Yorkey returns to coaching

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

When J.P. Yorkey became the assistant principal at Lake Region Middle School, he figured his days as a coach were over.

A growing trend in education seems to frown upon administrators working the sidelines as coaches. Some school systems prohibit the dual role. Yet, some continue to embrace it, feeling the connection that can be created between students and administrator/coach is valuable.

When the Lake Region varsity boys’ basketball job opened, the vacancy caught Yorkey’s eye. When former middle school players asked him to consider the job, Yorkey said he would think about it. When LRMS Principal Peter Mortenson gave his blessing, Yorkey couldn’t resist the chance to return to the hardwoods.

“I once thought I was done with coaching,” he said. “Then, I realized that I wasn’t really ready to give it up. I’m thrilled to get this opportunity.”

Yorkey is back at the basketball helm, and is eager for opening night as the Lakers travel to York Friday. The News recently caught up with the new coach:

BN. How did you become involved with coaching?

JPY. Coaching basketball is what got me into education. I started coaching in 1990 as a junior varsity coach at Longmeadow High School (Longmeadow, Mass.). I was there for three years. It was a great experience. I had the opportunity to coach some very good players — Kevin Freeman, who went on to be a four-year starter at UConn, the 1999 national championship team and Jay Heaps, who went on to play soccer and basketball at Duke, and just retired as a

member of the New England Revolution. That was fun, as well as playing against some very good schools including Springfield Central High School, who was undefeated and ranked in the Top 20 in the country, and had a kid on the team named Travis Best, who went on to play for the Indiana Pacers. I then went on to Binghamton University (upstate New York), where I was an assistant for three years, under Dick Baldwin. I loved coaching at the college level. I left there to become the varsity coach at Green Central High School in upstate New York, where I was teaching at (I was 26 years old). It was a program with some winning tradition, but was coming off a couple of tough years (8-32). We had a transitional year — I don’t like the word ‘rebuilding’ — but by the second and third years, we had winning records. We were able to increase our numbers, and added youth and travel teams, which weren’t in place. And, we got a freshman team back, which had been cut. It was a fun time.

BN. Why did you return to Maine?

JPY. I grew up in Westbrook and Falmouth. I graduated in 1988 from Falmouth High, where I played basketball, soccer and track. I wanted to come back to Maine when my wife and I decided to start a family. I became the athletic director at Kennebunk High School. It was fantastic. A perfect match. The following summer, I had a chance to be an AD and coach basketball at another school. For me, I still liked to coach. I thought I was ready to get out of it, but realized quickly that I wasn’t. I coached at Gray for a year. When I was hired, the superintendent and coach were new. They were excited for me to do both jobs. But later, the school board said ‘Wait a minute. We don’t allow our AD to coach here.’ I had already resigned from my other job, so they let me coach for a year. It went well. I had a fantastic experience. We were much better than people thought we would be. We won a first-round playoff game, then lost to Greely by 3. Greely went on to the finals, which made us feel pretty good. It was clear to me that I wanted to coach more. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that at Gray, so I got a teaching and coaching job at Poland. I was there for three years. We had a good run — tournaments the second and third year. As much as I liked coaching, I knew coaching physical education wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. End of my third year, I enrolled in a graduate program and realized I would not be able to coach a varsity program. I took a year off. During the graduate program, I coached a middle school team, which was fun because it was something I hadn’t done before.

Q. How did he become interested in the varsity job?

JPY. I had some kids ask me. I told them they had a coach. When he (Mike Francoeur) didn’t come back, I told the kids I would think about it. I knew they were young, but would be a good group based on the success they had in middle school. Great group of kids. So, I decided to give it a try.

Q. Can you make both jobs — assistant principal and coach — work?

JPY. When I was in school, my superintendent taught AP History. My principal was my sophomore English teacher. My basketball coach was the athletic director and a teacher. Talking with other administrators that do coach — there is a good number — they say that when you go into administration, it is very important that you do something that you maintain direct contact with kids, otherwise it is easy to lose that connection. You lose perspective. I love kids. If you have a bad idea, it is the kids that pick you up. That interaction is why we are in this business. No matter what day job you have, if you coach, it is going to impact something. There is going to be some conflicts, but there is support in place here and my home (my wife). In actuality, there will be fewer conflicts coaching the varsity team than middle school because all of the practices don’t have to be after school and our games are in the evening — so, I’ll still be available after school here (LRMS).

Q. Who inspired you?

JPY. A lot of people coach the way they were coached. With me, that is not exactly true. I’ve played under some good coaches, and I’ve worked with a lot of good coaches, but in terms of my philosophy and style, it comes from my professional training and experiences. During my days at Falmouth, I learned a lot about program organization and how to motivate. My philosophy? I’ve always been a multiple pressure defense guy and a quick transition offense guy. Always been about teaching kids how to play, the fundamentals. I’m going to run a different offense than I have before, and I am very excited about it. I tried to put together the best coaching staff I could, and we went into a room and batted ideas around. That’s why we have a new and different offense.

Q. What is your court demeanor like?

JPY. I’m more of the active, energetic, positive, encouraging type. Coach. Coach. Coach. I teach and encourage. I’m not a negative coach, and I don’t get on the officials a lot. I’ve found that the best thing is to talk to the officials, quietly. I won’t embarrass a referee.

Q. What challenges are ahead?

JPY. You can easily say over the last few years, the Lake Region boys’ basketball team has been a Top 4-5 team in our league. A very strong, competitive team. Coach Francoeur did a fine job here, getting his players to play real hard. As we move forward, it is a period of change. A time of opportunity. We were active this summer (14 players involved) and fall. We were competitive. The challenge for us is to continue to have high expectations, and hold our kids to the tradition that has been here. We don’t care what grade a player may be in, if they can contribute, they will play.

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