RICHMOND, Maine — Longtime Brunswick High School boys soccer coach Peter Gardner is coming back to the pitch after a two-year “retirement.”
Only this fall, Gardner will be mentoring the youth of Richmond, his longtime hometown.
Gardner, who turns 68 this month, is taking over for the popular Joe Scribellito, who wants to spend more time with his family, especially grandchildren.
Gardner is the owner of 463 wins, including six state Class A championships (10 state appearances in all) and a 69-27 postseason record with the Dragons.
“An opportunity that I wasn’t expecting came along,” Gardner said. “The only places that I would coach would be here or Brunswick.”
Last year, Gardner kept his toes in coaching as he helped son Ryan with the middle school girls.
“But, I have to say that the 43 years at Brunswick [as math teacher, assistant principal] were incredible,” he said. “I love teaching … I really enjoyed the interaction with the kids. And I had a lot of support. I loved my time in Brunswick. The kids were awesome, the parents were super, super good in their support of the program and myself. Administration, faculty, the whole nine yards. I mean, I really enjoyed what I did.
“And I had a lot of really good assistants. But I knew Mark [Roma, current Brunswick boys coach] was very capable of doing the job. They really enjoy him and they really like him. It was the right thing for me to do [retire].”
Gardner’s Brunswick journey lasted 39 years and began with a club team with just seven players. Four years later, the Dragons found themselves in a State Class A title game, losing to Scarborough.
He fondly remembers one of his first preseason matches … against Richmond.
“Richmond, at the time, had become fairly good at success, winning in a short period of time,” Gardner said. “The soccer field was actually over at Wing Field. My grandfather had a bird’s-eye view of that field. He told me, ‘You better stay away from these Richmond boys, they’re really good.’
“I told him we were going to scrimmage those Richmond kids and he said, ‘I don’t know, son. That’s going to be a struggle.’ But, I said, ‘I’ll still give it whirl.’
“We had our scrimmage and we were fairly successful against them.
“After, I was talking to him and he said, ‘Well, Peter, I think you’ll be all right!’”
Gardner inherits a Bobcat team that over a nine-year stretch compiled a 122-20-5 record, including seven State Class D Championship appearances and one Gold Ball: a 3-1 victory over Ashland in 2007.
In 2013, Richmond went 10-2-2 and fell to Bangor Christian 2-1 in penalty kicks in the D title game at McMann Field in Bath. Four of the state-title defeats have come from Bangor Christian.
Down through the years, Gardner has kept tabs on how the Bobcats were going. Heck, a five-minute walk from his house will get him to the school.
“When this became available, it wasn’t something that I was looking to do,” Gardner said. “I thought, ‘Nah, I’m not going to do that.’ You know, there may be a young person who’s coming along. As it was, Mrs. Gardner [Cora], said, ‘Why not?’”
Going from Class A to Class D has absolutely no bearing on Gardner’s passion or commitment.
“Oh, I don’t see Class D … I don’t see Class B, C, D or A. I never have,” he said. “I see it as 11 on 11. Kids are kids. The biggest difference is with your selection.
“And, the kids here at Richmond play three sports, they don’t specialize. The kids who play soccer here at Richmond play basketball in the winter and baseball, or softball. They also might do track. I just hope to increase participation so maybe we can play some jayvee games.”
It’s only been two years, but has Gardner changed his approach to the game in any shape or manner?
“I think the most important thing is that they have to be students,” he said. “Coaching is to keep reminding you on the field of what you are doing. I am going to teach you. People will say to me that ‘you don’t react much on the sideline.’ Well, because I feel that I’ve taught them. So that when they go out on the field they can make decisions when they see something. And that’s what I hope to do with these kids.
“I want these kids to make those decisions. Soccer is a players’ sport. You don’t take timeouts. You meet them at halftime. And, then the game is over. The decisions, for the most part, are made by the individuals on the field.”