Earl Anderson was about to begin his first season coaching the Nokomis High School girls basketball team in Newport in 1995, and he scheduled an open gym on the Saturday before tryouts so he could get a look at his prospective players.
But when Saturday rolled around, it was snowing hard.
“I can remember thinking nobody was going to be there, but I might as well go anyway in case one or two showed up,” he said.
“When I got there, the parking lot was full. It was mostly pickup trucks and a few snowmobiles,” he added. “The gym was packed.”
That dedication and commitment proved to be instrumental during an impressive 12-year run for Anderson and his Warriors.
That commitment, combined with a strong work ethic, small-town bonds, competitiveness, multi-sport athletes and youth programs emphasizing the fundamentals have translated into success in other sports.
The 2013-14 field hockey, basketball and softball teams have compiled a 52-2 record so far this season as the softball team prepares to host Belfast in a Tuesday first-round playoff game.
The Warriors went 134-64 under Anderson in Class A and captured their first state basketball championship in 2001. They won the Eastern Maine title two years later. Coach Kori Dionne then guided them to Eastern Maine Class B championships in 2010 and 2011 and a berth in the Eastern Maine title game in 2012.
Nokomis has three Eastern Maine Class B championships and two state titles in field hockey over the past six seasons under Katie Thompson, who won 117 games in 11 seasons before recently resigning to take a position with the Portland-based Great Schools Partnership.
And the Warriors have gone 25-7 in softball under J.D. McLellan the past two seasons, including their current 15-1 campaign.
Work ethic touches all the bases
Nokomis has become a melting pot of success for the girls athletic programs as eight towns comprise Regional School Unit 19: Newport (population 3,275), Corinna (2,198), St. Albans (2,005), Palmyra (1,986), Hartland (1,782), Plymouth (1,380), Etna (1,246) and Dixmont (1,181).
The girls from those towns have a tremendous work ethic, according to Anderson.
“They really want to be pushed and challenged. They are very coachable,” he said.
“They pay attention,” McLellan added. “They look you right in the eye and understand what you’re saying. They want to be successful.”
Anderson said their work ethic goes beyond sports.
“Whenever we would have a fundraiser, I never had trouble finding kids to do things for the fundraisers,” he said.
Girls basketball coach and former Nokomis standout Michelle (Murray) Paradis said the girls are “super competitive in everything” at Nokomis.
“I think if they played dodgeball even in a back lot, they would play it as if the national championship was at stake,” said Paradis.
They hate to lose.
“They are very tough physically and mentally. They are not pampered at all. A lot of them hunt and fish. I had one player, Lindsey Welch, who shot a moose, deer and a bear,” said Anderson. “And growing up in those little towns, they become really close.
“They spend a lot of time with each other, beginning when they’re young, so when they get to high school, there is a real bond and a trust between them,” Anderson added. “And trust is the most important word in any team sport. When you face adversity, you have to trust each other to get through it. The teams that trust each other win championships.”
Thompson said the athletes “love being Warriors. They win because they work hard and because they push each other. And they’re very supportive of one another.”
Anderson and Thompson said another valuable ingredient to the athletes’ success has been the community support they receive, particularly at playoff or tournament games.
“They love to support our teams. You couldn’t ask for better turnouts at our [postseason] games,” said Thompson.
Sports are a high priority in RSU 19. Virtually every female athlete plays at least two sports.
McLellan said because it is a rural area, sports are one of the primary sources of entertainment.
“There wasn’t a lot going on [outside of sports],” said Danielle Clark of Corinna, a two-time BDN first-team All-State selection, who helped lead the Warriors to their 2001 state title in basketball.
“The closest mall is at least a half-hour away,” McLellan added.
Seniors Taylor Shaw and Mikayla Charters play field hockey, basketball and softball.
“We all love to play sports. It’s fun. And we like to hang out with each other,” said Shaw.
Anderson said playing multiple sports is better than playing just one year-round.
“I’m not big into over-specializing in one sport,” said Anderson. “Things that help you in one sport will help you in the others.
“Matt Kinney was a much better basketball player his senior year than he was his junior year because of the success he had as a pitcher [during the high school and American Legion seasons]. It gave him much more confidence,” said Anderson of the former Bangor High star who went on to pitch in the major leagues.
“We do a lot of summer camps together to get ready for the season,” pointed out Charters.
Strong feeder programs
The summer camps are part of strong feeder programs along with the schools and recreation departments.
“We have real strong summer camps for girls of all ages. We get real good turnouts,” said University of Maine field hockey forward Marissa Shaw, a former Nokomis three-sport standout.
She also said that the summer camps are where youngsters from the eight different towns get to know each other and begin building friendships.
Anderson noted that the travel teams have been useful in developing talent and friendships.
“And there are [good] feeder programs in all of the towns,” said Paradis. “The kids get to learn the basic fundamentals.”
Teaching some of those fundamentals are current players as Thompson said a lot of her former field hockey players coach in the youth leagues.
“It’s really nice to have those programs,” said Marissa Shaw. “And the parents are very supportive. They take charge [in the youth programs].”
Shaw said older siblings also get involved in coaching their younger sisters.
Younger sister Taylor Shaw said the parents involved in coaching at the youth league level are “dedicated. They want to help us improve.”
McLellan pointed out that Nokomis receives players from three different middle schools — Somerset Valley Middle School in Hartland, Sebasticook Valley Middle School in Newport and the Etna-Dixmont School — and that is beneficial because the varsity coaches have a larger pool of athletes to choose from and the girls have plenty of middle school experience.
They compete against each other growing up until merging at Nokomis High School.
Paradis noted that because they come from so many different programs and coaches, they benefit from sharing different information they picked up along the way with each other when they get to Nokomis.
“Even if somebody lacks in a certain fundamental, she’ll pick it up from watching the other girls,” said Paradis.
The Nokomis coaches also have aided in the athletes’ transition to the high school and Clark believes the school’s coaches are another reason for the teams’ success.
“Coach Anderson was the best coach I‘ve ever played for. And the same could be said for the coaching they have now,” said Clark, who went on to star at the University of New Hampshire and have a four-year pro career in Europe.
Senior softball-field hockey player Drew Graves said the coaches have taught them how to be a family.
“If we’re having a bad game, we’ll pick each other up and go on to the next game with a positive attitude and confidence,” she said.