Colleen Brewer’s game-night routine began 16 years ago.
When the Central Aroostook High School boys basketball team boarded the bus bound from Mars Hill to a road game, so did she and her 7-year-old daughter, Mariah, and 4-year-old son, Chandler.
That routine has evolved over the years. Chandler has long grown out of the child seat he first sat in on the bus — he’s now a high school junior and a starting guard for the Panthers. Mariah attends the University of Maine at Presque Isle after being a Central Aroostook cheerleader during her high school years.
As for Colleen Brewer, she still boards the bus for each game, not only to support her husband of 18 years, Central Aroostook head coach Tim Brewer, but more recently in the official capacity of team manager.
“I’ve been sitting on the bench for three years and I’ve been manager the last two years,” she said. “Tim was having trouble finding someone to be the manager, and I’ve always helped anyway, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
Brewer’s willingness to keep the team’s scorebook at road games and compile other statistics during home games is for her a rather unique solution to a challenge faced by virtually all spouses of high school coaches — finding time during the season to spend with their mate.
“Right on the first day of tryouts I declare myself a basketball widow for the rest of the season,” said Jamie Bartlett, the wife of Hampden Academy boys basketball coach Russ Bartlett.
While coaches are busy formulating game plans, studying opponents, and managing the psyches of their teenage student-athletes, spouses must juggle their own jobs with day-to-day family responsibilities that remain shared in most cases but require greater coordination given the more frequent absence of the coach.
“It takes a lot of communication, coordinating and planning,” said Bartlett, who has been married to Russ for seven years. “We call ourselves Team Bartlett.”
For Team Bartlett, that planning involves everything from coordinating day care and afterschool care for their 6-year-old son, Kade, and 3-year-old daughter, Kamryn, to grocery shopping and meal planning around every family member’s schedule.
“Each year it gets a little easier. We have a system and our kids are used to it, and by this point I don’t think they would want it any other way,” said Jamie, whose workday as a children’s mental health clinician typically ends around 5:30 p.m., and whose husband is a schoolteacher by primary profession.
In many cases the family unit grows much larger during the sports season as family and team build an almost inevitable relationship through their common denominator — the coach.
At Luis and Angela Ayala’s home in Dover-Foxcroft, rare is the time during the winter and spring when the house is not filled with young wrestlers.
Older son Antonio, a sophomore, won an individual state title at 113 pounds last winter, while sixth-grader Rico currently is playing basketball while waiting for the middle-school wrestling season that begins in March.
“There’s a houseful of kids around quite a bit,” said Angela Ayala. “I feel like I’m not just a coach’s wife, but a team mom.”
Ayala estimates she has attended 400-500 high school and middle-school meets over the years, which she said has merely reinforced her willingness to make whatever sacrifices are necessary so her husband can pursue his passion for coaching.
“I think it really gives you the opportunity to see all the sacrifices they make,” she said. “And when you see the kids high-fiving Luis and see the improvements the kids are making it makes everything else worthwhile.”
The role of team mom typically involves driving kids from place to place and adding moral support in the quest for success, and it often includes some nontraditional duties. Ayala is the unofficial team photographer. Brewer is the team baker.
“I make cookies before the games, and the seniors on the team get to decide which kind,” she said. “But it’s a little different this year because we only have one senior.”
Bartlett used to make cookies for the Hampden players after each victory until her young children came along.
Not that she would have time for such baking duties these days anyway — the defending Class A state champion Broncos have reeled off 31 consecutive victories after Thursday night’s win against Brewer.
“Now I really focus on trying to build relationships between our kids, especially Kade, and the players because they’re really good role models,” she said. “And Kade’s been keeping ‘Bronco stats’ since he was 4½, so he’s learned math from that and he’s always reading about the team, too.
“The values we gain as a family certainly outweigh the challenges. The kids learn a lot from having their dad be a coach about commitment, dedication and caring about other people because they can see that Russ really cares about the kids he’s dealing with,” she said.
Perhaps the toughest part about being a coach’s spouse is hearing the inevitable criticism that comes from fans when the team struggles, for coaches can be the most scrutinized people in the community, especially during a Maine winter when high school sports serve as one of the primary antidotes for cabin fever.
“It does hurt when people trash my husband or my son or anyone else on the team,” said Brewer, whose husband was a star player on the 1994 Central Aroostook state championship basketball team and has coached his alma mater to four more state titles and five Eastern Maine Class D crowns as the Panthers’ head coach. “Nobody’s out there trying to do bad things.”
“I made a choice to not sit where most of the fans sit,” said Bartlett, whose husband has guided Hampden to two Class A state titles and three Eastern Maine championships. “I admit I’m biased toward Russ because I believe in his philosophies and what he’s teaching, and I see all the thought and all the time he puts in to what he’s doing.
“I hear people judge his decisions and question his decisions, but I know that’s part of it,” she said.
Janene Moran, wife of Houlton High School boys basketball coach Rob Moran, similarly elects to keep her distance at games from potential critics of her husband of five years.
“The first year was difficult, but I’ve learned to deal with it,” said Moran, whose husband has guided Houlton to the Eastern Maine Class C championship game each of the last two years. “When I go to home games I try not to sit near where the parents are sitting. I’d rather be near people with no vested interest.
“I just encourage him, and if there’s ever a situation where he needs defending I defend him. I celebrate with his wins and commiserate with his losses,” she said.
Moran said there’s an additional support mechanism inherent in being the spouse of a high school coach, that of a sounding board.
“I’ll give him my opinion and he’ll say with a smile on his face, ‘You think you know more about coaching than me?’” she said. “There’s a lot of joking back and forth like that.
“At Hodgdon last year [December 2012] we were down by 20 and it’s a small gym for seating so I was sitting right behind the bench. Rob turned around and looked up at me and said, ‘Janene, do you have any suggestions?’” she said. “And I said, ‘Have you thought about praying?’”
The advice apparently worked — Houlton rallied to win the game — and it was the least a spouse could do.
“Being a coach’s wife has to be a partnership,” said Moran. “There is a lot of stress in Rob’s life for those three or four months each year, so I have to support him in this.”