BANGOR, Maine — Roger Reed distributed the last final exam of his 47-year career in education to students at Bangor High School on Wednesday.
But the retiring teacher also is ending a 27-year run as the school’s boys varsity basketball coach — a tenure that included eight Class A state championships — though it’s a decision made not entirely on his own terms as Bangor High School principal Paul Butler asked Reed to make a choice between continuing to coach or a potential political career.
The 73-year-old Carmel resident submitted his resignation to school officials Monday, one day before winning the Republican primary to represent House District 23 (Carmel, Etna, Hermon and Stetson) in the Maine Legislature.
Reed defeated Patricia Adams Tate of Hermon in the primary and now will face Democrat Richard Thomas of Hermon in the Nov. 6 general election for the right to fill the seat held by four-term Rep. David E. Richardson of Hermon. Richardson, also a Republican, is being forced out of office by term limits.
The issue that led to Reed’s resignation was whether he could handle the demands of being both a state legislator and head basketball coach during the winter months when the Legislature is in its regular session.
Reed said he was told by several legislators as well as Sawin Millett, a lifelong friend and former teammate of Reed’s at Carmel High School who now serves as commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, that he could handle both sets of duties as well as the travel required between legislative workdays and his basketball team’s practices and games.
But that feeling wasn’t universal, he said.
“Somewhere and sometime ago, it was decided that I wouldn’t be allowed to do both,” said Reed. “I really don’t think that it has anything to do with logistics. I was assured by all who encouraged me to run that I would have no reason to give up coaching. I guess at this point, I’ll never get the chance to prove it one way or the other.”
Butler, who played basketball on teams coached by Reed during the late 1980s, said he asked a number of people about the feasibility of someone serving in both capacities during a winter sports season when the Legislature is in full session and ultimately determined that it wasn’t a viable option for the school.
“I talked to a lot of people, did a lot of thinking about it and ultimately decided that it wasn’t in the best interest of Bangor High School, the basketball program and the student-athletes to ask somebody to manage both of those huge roles and to do them with the level of excellence that Roger has given to his coaching and would certainly give to his role as a legislator,” said Butler.
“It was an honest, good-faith decision. I think Bangor High School athletes and our program deserve 100 percent of a person’s attention, and I just felt that it was untenable for somebody to do both.”
Butler asked Reed to commit solely to the basketball program shortly after the 2011-12 season ended and gave his coach extra time to make a decision. Normally Butler forwards his recommendations for much of the school’s coaching staff to Superintendent Betsy Webb in April.
“Once I made the decision, I waited until after the season and asked Roger to choose us,” said Butler. “I wanted, and offered, to have Roger back as coach and gave him until June to make that decision.
“I told him the only time I ever rooted against him was going into the primary.”
If elected, Reed could have been the second Bangor High School coach to serve in the 126th Maine Legislature that convenes in December. The Rams’ cross country coach, Adam Goode, represents House District 15 (Bangor), but cross country season during the fall does not conflict with regular legislative sessions.
Reed was one of the winningest boys basketball coaches in state history with a career record of 571-201 — good for a .740 winning percentage — at Bangor Christian and Bangor, including a 457-103 mark since being hired at Bangor beginning with the 1985-86 season.
Bangor went 7-11 during Reed’s first year with the Rams but since then has had 26 consecutive winning seasons, including a 14-6 finish last winter while advancing to the Eastern Maine Class A semifinals.
Reed guided a team led by his son, Mark, to the 1992 state championship game where the Rams lost a five-overtime thriller to South Portland.
The next year, Bangor won its first state championship since 1959, marking the first of six state titles won during an 11-year span through 2003 — 1993, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2003 — a record unmatched by any other Maine Class A basketball coach.
Reed guided Bangor to subsequent state titles in 2007 and 2011, as well as another berth in the state championship game in 2008.
He also coached Bangor Christian to an Eastern Maine Class D title in 1979.
“I want to thank all of the great players that I had the honor of coaching so many great moments with,” said Reed, a 2006 inductee into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. “The players, too many to name, have provided me with memories to last a lifetime.”
Reed also expressed thanks to the coaches and teachers he has worked with throughout his career, as well as Bangor athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine, former principal Norris Nickerson and the two people who hired him at Bangor High School in 1985, superintendent of schools Dr. Arthur Pierce and principal Dr. John Fahey.
“Every day has been a good day at Bangor High,” said Reed.
Butler, who played on Reed’s first four teams at Bangor High before graduating in 1989, said this has been a trying process for him on a personal level.
“I love Roger, played for Roger, respect all his accomplishments, love him as a coach, love his philosophy and love the success,” he said. “All of those things are true. There can never be enough said about what he accomplished here, and I experienced it first-hand.
“The human side of this is very difficult for me because I love Roger and especially because Roger is hurt, but the decision making as to whether this was a manageable situation was easier to make.”