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Sports column by Karl Lindholm: A passion for the game of hoops

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Posted on March 21, 2013 |
By Karl Lindholm



bball3791.jpg
VERGENNES UNION HIGH School coach Peter Quinn at the state championship game in Barre earlier this month doing what he likes best — coaching basketball. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

Peter Quinn, social worker: He’s a school-based clinician at Vergennes Union High School, employed by the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC). For 20 years, he directed the Kingsland Bay School in Ferrisburgh, a residential facility for troubled adolescents.

Peter Quinn, basketball coach: He led the Vergennes Union High boys’ basketball team this winter to the Division II state championship with a 24-0 record. This was the Commodore boys’ third appearance in a state final in Pete’s six years as coach. He also coached the Vergennes girls to two state championships in 2005 and 2006.

In connecting his work to his basketball passion, Pete cited Woody Allen, who said, “social workers turn street gangs into basketball teams. And vice versa!”

He told me this with a laugh over breakfast recently at 3 Squares in Vergennes, our conversation punctuated frequently by well-wishers, offering congratulations, and appreciation, for a special season.

“In graduate school,” Pete said, “I took a course that emphasized the group process and I realized that was what I was essentially interested in — the dynamics of the group. I am first and foremost a group worker.

“In the love of the ‘group,’ lots of the threads of my life come together — it ties together my career and my love for basketball.

“When I played, I liked to play the point. I wanted to direct the symphony. In basketball you have to coordinate movement and strategy. To coordinate such an intense and fast-moving activity is beautiful. It’s art to me.

“We had 10 minutes in our championship game against Burr and Burton — it was all ‘flow.’ We were in synch. We outscored them 36-9. I told the team, ‘that’s what I meant! That’s why we play. That’s why I play.’”

Now a sexagenarian, his playing days are over, a shoulder injury and rotator cuff surgery providing the final insult. But there are few players who logged more hours of pure pleasure on a basketball court, playing hoops, than Pete Quinn.

He grew up in Concord, in suburban Massachusetts, and followed the Celtics in the glory years of Russell, Cousy and Havlicek. Until he got to high school, his basketball consisted of shooting hoops in the driveway.

He attended Xavier, a Jesuit high school of about 400 boys in Concord (“the Jesuits like their basketball!”). “The very first day of school, they had an ‘open gym,’ and I fell in love with the game right then,” Pete said, remembering the moment.

As a teenager, “I played every day,” he said, “every day I was alive. Christmas Day too.” Pete had two buddies on the team who were as passionate as he was. “We were ‘junkies’; we would go to college gyms in the area and play pick-up. We got better fast.”

“I was in love. In love with basketball.”

“My senior year we were New England Catholic League Champs. In the state championship game, though, we lost to Oliver Ames High. We could have beaten them 99 times out of 100, but we lost. That was the biggest disappointment in my life at that point. That’s basketball. Don’t take anything for granted.”

He chose Middlebury College over Georgetown (“they weren’t much in basketball then”). Though he had just one year on the team at Middlebury, Pete calculates that no student, before or since, spent more time playing hoops in the gym at Middlebury than he did.

After graduating from Middlebury in 1971, Pete embarked upon a career as a ... house painter: “I was not a very good house painter.” He then answered an ad to become a “night cottage parent” at the Weeks School in Vergennes, a state training school for abused, neglected, and troublesome boys and girls.

“That first night, I realized, this is what I want to do!”

By this point he had met his partner for life, Marian Greenberg, who shared his passion for working with people in distress. She is now the Coordinator of Emergency Services at the CSAC.

They embarked on graduate study in Boston, at the Boston University School of Social Work. “That brought me back to the urban basketball scene. I was playing seven days a week, all over Boston, honing my game.”

Back in Vermont after grad school, employed at Kingsland Bay, Pete played in rec leagues in Bristol, Vergennes, Middlebury, and Burlington. “I played in the Burlington league until I was 51 years old,” he said.

Pete and Marian have two boys, Liam and Sam, now out in the world. Both were star players at VUHS and Pete was their coach as they developed in youth play. The Quinn home in Waltham has a full-length basketball court with glass backboards and the other accoutrements of a first-class court.

Liam went on to Middlebury College and is in the family business as a social worker in San Francisco. Sam graduated from Harvard with a degree in Astrophysics and is earning his Ph.D. at Georgia State University.

At this point, 40 years in, Pete’s not going anywhere. He likes this gig in Vergennes.

Peter Quinn: hoops and groups. 

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