Hamlin honored for coaching success on and off the court

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    MILO — His resume include three state championships, five regional titles, eight appearances in an Eastern or Western Maine championship game, 17 years behind the bench at Penquis Valley High School, 31 seasons of coaching Maine high school basketball, 401 career victories and having an influence on the lives of countless players and others.



Observer photos/Stuart Hedstrom

    THREE STATE TITLES — Recently retired Penquis Valley High School boys basketball coach Tony Hamlin was presented with replicas of the three Gold Balls he won during his coaching career as part of a ceremony June 8 at the high school in Milo. From left is the Gold Ball representing the 1983 Class A championship Hamlin won at South Portland, which is being given to Hamlin by his son Casey, as well as a Gold Ball from members of the Class C state championship teams in 2000 and one for the 2013 title from Trevor Lyford who was a junior on the team.

    Recently retired Penquis boys basketball coach Tony Hamlin was honored for all of these accomplishments and more during a program on the evening of June 8 in the Walter “Eddie” Oakes Gymnasium at the high school. Speakers such as recent and former players, other Maine high school coaches and former University of Maine men’s basketball head coach Skip Chappelle all paid tribute to the local legend.
    Jason Mills, who is succeeding Hamlin as coach of the Patriots, began the presentation by mentioning Hamlin’s numerous accomplishments, which include being a four-time McDonald’s All-Star Team coach, a 2009 inductee into the Maine Sports Legends’ Hall of Fame and being chosen for the New England Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2013.
    “I have worked with Tony the last three years as an assistant coach,” Mills said, saying before joining the coaching staff he did not realize the amount of details Hamlin prepares his players for. Mills said Hamlin had his teams ready not just to always play great defense, but to be constantly ready to grab offensive rebounds at the other end of the court.
    The first guest speaker Jensen Bissell said he got to know Hamlin when he moved back to his hometown during the 1990s after having coached at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Morse High School in Bath and South Portland High School — which included the 1983 Class A state championship and a Western Maine title two years later. “A very accomplished career this man already had,” Bissell said. “He decided he would come back and teach here and give back to the community he grew up in.”
    Bissell said Hamlin ended up resuming his coaching career at his alma mater, and early on there were some “who would have been OK if Tony failed. Really what he did was put his head down and persevere.”
    “Things about discipline, hard work, respect, objectives and how you get them, that’s what these kids got,’ Jensen said. “We, as an outcome of him coaching here, got to watch some very good basketball.”
    Travis Ellis, a 2000 graduate who starred on the Patriots team that won the Class C state championship that season, spoke next and he said Hamlin’s practices were always intense with an emphasis placed on defense. “All of that hard work he had us put in in practice obviously paid off in the end,” Ellis said. He mentioned how the emphasis on defense Hamlin stressed has seemed to change basketball across the Penobscot Valley Conference, with scores running in the 50- and 40-point ranges instead of up into the 80s and 90s.
    “There’s really not much else to say, expect thank you,” Ellis concluded.
    Stepping up to the podium next was Trevor Lyford, who as a junior helped Penquis capture the Class C championship in March for Hamlin’s third career Gold Ball and second with the Patriots. Lyford began by putting on a sweater like the article of clothing Hamlin wears on the sideline, and rolling the bottom up to imitate what often happens to Hamlin in the heat of the moment when he gets coaching — a picture of Hamlin with his sweater rolled up and shirt beneath showing above the belt was taped to the podium before the ceremony.
    “I would say he’s one of the best coaches in Class C and the state of Maine,” Lyford said. “There’s always a method to his madness.” Lyford then mentioned the sweater flip and Hamlin’s often used phrase “are you kidding me?” as examples of frequent occurrences during gametime.
    “He has a special relationship with all his players,” Lyford said, adding that Hamlin would often “get in the trenches with you” by providing hands-on demonstrations during practice. “Every team that he had did two things, play defense and work hard.”
    “He generally cared about his players,” Lyford said, adding that past Patriots will come back to practices and Hamlin is always just a phone call away. He then presented his coach with a framed cartoon, illustrating Hamlin complete with the bottom of his sweater turned up.
    2011 Penquis graduate Bryan Russell shared a story, describing how during a full-court press drill one day he was trapped in the corner and when trying to make a pass had the ball slip out of his grasp and soared up in the air before hitting a light fixture hanging from the ceiling. “Russell, you are the worst player I have ever seen!,’” Hamlin yelled.
    Russell said during a scouting trip he took to Millinocket with Hamlin and his father, another longtime high school basketball coach, Hamlin recounted a story during his playing days at UMaine when Chappelle told him that he was the worst player the coach had ever seen. Russell then thanked Hamlin for allowing him to be an assistant coach on the 2012-13 team and earn a state championship ring.
    “What a career his has been,” said Hamlin’s son Casey, a 1998 Penquis graduate. “It’s not just the three Gold Balls, it’s also the stuff off the court that makes him successful.”
    The younger Hamlin mentioned how a player at Katahdin High School in Stacyville was injured in a snowmobile accident and the Penquis team conducted a fundraising bottle drive. “What makes Coach great isn’t necessarily the wins and losses, but it’s the life lessons,” Casey Hamlin said.
    Chappelle said he first coached Hamlin on the UMaine freshman team in the early 1970s, and the next season the two moved up to the Black Bear varsity. “We proceeded to win 15 games, the most wins in the last 11 years at the school at the time,” Chappelle said. He said UMaine was above .500 all three of Hamlin’s varsity seasons, including when Hamlin served as senior captain. “When he left we went back below .500,” Chappelle said.
    The college coach said Hamlin is being inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame later in the month. Chappelle said a Maine Basketball Hall of Fame has been formed, and Hamlin has been asked to serve on the board of directors.
    Longtime Maine high school basketball coaches Tom Maines, who most recently led the Scarborough High School girls, and Mike McGee, who in the spring retired after a long stint with the Lawrence High School of Fairfield boys, both spoke on their fellow coach’s behalf.
Hamlin and Hackett

