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LIFE IN THE SUBURBS: When coaches were giants

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Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 5:43 pm

You send your kids off to school, and sometimes expect them to do your dirty work, don’t you? A kid had a weak handshake once. “I thought the school system was supposed to do that,” my friend said of the boy. 

You “transfer” certain parenting duties to coaches on sports teams. A young person had difficulty making eye contact in social settings. “Gee, you would have thought that some sports coach along the way would have made sure the kid made eye contact—in huddles,  or at halftime,” a mutual friend said. At some point between coming home from the Maternity Ward and today, this parent decided that their child would do well in important interviews if Coach McGillicuddy made it happen.

Is this a Busy Yuppie Suburban Parent problem?  Or is it universal?

I don’t know.  

Scarborough kids were lucky years ago. There were some community giants as coaches. People who, when they walked into a room, or onto a sporting field, took over the room, or the field.

Packy McFarland, Phil Martin, Dick Plummer.

These coaches all taught important day-to-day life skills (Packy McFarland knew all the Boston Red Sox scouts by first name, but the gift he gave Scarborough kids was the “mature-adult” lessons---say please and thank you; look people in the eye; The Golden Rule; And the Packy Rule (“Nothing good ever happens at 1 o’clock in the morning.”) As kids got older, he treated them as young adults, not kids. “ Robert F. Kennedy once said: ‘The greatest use of life is to live it for something that will outlast you,’” he said 100 times if he said it once. 

A character award for Scarborough High seniors is named after Packy McFarland.

A Maine Baseball Hall of Fame scholarship also bears his name.

Did some of us “personalize” the rescue mission he performed on half the members of the SHS Class of l975? With these accolades? Guilty.

Dick Plummer had more self respect than any person I have ever met in my life. 

He coached five SHS boys soccer teams to state championships in the l970s. Yes, he was standard Coaching 101 (goal-setting; conditioning; preparation; inspiration; dedication; follow through). But it is one quote from a cold day on the baseball field in April 1971 that I still remember. He thought a kid was acting up, and also making fun of the coach, during practice. 

 “If you don’t want to respect me, and what I am trying to do out here, that is your choice. I will deal with you. But I just want to let you know I  respect myself, and what I am trying to do out here.” You could hear a wooden fungo bat go whack. (Drive by the then-new SHS soccer field in the l970s any summer day and see Dick Plummer, on his hands and knees, picking rocks off the soccer field). Six-hundred people attended his retirement banquet (410 showed up for surplus cheese at Town Hall in 1984). 

A gym at SHS bears his name—but it ought to be the soccer field. 

Phil Martin agreed with all these teachings. He was an SMS gym teacher and SHS varsity baseball coach for 33 years. His message? This is a Big World. Be ready for it. Enjoy yourself. Make friends every where you go. Smile!  “Fifty years from now you might not remember what you did today---but you will remember the people you did it with.” Phil goes to player weddings, and sends annual Christmas cards.

The SMS annual character and sportsmanship baseball award is The Philip T. Martin Youth Baseball Award. 

This time of year is lousy with awards being handed out to middle and high school kids, for community activities, scholarships, or sports accomplishments. We honor Pete Walsh, Ken Dolloff, Sonny Noel, Eddie Woodin, Gene Hunter, Packy McFarland, Dick Plummer, Phil Martin,  Harold J. Boyle, Jeremiah Guiney, to name a few.

Some of them are dead. The plaques are musty. The ceremonies are melancholy.

Are the words on the plaque dead too?

No. These people all lived their lives so these tiny little trinkets outlast them.

Dan Warren lives in Scarborough. He can be reached at

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