The decision to give up his job as the Calais High School boys basketball coach was a difficult one for Ed Leeman.
He is a 1986 Calais graduate, has been an instructor in the Jobs for Maine Graduates program at the school for 22 years and has guided the Blue Devils varsity team for 10 seasons.
He had received other job opportunities and passed them up, but not this time, as he is taking a regional manager’s position with the Jobs for Maine Graduates program.
“It’s just one of those things. I’m not sure how many opportunities I might get. This feels right at this time,” Leeman said. “I still have some anxiety about it. We’ll see how it goes, but I think it will go well.”
Leeman, 45, explained that his new post doesn’t stipulate that he give up his coaching job, but he said he realizes that the extra time commitment and travel it entails would not enable him to continue coaching, which also requires a major time commitment.
“The people at Calais have been the best people in the world to work for as well as the Jobs for Maine Graduate people,” said Leeman, who would like to return to coaching some day. “This is not an easy decision, it’s kind of tearing me up.”
Leeman is leaving behind a highly successful decade as coach that includes three Class C state titles and four Eastern Maine crowns. The state title in the 2006-07 season was the first for a Calais boys basketball team, and they repeated the next year.
As a player, Leeman admits that he never met a shot he didn’t like, but as a coach, he turned to defense as the foundation of success for his program. His teams became a tourney perennial.
“His teams were tough defensively and were well coached,” said Calais athletic director Randy Morrison, who made Leeman his first hire when he began the AD post 10 years ago.
Leeman emphasized education to his players, Morrison added.
“He was a great teacher of the game, but he also made sure the kids always kept up their grades. Even in the off-season he was after them to get their work done in all subjects,” Morrison said.
Leeman’s straightforward personality was another key attribute.
“He was very honest with the kids and parents. Everyone knew where he was coming from,” Morrison said.
Leeman got off to a shaky start in his first season as the Blue Devils lost their first four or five games before winning an away game in Houlton.
“We were down by 10 at halftime, and until then, I had been conservative, half-court man on defense. But we went to ‘21,’ full-court pressure and went 11-2 the rest of the season,” Leeman recalled.
His first tourney game, a quarterfinal against Penquis, was another lesson learned as veteran coach Tony Hamlin used a 2-3 zone defense to beat what may have been a more talented Calais team, Leeman said.
“That was a big lesson on how to crack a 2-3 zone,” he added.
The next season, Leeman’s teams started an amazing run that included back-to-back state titles and a 63-0 record before losing to Winthrop in the state final in 2008.
“I remember all of the kids, so many good players, tons of them,” said Leeman, who was reluctant to name a few of the players without naming them all.
“I’ve had some great moments and some great kids,” he said. “I’ve tried to pass on the game the best I can. I’ve been blessed to be a Blue Devil.”
He adhered to the concept of team play during his tenure and believes that is the true meaning of the game of high school basketball.
He also successfully dealt with what can be a difficult situation: coaching your own kids. He coached both Jordan (2005-09) and Joel (2010-13).
“I don’t think there’s one person in Calais who thought I favored my kids,” Leeman said. “They weren’t coddled. They knew they had to be tougher than everyone else.”
Leeman said he also was fortunate to have great assistant coaches, such as Marcia Rogers, who assisted his teams during their state championship runs.
“She was awesome. She taught kids respect for the game and discipline,” he said.
Leeman is helping his most recent assistant, Chris Woodside, who is running the summer basketball program.
Morrison said the school hopes to name Leeman’s replacement within the next two months.