Champagne Takes Reins as Boys’ Hoop Coach at Holliston

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Holliston boys’ basketball will get a seasoned coach in Mark Champagne this year.
Issue Date: 
September, 2019
Article Body: 

Change is inevitable, and at Holliston High there’s been a major change in the boys’ basketball program — Mark Champagne has replaced Jenna Gallster as head coach.
The 62-year-old Champagne probably is familiar to some Panther fans, but he’s definitely no stranger to Holliston’s rich history and winning tradition during coach Tom Keough’s era. Holliston basketball fans may remember that Champagne coached Ashland High to the Tri Valley League title during the 2013-14 season, compiling a 19-2 record. After six years at Ashland (70-54 record), the Wrentham resident decided to get closer to home and became head coach at King Philip Regional.
A coaching change after two losing campaigns in the Hockomock League enabled the 63-year-old coach to take a year away from basketball. But, the urge to coach again burned within. And, that’s when Holliston’s Athletic Director, Matt Baker, started the ball rolling to hire Champagne.
“I played for Medfield High, and facing Holliston in the early 1970s was a challenge,’’ Champagne recalled. “They were our prime rival, and they were always in the mix to contend for the TVL title. Keough had players, like Dave Caligaris, Gary Petercuskie, Ron Lapointe and Ted Jursek. They had great athletes, not average ones. And, although I never met him, I admired Tom Caito, the football coach during that time who was all about the kids no matter what sport they played.’’
Holliston basketball, which has struggled lately, is aiming to bounce back, and Champagne just might be what the doctor ordered. The Boston native will tackle his new post the same way he did at Ashland and KP — in a very pragmatic way. His three-prong philosophy allows winning to take care of itself.
“It’s imperative that the basketball court be an extension of the classroom,’’ said Champagne, who previously coached at three different colleges. “Secondly, players should reach their potential as positively as possible, and I strive to develop our players to be good citizens. If those three situations are fostered, then winning will follow.’’
When the vacancy opened at Holliston, Champagne applied, and 10 days later, in early June, he was hired. Obviously, Baker and those involved in the selection liked what they heard and Champagne liked the potential fit.
“I was looking for a place where I fit and didn’t have to compromise my values,’’ he emphasized. “I really want to teach the game, and everything I saw reinforced my decision to accept the position.’’
Champagne met his players the first week of June and liked what he saw and heard. He also saw plusses when he attended a summer league game. “The players competed hard, and they were unselfish,’’ he noted.
The new coach has three goals he wants to achieve — “to develop a positive culture, support the youth program and to qualify for the tournament.’’ In the past, Champagne built consistency in the programs he coached with up-tempo offense and pressure defense. “Competition, however, sometimes forces a variation in our style,’’ he offered.
Champagne is also firm about his players’ commitment and their philosophy of competing.
“It’s important that students remain committed to their sport,’’ he emphasized. “There’s a lot of value in lifetime relationships that develop in athletics, and it’s important to cherish being part of a team. As for philosophy, it boils down to enjoying your sport, reaching your potential and winning. Hard work produces enjoyment, and if a player is working hard, then he’s reaching his potential. When those two factors are in play, then winning is the by-product.’’
Holliston High will be Champagne’s second tour of duty coaching in the TVL, and he finds that appealing. “I like the towns in the league, and the competition is top-notch,’’ said Champagne, who owns a painting company. “I’m familiar with the coaches and with the refs. And, it’s the league I played in.’’
As a player, Champagne averaged 13 points a game at Medfield, Mass. Bay Community College and UMass-Dartmouth. He started his coaching career as an assistant at UMass-Dartmouth and later worked for one season as an assistant with the Boston University women’s team before taking the head-coaching reins at Bridgewater State, where his teams compiled .500 records during a 10-year span.
Leaving Bridgewater to focus on his painting business, the married father of two later spent two years as an assistant at Taunton. He returned to the head-coaching ranks at Ashland in 2010.
Champagne has good vibes about working in a community where residents raised money to cover the cost of a new hardwood gymnasium floor, and with Baker. He said the two developed a common bond during the interview process. “I felt that Matt would be supportive, and we both were on the same page about student-athletes,’’ he noted. “We both want to see a solid work ethic developed, and we want them to be good team players.’’
“We’re excited about bringing coach Champagne on board this year as he has a lot to offer in terms of coaching experience and knowledge,’’ said Baker.  “He’s coached at both the college and high school levels for many years, and he’ll be able to draw on that experience as he leads our program.”
Two quotes Champagne stresses reveal volumes about his demeanor: “If kids have a passion for basketball, then it’s my job to fuel it,’’ he said. And, another meaningful comment is rooted in athletics being a laboratory for learning. He said: “Valuable life lessons can be learned and it’s the only place where a kid can take on physical, emotional and intellectual challenges.’’