Mike Fogarty wants to coach basketball so much that he’s giving up coaching.
Fogarty, the Houlton boys varsity basketball coach for the last three years, has resigned from that post so he can help coach an off-season girls basketball team that includes his daughter Amanda — a freshman who played on the Houlton girls varsity this winter.
“I have turned in my letter of resignation to [principal] Marty Bouchard,” said Fogarty, “and I met with my three captains [Tuesday] to let them know the situation.
“It’s not something I wanted to do.”
Fogarty, who works as the director of physician practices and rural health clinics at Houlton Regional Hospital, would like to coach both teams, but that represents a violation of the Maine Principals’ Association Sports Season Policy.
The policy limits high school coaches to coaching student-athletes from their school in a particular sport only during the MPA’s assigned season for that sport — which for basketball is between the date of the first preseason practice in mid-November and the last Saturday of tournament week during February vacation.
As a result, a hands-off period between basketball coaches and players from their school exists during the spring and fall, though coaches can work with their players during the summer until another hands-off period for all sports that runs for the two weeks preceding the start of preseason practices for fall sports in mid-August.
And that means Fogarty cannot coach his daughter during those hands-off periods for basketball, even though he didn’t coach her team during the high school season.
Fogarty formally sought a waiver from that policy from the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee at its meeting in Augusta late last week, but after an executive session the committee denied that request.
“One of my goals is to bring this to people’s attention,” said Fogarty. “They are supposedly going to look at the policy, but whether they will or not is beyond me.
“I just want to coach my daughter.”
Amanda Fogarty is the only player from Houlton on an Aroostook County-based girls team called the Presque Isle Catz that competes in several tournaments throughout March and April.
Last weekend the Catz reached the semifinals of the high school division of the 17th annual Great Harbor House Shootout on Mount Desert Island.
For his part, Mike Fogarty was just a fan for that event as well as other tournaments the previous two weekends — unlike in previous years when he helped coach the Catz while his daughter was in middle school.
Yet once Amanda Fogarty entered high school her interscholastic sports career came under the MPA’s oversight, and because she played for the Houlton girls varsity squad during the winter, MPA policy said her father, as the Houlton boys varsity coach, could not coach her this spring.
“When the policy was put into effect back in the 1980s, at first it was for boys coaches coaching boys or girls coaches coaching girls,” said MPA executive director Dick Durost, who declined to talk about the specifics of Fogarty’s case. “But then some of the coaches got smart, and the boys coach would take over the girls team [during the off-season] and the girls coach would coach the boys to get around the spirit of the rule.”
Fogarty doesn’t believe his situation is directly addressed in the MPA’s Sports Season Policy, nor in a series of questions and answers contained in an MPA coaches’ handbook.
“We have a policy,” said Durost, “and then there are several questions and answers about it in the coaches’ handbook that we make available for principals to distribute to their coaches.”
The MPA Sports Season Policy defines several goals, including the following:
ä To create definable seasons of competition that allow students to participate in various activities without coaches feeling the need to “compete” with each other for athletes within their own school;
ä To discourage specialization in the sense that students are not deprived of a variety of co-curricular experiences which the high school “exploratory” life stage provides;
ä To create a corridor that protects some personal time for students between activities;
ä To provide opportunity for families to clearly define times for vacations and other family functions; and
ä To prevent the exploitation and “burn out” of participant student athletes and coaches.
According to the policy, “coaches or advisors are prohibited from coaching or giving instructions about a sport to members of their teams individually or collectively outside the sport season for that sport.”
“I read that as being my boys team,” said Fogarty. “It doesn’t say to me that I can’t coach my daughter.”
Bouchard, a former boys varsity basketball coach at neighboring Hodgdon who currently is a basketball official during the winter months, sees the issue from multiple perspectives including those of parent and MPA member through his job at Houlton.
“I think that the MPA does a tremendous job of regulating play outside the sports seasons, and I respect their intent to create a level playing field for all athletes in all sports,” he said. “The hardship comes when a coach or administrator such as Mike Fogarty wants to work exclusively with their son or daughter, but doing so would be in violation of the policy as it is interpreted now.”
Fogarty has contacted an attorney about his case, but isn’t planning any specific legal action.
“The question is what good will it do if I continue to go in that direction at this point?” Fogarty said. “They can’t give me back the three weeks I’ve lost.
“They told me their policy and guidelines, and if they’re going to interpret it the way they want to interpret it instead of the way it’s written, there’s not much more to do.”
Fogarty coached Houlton to three postseason appearances during his tenure as boys varsity basketball coach. The Shiretowners reached the Eastern C semifinals in both 2007 and 2008 before losing to eventual champion Calais each year.
This winter Houlton fell to Sumner of East Sullivan in the preliminary round.
“It was extremely difficult to accept Mike Fogarty’s resignation,” said Bouchard. “He’s had a very positive impact on our boys basketball program for the last few years, not only with the success he’s had in terms of wins and losses but more importantly as a positive role model for the kids and in helping to create a positive im-age for SAD 29.”