January 18, 2022
BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE

The object of basketball is to score more points in four quarters than the other team. But especially with such young kids, the opportunity is there to teach sportsmanship and working together and team spirit.

If you had a deprived childhood — if you grew up somewhere other than eastern Maine, where real basketball is played — it is not too late to catch up. The tournament is under way at the Bangor Auditorium this week, and you can get your fill of boys and girls high school basketball.

Perhaps you grew up thinking basketball consisted of the activities portrayed on television by the National Basketball Association. Hey, I’m a Celtics fan, too. But that’s not real basketball. That’s a bunch of tall, rich guys playing run-and-gun.

The real thing is carried out by growing boys and girls in Maine towns and cities in the dead of winter. Some little school you’d never heard of may give you more thrills in 32 minutes than you’d get in a whole season of watching the big guys.

If you’re a true connoisseur of basketball, or if your children are a certain age, you may have discovered the junior high version. Perhaps you’ve seen firsthand how quick the Veazie boys are, or how the Indian Island teams have improved. Or maybe you were amazed by some of the plays by the Dedham girls.

In the guiding and nurturing of young people on both levels, the coaches are crucial. Longtime fans of basketball can rifle off the names — Wentworth, Barry, Cimbollek and others.

At the end of the season, the veteran coaches often wind up with the lion’s share of trophies and praise.

This season, watching junior high basketball, I spent a lot of time watching first-year coaches — young people in their initial effort at racking up a winning record while training young minds and bodies.

One of those with a successful first year is also the youngest head coach I ever knew — Matt Clark, the college student who led the St. John’s Chargers this past season. His assistant, Dave Conrad, also is a college student.

Game by game, practice by practice, the boys and their coaches built a season. It was a team “young and lacking in experience,” as Matt put it. Even for some of the eighth-graders, it was their first year on a team.

The object of basketball is to score more points in four quarters than the other team. But especially with such young kids, the opportunity is there to teach sportsmanship and working together and team spirit.

Matt was big on team spirit — everything from team haircuts to attending high school games together. “Can I go to the game tonight? Matt will be there,” was the refrain.

The St. John’s kids, their coach and the parents found out the hard way that a couple of losses at the end of the season can be twice as heartbreaking as they would have been back in December. But the “young and inexperienced team” had a great season, with an impressive 10-3 record.

A year ago, Matt Clark could not have imagined that such a coaching record would be his today. Only a year ago, he — along with Dave Conrad and St. John’s girls coach Jayson Adams — were playing for Bob Cimbollek, hoping for another gold basketball for John Bapst.

In recent weeks, it was Matt Clark’s job to direct and guide, to say “That’s OK” a split-second after a mistake, to exhibit patience and a cool demeanor.

I hope all of Maine’s first-year coaches can look back on such a good first year.

Roxanne Moore Saucier is assigned to the NEWS city desk.


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