Fairness is essential for a high school basketball coach

Piscataquis Community High School’s Bryce Gilbert (right) and Fort Fairfield High School’s Alex Sprague scramble for a rebound during a Class C North quarterfinal last season in Bangor. Teams are now in the second week of preseason, preparing for openers on Dec. 7. Gabor Degre | BDN

With high school basketball preseason in full swing, coaches are in the midst of trying to keep their teams positive, happy and strong for the full season.

This was something I tried to accomplish with my teams by making sure I was also happy and I was able to do so by being fair with all the players.

A primary way in achieving this was teaching the life lessons that cannot be taught or learned in classrooms. I wanted to prepare them for their future endeavors.

I learned from my Bangor High School coach, the late Red Barry, that if you try to use seven players — five starters and two subs for depth during games — your teams will be more successful because that means those seven are getting enough playing time so they don’t worry about having to take themselves to the game.

When players try to force the action, poor basketball decisions result, which lead to more turnovers, fouls and poor shot selection.

Our 1955 Bangor High School team under Barry won the Class L (now AA) state title and went on to finish third in the New England schoolboy tournament held in the old Boston Garden. We went 2-1 in Boston, 21-2 overall and are considered by many Bangor fans as one of the best Bangor High teams.

One of the toughest teams we faced during the season was not always during games but came from the last five on our second team during practices. They kept our sixth and seventh players honest and the sixth and seventh players kept the starters honest.

The practices were tough and competitive. In fact, just to make the varsity team was a big accomplishment as we had more than 120 candidates try out for 12 varsity spots.

Those days as a player helped me later as a coach and one of the most important things I learned was to make sure to let my players know how I felt about things concerning the team so they could play off my feelings.

If I suspected some players might be unhappy about their playing time, because that is what players want the most, I would tell them after a practice if anyone was unhappy about playing time not to show it at any time. I would then say if you want to know why you aren’t playing more, just ask me right now and I will tell you.

Some asked so I told them why in front of their teammates. Then I’d ask the same question again, followed by, “answer now or forever hold your peace.”

The one thing I taught my players was life will be fair playing for me, but it may seem unfair to you as players. This taught them that life may not always seem fair, but to hang in there and always do the best you can.

I believe the one thing players want from their coach is to be fair in all things, but playing time in high school varsity basketball is not the same as intramural basketball where everyone gets to play equal minutes.

What I tried to share with my players was this: “When I pass on to that Great Basketball Court in the sky, you can put on my headstone, coach Cimbollek was a ‘blankety blank,’ but he was a fair ‘blankety blank.’”