GLENBURN, Maine — Former Brownville Junction and Penquis Valley of Milo boys basketball and baseball coach Carroll Conley Sr. was remembered Friday for his love of teaching those sports.
Conley, who compiled a 282-107 record over 20 years as a varsity basketball coach and guided the Brownville Junction baseball teams to several league titles, died Wednesday at a Bangor hospital after a brief illness. He was 80.
“It sounds corny, but my father loved practices more than the games,” said Carroll Conley Jr. “My father loved sports, but he truly loved teaching.”
Jamie Russell of LaGrange, who met Conley while playing in the local peewee basketball program he launched during the early 1970s and later had him as a physical education instructor at Penquis, also remembers the teacher behind the coach.
“He was intense but also very kind,” said Russell, a Maine high school basketball historian who has gone on to a similar teaching and coaching career. “Carroll was a real gentleman. It’s hard to find someone today who is as intense as he was and paid so much attention to detail but also was very sensitive of what each kid needed.
“He was one of the great teachers. I’m a better teacher today because of Carroll. He put so much time and energy into it. He didn’t want to be just good at it, he wanted to be very good.”
Conley’s life in basketball spanned more than seven decades, beginning in the 1940s when he played at Washburn High School.
He went on to play both and baseball and basketball — the latter sport as a 5-foot-8½-inch center — at Ricker College in Houlton before embarking on his teaching and coaching career.
Conley coached and taught at Brownville Junction from 1957 through 1968, when it was consolidated with Milo High School to form Penquis.
During his tenure at Brownville Junction, Conley’s basketball teams won the 1959 Eastern Maine Class M (now Class C) title and the 1967 Class M state championship. His Brownville Junction teams also played in three other Eastern Maine championship games — all while playing up a class by enrollment.
Conley went on to become the first boys varsity basketball coach at Penquis, guiding the Patriots for six years until he retired after the 1974 season.
Among the basketball players he coached at Brownville Junction were Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorees Jack Brown (1959) and Dennis Larson (1967), while those he coached at Penquis included recently retired Patriots boys basketball coach Tony Hamlin and 1973 first-team BDN All-Maine choice Wally Russell, both of whom went on to play at the University of Maine.
“My senior year we were playing a game in the Pit, and I was playing and Wally was a freshman and [Maine coach] Skip [Chappelle] had us both in the game,” said Hamlin, who remains the athletic administrator at Penquis and still refers to Conley as “Coach.”
“I looked up and saw Carroll sitting in the stands and I thought to myself that he must be pretty proud to have two players that he coached playing for the University of Maine at the same time.”
Conley also coached varsity baseball for 12 years, the first 11 at Brownville Junction where he compiled a 70-18 record.
“Carroll was a baseball man,” said Hamlin. “He was a heck of a coach and a player.”
Conley retired from public education and turned to the ministry during the 1980s, returning to his Aroostook County roots to serve as director of Baptist Park in Mapleton.
After 11 years in that capacity, he joined Carroll Jr. and his family in Massachusetts where they co-coached a high school basketball team in 1992 before returning to Maine a year later.
Conley also returned to the Maine high school coaching scene in 1993, working as both an assistant coach and head coach at Bangor Christian. He coached the school’s girls varsity basketball team from 1999 to 2001, leading the Patriots to three straight postseason appearances.
Conley retired from coaching after the 2010-2011 season, when he served as an assistant to then-Bangor Christian girls varsity coach Phil Robinson.
“My father had a deeply significant conversion to Christ at the age of 32,” said Conley Jr, who is the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine evangelical organization . “His life progressively changed after that, but he never stopped loving basketball and he was able to integrate it into his faith.”
A celebration of Conley’s life is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Bangor Baptist Church, with a visitation period preceding the service at 2 p.m.