EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Steve LeVasseur, who has coached basketball teams at Schenck High School to more than 300 victories and five state championships, won’t return this winter to guide the Wolverines’ boys varsity squad.
LeVasseur was reappointed to the position on Oct. 2, but told athletic administrator John Montgomery late last week that he would not sign and return the new one-year contract to remain in his coaching post by the Oct. 19 deadline.
At issue is a policy change that this year established a two-tiered pay structure for coaching stipends in which coaches who teach within the Schenck school system are paid at a higher rate than coaches like LeVasseur who come from outside the school system.
Under the structure, which Montgomery said was negotiated by the local teachers union and school board last spring, LeVasseur’s coaching stipend would have been reduced from $5,019 for the 2011-12 season to $3,510 for the 2012-13 season.
“They tell you that coaching is an extension of the classroom,” said LeVasseur, a 1980 Schenck graduate who has been a varsity basketball coach for 24 years, including 22 years at his alma mater. “But then they do this and tell you all those years of experience don’t matter.”
LeVasseur said the stipend he would have received for the coming season was just $183 more than he was paid for his first year as a varsity coach at neighboring Stearns High School of Millinocket nearly two decades ago in 1984.
“After 22 years of service to this school, I feel it’s a slap in the face,” LeVasseur said.
Montgomery said other Schenck coaches who work outside the school system have returned to their posts this year, and that LeVasseur ultimately had the same opportunity before opting to step down.
“It’s too bad,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with Steve, and his track record speaks for itself with more than 300 wins and five state championships.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but now we have to look ahead and find our next coach.”
Montgomery said he hopes to have a candidate to replace LeVasseur before the school board holds its next meeting in early November.
Schenck also recently instituted a practice fairly common among school systems of opening its coaching positions for new applications each year, though Montgomery said it is rare for other candidates to apply for positions in which current coaches plan to return.
He added that no one else applied for LeVasseur’s job during the offseason.
The decision not to return to coaching at Schenck was the latest step in a sometimes tumultuous offseason for LeVasseur.
After last winter’s 7-12 season by the Wolverines that ended with a loss in the Class D preliminary round, the veteran coach was critical of his players while speaking at the school’s winter sports banquet, which he admitted did not go over well with many of the parents in attendance.
LeVasseur said he subsequently was issued a letter of reprimand by school officials.
“Maybe I could have presented myself a little better,” LeVasseur said, “but I speak the truth.”
LeVasseur began his varsity coaching career in 1984 at age 21 at Stearns, where he guided the boys varsity squad to a 19-19 record during two seasons of Class A competition.
He then returned to Schenck and coached the Wolverines’ girls varsity squad to a 72-15 record over four seasons, with consecutive Class C state championships in 1987, 1988 and 1989.
LeVasseur replaced Ron Marks as the Wolverines’ boys varsity basketball coach before the start of the 1990-91 season and guided the program for nine years — winning the Class C state championship in 1994. He was not rehired after the 1999 campaign because of what he described at the time as issues related to a difference in coaching philosophy between himself and school administrators.
LeVasseur was out of coaching for the next four years until being rehired to the Schenck boys varsity post for the 2003-04 season. That began another nine-year stint that was highlighted by the Wolverines’ Class D state championship season in 2010. Schenck finished with a 21-1 record and defeated Richmond 65-43 in the state final.
LeVasseur is 242-118 during his 18 years as the Schenck boys basketball coach, and he has an overall varsity coaching record of 333-152, good for a winning percentage of .687. His teams have failed to qualify for postseason play just twice in 24 seasons.
The 50-year-old LeVasseur said he would like to continue his pursuit of 400 career victories in the future, but added “it would have to be the right situation.”