A strong feeder system is one of the main reasons for a successful high school basketball varsity team.
During a coaching career at four Maine high schools — Fort Fairfield (one year), Orono (seven), Bangor (eight) and John Bapst (13) — I was fortunate to hire, evaluate and supervise middle school, freshman and junior varsity coaches.
When hiring coaches, I preferred those who previously played in the school’s program and were the most coachable as players.
The first thing I expected from these coaches was to teach the life lessons that cannot be taught or learned in academic classrooms. These were included in the basketball contract given to the players, school, coaches and parents.
The next thing I expected from the coaches was to develop talent for varsity teams and that they develop three players who would be able to contribute to the varsity teams. That was more important than wins and losses.
A final expectation for the middle school, freshman and junior varsity teams was to run the same offensive and defensive systems that we did at the varsity level.
This was more difficult in my time at John Bapst, a private high school which did not have a middle school affiliated with it. There were more than a dozen middle schools that could send their students to John Bapst. In Orono and Fort Fairfield, there was only one middle school while Bangor had two.
The most difficult decision was deciding who to keep on the freshmen teams.
The incoming freshmen to John Bapst came from public middle schools and a couple of private middle schools in the Greater Bangor area so we had no say in who coached or how they coached their teams at those schools.
When we got these players as freshmen, they were all coming from different systems of play and we didn’t know who was coming until we had our first summer basketball meeting. We told them we would keep the 12 to 15 players that best fit the type of basketball system we were using at Bapst.
Regardless of where middle school players played, our varsity team would usually have 12 players. We carried a minimum of three seniors and three juniors.
We only kept freshmen and sophomores on the varsity if they were going to be starters. We never cut any seniors who played the previous three years in our program.
Other freshmen were kept on the freshmen team and sophomores on the JV teams. The juniors kept on the JV teams were usually the big, physical players who we hoped would be late bloomers for varsity.
Over the years, I would attend as many middle school and freshman games as possible. Our middle school and freshman coaches were encouraged to sit on the bench during varsity games whenever scheduling allowed. JV coaches were expected to do this.
Those coaches, as well as volunteer assistant varsity coaches, made valuable contributions to the success of our programs at Fort Fairfield, Orono, Bangor and John Bapst.