Mike Socoby is the new boys varsity basketball coach at Stearns High School in Millinocket. Credit: Contributed

After several seasons on the sidelines at the middle-school level and as an assistant high school basketball coach, Mike Socoby wasn’t sure he wanted to continue in the sport.

So he took a winter off before returning to the sidelines last spring with a varsity-level team through the Maine Sting AAU basketball program, and now he’s the new boys’ varsity basketball coach at Stearns High School in Millinocket.

“Once I got coaching AAU last spring I was able to scratch that competitive itch again,” said Socoby, who works as a 911 dispatcher with the Penobscot Indian Nation public safety department on his native Indian Island.

The 36-year-old Socoby is among the first Penobscot Nation natives to be a boys varsity basketball coach at a Maine high school. 

Another Penobscot Nation native, Mike Sockalexis, coached at Searsport and Shead high schools in the late ’80s to the early ’90s.

Socoby, who played two years of high school basketball in Old Town before transferring to Orono where he played his final two years before graduating in 2003, sees his new job as an opportunity to motivate not only his new team but also others in his community who might be interested in coaching.

“I kind of look at it as getting a chance to make history here,” he said. “I hope I can pave the way for others, not just to coach but to get your name out there and go after something you love. Do what you love. Don’t be afraid to take a chance.”

Socoby began coaching in 2012 on Indian Island, then coached the Orono Middle School B team for two years and the school’s A team for five years. He also spent time as an assistant basketball coach at Orono High School.

Stearns finished 9-9 in the 2019-20 regular season and then defeated Woodland 63-40 in the Class C North preliminary round before being ousted by Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in the quarterfinals.

The 2020-21 season was reduced to an abbreviated, regionalized schedule with no statewide tournament due to COVID-19.

Socoby plans to adapt his coaching style to the skills of the players he’ll coach at Stearns, which like other high school teams around the state began preseason practices this week.

“I’ll look at the team I have and put the pieces in place as I go,” he said. “If we don’t have a lot of height, I’ll lean toward being a fast-break team with a fullcourt press. If we have a slower team we’ll need to use more halfcourt defense and more halfcourt offense.”

Socoby said he is grateful to his colleagues on the Penobscot Indian Nation dispatch crew for helping ensure that his coaching responsibilities won’t conflict with his job.

“The idea always kind of popped into my head but I never really wanted to follow through with it because of my job and the hours we work here. They vary each week,” he said.

“All of my co-workers are very supportive of this. I don’t think I could do this without them. They’ve come up huge for me already so I really appreciate everything they’re doing.”

Correction: This story has been updated to include at least one previous Penobscot Nation native, Mike Sockalexis, coached at the varsity level for Maine high school boys basketball.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...