FARMINGTON, Maine — Jim Bessey was like most other high school basketball coaches over the past four decades, with the pursuit of excellence at the forefront of his job.
But while the victories came often, coaching wasn’t completely about the bottom line for him.
“Something that was important to me was the idea of being a difference maker, impacting players as individuals so that they would carry away from the experience some life lessons they would benefit from in the future,” said the 69-year-old Bessey, who has announced his retirement as the boys varsity coach at Mt. Blue High School.
“I think I was able to connect with kids over a long period of time, and not only connecting with them but getting them to commit to each other and understand that teamwork is important and everybody who’s part of a team is important.”
Bessey compiled an overall record of 475-293 in 40 years as a varsity head coach, with a 421-267 mark over 36 seasons at Mt. Blue and a 54-26 record in four years at neighboring Madison.
Bessey starred in basketball and football at the former Williams High School in his native Oakland before going on to Farmington State Teachers College, now the University of Maine at Farmington.
After completing graduate studies at Appalachian State, he began his first coaching job in 1966 with the boys junior varsity at Farmington High School. He later coached the boys junior varsity at the newly consolidated Mt. Blue High School before taking over the varsity team in the 1972-73 season.
Bessey went on to coach at Madison from 1983 to 1986 — guiding the Bulldogs to the 1985 Western Maine Class C championship — before returning to Mt. Blue in 1987 where he led his team to 21 tournament appearances in his final 26 seasons, highlighted by the 1997 Eastern Maine Class A championship.
Mt. Blue went 14-4 during the 2011-12 regular season, a record good for third place in the final Eastern A Heal point ratings. The Cougars then defeated Brunswick in the regional quarterfinals and Edward Little of Auburn in the semifinals before being edged by top-ranked Hampden Academy 46-44 in the title game.
“Obviously I knew I had a good team this year,” said Bessey, who lives in West Farmington with his wife of 49 years, Marty. “We had a number of people returning with three starters back from last year and eight seniors, so we had a veteran club that had been successful the year before.
“Everyone wants to go out on top, and the ultimate hope was to win Eastern Maine and play in the state championship and win that game and get the gold ball. That didn’t happen, but it was a good run.”
Bessey ended his coaching career with 13 consecutive winning seasons and 29 winning seasons overall.
Mt. Blue reached the Eastern Maine semifinals in five of Bessey’s last six winters on the Cougars’ bench, despite the school having one of the smallest enrollments in Class A statewide.
“I think I was a better coach over the last 10 years,” said Bessey, also a longtime social studies teacher at Mt. Blue who served as the department chairman before retiring from the classroom a decade ago. “I wasn’t teaching school anymore, and over the years I developed a lot of contacts who I could get on the phone with and talk about all kinds of different things regarding basketball.”
Among the coaches he leaned on was longtime assistant Chris Brinkman, a 1978 second-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice from Mt. Blue who went on to star at the University of Maine at Fort Kent before returning home to join Bessey on the bench for more than 25 years.
“It was people like him that enabled me to coach for a long time,” Bessey said.
Brinkman was one of nine players coached by Bessey who have earned BDN All-Maine status, a group that includes current Edward Little coach Mike Adams, a first-team choice in 1990 who also was named the state’s Mr. Basketball that year.
Other All-Maine honorees coached by Bessey were Mark Lake (third team, 1976), John Kohtala (second, 1981), Paul Searles (first, 1988), Travis Gilmore (first, 1997), Brian Wells (third, 2004), Isaiah Brathwaite (third, 2007) and Ben Russell (second, 2009).
Bessey’s final team at Mt. Blue was led by 6-foot-6-inch senior center Cam Sennick, a finalist for this year’s Mr. Basketball award.
Other players coached by Bessey include several prominent coaches, among them Camden Hills of Rockport’s Jeff Hart, University of Maine assistant Ed Kohtala, Greely of Cumberland Center coach Ken Marks and longtime former Dirigo of Dixfield coach Gavin Kane, now the girls varsity coach at Spruce Mountain of Jay-Livermore Falls.
Applications now are being accepting for the annual Wendy’s High School Heisman Award, a program honoring outstanding high school student-athletes for their commitment to academic achievement, community service involvement and athletic prowess.
In addition to recognition at school and state levels, six female and six male national finalists will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to attend the Wendy’s High School Heisman awards ceremony and college Heisman Memorial Trophy award presentation with their families in December 2012.
From now through Oct. 2, students may apply at www.WendysHeisman.com for a chance to win the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award. Wendy’s High School Heisman has received more than 350,000 applications and honored more than 216 national finalists and 36 national winners since its inception.
Each year, nearly 50,000 scholar-athletes nationwide apply for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award, with the applicants then narrowed down in four phases: individual school winners; 20 state finalists — 10 male and 10 female; one senior male and female state winner; and 12 national finalists — six male and six female — from the 102 state winners that includes the District of Columbia.
The one male and one female Wendy’s High School Heisman Award winners will earn $10,000 for their high school and a $500 Wendy’s gift card. They will also be highlighted during ESPN’s live national broadcast of the college Heisman Memorial Trophy ceremony in early December.