Dean Preston has balanced his love of coaching basketball with family, civilian work and a career in the Maine Army National Guard for two decades.
This winter, the 52-year-old Pembroke resident faces another challenging juggling act as head coach of both the boys and girls varsity teams at Washington Academy in East Machias.
Coaches occasionally have coached two basketball teams simultaneously at some of the state’s smallest schools, but rarely at the Class B level. That is where Washington Academy, a school of approximately 400 students, competes.
Opening night — or nights, to be precise — for the Raiders provide an example of the tight scheduling Preston faces.
The Washington Academy girls play Tuesday night at Ellsworth, so while his junior varsity coach accompanies that squad on the bus to the game, Preston will stay behind to lead the boys practice. He’ll then drive his wife Avery, who also keeps the teams’ scorebooks, to the girls game.
He expects to arrive in Ellsworth around halftime of the junior varsity contest.
Once the varsity game concludes, Preston will ride home on the bus with the girls team, then repeat the same routine the next night, this time staying behind for practice with the girls and then joining the boys for their game at Ellsworth.
“I can’t afford to have the boys miss a practice because the girls are traveling or vice versa,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can. I’m definitely not going to let either team pay for any lack of effort on my part.”
Such a scenario will take place five times between the two teams during the season, in large part because Washington Academy plays most of its contests as varsity doubleheaders or quadrupleheaders that include JV games.
WA is scheduled to play on seven Saturdays, beginning this weekend with a four-game day against Mount View of Thorndike. The Raiders also have several multiple-game days during Christmas break and another four-game slate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in mid-January.
“If anyone can pull it off, it’s Dean,” WA athletic administrator Blaine Steeves said. “He is a very organized man. Could I pull it off? Absolutely not. He’s going to have to rely on his JV coaches and me to help out, but we’re fortunate that we have a lot of four-game days and that involves pretty much every Saturday and holidays and vacation days. I just pray we don’t get a lot of snow.”
Preston also must coach around his primary occupations as brigade commander for the 120th Regional Support Group of the Maine Army National Guard in Bangor and as superintendent of the Washington County office of Unorganized Territories.
“Everybody knows what I’m involved with and each one of those aspects supports each other,” he said. “My employer supports my coaching and the Guard is really supportive. I’m fortunate to be involved in three entities that really embrace the other two.”
Preston, a graduate of Shead High School in Eastport and the University of Maine, has been coaching since becoming girls varsity basketball coach at Shead in 1998.
He guided the Tigerettes to the 1999 Class D state championship and remained with the team until 2004. He then spent a year as the women’s basketball coach at the University of Maine at Machias before serving a combat deployment with the National Guard in Iraq.
Preston subsequently coached girls basketball at Washington Academy in 2006, then moved back to Shead with the boys team for six years until being deployed to Afghanistan.
He began his second stint with the Shead girls during the 2014-2015 season when his daughter Holly was a freshman on the team. Preston remained for two years before leaving to attend the American War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania — and Shead won the 2016 Class D North championship in his absence.
He returned to Shead a year later, when father and daughter shared in the team’s 2017 Class D North title run.
Preston returned to WA last winter and guided a girls team that had gone winless the previous year to two victories in Class B North.
“A lot of time success is not measured by W’s and L’s, it’s measured by improvement,” he said.
When Washington Academy opened its boys basketball coaching position to new applicants after last season, Preston expressed interest but was reluctant to leave the girls post.
“The assumption was, I’d just go to the boys team, but when you coach you tend to build relationships with kids,” Preston said. “It’s one thing to move to another school because you don’t have to look them in the eyes anymore, but the girls had started to do some good things.”
With few other candidates emerging for the boys post, Preston and Steeves discussed the logistics involved in leading both varsity teams and ultimately came to an agreement.
“I don’t know if it’s a long-term thing because we have to try to keep ourselves from burning out and we don’t want the kids or the teams to suffer,” Preston said. “But I think I’m mentally ready for it.”
Preston coached both teams during the summer, which included trips to Dexter, Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent, two girls tournaments, one boys tournament and Down East summer league play.
“It was pretty demanding but it was a real taste of the season,” he said.
While Preston understands that time management will be critical to his success, he expects his competitive fire to counter any building fatigue while teaching life lessons through basketball.
“For me it’s the chance to compete and try to build teams to compete at the highest level in Maine,” he said. “In Washington County basketball is king, and to be able to compete on that level is a lot of fun.”