Eight years ago, Arnold Clark’s boys basketball team was Calais’ version of Wayne Newton. Much like Newton helped define Las Vegas, Clark’s boys program became synonymous with Calais.
Making four straight trips to the tournament, winning an Eastern Maine championship, and graduating a BDN All-Maine first-teamer in your first four seasons will do that for you.
Ten years later, Clark is still the boys coach, but it’s Calais’ girls program which everyone talks about. Three state championships in the last five years is good enough to take the spotlight away from almost anyone.
But while the Blue Devils’ girls have become a near-dynasty, the boys have regressed somewhat. After winning two Eastern Class C titles in five years and making the tournament field seven times in nine years, the Calais boys have missed the tourney each of the last four years.
Clark says the tourney drought is due to two main factors.
“I think one, we haven’t had good size and two, we haven’t had enough kids in one grade stay with the program all the way through [high school],” he explained. “One reason is we’ve had this dropout of kids who wanted to do other things.”
The most popular of those things is working – part-time, after school, and in some cases, full-time – and making money.
“We’re so watered down at the junior and senior levels, I have a freshman, a sophomore, a junior and two seniors starting,” Clark said. “I should have three seniors who can anchor you and the freshmen should be playing JV ball.”
Clark offered his current sophomore class of players as an example.
“We had one of the best eighth grade teams around two years ago. We had seven kids that year who were playing ball. Only two of those kids are playing basketball for me right now,” Clark said.
One of the five players had surgery this year to repair torn and damaged cartilage in his leg and is out for the year. The other four simply chose not to play.
“We lose a lot of kids because of jobs,” he explained. “They can earn extra money and continue to play ball. They play at a more loosely organized level for the high school rec team.”
The fact that Class C has been loaded with talented teams in recent years hasn’t helped Calais either. Clark’s Blue Devils missed the 1992 tourney despite an 11-7 record.
The playoff drought has prompted some isolated grumbling from the local community as a few people have called for a change in leadership, despite Clark’s 165-96 mark and four EM final appearances during his 14 years at Calais.
“There will always be grumbling,” said Clark, who was unaware of such talk, but brushed it off as an occupational hazard. “I have a job and keeping people happy isn’t it. My responsibility is to the kids. That’s why I’m there.”
And being there means teachings his players the three R’s: “Respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness.”
Complaints about Clark may come from people comparing the boys and girls programs, given the girls’ recent success, but Clark says that’s unreasonable.
“There are people who like to make comparisons, but you can’t compare the two,” said Clark. “It’s like expecting brothers and sisters of great players to be just as good or better. It’s only natural.”
Despite the team’s 2-6 record this year, Clark likes his team’s continual improvement and is optimistic about the future.
“It’s not because I’ve got any great group coming up. It’s just that I have a real good feeling about next season,” said Clark. “We might just surprise some people this year.”