In five years, Gardiner Area High School boys basketball coach Jason Cassidy has taken the Tigers from mediocrity to the top of the heap in Eastern Maine Class B.

He’s grown with the program, too. Not only has Cassidy turned Gardiner into a winner, he’s done it the right way. In addition to finishing 19-3 overall and reaching the state championship game, the Tigers won sportsmanship awards presented by the Maine Principals’ Association and the Central Maine Board of Officials.

Just a couple years ago, this year’s group of seniors won five games and there were questions concerning sportsmanship. Cassidy addressed both issues.

“It’s been a couple of years since anyone has had any technicals,” he said.

Cassidy also worked harder to make his players more accountable on defense. On the offensive end, they ran more often and scored more points.

For his efforts, Cassidy has been named the Kennebec Journal Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. Erskine coach Ben Willoughby was also considered.

Cassidy grew up playing ball in Calais and later served as an assistant to Lawrence coach Mike McGee. He’s drawn from those resources along with many others.

“I’ve paid a lot of attention to what works for other guys,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot more film the last couple of years.”

The preparation extended to the summer where the Tigers played a competitive schedule in and out of the G&E Roofing League, all geared toward reaching a championship level. This year’s seniors have progressed nicely along the way, going 14-6 last season while reaching the tournament semifinals. Cassidy missed the first game that season, the results of an ejection in the final game from the previous year.

He vowed to set a positive example on the sidelines for his players and it’s worked. He was able to do that and still generate a sense of urgency during games.

“I see a fiery competitor who doesn’t like to lose,” senior captain Aaron Toman said of his coach. “He’ll tell you what he wants you to do straight to your face and he sets goals for you. He cares about us greatly and that’s a big thing.”

Cassidy leaned on his assistant coaches, particularly veteran Art Warren, who compiled detailed scouting reports of each game for him. Establishing a game plan and sticking to it, Cassidy said, was one of the keys to this year’s success. Even greater was having a veteran group of players who had been through the ups and downs of the past two seasons. The Tigers graduate six players, including all five starters and may go through a few growing pains next year. But the program is on solid footing.

“We have good kids in our program,” said Cassidy, who teaches math at Gardiner Regional Middle School. “We’re looking to add athletes. We have really good youth coaches right now and a really good summer program.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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