Russo highlights new Maine Basketball Hall of Fame class

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Portland High School boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo, right, joined by Jim Beaudry (seated) and Bill Obermeyer, is announced as a 2018 inductee for the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.

PORTLAND—Longtime Portland boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo awakened Tuesday morning with 427 victories, seven regional titles and five state championships to his name.

Tuesday afternoon, in a ceremony at Cheverus High School, Russo had something bestowed upon him that can’t be quantified, the designation Maine Basketball Hall of Famer.

Russo is one of 16 inductees into the Hall’s fifth annual induction class. That group is joined by six “Legends of the Hall” and one team, the 1960 Lewiston High boys’ squad.

The 2018 induction ceremony will be held Aug. 19 at the Cross Center in Bangor.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Russo said. “There are so many names on that list who were accomplished athletes and coaches. Just to be considered was an honor. I’m very appreciative.”

Joining Russo Tuesday were Bill Obermeyer, a star player at Gorham State Teachers College and a longtime coach at Kennebunk High School, and Jim Beaudry, one of the “Legends,” Cheverus Class of 1941, as well as a former coach and athletic director at the University of New England, who will turn 95 on induction day.

Previous inductees Bob Brown, the legendary coach at South Portland and Cheverus, as well as many other locations, Dick Whitmore, the accomplished coach from Colby College, and Charlie Wootton, a standout at Camden-Rockport High School and Bentley College, were also on hand.

Tony Hamlin, the Chair of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, said that this year’s class is yet another example of what makes basketball in the state of Maine so special.

“Maine is unique in that at one end of the spectrum you have Kittery and Kennebunk and at the other you have Fort Kent, but it’s obvious that basketball is such a small universe,” Hamlin said. “People all over the state that are inside the family of basketball know everybody. It’s really unique to Maine.”

Russo has been synonymous with Portland success for over four decades. He played three seasons for the Bulldogs, graduating in 1975. After playing four years at the University of Maine-Presque Isle (and later earning induction into that schools’ Hall of Fame), Russo spent three years coaching the Bonny Eagle boys’ program before returning to his alma mater in 1990. He guided Portland to Class A championships in 1999, 2004 and 2014 and to Class AA crowns in 2016 and 2017 (the Bulldogs lost in the Class A state final in 2007 and 2015).

“Basketball has been a big part of my life,” Russo said. “My mother was a basketball fan. We watched Celtics games. When I played, she made it important. We had a hoop in my back yard.

“My Portland teams were very good and I had a great experience up at UMPI. I remember those days at Swish Camp with Coach Brown. I did a lot of the grunt work, but I picked the brains of the coaches. They were such mentors. Those camps were a big help as a young coach. I met a lot of nice people at Bonny Eagle, but when the Portland job opened, it was a no-brainer. I never left Portland. I’ve been there my whole life. I’ve been very fortunate with my journey.”

“Joe has become an icon in Maine basketball,” Hamlin said. “He’s on the verge of winning perhaps another state championship. To see the kid from Munjoy Hill make the journey to the Hall of Fame is pretty impressive.”

Russo, who is legendary for getting his teams to dramatically improve from the start of the season to the end, is in the midst of his finest stretch as Portland’s coach, winning 95 of his last 102 games entering Tuesday night’s game at South Portland, as well as three championships in the past four years.

“I’ve had wonderful players, great relationships,” Russo said. “My coaching staff has been outstanding. We’ve always been team-first. That’s worked for us. I’m still enjoying it.”

Hamlin said that Beaudry and Obermeyer stood out for their character as much as for their skill.

“The words I use to describe Bill are class, integrity, character,” Hamlin said. “He set an example of excellence for his players. He represents all the goodness of basketball in terms of his mentoring.

“Jim is a gentleman. He did things the right way. He went about his business, was understated and humble. No one affiliated with basketball in Maine has a bad word to say about him.”

Other inductees include Brenda Beckwith, a 1,000-point scorer at Lawrence High School; Paul Belanger, a standout player at Sanford High School and Colby College; Jim Bessey, a star player at Williams High School and Farmington State College and later a legendary coach at Mt. Blue and Madison; Cindy Blodgett, the most storied female player in state annals, who starred at Lawrence High School and the University of Maine; Sandi Carver, a star player at Jonseport-Beals and the University of Maine; Dean Erickson, a standout at Medomak Valley, who went on to play at Brown University; Peter Hamlin, who starred at Milo High School and Ricker College; Jeff Hart, the longtime accomplished coach at Camden-Rockport/Camden Hills who is going for his 500th victory Tuesday evening; Barbara Krause, who led Freeport High School to a state title, then later starred at Bowdoin College and Duke University; Bill McAvoy, who starred for Sherman High School, Katahdin High School and Unity College; Delmont “Del” Merrill, a coach, professor, athletic director and president of Husson College; Keith Ogden, a star at Bucksport High School and Husson College; Leroy Patterson, a standout at Bangor High School who went on to play football at the University of Cincinnati; and Rick Woods, a star at Morse High School and the University of Maine.

Other “Legends of the Hall” include Bill Fletcher, a coach at Mattanawcook, Falmouth, Penobscot Valley, Dexter and Brewer; Dwight Hunter, the longtime athletic director at Caribou High School; Elwood “Bimbo” Pinkham, a star player at Sumner and later coach at Sumner and Narraguagus; Thaxter Trafton, a standout at Morse High School and Husson College and later coach at John Bapst; and Arthur “Artie” Warner, a star at Brunswick High School and the University of Maine, who went on to coach Winthrop and Gardiner.

The 1960 Lewiston boys’ team is the honored team this year. The Blue Devils won the Class A title in undefeated fashion that season, beating Brewer in the final, 81-64. Lewiston went on to compete at the New England championship.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.