Maine High school basketball starts today with the most important and toughest days of the season for everyone involved

With today being Monday, November 20th, 2017 it is the beginning of the MPA’s 2017-18 basketball season. It is the most important and toughest week of the entire basketball season for all those involved with the tryout seasons to determine which candidates boys and girls make the varsity, JV or freshmen teams.

I wrote about this in a past column several years ago, but it is still important enough in remind all involved that this is the most difficult few days of the basketball season for most coaches.

It also is very stressful for the players trying out. I remember at Class L Bangor high school from 1952-55 there where over 120 sophomores, juniors and seniors trying out for just 2 teams the varsity and Junior Varsity squads which meant only 24 out of over 120 plus boys made a team. For the ones getting cut they had to look to the high school intramural program and the Bangor YMCA’s Church League and vacation league tournaments.

Many of the players back then that were cut would have been starters in other high schools in classes S and M and even some L schools. The competition just to make one of the two teams was very difficult.

I can remember how anxiously we all were to rush to the bulletin board where lists after each cut were posted.

Usually there were 3 or 4 days until the final teams were selected. When seniors were not on the list for the varsity it meant they had to look towards the YMCA and high school intramurals.

For the sophomores and juniors cut from the varsity they got to tryout for the 12 spots on the JV team with the sophomores having the advantage over the juniors. My sophomore year, 1952-53 the JV team was made up of 11 sophomores and 1 junior.

I was very lucky as I made the JV’s my sophomore year and the varsity my junior and senior years at Bangor. But I remember the butterflies in my stomach when I looked at the team lists and remembered it especially when I was coaching and was responsible in making these tough decisions for candidates for my Bangor High Program from 1969-77 where I still had over 120 candidates as I did when I tried out years before and what I and many others went through.

The reason there were so many candidates for basketball tryouts during those time periods where because that basketball was the only boys sport offered during the winter.

Today there is swimming, indoor track, wrestling, skiing, etc. for the basketball candidates could go to if they got cut from the basketball program. Or just to tryout for if they were not interested in playing basketball as they have so many more choices like the internet, computers, hand held devices, etc. and the opportunity to play a sport year round, then we did back in the 50’s and when I coached at Bangor from 1969-77.

For example, Bangor High had a lot less number of basketball candidates trying out for the varsity, JV’s and freshmen teams today for 3 teams compared to our tryout numbers for just 2 teams.

The more candidates the tougher the job in selecting and placing players on teams. Of course, you had JV and Varsity players returning each a year and grade older to compete with.

I can remember when coaching basketball at John Bapst from 1987-2000 we were lucky that we did not usually have to cut any candidate as we usually had just enough candidates (36) for to have 12 each on the varsity, JV’s and freshmen teams and it was just a case of placement of each player.

When I was at Fort Fairfield in 1961-62 and Orono from 1962-69 had to cut players to fill out the 3 teams.

At Bangor the freshmen were at the 3 junior high schools so we did not have a freshmen team.

When we cut, especially at Bangor we would have a meeting after each cut for those that got cut to meet and tell them how much we appreciated their efforts in trying out for our program and tell them why they got cut and then encourage them, especially if they were sophomores to continue playing at the Y and then try out again next season and to come play in our summer program next summer. This was a voluntary meeting for those that did not make the varsity or JV’s.

Also, I never cut a senior who had been involved with our program as a freshmen, sophomore and junior. The senior might have been a 20/20 player meaning they only were going to play when we were up 20 or down 20 in games and I always told them before the final cut that they were not going to be cut but if they weren’t a 20/20layer I told them they were not going to play much so it was up to them if they wanted to be part of the team. Also told them that once the season began and they decided they didn’t want to stay on the team that it would be OK and they would not have anything negative put in their permanent school record about quitting. Had very few if any ever quit regardless of the playing time they got. In fact, some enjoyed basketball so much even as a bench warmer 20/20 players with little playing time they still went into coaching basketball.

Being involved with the cutting process in high school and college as a candidate and as a player, it helped me to understand and how to handle the cutting of players as positive as possible in a negative situation for those that didn’t make either team from my high school teams.

But even with all that experience it still was a very difficult job for me to post a cut list of who is still on the list.

I really tried to give each candidate a honest and fair tryout during tryouts followed by, the meeting after each of the cuts.

Also told all that got cut and those that made the teams that there is never a final cut and if we lost players for a positive or negative reason we would probably be looking at who got cut last from each team and offer them a position to replace a player we lost.

All I remember as a coach was I got less sleep that week of trouts them I did after a tough loss during the season as I was making decisions that were going to effect more players negatively then the ones who got positive results in making the teams.

After all when I was coaching at Bangor 24 out of 120 plus meant that 24 were happy and 100 or so certainly were disappointed and felt bad.

So I can certainly understand how the coaches, candidates and the players who where cut parents are feeling this week that cuts are necessary to make up team rosters.

All I say, is all coaches can make mistakes, even Michael Jordan got cut as a sophomore in high school, but that didn’t stop him becoming the best player to ever play the game at the highest level.