Wally Russell is synonymous with Penquis High School basketball.
A 1973 graduate of the Milo high school, he was one of the best players to wear Red, White and Blue, and even went on to coach at his alma mater.
That era has come to an end, as Russell has retired from coaching the girls at Penquis. He did two stints with the girls team and also directed the boys from 1986-90 after two seasons with the Piscataquis boys.
Russell has three daughters, one of whom lives in Windham, and four young grandchildren that he and his wife, Nancy, would like to enjoy some more time with.
“Getting in the car, going down and seeing them whenever I want, during basketball I can’t do anything like that,” said Russell.
Russell will be replaced by Jason Snyder, a former coach and athletic administrator at Lubec High School.
“He had the right combo I think of philosophy and experience and potential, and he’s just a clean-cut kid who I think has a lot of character and will represent the program the right way,” said Penquis athletic administrator Tony Hamlin, a high school teammate of Russell’s in the 1970s.
Snyder’s wife is due to have a baby “any day now,” Hamlin said, and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Hamlin will miss Russell a great deal, but understood his reason for hanging up his whistle.
“He’s got a lot going on,” Hamlin said. “Wally’s easygoing, a great guy. I’ve known him since he was 5 years old, we played ball together all the way up through college. Wally always put the kids first, he was very professional.”
Right on cue, Russell praised the Penquis administration for making his job easy over the years.
“Everybody’s been great, it was good working with everybody,” he said. “The faculty, parents and Tony did a great job.”
The Penquis girls missed out on qualifying for the Class C regional tournament in 2009-10 but had a successful season the year before. Erica Lyford, a 1,000-point scorer, led the team to the No. 4 spot in Eastern Maine, but the Patriots lost to Washington Academy in the quarterfinals.
Lyford went on to play at Husson University, where she’ll enter her sophomore season this winter.
In terms of having his players prepared for games night in and night out, there was nobody better at it than Russell.
“What Wally had was an instinct about the game. He knows the game, it was part of his DNA almost,” said Hamlin, who coaches the Penquis boys. “From that perspective, he was never going to get outcoached in terms of strategy.”
Russell will still attend some ballgames whenever he can.
“I’ll still go to the games, I enjoy them,” he said. “In the wintertime, everything else stops, I guess, for basketball.”
Snyder, who played high school basketball at Narraguagus High in Harrington and graduated from the University of Southern Maine, was an easy hire for Hamlin and his staff.
“He’s really well-mannered and presents himself well,” Hamlin said. “He’s somebody, as an AD, I don’t have to worry about him doing something that is going to be difficult to defend.”
Snyder also coached the Lubec boys, and decided to relocate to the Milo area with his wife when the athletic situation at Lubec got tough over the last year or so, Hamlin said.
Snyder has also worked as an educational technician at Penquis.