    Maines said Hamlin’s teams were always tough to play against. He stated that back in 2000 when he was coaching the boys at Madison Memorial High School he told Hamlin that he felt that the Penquis team would not be able to defeat Boothbay Region High School, but the Patriots ended up defeating the Seahawks to win the first Gold Ball in school history.
    McGee read from a letter he wrote in support of Hamlin’s induction into the Maine Sports Legends Hall of Fame. “I have never been around someone who has had more influence on the game of basketball than Tony Hamlin,” McGee said, mentioning how Hamlin has been a mentor to other coaches around the state.
    “I consider him to be the best coach in Maine basketball the last 40 years,” McGee said, adding that Hamlin’s family is his greatest accomplishment and “Tony is the ultimate family man.”
    “Forget all his championships and accomplishments, but look at all the productive members of society he has produced,” McGee said. “If I had a son I would want him to play for Tony, not because of the state championships but because of the life lessons taught.”
    Hamlin was presented with a pair of plaques, the first from Penquis Principal Matt Hackett inscribed with Hamlin’s career accomplishments, Hackett said, is from the entire school community.
    The second plaque was presented by SAD 41 Superintendent Michael Wright. Wright said he used to coach high school basketball and when he was getting started he reached out to established figures many “wouldn’t give you the time of day” but not Hamlin who provided Wright with advice. “The thing I remember with Tony really is the connection he had with his players, and I didn’t see that with other coaches. I see that same connection with the players who play here today.”
Hamlin and Wright

    Wright said in one of his coaching stops he won just seven games in two seasons. If he was going to match Hamlin’s career victory total of 401 at that rate, he said it would take him over 114 years to do so.
    “Probably the proudest night I have had in my four years here was the night when the team won the state championship,” Wright said, as the seemingly the entire community traveled to the Bangor Auditorium to see Hamlin and the Patriots defeat Boothbay in the Class C state championship.
    The 2013 state title was Hamlin’s third, and he was presented with replica Gold Balls of all three titles (provided by Ron Desmarais). The three Gold Balls each included names and team statistics such as records and scores, with Casey Hamlin presenting his father with the Gold Ball for the 1983 Class A championship and members of the 2000 and 2013 teams presenting their coach with the two won at Penquis.

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