s patient and helpful and encouraging. He wants you to get it right and he wants you to become better. He’s not worried about you making mistakes, he wants to help you fix them.”

Leech likes the way he runs practices, starting with individual drills, moving on to team drills (sometimes combining boys and girls on the same team) and ending with contests: free throws, bank shots, dribbling.

Practicing with the boys, said Leech, has benefits as well: they know the plays and take the time to show the girls how things are run.

“It took a little while to mesh,” said Caleb Vega, a senior forward for the boys’ team. “A week or so ago, we really started working together and realized how we could go hard in practice … We definitely push each other and get a lot of work done. It’s unique for sure, definitely unique.”

From left, Seacoast Christian basketball players Ethan Huss, Caleb Vega, Kaitlyn Jandreau and Ellie Leech listen to their coach, Lee Petrie, during a practice on Thursday. The girls’ and boys’ teams at the school practice together. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

This is what Winship was hoping would happen when she asked Petrie to coach both teams. “I saw his calling and his mentality of what both teams should be like,” she said. “I don’t think one team should be greater than the other.”

Petrie, 55, thought he was done coaching after leaving Marshwood in 2015. He and his wife Jeannie had adopted a 14-year-old boy, named Temesgen, or “Tem” as he’s known, from Ethiopia in 2013 and Petrie planned to become a full-time dad. But in 2018, Winship approached him about coaching the Seacoast boys’ team.

“I asked my wife, thinking she would have said no, but she said I should do it,” said Petrie. “Then I ran it by Tem, and he said yes, too.”

After two years of coaching the boys, Winship asked him about the girls’ position. At the same time, Petrie told her he was interviewing for the girls’ basketball coaching position at Traip Academy in Kittery, where he lives.

On his way home from the Traip interview, he called Winship to tell her he was staying at Seacoast. “The interview was a great experience,” he said. “But I felt my work at Seacoast was not done yet.”

Petrie said he seldom had full rosters at practice in his first two years. Last week, when he called an optional practice, everyone showed up.

“That speaks volumes about the program and what we believe is happening at Seacoast,” said Winship.

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