When Cliff Urquhart and Ben Maloney needed advice before last year’s Class D basketball state finals, help was only a speed dial away.
The two were coaching in different games of the doubleheader at the Augusta Civic Center: Urquhart was leading the Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook girls team against Vinalhaven and Maloney was to guide the Woodland boys against Greenville in the second game.
“Ben and I talked a lot before those games last year about what we were doing to prepare, trying to schedule practices down in Augusta and just being friends,” Urquhart said of exchanges with his former teammate at Shead High School in Eastport.
Not only was the accomplishment unusual, but Urquhart and Maloney also came within an eyelash of sharing in celebration. The Southern Aroostook girls defeated Vinalhaven 54-37, but Woodland fell 47-46 to Greenville in the boys game.
Members of Shead’s 1999-2000 boys basketball team have figured prominently in recent tournaments. Four players from that squad are varsity head coaches — all of which have qualified for postseason play again this year.
The teams coached by Urquhart and Maloney both were ranked No. 1 in the final Class D North Heal Points and will make their tourney debuts on Monday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. So, too, will the fifth-ranked Shead girls team coached by another 1999-2000 teammate, Corey Sullivan.
And yet another player off that Shead team, Darrin Constant, took the No. 11 Calais boys team to No. 6 Fort Kent for a Class C North play-in game Tuesday and scored a 53-48 victory to earn itself a quarterfinal berth next week in Bangor against No. 3 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.
“We would eat, sleep and breathe [basketball], and we were all competitive people, so looking back I could see this happen,” Constant said of the coaching quartet from the state’s smallest city which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, had an estimated 1,267 residents in 2017.
“We all had different paths to get there and different success levels, but I could definitely see it,” he said.
Nearly two decades after playing together, the lines of communication originally forged on the the basketball court are as lively as ever as the biggest games of the year for each team approach.
“I bet this week alone Cliff and I have texted 200 times,” Sullivan said.
From players to coaches
Sullivan was a senior, Urquhart a junior, and Maloney and Constant freshmen on the 1999-2000 Shead team.
“With these kids it wasn’t about smokin’ and jokin’ in the back of the bus, no matter if you won or lost,” said Paul Theriault, the coach of that Shead team who is now Shead’s principal. “These kids wanted to be playing and talking basketball, but they were good athletes in all sports.”
Shead’s girls basketball team won the 1999 Class D state championship, but the boys team was rebuilding. Maloney and Constant quickly moved up from the junior varsity to get significant varsity minutes alongside their older teammates.
The Tigers finished the 1999-2000 season with a 5-13 record.
“I always joke with the guys and say, ‘Look, if you would have passed me the ball more back then we would have won more,’” Urquhart said.
All four left home to continue their educations, with all but Urquhart eventually returning to Washington County to work, raise families and coach.
Urquhart, whose father Glynn was an assistant under Theriault at Shead, headed north after graduating from Husson University in Bangor. He landed at Southern Aroostook, where he coached soccer for nine years and spent two years as the boys varsity basketball coach at neighboring Katahdin of Stacyville. He has coached the Southern Aroostook girls team the past seven seasons.
“I just fell into it naturally,” said Urquhart, who also teaches and is the first-year athletic director at Southern Aroostook, “because I went into phys. ed., got a phys. ed. degree and naturally with that you get into coaching.”
Constant and Maloney have been varsity head coaches for seven years each. Constant spent his first four years at Shead and the past three in Calais, where he works as a juvenile community corrections officer.
Sullivan, a longshoreman in Eastport who also fishes for lobster and scallops, is in his fifth year as a head coach at Shead. Four were with the girls team including 2016, when he guided the Tigers to the Class D North title.
Sullivan replaced Constant as Shead’s boys varsity coach in 2016 before returning to the girls ranks last year.
Maloney returned from military service to study at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor and at Husson. While at Husson, he began his coaching career as an an assistant under then-EMCC coach Steve Rich.
Maloney and Constant have a unique coaching rivalry.
“He was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man at his wedding, and we’ve been best friends since I can remember,” Constant said. “It’s always been hugely kind of competitive between the two of us. We were always in the same grade.”
They also have engaged in some coaching battles.
“We’ve played each other every year, and it seems like every game we have against each other has been a barn burner,” Constant said.
Calais and Woodland play twice each winter, as do the Shead and Southern Aroostook girls. It’s possible Urquhart and Sullivan could meet again at this year’s tournament if each team wins its quarterfinal.
But whether they’re coaching against each other or taking on other opponents, the friends are there for each other.
“With social media and everything we communicate quite often and talk about each other’s problems, what’s working well and not so well,” said Maloney, a fiscal director for Maine Indian Education. “And we cheer each other on when we’re not playing each other.”
After all, teammates are for life — to a point.
“I tell them I couldn’t wear a Calais jersey or a Woodland T-shirt. I wish them the best of luck, but you’re not going to see me wearing a Blue Devil hoodie,” Sullivan said.
“But we’re all Shead, we all graduated from Shead, we’re all Tigers.”