LEWISTON — Joshua Brister’s life experiences impact the way he runs the Lewiston-Auburn Maples.
Brister, the chairman and owner of the first-year semi-professional women’s basketball organization, started coaching sports when he was still a teenager.
When he was only 17, Brister coached his brother’s AAU baseball team in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he grew up. That same year, 2000, Brister enlisted in the Navy. For his Navy community service while in Southern California, he became a baseball head coach and a football assistant.
He then moved to South Carolina to coach high school basketball and ended up being hired as the school’s assistant athletic director for the winter season.
“Once I became the winter assistant AD, I had to handle referees, food, getting the visiting team in and out, and just making sure everything was operating,” Brister said. “That time spent in South Carolina gave me everything. That’s definitely where I learned everything (about how to run an athletic program).”
Last fall, Brister founded the LA Maples, who play in the Women’s American Basketball Association. Hey has made sure he brings the same professionalism he learned in the Navy and South Carolina to the Maples.
“He’s very professional, he’s well-spoken with the public and all the meetings he’s had to generate sponsorships,” Jim Seavey, the Maples’ coach and president of basketball operations, said. “Everything is top-notch. The uniforms, the shooting shirts, the gear. He wants to make sure that we’re first-class from the moment we step in the gym. He’s made everything professional.”
Leaders of the Lewiston-Auburn community have also noticed Brister’s professional approach.
“Joshua duck (Maple’s general manager) Sarah Soltan are consummate professionals, and collaboration with them has been wonderful,” Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, who has become an avid Maples fan, said. “It’s apparent that they care about the players and this community. Anytime you start something new, it’s challenging. They are working hard to grow their team and the fan base, and the results will pay off for them and our city. We are honored to have them here.”
Seavey said that Brister also has been innovative in how he runs the team.
“We’ve done a lot of things with the brand already that teams who have been in the league for a while haven’t done yet,” Seavey said. “We have payroll for our team. Lots of teams don’t even pay their players. We have a secondary insurance policy for all our players. Just little things like that.”
Brister, who hasn’t been around women’s sports before the Maples, said that paying players was never in doubt.
“This is my first time ever dealing with women’s sports in such an intricate way. I’ve never had to see the true discrepancies and mindset (between men’s and women’s sports) so closely before,” Brister said. “You just have to be professional. How are you going to take care of your most-valued assets (players)?”
The way the first-year Maples (1-1) are run has also caught the attention of the WABA and commissioner Marsha Blount.
“Our commissioner came to our game Saturday (against the Mt. Vernon Shamrocks in New York),” Brister said, “and as soon as she walked through the door, she found me and Sarah (Soltan) and said, ‘I want to just tell y’all what an amazing job you guys are doing. We want everyone to be like you guys.’
“To get those types of compliments from her means a lot.”
THE MAPLES’ MISSION
Brister, who moved to Maine in 2017, said he founded the Maples with one main mission in mind: to grow women’s basketball in Maine.
“Moving to Portland, Maine, and understanding how important the game of basketball to the women’s side is here, but then not seeing an opportunity for women to pick up and play professionally after they’re done collegiately, was a leading factor,” Brister said.
“All we’re trying to do,” Brister added, “is create a larger community around women’s basketball and bring that to Lewiston.”
Soltan also is excited about the prospect of growing women’s basketball — and women’s sports.
“The promotion of women’s sports in general is absolutely why I wanted to be involved,” Soltan, whose expertise falls in the sports social media marketing field, said. “The women’s sports world right now is experiencing a renaissance, like a new wave of serious investment. So I think we’re really in this watershed moment for women’s sports, and I think the Maples can be a part of that bringing the wider world of women’s sports to a small city like Lewiston and a smaller state like Maine.”
One way to grow the sport, according to Brister, is to give women in the Auburn-Lewiston area an option to play basketball after college.
“We want to grow. Maine women’s basketball is here to stay,” Brister said. “There’s always going to be good high school and college basketball players here, but what do they do after that? We want to be the top-notch professional tier program that younger ladies, like 7, 8 or 9 years old will see this as a viable option for them to play.”
Shelline said that process has already begun for young athletes in Lewiston.
“As soon as the first game was over, the team were surrounded by school-age girls looking for photos and autographs,” Sheline said. “The Maples players definitely serve as role models for our community and for young girls who want to play basketball and other sports.”
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