Editor’s note: Gerry Duffy was scheduled to be inducted this summer into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame, but the ceremony has been postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In honor of the former standout athlete and successful longtime basketball coach at Caribou High School, friend and former assistant coach Jim Carter of Presque Isle remembers Duffy’s remarkable career. He died in 2007.
Gerry was an outstanding athlete at Orono High School and at Ricker College in Houlton. He played football, basketball and baseball and, from what I understand, was one of the finest baseball players that the state of Maine ever produced.
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Gerry had worked out for the Boston Braves in 1948 but turned down an offer to join the organization. He also played semi-pro football.
He played baseball in the Maine New Brunswick League for Woodstock, the Houlton Collegians and also for the Grand Falls Cataracts. It was while he was playing for Woodstock that he met Jean, who became his wife in 1954.
He later was inducted into the New Brunswick Baseball Hall of Fame and the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.
Gerry was the person who initiated my coaching career by recommending me for the eighth-grade boys coaching position at Caribou Junior High in 1979. His son Jamie, who also was coaching, left education and enlisted in the Army.
Five years later Gerry recommended me to become his assistant basketball coach at Caribou High School. I considered it an honor to work with him as it presented the opportunity to learn the coaching aspects of basketball from a man with years of experience and success.
Gerry attained such respect for his accomplishments as a player and coach that in 1988 he was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. He joined the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2011 he was inducted posthumously into the Orono High School Hall of Fame.
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While attending Ricker College Gerry began his coaching career at Danforth where he coached until 1960. He then took a teaching and coaching position at Sherman High School, where he coached both boys and girls basketball for two years. He moved on to Limestone High School, where he spent four years.
In the fall of 1966 Gerry was hired for the boys basketball position at Caribou High School where he remained until his retirement in 1988. In 31 years of coaching, his teams compiled a 375–131 record.
Caribou team won the Class LL state championship in 1969, claimed three Eastern Maine titles and made seven trips to the regional finals.
Winning was important, but it wasn’t everything, to coach Duffy. It was about promoting the growth of young men into becoming responsible and contributing citizens.
Dwight Hunter, Caribou’s former longtime athletics director, marvels at the way Duffy’s influence helped produce multiple team sportsmanship awards.
“Gerry always handled himself with class and he influenced his players to do the same, whether it was on the court, in the classroom or in the community,” he said.
My coaching experience with Gerry was enjoyable, filled with serious and humorous moments. He taught me a great deal about practice sessions and game preparation.
If we were preparing for tournament games during the last three weeks of the season, defense made up approximately two-thirds of our practice time. He believed that good defense would help overcome injuries, foul trouble and other issues.
Gerry emphasized pride in foul shooting. I recall one night in practice when our players were not performing to expectations from the foul line. He stopped practice, went to the foul line and promptly went 7-for-10 with his eyes shut.
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One season, Gerry came down with a heavy cold and flu. He wasn’t able to come to school and told me to run practices. Two days later we had a home game.
He showed up that night, which I was happy about. He promptly told me, however, that he was unable to speak and I would have to coach the game and do all of the talking. I definitely felt the pressure of having one of the premier coaches in the state sitting beside me.
We won the game and Gerry immediately went home. He did not go to school the next day but showed up prior to practice for a few minutes to thank me for my effort. That was the type of person he was and I certainly appreciated the fact that he had confidence in me.
At the 1986 Eastern Maine A Tournament we had a quarterfinal game with Stearns. During warmups Gerry turned around and began waving to someone in the crowd. I asked him who he was waving to.
“I know my wife Jean is sitting somewhere near the top of the auditorium. I want to let her know that I know she is here and that I love her,” he said.
That was a side of coach Duffy that not many people had the opportunity to experience. I think of him often.
A few months ago, I noticed on Facebook that many of his former players were wishing him well on what would have been his 90 th birthday.
“[That] he taught us how to carry ourselves with class, how to be a good person and always carry yourself in a classy manner always sticks with me,” former Caribou player Tony Michaud said.
Former Vikings guard Scott Hunter, Dwight’s son, played basketball during a run of four consecutive Eastern Maine Class A championship game appearances and one state game under Gerry. That included a 62-game, regular-season winning streak.
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“As a coach now, I realize how incredibly difficult it is to maintain such success,” said Caribou’s former boys soccer coach. “To keep the athletes focused, to avoid letdowns and complacency and to be mentally prepared — this one of the greatest challenges of coaching. Coach Duffy’s ability to do this game after game, season after season was one of his biggest strengths and why he was such a great coach.”
Dwight Hunter said there was a real comfort level with Gerry leading the basketball program.
“I knew when Gerry took his teams overnight or anywhere on the road, I would not have any problems that I would have to deal with when he got home,” Dwight Hunter said. “He always made sure that his athletes represented the school and community in a way that would always make us proud.”
Jim Carter of Presque Isle is a retired teacher and coach in the Caribou school system. The Presque Isle native is the author of “Six Decades of Wildcat Basketball: A History of Boys & Girls Basketball at Presque Isle High School 1950-2009,” which was published in 2009 by Northeast Publishing. He also wrote “Aroostook Basketball History & Eastern Maine Tournament History,” which was self-published. The 1971 Husson University graduate, who retired in 2001, has since been a fixture on the County basketball scene as a commentator on TV, radio and the internet, most recently doing live streaming at wagmtv.com