BANGOR, Maine — Joe Nelson has been an active part of the Bangor High School athletic scene since playing sports for the Rams during the mid- and late-1980s. His duties have ranged from football public address announcer to ice hockey rink manager.
Now he’s taking on a new challenge as his alma mater’s girls varsity basketball coach.
“I’m very excited,” said Nelson, whose nomination for the post was approved Tuesday evening by the Bangor school committee. “Bangor’s as good a school and athletic program as there is around with wonderful kids, a wonderful support system with [superintendent of schools] Dr. [Betsy] Webb, [BHS principal] Mr. [Paul] Butler, [athletic administrator] Steve Vanidestine and the unbelievable coaches at Bangor now and in the past.
“I feel very honored to be part of that group of great people.”
Nelson, 46, replaces Johnson, who resigned in March after three seasons on the Bangor bench but will remain the school’s girls varsity soccer coach.
“Joe is a perfect fit for our girls basketball program, having the experience of working under [Maine Basketball] Hall of Fame boys coach Roger Reed and having been here for several [state] championships and then most recently working with Joe Johnson, who’s had great success with both girls soccer and girls basketball,” said Vanidestine.
“The continuity of the program stays intact with Joe staying on after being an assistant coach for the last three years. He’s very popular with both the athletic department as well as with the student-athletes. They really like him,” he added.
Nelson, the son of a coach and a 1989 Bangor High School graduate, played baseball and basketball at the University of Maine at Farmington before beginning his coaching career as a basketball assistant at UMF under Dick Meader and at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford under Mark Karter.
Nelson soon returned to the Bangor area where he was a baseball head coach at John Bapst Memorial High School and with the city’s American Legion program and became an assistant boys basketball coach Bangor High School under Reed in 1995.
“I absolutely loved coaching with coach Reed. He made everyone feel important and had a great gift of getting everyone to buy in and feel like they were part of the process,” said Nelson, whose coaching run with Reed was highlighted by seven Class A state championships.
Nelson remained an assistant boys basketball coach at Bangor for 17 years until Reed’s retirement in 2012, then took a break before joining Johnson’s staff three years ago.
“I got out of coaching for a couple of years and missed some aspects and then came back and helped Joe and absolutely loved it,” he said. “We had a great bunch of girls for those three years and I learned a great deal from Joe.”
Nelson, whose primary occupation as Sawyer Arena rink manager and athletic fields supervisor for the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department also linked him to the high school’s sports scene, said he wasn’t necessarily looking to become a head coach.
“Then this opportunity presented itself, and I’m very excited,” he said. “You can’t find a better group, they’re great students, great behavior and athletic talent. It’s a perfect fit at this time.”
Bangor went 8-10 during the 2016-2017 regular season to finish as the No. 5 seed in Class AA North. The Rams upset No. 4 Cheverus of Portland in the quarterfinals before falling to eventual A North champion Oxford Hills of South Paris in the semifinals.
That team graduates six seniors, including Tufts University-bound forward Katie Butler, a finalist for the state’s 2017 Miss Basketball award.
“I think the big thing will be to continue to build on what coach Johnson did, to develop a solid, fundamental group with good basketball skills, intelligent players who play above their shoulders and use their athletic ability, great work ethic and unselfishness,” said Nelson.