BANGOR, Maine — Jim Bessey was asked several years ago if he’d be interested in running for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives.
Already retired from his career as a teacher at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Bessey still coached the school’s boys varsity basketball team, which played the bulk of its schedule each winter while the Legislature was in its regular session.
Bessey sought out as much advice as he could gather about the feasibility of effectively managing both legislative duties and a Class A basketball program at the same time.
“I’d think it would be tough,” surmised Bessey, who retired from his coaching post earlier this year after guiding teams from Mt. Blue and neighboring Madison to a 475-293 record over 40 seasons. “I had been approached at one time about running for the Legislature six or eight years ago, but in speaking with people about it, including some legislators, the decision we made was that it would be difficult to do both.”
Longtime Bangor High School coach Roger Reed faced a similar set of circumstances in recent months.
He already had decided to retire from a 47-year teaching career this spring, but Reed sought to continue coaching the Bangor boys varsity basketball team while also seeking to win the House District 23 seat that serves residents of Carmel, Etna, Hermon and Stetson.
Reed won the Republican primary for that seat earlier this week, one day after he reluctantly resigned his coaching post — marking the end of a career during which he compiled a 571-201 record at Bangor Christian and Bangor high schools while leading Bangor High School to eight Class A state championships.
The 73-year-old Carmel resident stepped away from those coaching duties after being asked by school officials to make a choice between the Bangor basketball job and his potential political career, which awaits a run against Democrat Richard Thomas of Hermon in the Nov. 6 general election.
While Reed said he was urged by several legislators and others familiar with the political process to run and told he could handle both jobs at the same time, Bangor High School principal Paul Butler, a former player under Reed at the school, determined that based on his own research into the matter sharing Reed with his potential legislative duties wasn’t a workable option for the school.
Butler urged his former coach to commit 100 percent to the basketball program.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” said Penquis Valley of Milo boys basketball coach and athletic administrator Tony Hamlin. “Obviously Roger will be campaigning hard between now and November, and if he is elected from January to May it will require some attention to detail from him down [in Augusta].
“I can see both sides, because I’m sure Roger from his perspective wanted to go out on his own terms. But what you’ve got to remember is that coaching is just a one-year position. There’s no tenure, no guarantees, you serve at the pleasure of the superintendent. That’s just the way it is.”
The high school basketball season begins with preseason practices that start just before Thanksgiving, with the regular-season schedule running from early December to mid-February. That’s followed by the regional and state tournaments that conclude at the end of February or in early March.
The Maine Legislature’s regular session runs largely from early January to mid- to late spring, with the full Legislature scheduled to convene several weekday mornings each week followed by committee meetings and work sessions during the remainder of the day.
“There isn’t a consistency to the schedule, and the jeopardy is that you wouldn’t necessarily know when the committee meetings would end,” said Chandler Woodcock, a high school coach for 19 years who led the Mt. Blue girls basketball team to back-to-back Class A state championships in 1999 and 2000 before stepping down and then serving three terms in the state Senate.
A 2006 gubernatorial candidate and now commissioner of the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Woodcock added that one of the more time-consuming aspects of a legislator’s job is beyond the scope of the schedule of activities in Augusta, but meeting with constituents within the legislator’s district — a responsibility he said may involve as many as six days or nights a week.
“I was pretty cognizant that it would be complicated to be involved in both coaching and the Legislature at the same time,” said Woodcock. “Of course it can be done, anything can be done, but the question is whether it’s something that’s practical to attempt.”
Coaches at most schools are required to attend all practices and games, as well as travel with players on the team bus to and from all road games, which in Bangor’s case are as nearby as neighboring Brewer and Hampden and as far away as South Paris and Brunswick — making for some long nights on the road.
“If you’re going to miss practice that wouldn’t be right, and if you’re not going to be there to ride with your team to a game on the bus, that wouldn’t be right, either,” said longtime high school and college basketball coach Bob Brown, who retired this spring from his most recent post at Cheverus High School of Portland.
In addition, school officials, particularly at larger programs such as Bangor, must account for multiple varsity and subvarsity boys and girls teams during the winter sports season when scheduling the gymnasium for after-school practice or game time, leaving most reluctant to make concessions for individual interests at the expense of the rest of their coaching staff and student-athletes.
But Brown is among those who suggest that given the organizational success of Bangor’s basketball program under Reed’s leadership he should have been allowed the opportunity to attempt this dual challenge.
“Everybody’s taken a stand, but at times you have to look at the situation and say he’s been a coach and a leader for as long as he’s been there and done everything the right way, and he’s telling you he can do this,” Brown said. “Well then, we’ll give you that chance this year, and if it works, fine, but if it doesn’t work, that’s it.
“I do know that Roger is a man of honor and would not do anything to hurt his kids. I personally don’t think you can do both, but after all he has given to Bangor, if he tells them he can do both he should be given that chance.”