Russ Bartlett has experienced considerable coaching success, particularly with the boys basketball team at Hampden Academy.
He’s guided his alma mater to a 259-72 record during the past 15 winters, leading to three Class A state championships and seven regional titles.
But those title runs are not confined to the court.
Two years ago Bartlett coached the Bronco (Hampden area) 9- and 10-year-old Little League Baseball all-stars to the Maine District 3 championship and a third-place finish at the state tournament.
On Saturday afternoon, Bartlett will take most of those same players back to the state tourney in Lewiston as manager of Bronco’s 11-12 District 3 championship team.
“I get just as nervous for the Little League games as I do for the varsity basketball games, but I can put it behind me way quicker if we lose,” he said. “The kids do, too. With them it’s, ‘Let’s go get an ice cream and what’s going on tomorrow.’”
Bartlett sees differences in his coaching approaches at the Little League and varsity levels but says the goal in both instances is to foster player improvement while helping teams maximize their potential.
“I teach K-4, so I understand the younger kids’ mind set and understand their attention span,” said Bartlett, a physical education teacher at the Leroy H. Smith School in Winterport. “Do I incorporate that into some of the practice planning? Maybe a little bit, but at the same point at the all-star level you can ask a lot of the kids.”
Bartlett’s Little League team does not practice as often as his high school team does during basketball season, but he seeks similar results when the Bronco baseball players work out.
“The 90 minutes we practice we try to make intense and on point and get the kids focused,” Bartlett said. “We try to hit the ball and throw and catch the ball and do the fundamentals well in baseball like you would in basketball.”
Bartlett said remaining positive is a key part of the coaching discipline, particularly with younger baseball players.
“With the high school kids you can be really tough on them, and they bounce right back quickly,” he said. “I try to stay more positive with the younger kids, but at the same point I’m not afraid to criticize with the understanding that we’re doing this to try to make things better, with a quick compliment afterward.”
Bartlett’s own baseball career ended in middle school, a victim of burnout.
“I played too much as a kid,” he said. “I really loved basketball, and as soon as we started doing baseball practice in a gym, I didn’t like it anymore. I hated having to take ground balls in a gym. I thought it was ridiculous.”
But some of his favorite coaching moments have come on the diamond, including with son Kade, who has played on both Bronco’s 2017 9-10 team and this year’s 11-12 squad.
“What I’ve found is that as a 10-year-old he focused a lot on what I said to him negatively,” Bartlett said. “Consequently I try to make sure now that if I do have a negative comment that it’s just in passing, and then we can find a lot more positive things to talk about.
“He’s had a real successful 12-year-old year. I’ve been real happy for him and the way he’s played.”
Bartlett also counts his 9-10 team’s qualifying for states two years ago as another highlight.
“It was one of the more enjoyable coaching experiences I’ve had,” he said. “To see the kids make the state tournament and win our first two games as 9- and 10-year-olds, it was like ‘Holy smoke, we’re two wins away from going to Bristol [Connecticut, site of the New England regional].’”
Bronco qualified for this year’s 11-12 state tournament at Giroux Field in Lewiston by defeating Old Town in back-to-back games last week after losing to the Canoe City team 10-7 in an earlier battle of the past two unbeatens in the 12-team district.
Team members are Kade Bartlett, Kaiden Benjamin, Robert Burger, Andrew Cote, Andy Henaghen, Liam Henaghen, Aiden Kochedoerfer, Josh Lorenzo, Nykson Moors, Logan Powers, Kaysen Wildman and Ethan Young. Coaching the team with Bartlett are Tom Henaghen and Josh Wildman.
The District 3 champs will face District 1 champion Machias in the opener of the state tournament. Other qualifiers are Waldoboro (District 2), York (District 4), Lewiston (District 5) and Cumberland-North Yarmouth (District 6).
“This will probably be the end of my baseball coaching career, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Bartlett said.