LeBlanc hopes to lead Tigers to state Class D crownFormer Rockland assistant recreation director to coach for state title
Jackman — Midcoast residents who attended the recent Western Class D girls basketball tournament at the Augusta Civic Center may have seen a familiar face roaming the sideline in front of the Forest Hills' bench.
That face belongs to Mike LeBlanc of Skowhegan, who was the assistant recreation department director in Rockland for several years in the early 1990s.
LeBlanc could then be found running or otherwise being involved with several youth programs affiliated with the recreation department at the Rockland Community Building, including coaching the then Maritime Energy girls peewee basketball squads to a pair of championship seasons.
Now the 48-year-old LeBlanc, who has coached Forest Hills of Jackman for 15 seasons, has a chance to put another championship season under his belt — albeit, at a much higher level.
LeBlanc's top-seeded Tigers got a 3-pointer at the buzzer to stave off No. 2 Rangeley on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center to give Forest Hills a 53-52 win and the Western Class D crown.
Forest Hills defeated No. 8 Vinalhaven 70-27 in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Pine Tree Academy of Freeport 64-52 in the semifinals prior to the regional final against the Lakers.
The Tigers will face Washburn, which defeated Van Buren 74-51 in the Eastern Class D title game, on Saturday, March 1 at 1:05 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center for the state crown. The Beavers have won 83 of their last 88 contests and the last three state titles.
Needless to say, the Tigers will have their hands full.
“We're going to have to take care of the basketball because they're relentless on defense,” said LeBlanc. “I talked with the coach at Vinalhaven [Alan Lazaro] and he said they're pretty darn quick. He's seen them play.”
LeBlanc also has been the assistant coach for the Forest Hills boys for 17 years, along with head coach Anthony Amero. The duo helped bring the first state Class D title to the Tiger boys team last year and hope to do the same in the coming days with the Tiger girls.
“The biggest thrill is for my four seniors,” said LeBlanc. “Three out of four of them have played with me since eighth grade and just the idea that they get to prolong their career a little bit longer is just very satisfying to me knowing how hard they've worked.”
One of those seniors is Kori Coro, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the regional final. She has netted 47 treys on the season.
LeBlanc's tenure as the assistant recreation director lasted “about six or seven years” before he got a tryout with the Bangor Blue Ox, a Minor League baseball team that lasted only two season in the state's Queen City.
After a brief stint in the insurance business, LeBlanc accepted a position as the physical education and health teacher at Forest Hills High School and has been there since. He also has been the school's baseball coach 15 years, though he has taken a few years off from that post during that time.
LeBlanc spoke fondly of his time working in the Midcoast.
“I loved my time down there,” said LeBlanc. "We always had Friday night dunk-off games and the kids were wonderful. Before I got there there was a long list of lifers [banned from the building] and I don't think we added any while I was there. We tried our best to clean it up and make it a place where kids could come and feel safe. And [recreation director at the time] Carol [Chalmers] and I did a pretty good job of doing that.”
LeBlanc graduated from Skowhegan High School in 1984 and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1989 with a degree in physical education. He also was a relief pitcher on the University of Maine baseball team. He commuted to and from Rockland during his time working at the recreation department and continues to commute from Skowhegan to Jackman.
Both drives from Rockland and Jackman to Skowhegan are roughly 150 miles round trip.
“I spend a lot of time in my truck,” LeBlanc said.
The coach hopes, come late Saturday afternoon, to be spending a lot of time celebrating a state Class D basketball championship in Augusta.