When Bill McAvoy began coaching varsity basketball at Central Aroostook High School of Mars Hill in 1977, his immediate challenge was both modest and meaningful.
“I was told that if I only win two games I’d be all right — as long as those two games were against Washburn,” he said earlier this week. “Most of those games were sold out either at home or on the road, and the kids were so fired up, so you tell it meant something to both teams.
“Today I’m still not sure what it was all about, but I remember that first day people telling me, ‘You’ve got to beat Washburn.’”
McAvoy has gone on to amass a 432-229 record during 34 years as a varsity coach at Central Aroostook, Katahdin of Stacyville and Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook.
Combine that with a playing career highlighted by an undefeated 1967 state championship season at Sherman High School, being on the first team at the newly consolidated Katahdin High School a year later and becoming the career scoring leader at Unity College, and it’s no surprise that the 68-year-old McAvoy is set for induction into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
“The first time I saw Billy play, my brother [Peter Hamlin, another 2018 Maine Basketball Hall of Fame inductee] was playing at Ricker College, and I went down to watch him play Unity in ’71,” said longtime former high school basketball coach Tony Hamlin of Milo, chair of the MBHoF.
“I didn’t know who Billy McAvoy was, but I watched him and thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ He’s 6 feet but he’d go into the lane; he was fearless. He only had one gear, and it was wide open, and he was strong as an ox.”
McAvoy will be joined in the hall’s fifth induction class by Brenda Beckwith, Jim Bessey, Paul Belanger, Cindy Blodgett, Sandi Carver, Dean Erickson, Peter Hamlin, Jeff Hart, Barbara Krause, Del Merrill, Bill Obermeyer, Keith Ogden, the late Leroy Patterson, Joe Russo and Rick Woods.
Legends of the Game to be honored are Jim Beaudry, Bill Fletcher, Dwight Hunter, Elwood “Bimbo” Pinkham, Thaxter Trafton and Arthur Warren.
The banquet and induction ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I’ve been in coaching right around 40 years now between varsity and JV, and for me to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is something you never expect,” McAvoy said. “But as you have the chance to look back on your career and know you’ve done some positive things for kids, maybe this is a way for people to say thank you.”
McAvoy coached Katahdin to an Eastern Maine title and led seven other teams to regional finals. His teams reached postseason play in 31 of his 34 years, with 19 regional semifinal appearances.
“Billy is the quintessential Mainer in all of his work ethic and humility as well as with the stoicism that goes into making someone a Mainer,” Hamlin said.
McAvoy credits much of his success on the sidelines to the influence of his own high school coach, Ron Marks.
“A big part of basketball for me are a lot of life lessons you get not from coaching, but from playing,” he said. “When I look back I think about all those lessons I learned from my high school coach. If it wasn’t for Ron Marks I wouldn’t have gotten into education, I wouldn’t have gotten into coaching and I wouldn’t have learned all those life lessons.”
McAvoy also admits learning some basketball lessons from Marks.
“He was the first coach to bench me for shooting too much,” McAvoy said. “But after I sat down for a while and had the chance to think about it, I realized he was right and I became a better player for it.”
McAvoy’s teaching and coaching career began at Central Aroostook, where he served five years as a subvarsity coach under Frank Keenan before ascending to the varsity post for the 1977-78 season.
He compiled a 163-88 record in 13 years with the Panthers.
McAvoy returned to his alma mater in 1993 and, during a 15-year tenure, led Katahdin to the 2000 EM D crown. For the past six years he’s been in charge at Southern Aroostook.
Among the rewards McAvoy has gleaned from the sport are the friendships he’s made, including with coaching colleagues such as fellow northern Maine stalwart Dick Barstow, with whom he would travel to Boston on occasion to learn from professional and college coaches.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of coaches, especially in my younger years, and trying to steal a few ideas from them,” McAvoy said.
Just as important has been McAvoy’s persevering connections with his former players.
“One of the great things for me is to hear a knock on the door and see that it’s someone who played for me a few years ago just wanting to know how I’m doing,” McAvoy said. “That means so much to me. It makes it all worthwhile.
“The day I do step down from coaching will be a very, very difficult day for me because of all the relationships I’ve made.”
McAvoy’s coaching future is uncertain at present, as he’s planning to take the 2018-19 season off due to anticipated back surgery.
He hopes to return to the bench for the 2019-20 season, but first will consult with his wife Susan.
“She’s put up with me for 40 years of summer camps, and we’ve had very little time to travel together,” he said. “I’d love to return, that’s my plan right now, but it’s something I’ll have to think about.”
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