Iowa coach’s death recalls dangerous situations in Maine

Posted July 06, 2009, at 9:04 p.m.

The recent death of Iowa high school football coach Ed Thomas gives pause for concern in all areas of coaching.

Never seen as a deadly game, this coaching stuff can, in fact, instill a sense of concern and even fear among the profession itself.

I coached basketball for 34 years. During that time period, I had a few very dangerous situations myself.

Granted, none of them resulted in serious injuries or death, but a couple of these tales bear repeating.

When I coached in the Continental Basketball Association as head man of the Maine Lumberjacks, one story demonstrates how liquor and braggadocio can be a dangerous combination.

One night after a tough loss at home at the Bangor Auditorium, I made the mistake of stopping at a local convenience store to grab a snack, something I seldom did.

That night, the place was packed with customers, many of whom had attended our game.

The Jacks sold beer at their home games, and several of the store crowd were boisterously announcing their disdain for our loss.

When they recognized me, all manner of bedlam broke loose.

Uh-oh, I’m thinking. I’m in trouble.

Suddenly, one of the young men grabbed me by the shirt collar, then swung me around, forcing me to hit my back against the inside of the glass entrance door.

Now, I’m really in trouble.

The verbal chants started, when I said, “Look fellas, I’ve got six of the biggest professional hoop players in my car, and I’m sure they might like to join this discussion,” and off I went.

I have never run that far, and, for the record, none of my players were in that car.

One night after a game, again at the Bangor Auditorium, when I coached at John Bapst Memorial High School, I was getting into my car in the back of the building when I realized I had left my clipboard in the bench area — back I went.

Unlocking one of the back doors, I walked cautiously through the darkness to our bench and found my clipboard.

Out of nowhere two men approached me. I could tell by the exit lights in the rear of the old hall that they weren’t happy.

One of them grabbed me by the lapel and screamed that we had run the score up — yeah, right, 28-20, oh, brother.

I told them that policemen were still in the building. That was all it took. Off they ran.

I’ve had my life threatened a time or two on the telephone; my tires slashed more than once; my house egged numerous times; and general annoying obscene phone calls have come more often than we’d like.

Coaching colleagues have had their houses set on fire — really — and most coaches have experienced many other kinds of threats.

Scary? You bet.

Obviously, all of the aforementioned tales pale in comparison to death stories.

But the fact remains, coaching is tough business and fans seem to get more vicious each year.

30-Second Time Out

When veteran coaches such as Willie Gavett get back into the coaching ranks, fans who only remember him as a player at UMaine in Orono and at Orono High School should know this: This guy’s as fine a high school basketball coach as this state has ever seen. Parents, teachers and opposing coaches should be on their toes be-cause he is detailed.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing most of the Gavett family for a long time. In the basketball annals of Maine sports, one would have to mention this family at the top of any list for quality in our state’s family sports tree.

I’m glad for basketball that Willie is back in the coaching ranks.

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