HARWICH – When Monomoy boys basketball coach Keith Arnold first considered stepping away from the sidelines, he decided to give the decision time. But as the months passed, Arnold recognized that although he loved the sport, it was time to put family first, especially his eight grandchildren.
“The longer I thought about the future, the basketball part of it was always there, but it didn’t seem to have the same pull,” Arnold said. “I knew it was time.”
Arnold’s basketball story began in his youth when he was a three-sport athlete for Wilmington High School, lettering in football, basketball, and track. But it was basketball that claimed his heart. During his high school career, Arnold averaged 21 points a game, his skills leading to his playing college ball before he joined the Marines. In 1969, he headed to the University of Massachusetts to finish his schooling, hoping to become a teacher and a coach.
In 1973, he interviewed and was hired for the position of physical education teacher at Provincetown High. For two years he coached basketball and also served as the assistant football coach. The highlight of his two years at Provincetown was beating Nauset once, a significant challenge given their prowess back then. Armed with that success and key guidance from the girls’ gym teacher, Betty DeRiggs, Arnold decided to try moving up in the coaching world, his sights set on a college job.
Before he left Provincetown bound for Beverly High School, Principal Elmer Silva told him, “Once you have sand in your shoes, you’ll be back.”
Arnold enjoyed a half dozen years at Beverly until Proposition 2½ brought about budget cuts that included his job. Roughly a year after ending his time at Beverly, he became an assistant coach at Salem State, and was appointed head coach near the end of the school year.
In 1983, Arnold returned to Cape Cod with his family, which now included his three children, to work, once again, for Provincetown High, before becoming the Brewster Recreation Director in 1986. In 1989, he got a call looking for a freshman hoops coach at Nauset, where he was also assistant coach in football, girls soccer, and track.
From Nauset, Arnold ventured to Dennis-Yarmouth, leading the Dolphins boys basketball team to a league championship. In 2005, he returned to Nauset to serve as the school’s athletic director, a position he held until 2012. He also coached both boys and girls basketball, earning the Mass Basketball Coaches Association’s Div. 2 Coach of the Year Award in 2007.
In 2016, he was hired to lead the Sharks. It was during his tenure there that Arnold not only led his teams through successful seasons, including a trip to the Div. 4 South Finals during his first season, but also celebrated his 300th career win as a coach, later being named Div. 4 Coach of the Year.
“The place that I fell into was such a unique place that I’ve never experienced that across the board,” he said of Monomoy. “The culture. Coming here every day. The kids. The diversity. It took a little while to get comfortable, but after that I was like, ‘This is amazing.’”
In his first year with the Sharks, he took pride not only in the team’s stellar record during what could have been a rebuilding year, given the coaching change, but also in the fact that they defeated Nantucket twice.
“That was like an eye-opener,” Arnold said.
Arnold put heavy emphasis on defense, believing that if a team had a strong defense, their offense would follow. It was a strategy that paid off when the Sharks claimed the Cape and Islands League Championship in 2017, prior to their stellar post-season run. Arnold remembers someone telling him after the Old Colony game that Monomoy’s players were tougher, with stronger defense.
“As a coach, I take pride in that,” Arnold said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Most recently, the Sharks opened their 2019-2020 season with a huge win against Nauset at Nauset, the visiting Monomoy fans swarming the court after the final buzzer. Another big win against D-Y, a buzzer beater, is also up among Arnold’s favorite game memories.
But what kept him in it was the kids, the players and the fans, the latter of which Arnold said was the best fan base he’s seen in the entirety of his career. On more than one occasion, particularly during the playoffs, said fans took up more than half the bleachers.
“Those kids, as they grew in size, I think it affected the adults,” Arnold said. “It became an attraction, going to a game.”
Because of the way the fans and players conducted themselves, the Monomoy boys were given the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO) Sportsmanship Award two years in a row.
“That, to me, to be a coach, to get a sportsmanship award, is a credit to those kids because they understood what we were teaching,” Arnold said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
When it comes to his players, Arnold hopes they look back on their playing years fondly, and also with an eye to lessons learned.
“What are you going to take away? Are you going to take away the fact that you never give up? Are you going to take away the fact that you’ve got to work harder than anybody else?” Arnold said. “What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?”
This past year's team captain Jamie Routhier had high praise for Arnold.
“Having him as a coach was definitely a life-altering experience,” Routhier said. “He brought out the best in me and everyone else on the team.”
Routhier said he brought an intensity to his coaching that was unmatched by other coaches in the league, something that showed on the court. Arnold insisted his players be accountable for their actions, including mistakes made.
“He takes respect very seriously and feels that you should treat him and your teammates with respect and dignity,” Routhier said. “I think the main reason we were as successful as we were was because he made us so responsible. I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done for me. He never let me be anything less than my absolute best self both on and off the court.”
Chris Mazulis, part of the first Monomoy team Arnold coached, had similar sentiments.
“Coach Arnold taught us how to play unselfishly,” he said. “When he took over there was a lot of uncertainty as to where the program was heading, but he was able to put Monomoy back on the map. Playing for him was an honor.”
Arnold hopes the up and coming players continue to build on the foundation laid by those that came before them. He encourages his successor to take that foundation and make it even better.
“I couldn’t have gone out on a higher note,” Arnold said. “The fact that I spent my last four years coaching here was a blessing. It was a great place to be, and to have the opportunity to leave from here is special.”