Cutting players is the toughest job for a high school basketball coach

The Hermon High School boys lift the gold ball high after defeating Wells for the Class B state championship at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor last  March. Teams began their title quests on Monday with tryouts. Terry Farren/BDN

The toughest two days for high school basketball players and coaches — tryouts — started Monday and continue Tuesday.

Before the Maine Principals’ Association sports season policy was implemented years ago, there were five weeks of preseason compared to the three weeks now.

When five weeks, I usually used the first four days for tryouts but went to two days after the three-week preseason began.

Tryouts were the toughest for me as a coach. That is why summer basketball is so important in evaluating players.

People have often asked me what is tougher: a player trying out or a coach making the cuts?

To me, it was as a coach because I was affecting the lives of many, whereas as a player it was only me.

I tried out for teams eight times as a player, twice in elementary school, three times in junior high and three times in high school.

As a coach I had to make cuts 33 seasons, three times as a middle school coach, once as a freshman coach and 29 times as a high school varsity coach.

I was very lucky as a player as I only got cut once and that was the first day of tryouts as a sophomore at Bangor High School in the early 1950s. However, the pain, frustration and disappointment of being cut only lasted several hours as the coach called me in and told me he had made a mistake and my name should have been on the list.

Both the varsity and junior varsity tryouts were together and there were more than 120 candidates trying out for the 24 spots that season, 12 on varsity and 12 on JV. Because 20 sophomores were still on the list for tryouts I thought my basketball career was over but I made the JV team so my being cut lasted only several hours.

However, I will never forget that day and as a coach it stuck with me over the years when I had to make cuts when I coached high school basketball at Fort Fairfield, Orono, Bangor and John Bapst. I knew and felt what players were going through as they tried out each day with anxiety felt when rushing to see if you were still on the tryout list.

When evaluating players, I used the same skills test that my high school coach, the late Red Barry, used consisting of four skill parts for time: alternating layups, wall pass, dribble/shoot and a dribble maze.

The lower the time the better the test score. It was done to see how players reacted under pressure.

The other part of the tryout skills were 3 on 1 and 3 on 2 continuous fast break drills of up and back the court once for each group of three. This drill showed if players were coachable and could follow directions.

Any senior who had been in our program for three seasons was told that if they tried out they would not be cut. I would meet with them and tell them that if they decided that they did not want to tryout or to remain on the team because of lack of playing time they could leave whenever they wished and it would not be held against them.

Making the decisions of who to keep might affect some individuals futures. If I had been cut that first day as a sophomore I would not ended up with a career as a physical education teacher, coach and athletic director.

That was always in the back of my mind when I had to make cuts. Just as political elections have consequences, so do cuts.

Coaches have to live with their cuts and it was always difficult not knowing who the late-blooming players may be.

For those who do get cut, don’t despair and keep working while remembering that even Michael Jordan got cut as a sophomore in high school.