ELLSWORTH — Doug Libby vividly remembers one of the very first basketball games he watched in Hancock County.
Arriving in Ellsworth in 1975 after accepting a teaching job at Surry Elementary School, Libby, who had gotten hooked on coaching youth sports during his young-adult years in Aroostook County, was eager to get involved. With the passage of Title IX forging new ground for girls’ athletics, there were more opportunities than ever to do so.
Prior to the landmark legislation, very few schools in Hancock County or elsewhere in the state sponsored girls’ basketball. With female athletes having been deprived of the same opportunities afforded to their male peers for years, the first Frenchman Bay League contest between Surry and Pemetic was a matchup of two teams that were brand new to the sport.
“The final score was 2-0, and the team that won didn’t even make a basket,” Libby recalled of the game. “The Surry girls lost because they shot at the wrong basket and put it in. That was the only score of the game.”
Years later, Libby would become that Surry girls’ team’s coach, just one of many coaching positions he would hold in the area over more than four decades. Now, after 46 years as a local youth sports figurehead, the longtime coach has decided to hang up the whistle.
After moving from his native Aroostook County, Libby spent nine years teaching and coaching at Surry. He began coaching baseball and boys’ basketball before also taking over as coach of the girls’ basketball team in his final year at the school.
In 1984, Libby was hired to coach boys’ basketball at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School. He held that position for several years before moving on to coach the varsity girls’ team at Ellsworth High School, though his stint there ultimately didn’t last long.
“I was only there for two years,” Libby said. “I learned a lot, but it just wasn’t for me. It was stressful to have to worry about getting one of those top-eight spots for the playoffs and winning every game; that just wasn’t my philosophy. … For me, it was always about developing the players and their skills.”
With that in mind, Libby took the Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School girls’ job, a position he held for all but five years until his retirement. Yet he also branched out to coach T-ball, farm baseball and travel soccer and even umpire Little League games in Surry and Ellsworth.
Prior to stints as DEFY’s youth soccer coach and as the program’s youth soccer director, Libby’s knowledge of the game consisted of little more than, in his own words, “kicking the ball into the net.” Yet Libby would quickly prove his worth as a soccer coach and, at one point, was even asked by Brian Higgins to coach Ellsworth High School’s junior varsity team.
“The only regret I’ve ever had in my coaching career is turning that down,” Libby said. “I went to a couple practices, and I remember saying, ‘Brian, I don’t think I know enough about soccer to do this.’ He tried to reassure me, but I didn’t go for it. I should have taken it, but hindsight is always 20-20.”
In Libby’s only stint away from coaching (2010-15), he still served in a youth sports role as co-athletic director at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School. Working alongside Gloria Sirois, Libby was instrumental in starting the school’s wrestling program and overseeing the building of its new gymnasiums.
Since returning to the sidelines to coach the EEMS girls’ team, Libby has guided many of the area’s recent top players through the youth ranks. Although this past season was a difficult one as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the EEMS Falcons still had a successful year as they finished with an undefeated record.
Sadly, COVID-19 measures prevented Libby from having assistants on staff this season. In his previous years coaching the EEMS girls’ team, he coached alongside one of his former players, Monique Boutaugh, whom he convinced to join his staff on a moment’s notice when the two crossed paths while grocery shopping at Hannaford.
Whenever Libby’s players were in need, Boutaugh said, their coach pitched in to help. On several occasions, he even spent his own money to provide them with basketball gear and meals.
“There were times when girls would show up without proper footwear, and he would go out, no questions asked, and buy them proper footwear so that they wouldn’t slide around everywhere,” Boutaugh said. “For away games, whenever we’d go out to eat, he always made sure everyone had money and that everyone was fed.”
Now that he’s done coaching and teaching, the latter of which he retired from three years ago, Libby plans to spend time golfing with his grandson, eighth-grader Orion. He also intends to continue as a driver’s ed teacher, meaning his stressful days in a teaching role aren’t over just yet.
On local courts and playing fields, though, the games will go on with someone else at the helm. Although the 67-year-old has managed to adapt with the times in the face of games that have changed a lot since that 2-0 basketball game 46 years ago, he feels it’s time for someone else to take the reins.
“It just feels like time to step aside and let someone younger come in and take over,” Libby said. “It’s not that anything in particular changed or that anything disappointing happened; it’s just a feeling of ‘OK, that time has come.’ It’s been a great 46 years.”