More than a decade ago, with Clark Academy still just an idea, St. Christopher’s superintendent Dr. Robert Maher spent a year hiring the school’s new employees. On the first day of interviews, he found himself across from all 6 feet, 8 inches of Anthony Gaines, who, at that moment, was just another job prospect.
Maher reviewed Gaines’ academic and work history and noticed what seemed plainly obvious: He was a basketball player. Gaines had played at Tennessee State and St. Thomas Aquinas and later for the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals and semi-professionally in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Considering Maher’s desire to start a basketball program, Gaines seemed like a fitting hire for two reasons.
“Believe it or not, it actually took some convincing initially,” Maher said. “He wanted to prove himself first as a great social worker. Of course, he did.”
Soon after, Gaines helped start Clark Academy basketball and has coached at the school for 10 years. As Maher had hoped, the Yonkers native has built a program in his image — one where his two jobs become one more often than not.
“Being that I’m a social worker, I really don’t coach them. I’m giving them therapy,” said Gaines, whose school is part of St. Christopher’s, a residential treatment center headquartered in Dobbs Ferry. “It’s an extension of my job. I’m sometimes there from 7:30 in the morning until 9 at night. Sometimes, I slip back into my role as social worker if kids are having problems. My role flip flops. I’ll tell them, ‘Who do you want me to be, the social worker or coach?’ “
Gaines, a gentle, spiritual man, has struck the right chord. His teams have won five Section 1 championships in 10 seasons and this one will play Friday morning in Clark’s first state final four ever.
The program has truly become an extension of his work off the court. His players have been celebrated for their sportsmanship. He has also helped the school establish and maintain its goal of an 80 percent graduation rate by providing guidance to students with troubled histories.
“He is such an unbelievable role model — not just to his players, but to all of our students,” Maher said.
Gaines’ working relationship with some of his players began when they were 11 or 12 years old. A majority of students are referred to Clark through the Greenburgh-North Castle School District beginning in seventh grade and often remain there through graduation. That fact has allowed him to build trust with his players and their families.
Those bonds are what have made this week so rewarding for Gaines. Thirty years ago, he was a sophomore when St. Thomas Aquinas reached the NAIA final four. Now, his players have an opportunity to experience their own success.
“I’m so happy for them,” he said. “My excitement is because they’re doing something successful and they don’t get a lot of success in life. People stereotype them and stigmatize them, but to get the opportunity to go to Glens Falls, this is something they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”
Gaines has found himself so energized, he’s been forced to alter his personal routine.
Friday will be another opportunity for his players to grow and he can’t wait.
“I have to go work out every night just because I have to get my energy out,” Gaines said. “I’m just so excited for them.”
Class D state semifinal
Clark Academy (14-8) vs. Section 3’s Oriskany (25-0)
When: Friday, 11:45 a.m.
Where: Glens Falls Civic Center
Outlook: After facing just three Class D opponents all season, and only one with a winning record, Clark will run up against the state’s top-ranked Class D team. Oriskany claimed its first Section 3 title ever by beating New York Mills for the third time this season. New York Mills had played in the last three state final fours and won the 2014 state title. All-state swingman Ryan Schmadel is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,718 career points. He is one of five senior starters, four of whom started as sophomores. Led by four senior starters – Andre Carthorn, Taiquam Johnson, Antonio Lowden and Raymond Velez – Clark also has plenty of experience. This is the best of its five state-playoff teams and it starts with Carthorn, who averages 23.0 ppg. The Knights beat both Section 1 Class C finalists, including state semifinalist Haldane.
Up next: The winner will play Section 6’s Panama (22-2) or Section 7’s Moriah (25-0) at 5:30 Saturday night for the state championship.