FAIRFIELD — His team trailed 2-0 as the buzzer sounded to the end the first quarter — and Mike McGee didn’t want to change a thing.

Low-scoring games such as Wednesday’s against Winslow Junior High are the ones the longtime head coach of the Lawrence varsity boys basketball team yearned for in his 31 years coaching the Bulldogs. On this January afternoon, a score that would have been less appealing to just about anybody had McGee elated.

“I was in heaven,” McGee, now the coach of Lawrence Junior High’s seventh-grade girls team, said after the team claimed a 17-10 win. “It was (2-0) after the first quarter, and they ended up with 10 points. Those are my kind of scores; I’d win every game 1-0 if I could.”

That attitude might have been a stretch coaching Class A high school varsity basketball, where athleticism and skill alone would be enough to spur even teams facing the most stifling defenses to scores here and there. Here, though, it’s not, and the pace and atmosphere have provided the perfect setting for a changed McGee to thrive.

I was more than a decade from birth when McGee first began coaching the Bulldogs, and although I was alive and well when he hung up the whistle in 2013 after winning two state titles and more than 350 games, my move to Maine was years from materializing. As a 19-year-old still in college 1,500 miles away, I had no knowledge that Fairfield, Maine, or Lawrence High School even existed, much less who was coaching basketball there.

It would be rather misplaced, then, for me to tell you about McGee’s no-nonsense attitude, his intensity and his in-your-face style of coaching. His former players, though, can, and they’ll tell you how he fit those descriptions to a T. Just ask Jason Pellerin, Lawrence’s current head coach, who’s name is as attached to McGee’s as anyone after playing for his Class A state title-winning team in 1990 and replacing him as head coach 11 years ago. 


Lawrence Junior High seventh grade girls basketball coach Mike McGee surveys the action during a Jan. 24 game against Winslow in Fairfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“He was an intense coach, and he demanded a lot from you,” Pellerin said. “When I took over the job, I wanted to maintain the culture of working and playing hard that he built, but I knew I had to do it in a different way. Coach McGee was a physically imposing figure, and I knew I had to do some things differently to get that same effort level that Lawrence has always been known for.”

Mistakes were not tolerated on McGee’s teams, not that the Lawrence squads of the late ’80s or early ’90s made many. There were some notable ones, though, such as when Winslow tied a big game late in a contest after Dave Elliott attempted a dunk he knew he had little chance of pulling off — “If you ever pull that (stuff) again, you’re not going to play for me,” Elliott recalled McGee having told him. 

Elliott, 45, of Topsham and a 1996 Lawrence High graduate, said he and McGee frequently butted heads. However, Elliott said he greatly respected him and grew an even greater affinity for the legendary coach after he left high school. McGee’s fire and demeanor and the intensity of his practices made winter afternoons in Folsom Gymnasium a slog, but once game day came, Elliott said, it was all worth it.

“He was very intense, and his practices were brutal,” said Elliott. “Those practices were very hard, so when we got to the game, we felt it was almost kind of easy for us at that point. When you think about it all these years later, it makes a lot of sense, but it was very, very intense. He didn’t put up with mistakes, and there was absolutely no fooling around. You were there to do a job; it was not meant to be fun.”

So, how did McGee go from the stern, intense perfectionist at the high school level decades ago to an upbeat, laidback coach of seventh-grade girls? That all started with a phone call six years ago from Lawrence Athletic Director David Packard. A medical issue had forced the previous coach, Jim Parsons, to resign, and a replacement was needed.

Packard’s first call was to McGee, who immediately declined the job. The next day, Packard again phoned McGee, who once more rejected the offer. Yet the third time, as they say, is a charm, and there was something Packard told McGee that day that changed his mind.


“He said, ‘look, you’ve got Hope Bouchard, Tom Nadeau’s kid (Makenzie Nadeau) and Tom Higgins’ kid (Ali Higgins),’ and he named all those six seniors who just graduated last year,” recalled McGee, whose first seventh-grade team also included Elizabeth Crommett, Lizie Dumont and Bri Poulin. “I said, ‘What time’s practice tomorrow? I’ll be there.’”

Bouchard and company would go on to win the Class A Gold Ball last season.

It’s been, as would be expected, a completely different game. Coaching the boys varsity team, McGee put great detail into the Xs and Os, focusing heavily on team defense and going through specific sets and strategies. Now, things couldn’t be simpler; his team runs a single out-of-bounds play with a motion offense and man-to-man defense. Practices consist almost entirely of skill development.

To do that job, McGee said, he’s had to change — and change he has. Some of McGee’s former players now have daughters playing for him. The dads said they see a night-and-day difference from the man who paced the sidelines in Folsom Gym for more than a quarter-century. Jamie Bolduc, whose daughter, Maddison, now plays for McGee, said he’s enjoyed seeing a softer side to his former coach.

“When I found out that he was going to be the coach, I said, ‘oh, no; this isn’t good,’ but he’s a completely different guy now,” Bolduc said. “It’s definitely a different perspective watching my daughter play for him vs. when I played, because you take that intense guy back then, and now, he won’t say a word all day unless he’s praising the girls. He always got the best out of you, and now, he’s finding a different way to do it.”

Learning to praise his players has been one of the biggest changes McGee has made over the last several years. Although the respect and admiration his former Lawrence boys players still have for McGee speaks volumes, his biggest regret is that he was too negative during those years. Positivity, he said, has been the biggest factor in being a successful coach at the junior high level.


Still, even if McGee does things a bit differently these days, that doesn’t mean he’s lost his coaching touch. One of McGee’s current seventh-graders, Cheyenne Arbour, said he still has little tolerance for nonsense and gets the most out of his players the same way he did when her stepfather, Matt Estes, played in the mid-1990s.

Lawrence boys basketball coach Mike McGee yells from the bench during the Eastern Class A tournament championship game against Hampden on Febr. 22, 2013 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

“He is a lot more relaxed, but he’s still very strict; every time we’re talking during practice, we run back and down,” Arbour said. “He’s a great coach, and he never lets me give up. This is my second year, and I’m the best I’ve ever been. … My grandparents knew him, my stepdad played for him, and now it’s cool because I’m playing for him, too.”

Another factor in McGee’s decision to coach, he added, was that he felt he owed Lawrence’s girls program his time after years leading the boys program.

What has his impact been? Well, that first seventh-grade team of Bouchard, Crommett, Dumont, Higgins, Nadeau and Poulin won a Class A state championship together last year as high school seniors. This year, a new-look Bulldogs team is 13-0. If you ask me, the results speak for themselves.

Although he’s usually in Florida by the first week of March now that he’s no longer coaching that late into the year, McGee made an exception last year as he stuck around to watch Lawrence play Brunswick in the Class A girls final. Back when the seniors who powered that Gold Ball run were seventh-graders, he made his players picture the nets around their necks after winning a state title. That would only happen, McGee said, if those players put in the work to get there.

By now, you know they did — and as they had those nets around their necks after beating the Dragons 58-43 to notch the program’s sixth state championship, Lawrence’s seniors made sure they didn’t forget their coach’s message.

“I got down to the floor after the game, and they’re wearing the nets, looking at me and pointing,” McGee said. “That was a great feeling.”

It’s different, but it still works. These are the kinds of evolutions that coaching greats make, even if they fly under the radar. Even if McGee (as most middle school coaches do) has flown under the radar, his impact is palpable.

Just picture the nets.

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