Al McClain ’80

Funny, but looking back on decades of Hyde athletics, it’s the defensive performances that stand out in my memory.  Sticking with just the teams I coached, my short list includes:

  • Geoff McConnell ’79 relentlessly dogging Proctor Academy’s Chris Smedley for four quarters on the lacrosse field, helping us to a historic program win that put Hyde lax on the NE prep map;
  • Lee Blank ’80 dueling likewise versus Hebron’s Antonio Minondo;
  • The Bertschy sisters (Linda ’82 & Pam ’81) squaring off against the Ellis sisters (one of whom went on to set many scoring records at U. Maine), leading us to a dramatic seasonal basketball split with Mt. View HS;
  • Dani Santanela ’93, as a frosh(!), stubbornly stalking her Cushing opponent – the best player I coached against in my women’s soccer career – down at Exeter in the NE Prep semis. (We won that one in an overtime shoot-out that had to be illuminated by car headlights!)

Turning to offensive performances, there is one that comes immediately to mind. It was a masterpiece executed by this guy. (Just so you don’t get confused, I’m talking about the guy in the hat…) His name is Al McClain ’80 and he stopped by our Hyde-Bath guy’s game on Saturday at Beaver Country Day School (Chestnut Hill, MA) to cheer on his alma mater. (Actually, far more than a casual Hyde fan, Al is responsible for getting two of our players – Khaleil DePass ’17 and Edwin Ezedonmwen ’18 – to Hyde. In fact, over the course of a distinguished career working with Boston youth, he has sent a number of student-athletes to Hyde.)

Al came to Hyde for a post-graduate year after a storied high school career at Hyde Park HS that concluded with his being named Massachusetts Player of the Year. Thankfully for us, he was followed by sister Almanda ’82 and brother Wes ’83, both outstanding hoopsters in their own rights. Little did we know that the arrival of Al, Almanda, and Wes signaled what would have to be considered the golden era of Hyde hoops with 5 championships – 2 Maine Principal’s Association state titles and 3 NE prep titles – all in the span of… 4 years!

Anyway, back to Al’s offensive masterpiece… We were playing Suffield Academy (CT) on a Sunday morning in the NE Prep finals at Westminster School (CT). It was a wild weekend as the majority of the team had played in (and won) the Maine state finals in Augusta only the night before (!).  Thanks to the fact that one of our player’s fathers had access to a plane – you can’t make this stuff up! – we were able to pilot our players down to Hartford in time for the next day’s prep finals.  However, while they may have been present in body, all the players besides Al – who as a post-graduate student had been unable to play in the previous night’s game – were exhausted.

Consequently, and perhaps predictably, we got off to a slow start, falling behind by as many as 14 points in the early going. Coach Ed Legg and his assistant (that would be me) were running out of ideas and had pretty much resorted to calling timeouts in a somewhat desperate effort to stop the bleeding. During one such timeout, Al broke from his characteristic vocal silence – he epitomized the kind of leader who did all his talking on the court – and calmly made a firm suggestion: “Give me the ball.”  You could feel everybody thinking, “Let’s give it a try.” So, from that point on, our strategy was painfully simple: Give. Al. The. Ball.  And…

… 52 points later, we were hoisting the championship trophy. Suffice it to say that I cannot recall any Hyde athlete in any sport so completely taking over a game to the extent that Al did on that morning in Connecticut. What’s more, had this not been pre-3-point-line America, Al would have had at least 60. (Guy was a threat the moment be crossed half court!) All I can say is that as both a hoops and Hyde fan, it was treat to watch the whole thing.

However, as great a player as Al was at Hyde, he and his siblings were so much more than that. As he writes on his Facebook page:

“Hyde Prep School! The best Prep School in the World. If you didn’t go there you wouldn’t understand. I thought I was a good ball player, and young man, but Hyde made me believe I was a Great Ball Player, but an even greater person.”

He went on to note that he did “unthinkable things” like… performing arts. (He doesn’t mention that he also did beautiful art portraits in the medium of pastels.)

Al continued his basketball career at the University of New Hampshire where he capped his freshman season as ECAC rookie of the year and his career as UNH’s all-time (and still) leading scorer. He also ended up a 5th-round NBA draft pick of the Houston Rockets.

After college, Al began his life’s work of helping kids in Boston. His impact was perhaps best impressed by a recent former Hyde student who also hails from Boston. Seeing a photo that I posted on Facebook of Al with Hyde-Bath’s team last summer (see below), he offered this comment:

Al “Ski” (What we [Bostonians] call him) is a great man. Very well known here in Boston. I see him all the time and did not know he attended Hyde… I remember he would come to our middle school to give us inner city kids motivational speeches in order to keep us away from drugs and gangs. He’s a legend here in Boston.”

That would make at least two places.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld.

PS: Al is also known for (at least) one other thing: Check out these threads!