His winning record alone would qualify former Cony High School girls basketball coach Paul Vachon for induction into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
In 23 years at the Augusta school and two prior to that at Messalonskee, Vachon compiled a record of 451-50, winning seven Class A state championships. But it’s his value to the individual players in the program and girls basketball in general that cement his reputation as one of the best-ever high school coaches in the state.
Upon Vachon’s retirement five years ago to become the school’s athletic director, former Nokomis girls basketball coach Earl Anderson called him the dominant figure in the state in girls basketball over the past 25 years.
“He brought excitement and attention to the game,” Anderson said.
Vachon created a lot of excitement on his own with a frenetic sideline demeanor that often infuriated opposing fans and endeared him to the Cony faithful.
“He was really a big motivator,” former player Julie Veilleux said. “People were inspired to play for him. He has this special knack for working with young people.”
Veilleux went on the play at the University of Maine where she became a versatile passer, defender, scorer and rebounder. The 6-foot-1 swing player is glad Vachon didn’t stereotype her because of her size.
“He didn’t put me in a box,” she said. “Other coaches might have stuck me in the post.”
Veilleux went on to become an assistant coach for the Bowdoin College and US Naval Academy women’s teams before accepting the position as head coach at Colby College two years ago. Vachon was one of the first people she called when she got the Bowdoin job. Quiet and reserved, Veilleux is the antithesis of Vachon during a game, rarely raising her voice.
“That’s just his style,” she said. “He also yells when he’s happy. He helped encourage my hard-working nature. He has a big heart and it really isn’t about him whatsoever. It’s about the process.”
Vachon admitted he was caught up in wins and losses when he first began coaching, but his attitude changed over time.
“That develops with maturity,” he said. “You learn there’s a lot more to coaching than Xs and Os. I became a better teacher.”
Kelsie Bryer grew up in Augusta and was first spotted by Vachon playing outdoor basketball with boys. Today she lives in Providence. R.I., and is desperately trying to find a way to arrange her work schedule to attend Sunday’s induction. Vachon not only got her into organized basketball, he offered her a scholarship to his summer camp and was instrumental in getting her a scholarship to the University of Southern Maine.
“I was planning to take a couple of years off,” Bryer said. “It was mainly a lack of money.”
Bryer had even less money in high school and no place to live so Vachon arranged for her to get an apartment.
“That was the reason I was able to play basketball,” she said. “I was actually homeless at the time. On top of the knowledge he had, he really cared for his players. It made us respect him and play harder for him.”
Vachon grew up on Mt. Vernon Ave. in Augusta and worked for several years as recreation director at the local playground, deciding then that he wanted to coach. He credits several coaching influences while serving as an assistant for 10 years but said everything fell into place when he began working summers at Pine Tree Basketball Camp under the direction of Dick Whitmore and Dick Meader.
“Those are two of the best coaches in the state,” he said. “I soaked up everything I could.”
A point guard for the Cony’s 1973 state championship basketball team, Vachon adopted the running, pressing style he learned under coach Dick Hunt for his girls team. One difference was the advent of the 3-point shot which Vachon’s and his teams quickly embraced.
“He created the 3-point shooter in me,” Bryer said. “If anything he got upset about me not shooting.”
Vachon won his first state title in 1987 with a team that included the Lane sisters, Meghan and Marcie, and Becky Demos among others. He was struck by the fact there was no parade or welcoming group of fans when the team returned to Augusta and set about to give girls basketball more recognition. It gained that as more titles and exposure to the game came and he’s particularly proud of that legacy.
Three of his players — his daughter Amy, Katie Rollins and Rachel Mack — have been named Ms. Maine Basketball and seven have gone on to win Division I scholarships.
Since becoming athletic director, he’s gained a greater appreciation for what coaches go through each season.
“I have a lot of respect for them because I know the work they put in,” he said. “I just have a great respect for coaches. I’ll be accepting an award for a lot of people on Sunday.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638