FA’s Sedge Saunders named Class A boys’ basketball Coach of the Year

Raider Coach Sedge Saunders (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Sedge Saunders knows his varsity boys’ basketball team has plenty of challenges staring them right in the face.

Fryeburg is the smallest school in Class A South.

He often has to blend local talent with those arriving on campus from all parts of the world.

At times, there is a language barrier or conflicting style of play to overcome.

Yet, Saunders has a way of bringing it together to form a competitive squad year in and year out.

2018 proved to be a special one for Saunders and his Raiders. Fryeburg Academy earned several key victories, overcame injuries and reached the Class A South quarterfinals, giving undefeated and eventual state champion Greely a major scare.

For Coach Saunders, he was recognized for the outstanding job he did with the Raiders by southern Maine Class A colleagues by being selected as Class A South Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season.

“This award is a direct reflection of my team this year,” Coach Saunders said. “They were an extremely hard working and committed group and were probably the most coachable team I’ve had, so they made my job quite easy. Even more importantly, the team represented Fryeburg Academy with the utmost class. They were great ambassadors for our school.”

Now in his 20th year as the boys’ head basketball coach at the Academy, Saunders’ coaching career began under former coach Jay Tilton (now at Phillips Exeter) as the JV coach for three years. This year, he led the Raiders to an 8-10 record.

“We are the smallest school in the Class A South region,” Coach Saunders noted. “The way the team competed against these schools, some that were almost twice our size, shows how poised and united they were. We had a lot of exciting games and many notable wins, especially against Wells (Class B South Champions) and our win vs. Marshwood in the prelim playoff game. That game really showcased what a great ‘team’ we had as we executed 20 assists on 24 baskets, which is amazing. They were such a fun team because they shared the ball better than any I’ve coached.”

Despite the loss in the quarterfinals of the Class A tournament, Saunders says he’s still very proud of his team for their effort and how much they achieved this year.

“We hope to continue our outstanding team play next year, building off our success and challenge for a championship,” Coach Saunders said. “Our team chemistry was great this year, so we hope to duplicate that next season, but it won’t be easy because we lose some really exceptional young men to graduation.”

As part of the peer recognition, Saunders was invited to coach the Southern Maine Class AA/A/B team at the state McDonald’s All-Star game at Newman Gym on the Husson campus in Bangor this Saturday, March 10 at 10:45 a.m. No Raider or Laker boy were selected to the game, however, LR senior Chandler True — who won the DiRenzo Award as the South Class B regional tournament top player — will compete in the all-star classic. The girls play at 9:15 a.m.

The News interviewed Coach Saunders over the weekend about the honor and his feelings about coaching:

BN: Your initial reaction to receiving this honor?

Coach Saunders: My initial reaction was surprise, but I honestly didn’t think a lot about it because we were getting ready for the playoffs and my focus was on that. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I am honored to receive it, because it was voted on by my coaching peers and I have a lot of respect for all the coaches in our class, conference and region.

BN: Have you been named Coach of the Year before?

Coach Saunders: I have never been named Coach of the Year — not even coaching my sons’ Little League teams.

BN: As a coach, what is your goal and philosophy?

Coach Saunders: My goal is to become a better coach each and every year. I know a lot of coaches who have forgotten more than I know, so the aim is to continue to grow and evolve as a coach. My philosophy is to give every player I’m dealing with a chance to get better. It’s my job to open the gym when they want to take extra shots and to give them ample opportunity to improve during the summer. Once I’m not giving a great effort during the summer and during practice, it’s time for me to get done. I also believe it’s my responsibility to help these athletes find their way, and be a good role model for them. I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to show that we don’t make excuses, and that if we get knocked down we get back up. Most importantly, conduct yourself in a positive manner on and off the court.

BN: How do you think you have evolved over the years?

Coach Saunders: I’ve coached basketball for 25 years (20 as FA varsity coach). I came from programs (MDI, New Hampton and Babson) that were accustomed to winning. When I came to Fryeburg Academy, there had been some really dismal years, so the losing was tough at first, but I truly believe it made me a much better coach. I vowed that I might lose, but I would never be outworked by another coach. I’ve evolved as a coach in many ways, but primarily I try to do a better job of letting everyone on the team know they’re important. I had a parent talk to me years ago, and all he said was ‘even though my son doesn’t play a lot, just make sure he feels like he’s important to the team.’ That’s stuck with me ever since. And believe it or not, I try not to yell as much during games. My mother hated it when I would yell like a lunatic, so I really am trying to do better in that regard.

BN: What do you enjoy the most?

Coach Saunders: I really enjoy the camaraderie between coaches. I’ve developed some lifelong friendships with fellow coaches and that’s been great. More than anything, I enjoy the kids. They’ve been great. I’ve had the privilege of coaching some amazing people. Kids from Fryeburg and the surrounding towns, from Boston and New York along with Spain, Ukraine, Germany, Japan and many other countries. Not many coaches can say that. I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity.

BN: What do you dislike most?

Coach Saunders: I love practice, but game day is probably my least favorite part because I’m a nervous wreck.

BN: Greatest rewards?

Coach Saunders: As I said earlier, my greatest rewards coaching are the people I’ve met and the great kids I’ve coached.

BN: Why did you decide to get into coaching?

Coach Saunders: I had two really great coaches when I was at New Hampton, and that’s when I started thinking it might be something I would like to do. When I decided not to go into business, but teaching instead, that’s when it was a done deal as far as wanting to coach.

BN: Any particular influences or mentors, and if so, what did you learn from them?

Coach Saunders: I’ve had a lot of great mentors — coaches I’ve had at school and those I’ve met at basketball camp throughout the years. I’d say my most influential mentors would be Mark Tilton at New Hampton and my Mom. Mark Tilton showed me that a coach is more than a facilitator of basketball knowledge. A coach is a father figure, and an advocate for his/her players. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him. My Mom taught me values such as patience, remaining positive, treating people with dignity and not caring who gets the credit. I don’t always live up to these ideals, but I hear her voice reminding me each and every day.

BN: Finally, what have been the biggest changes you have seen in regards to expectations and how do you deal with it?

Coach Saunders: I’ve seen a lot of coaches come and go. I’ve been lucky. The people at Fryeburg Academy and the parents have stood by me and supported me. I’m thankful that I’m still coaching and that people have believed in me. It means a lot to me to be able to work with these kids during the long winter months.

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