Peter Quinn, respected coach and counselor, recalled fondly
WALTHAM — The Saturday death of highly respected Vergennes Union High School clinician and basketball coach Peter Quinn sent waves of shock and sadness through the students and athletes he served, his colleagues and fellow coaches, former hoop teammates and fellow pick-up game competitors, and all those who respected his dedication to his work, love of basketball and quick wit.
Quinn, 69, died unexpectedly from natural causes; the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad responded to his Waltham home early on Saturday. He grew up in Concord, Mass., and settled in Vermont after graduating from Middlebury College in 1971.
Quinn started his career in social work at the former Weeks School in Vergennes in the early 1970s. After obtaining a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston University he began work at the Kingsland Bay School, a therapeutic group home for troubled adolescent girls.
He took over as Kingsland Bay School’s director and ran it through the late 1990s. In 2000 he became a VUHS school-based clinician, in the employ of the Counseling Service of Addison County, known as CSAC (see full obituary on Page 6A).
CSAC Executive Director Bob Thorn and VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor both praised Quinn’s work at the school.
“He was an important and caring person to many in his world and has touched the lives of so many of the kids and families with whom we work,” Thorn said. “We are devastated by Peter’s sudden absence.”
Thorn shared comments from CSAC staff members about Quinn. Among them:
• “I had the pleasure of working with Peter and he developed a bond with a very difficult young man on my caseload. He changed this young man in that he created trust and a safe place to vent his frustrations.”
• “Many teenagers often suffer or struggle alone. Peter found a way into many adolescents’ lives by building solid relationships, identifying their unique qualities and providing unconditional love. They are all unique, each and every one of those relationships. He did it effortlessly and with a big heart!”
• “I always looked forward to working with Peter as he was always very respectful of others opinions. He treated everyone — clients and staff — with dignity and respect. He was a JOY to know and work with.”
• “Peter always used his wonderful sense of humor to relate to and teach kids.”
• “I worked with him in his role of School-Based Clinician at Vergennes Union High School. He was highly respected and much beloved there, and he made a real difference in a lot of young lives.”
• “My family member was supported by Peter in high school. He will be remembered by us for his unconditional support and guidance.”
VUHS brought in eight CSAC counselors on Monday to help students and staff deal with grief; and girls’ and boys’ basketball home games scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were postponed.
Taylor said Quinn’s loss is deeply felt.
“He was a dear man deeply connected and committed to the VUHS community and I’m heartbroken,” she wrote.
Taylor noted that the CSAC clinicians are integrated into the fabric of the school and work closely with teachers as well as many students.
“I can say that Pete’s death has touched many people throughout our school community. He supported many students through his work,” she wrote. “Pete was a friend and colleague to many people here at VUHS.”
Caring about teens was also a hallmark of his coaching career at VUHS, as was success. As a coach Quinn led both the Commodore girls’ and boys’ varsity teams to more than 100 wins. His girls’ team claimed Division II state championships in 2005 and 2006, and his 2013 boys’ team went 24-0 in winning the 2013 D-II title. He also assisted the 2001 boys’ team that won a title and lost just once.
Josh Carter, a 2009 graduate who is taking over from Quinn as the boys’ varsity coach and played for Quinn, remembers Quinn’s interpersonal skills as much as the on-court success.
“He always seemed to be thinking about individuals more than basketball,” Carter said. “We had a lot of big personalities on our team. He reminded me of the Zen-master coach Phil Jackson. He’s got that presence. Any time a conflict or a situation came up as a player I thought he did a really good job of managing those conflicts and making everybody feel validated in what they were feeling.”
Both Carter and Addison Northwest School District Athletics Director Peter Maneen recalled fondly Quinn’s habit of wearing canvas Converse high-top sneakers as part of his Commodore game attire, what Maneen called “his signature style of dress shoes.”
“When asked about his odd pairing of shoes with his button down shirts and dress pants, Pete replied that he’d worn them so he’d be ready if a game of pick-up ever broke out,” Maneen said.
Carter remembered an away game played after a snowstorm, when Quinn wore “big clunky boots” and forgot his trademark footwear.
“He decided that he wasn’t going to wear his boots during the game, so he coached barefoot,” Carter said. “And he was calm, cool and collected, just like a Zen master, and it was really funny, but just who he was.”
More importantly, Carter said, Quinn always looked for ways to help his players.
“I remember him early on asking me about my plans for after school, and asking me if he could help me in any way get into any school,” Carter said. “He ended up writing a recommendation for me that was really heartfelt and definitely special when it came time to apply to colleges. That was really nice of him to put that in our head as players that there was life after basketball, and if you wanted to make it happen he had connections.”
Longtime Mount Abraham Union girls’ coach Connie LaRose remembers what is was like to square off against Quinn’s teams.
“I will always remember Pete just being an amazing coach. He always put a team on the floor that was one of our toughest games,” LaRose said.
Coaches and athletes who opposed Quinn remember him as incredibly competitive, but at the same time gracious in defeat. After those back-to-back titles, Quinn’s Commodores were the No. 1 seed in 2007, and LaRose’s Eagles upset them, 36-34, in a hard-fought semifinal, something LaRose calls “one of our greatest accomplishments.”
Afterward, she said, Quinn “was the first guy after all the dust had settled to congratulate us and recognize all the things we had done to make it happen,” while also noting the Commodore athletes did the same, something she believed reflected well on their coach.
LaRose also noted how much Quinn cared about his athletes.
“We would talk at different times about players who were a challenge to each of us,” she said. “Nothing really private, just how we worked to help those kids be better citizens, not only better players and teammates but better citizens to go through the rest of their lives.”
Quinn captained his high school team to a Massachusetts state final, and played one year at Middlebury College — and probably should have played more, but possibly did not see eye-to-eye with a straight-laced coach in the late 1960s.
A six-foot, two-inch guard, Quinn could dunk off two feet. He was a smart and relentless defender and an excellent passer and long-range shooter. His teams dominated in the Burlington, Vergennes and Middlebury leagues and also fared well in Bristol; at one point he played in all four leagues at the same time.
His Burlington team routinely competed successfully against recent graduates from the University of Vermont and St. Michael’s College varsity squads. Quinn was also universally respected in pickup games as an unrelenting competitor.
If pressed by acquaintances, Quinn would mention that during games while studying in Boston he blocked shot attempts by several players in the area who ended up in the NBA — Patrick Ewing, Dana Barros, John Bagley and Michael Adams.
Many spoke of how much Quinn loved the sport.
“He brought intensity and love for the game. He was one of those guys who believed everybody should have a basketball in their hands,” Carter said.
Maneen echoed him.
“Peter Quinn was a great man who loved the game of basketball more than anyone I’ve ever met,” he said.
CSAC’s Thorn remembered playing pickup hoop with Quinn more than three decades ago.
“Peter was the gazelle — swift and graceful with an amazing jump shot. He was never interested in the drama or trash talk or anything that slowed the game,” Thorn wrote. “He was the best of us.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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