BAR HARBOR — Before the basketball season began at the Mount Desert Island High School, first-time freshmen Coach Kyle McKim turned to his mentor, boys’ varsity Coach Justin Norwood, for guidance.
“Just so you know, you’re giving up your life for the next three and a half months,” said McKim, recalling the advice from the man who was once his varsity coach. “For me, that was great because I really like basketball.”
Over the next several months as his team notched a 16-6 record, ending their season as the PVC runners-up, McKim said he learned about the nuances of coaching a freshmen team.
“When you’re a freshman in high school, whether it’s in the classroom or on the basketball court, all you want to do is learn. It’s because everything is completely new, so a lot of the kids were so receptive,” he said.
But on the other hand, “as soon as you get to feel like you’re finally getting through and you’re finally making some really great progress, they’re gone, and you don’t have them again next year.”
Although the process is tough, it was a highly rewarding experience for McKim. “Now I get to see them play at the next level and know that I had a hand in that one way or another.”
The Trojan freshmen squad went “on a skid” in the beginning, standing at 1-4 in mid-December. But from then on, they took it upon themselves to recover. “They wanted to learn everything I had to tell them. They didn’t want to lose anymore,” said McKim. “All they wanted to do was improve, so all I had to do was tell them what to do, and they took it and ran with it for the rest of the season. It was really impressive to see.”
Notching those triumphs on the court was important for McKim, especially in his first year of coaching the team. But encouraging his squad of 10 players “to be better people first and then better basketball players,” was of much greater significance.
“My biggest rule on and off the floor is to just do the right thing,” he added. “By the end of the year, we had kids showing up for the unified team’s basketball games, watching and being incredibly supportive. That’s where I count my wins and losses.”
Many of the players on the freshmen team already had played together in middle school or Acadian Basketball Association (ABA) teams, which McKim said helped to build a sense of team spirit even before they joined the Trojan squad.
When McKim played on the basketball team in his freshmen year, the youth sports programs didn’t exist. “I came in, and I maybe knew one of the kids on the team. It was kind of nerve wracking,” he said. “It’s good for those kids to know each other a little bit better, so they come in with a little chemistry and bond even before I get them.”
That spirit of camaraderie among the freshmen players even helped them fight through the low points of the season. Even after their losses, they kept their focus on improving with every game.
“It was amazing to see how easily they bounced back. They didn’t care about the wins and losses; everyone wanted to be a better teammate,” he said. “The sum is greater than all of its parts. So it was really mature of all the kids to see the bigger picture of being a better teammate.”
The energy and solidarity, which McKim believes has trickled down from the varsity and JV teams of MDI, would often overtake him as well.
After every basket, he would be celebrating and pumping his fists in the air before realizing that there was a game still in progress. “It’s hard to reel myself back. I get really into it, and I want them to succeed,” he said. “It’s such a great feeling to want those 10 kids to succeed so badly that you can’t even remember what you did to get them there. It’s really quite something to be able to do that.”
Team members included Kyle Nicholson, Brett Duley, Nick Duley, Chayce Sargent, Evan White, Ben Thompson, Zane Alderman, Sam Hoff, Eli Parady and Lukas Keene.