There was a changing of the guard for the Mountain Valley girls’ basketball team this week.
On Monday, Tammy Gallant was approved as the new coach of the Falcons. Gallant, a Rumford native, decided it was time for a change in the program and applied for the position, even though Rich Allen had not resigned or been fired.
“To me the program is all about the kids,” said Gallant, a math and language arts teacher in the middle school. “At some point, the program has to be fun. They have to have fun. They want to have a good time playing that sport. I just want to do what the kids would like to see. I want the program to be all about them. I want to be the guide that helps them get there.”
Gallant has just one year of basketball coaching experience. She was a JV coach at Rumford in the late 1980s, when she was a senior at UMF.
“My daughter is a sophomore,” she said. “I’ve been teaching in the district for 25 years. I’ve coached middle school softball. I coached high school softball and coached JV basketball. I grew up here in Rumford and played basketball here. I just thought it was time to get back into it. The girls approached me and thought they’d really like a change. So I applied.”
Gallant replaces Allen, who has coached the Falcons the last five seasons. Because of the RSU 10 teacher contract, a position held by a non-district employee is automatically opened for a span of 10 days. If a district employee applies for the position, the existing coach has no recourse.
“It’s left a very sour taste in my mouth,” said Allen, whose team went 14-4 last year and was ranked fourth in Western B before losing to Greely in the quarterfinals. “All through the process, I’ve had no voice. I’ve only been able to sit out here on my island and wait for people to make decisions on what I’ve worked hard to put together. I’ve been working for the school district for 10 years overall and eight straight. I hoped that someone somewhere would say, ‘He was kind of an employee.'”
The same contract controversy has put the coaching jobs at Dirigo in question as well. Girls’ coach Reggie Weston will likely be ousted because Bob Staples has applied for that position.
“That’s where I don’t think the RSU has thought this particular process through very well,” said Allen. “I certainly understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to keep stipend positions for people they represent. But this part wasn’t thought out. They’ve taken our coaching experiences and set them to the side. People, I think, of character didn’t apply because they understood what a coach does and has to do to put a decent program out there every year. They chose not to apply, but it left it open for people less qualified.”
Allen has coached the Falcons through their most successful stretch. The Falcons earned five straight playoff berths and reached the Western B quarterfinal four straight years, that included a win in the quarters in 2009. That was just the third quarterfinal win in Falcon history.
Allen was the JV coach for three seasons before taking the varsity job for the 2007 season.
“Nobody put in for that position back then,” said Allen, who works for Franklin Savings Bank in Rumford. “There were no teachers around that wanted it at that time.”
Allen suspected that others might be eyeing the job, especially with the contract stating what it does.
“You always know it could happen, but you’re never prepared,” said Allen, who had the pieces already in place for the summer basketball season. “Most coaches that do this, they do it because they’re passionate about it. You love doing it. I guess deep down, I really thought that people wouldn’t apply because basketball is one of the toughest sports to coach. I thought most qualified candidates didn’t put their name in because of respect for me and what I was doing. But that left the door open for someone less qualified.”
Gallant says she would have applied prior to this had the contract been different in other years. She said the opportunity just wasn’t there.
“With the change in the contracts, it gives opportunity for people inside the district to apply for positions when outside people have those positions,” she said.
Gallant has already met with her players and gotten the ball rolling on the summer program. She’s got some scrimmages lined up and an appearance at the USM team camp.
“I’m excited,” she said. “The girls are excited. The parents are excited. I think it’s going to be a good change.”
Gallant says she’s familiar with the players. She’s watched them grow up. She’s taught and coached them in the middle school.
“I want the program to be player-driven,” she said. “I want them to have a lot of input. I want them to be able to make some decisions. I think kids buy into what you’re doing when you give them ownership. That’s what our goal is going to be – give them a chance to have a say and a chance to make some rules.”