FARMINGTON — Recently, Jim Bessey was asked if he’d stick around and coach the Mt. Blue High School boys basketball team for a few more years. Maybe try to get to 500 career wins.

Why, asked Bessey.

“I haven’t coached just to win games. It’s about building relationships, committing to something,” Bessey, 68, said. “Stuff that you can carry through life.”

After 37 years as the head coach of the Cougars, Bessey is retiring. Bessey, who also coached at Madison Area Memorial High School, leaves with 479 wins.

Bessey and Mt. Blue won the Eastern Maine Class A title in 1997.

“I couldn’t be happier to have played for him,” Cam Sennick, a senior on this year’s team, said. “I learned so much from him that will benefit me in the future. He loves basketball so much.”

Bessey said he’d contemplated retiring after this season for some time. He took time to think about it after the Cougars’ season ended with a 46-44 loss to Hampden Academy in the Eastern Maine Class A regional championship game. After talking with his family, he made up his mind last weekend.

“This year, I knew this team would be a competitive team… We’ve had a nice run, especially as of late. You can’t be in position to win Eastern Maine every year. We’re spread out all over the place. We’re a small school to begin with. It’s a lot of work to be competitive.”

Bessey’s legacy is felt state-wide. A number of successful high school coaches played for Bessey at Mt. Blue, including Gavin Kane (Dirigo and Spruce Mountain), Jeff Hart (Camden Hills) and Mike Adams (Edward Little), to name a few.

“I was probably in fourth or fifth grade when I first went to his basketball camp,” Adams, who was named Mr. Basketball as a Mt. Blue senior in 1990, said. “He was always there. He is Mt. Blue basketball… I’m a better person for having him as a coach.”

Longtime Lawrence High boys basketball coach Mike McGee, who coached against Bessey for more than two decades, called Bessey “one of the most underrated coaches in the state of Maine.”

“Of all the coaches I’ve coached against, (Bessey) was the most difficult to prepare for. He always took away your strength,” McGee said. “I’m really saddened to see him go. He’s such a great ambassador for the game.”

McGee remembered playing against Bessey’s Mt. Blue teams as a Lawrence senior in 1976. McGee and the Bulldogs won the Eastern Maine title and went 16-2 in the regular season. Both losses were to Mt. Blue.

“If I couldn’t play for Gus Folsom, I would’ve wanted to play for Coach Bessey. You can just tell the love his kids have for him,” McGee said. “The emotion, the intensity you had to match when playing a Bessey-coached team was incredible.”

Now the head boys basketball coach at Skowhegan, Dave Simpson was one of Bessey’s assistant coaches for 15 years. Bessey always took input from his staff, Simpson said.

“He would listen to everybody. Often times he would take your suggestion, but if he didn’t, he would tell you why,” Simpson said. “He let’s the kids do a lot more than some coaches. He’s learned to let the kids go and figure it out by themselves. That’s why they’re so good.”

Bessey said he’ll miss the competition and the relationships with the other coaches and the players.

“I like to feel like I’ve impacted the kids. All the intangible things have made all the hard work, the time and the effort worth it,” Bessey said.

You have to find your skill, Bessey said, and go with it.

“Some people can sing. Some people can dance,” Bessey said, “and for some reason, I can coach.”
 


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