FARMINGTON – If all high school basketball coaching victories unfolded this easily, Jim Bessey wouldn’t be able to count his fellow members of Maine’s 400-win fraternity on both hands.
Coaches of all ages would be less inclined to quit or become administrators if winning were as simple as sending five senior starters into the spotlight and watching them drop the hammer the way Mt. Blue High School did Tuesday night.
“I think it means longevity,” Bessey said after the Cougars clobbered the Nokomis Warriors, 77-29, and made him only the ninth basketball boss in state history to accumulate 400 varsity victories.
“My situation is a little different than someone like Roger Reed at Bangor. We don’t win 20 games every year. Longevity would be a big factor.”
Considering that high school programs in Maine play a maximum of 18 regular-season contests and no more than four playoff games each winter, 400 wins in Maine are a similar achievement to Bob Knight’s 880 or Dean Smith’s 879 at the collegiate level.
Dick Barstow, most notably of Katahdin and Presque Isle, is the only coach to exceed 500 wins. At 400-plus, Bessey shares his rung of the ladder with Reed, Ordie Alley, Bob Cimbollek, John Donato, Phil Faulkner, Dwight Littlefield and I.J. Pinkham.
The Maine Association of Basketball Coaches has recognized numerous active coaches for reaching the 100 or 200-win plateau, but it’s hard to imagine many of them hanging around long enough to catch 60-something former University of Maine at Farmington schoolmates Bessey and Reed.
Even more mind-boggling is the thought of someone starting today and joining the elite club. Here’s a little perspective: In order for first-year head coaches Ryan Deschenes of St. Dom’s or Edwin Thompson of Jay to win 400 games, either man would have to average 12 wins per season until 2041.
“I think it would be tough for someone to stay around long enough today,” said Bessey. “Even a coach like Knight, he wouldn’t coach that long (if he started now) with all the peripheral stuff.”
With the exception of a four-year stint at Madison in the 1980s, Bessey has been affiliated with his current program since he took the junior varsity job at Farmington High School in 1966.
Though he is retired from teaching, Bessey’s continued involvement with the local basketball program at all age levels is legendary. So are his sense of humor and his Type-A sideline personality.
“He knows a lot about basketball,” said senior Adam Gilbert, who scored 18 points in the milestone triumph. “And he’s pretty intense all the time.”
“I probably met him when I was in junior high. He started coming to our games then,” said senior point guard Art Trask, who added 10 points. “Practice is all running and working on our game plan. If you don’t do something the right way, he will get on your case.”
Tuesday didn’t offer many teachable moments to the naked eye.
The Cougars (7-1) scored the first six points and led 35-12 at the half. Isaiah Brathwaite scored 22 points and nailed three of Mt. Blue’s six 3-pointers.
A sparse crowd provided one unfortunate sign of the times. While coaches today are subject to more chatter and second-guessing than ever, game attendance is often less than half what it was during Bessey’s early years in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.
“It’s the age of technology. There are more things to do,” Bessey said. “But I can remember years when we would play Lawrence or Skowhegan and this gym was full.”
Fans will get their chance to wish Bessey belated congratulations at Mt. Blue’s next home game Jan. 19 against Bangor. In a pre-game ceremony, several Mt. Blue alumni of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s are expected to be introduced along with their still-active coach.