RICHMOND — Richmond High School baseball coaches Ryan Gardner and Phil Houdlette aren’t alone in their allegiance to their alma mater. Loyalty runs deep in this town of 3,400 where it seems everyone is connected in one way or another.
The pair have been together long enough to finish one another’s sentences. Gardner’s been head coach for the last 15 years with Houdlette as an assistant most of that time. Before that, Houdlette was head coach and Gardner the assistant.
Gardner’s baseball coach in high school? You guessed it.
“There’s 21 (years) and I played for him for three,” Gardner said. “So there’s 24 years of happiness.”
Both men knew early on they would become coaches. Gardner’s dad, Peter, coached boys soccer in Brunswick for 39 years while Phil’s father coached youth baseball in town for year. Both men have fields named in their honor.
“My father gave me a love of coaching,” Gardner said. “Phil Houdlette gave me a love of coaching baseball.”
Both men played sports at Richmond, left for college and returned to teach and coach. They’re not alone. Girls softball coach Rick Coughlin is entering his 27th year as head coach — he still coaches middle school basketball — after years of also coaching boys soccer. And girls soccer coach Troy Kendrick recently completed his 25th season.
“It’s to give back to the town what we had, to be honest with you,” Houdlette said. “It’s a pretty close knit family. We played a lot of town team basketball and softball together.”
The coaching carousel extends to the middle school, too, where Gardner began as B team boys basketball coach when he was 18. The A team coach back then was Houdlette.
“I’ve done everything but a varsity soccer job,” Houdlette said.
Gardner said he developed a lot of his coaching style while playing for Houdlette, both in how he taught the game and how he taught his players to carry themselves on the field. The two complement one another well, Houdlette’s more a tactician while Gardner is a motivator.
“I’m a little more detail oriented,” Houdlette said. “We really counter balance each other because he does a nice job relating to the kids.”
Houdlette pitched in high school and handled the pitching duties for a while, gradually ceding them to Gardner. He still throws batting practice, though, as Gardner admits he’s a little while. Richmond has had success on the field, appearing in seven Class D state championship games since Houdlette began coaching in the mid â€˜80s. The Bobcats won a state title with Houdlette as head coach in 1996 and another with Gardner in charge in 2010.
“They’re really fun to be around,” junior infielder Cameron Emmons said. “They have definitely helped me mature as a player.
“I like having them being from Richmond. They know the style, the community. They just want us to go out there and represent the community in a good way.”
Gardner and Houdlette have accumulated a lot of Richmond jerseys, jackets and sweatshirts over the years and a lot of it is hanging in their closets at home.
“My wife says â€˜I’m so sick of maroon,’ ” Gardner said.
About the only aspect of the job Gardner and Houdlette could do without is the long bus trips in the far-flung East/West Conference which range from three-hour rides to Jackman to overnight trips to Vinalhaven Island. It does give them a chance to reminisce with the players about the good old days and seems a small concession when the larger picture comes into focus. Gardner has coached many of his fellow coaches sons and daughters as has Houdlette.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” Gardner said. “We take great pride in this place. If Richmond was playing tiddlywinks we’d all be wearing maroon shirts and cheering for them.”