Lewiston head coach Mike McGraw reacts following his team’s 4-0 win over Hampden Academy in the regional championship game in Lewiston in November 2015.
Over a 42-years-and-counting career, Mike McGraw has proven to be valuable to whatever Lewiston High School sports team he has coached.
Now McGraw’s value has a chance to extend beyond the lines of the playing field, the walls of the school and the city limits.
The longtime Blue Devils boys’ soccer coach is one of 50 nominees for U.S. Cellular’s “Most Valuable Coach” contest. The company is looking to recognize “the best head and assistant high school athletic coaches” within U.S. Cellular’s licensed markets, according to the contest’s website.
“When I found out that I was being nominated I was surprised,” McGraw said. “And now that I see how big of a deal it is I’m really honored and I’m really humbled because there are some great people, and after looking at some of the other nominees it’s quite a group of people to be included with. So I felt elated, in a way, and humbled of course.”
Lewiston Athletic Director Jason Fuller said a number of people put nominations in for McGraw when the contest was announced.
“Kind of it was a group effort,” Fuller said.
That group included some of McGraw’s former players.
McGraw’s lead assistant Dan Gish, who has been with McGraw for 18 of his 35 years at the helm of the boys’ soccer program, tried to put into words why McGraw is deserving of the award.
“They broke the mold when they made Coach McGraw,” Gish, also an LHS teacher, said. “He just cares. He truly cares about the kids, what happened to them, on and off the field. He’s an icon in the school. He’s positive. You just can’t replace a Coach McGraw. He’s just a great person. He’s just a genuine person that truly cares about what he does.”
On the field, McGraw has amassed more than 350 wins between regular season and postseason, and he finally won a long-coveted state championship two years ago. He also has received praise for bringing together players from multiple cultures and molding them into a unified and successful team.
“Forty-two years, he’s seen it all, been a part of it all,” Fuller said. “He’s changed with the times. He’s not a guy who’s 42 years done it the same way. He’s done it multiple different ways.”
Earlier in his career, McGraw coached both boys’ and girls’ basketball at Lewiston. He is also a longtime science teacher at the school.
“We talk about him as a coach; obviously that’s a big part of it, but I think sometimes we forget about his impact he’s had on kids in the classroom,” Fuller said.
“He’s like everybody’s father figure, everybody’s big brother. The guy is like an icon,” Gish said. “If you look back on people that you have in your life that really make an impact … Coach is one of those people. He always puts the team or students first, and genuinely does that. It’s not just a talk.”
McGraw said the only reason he’s excited about being nominated for the award is that the top 15 finalists in a national vote earn $5,000 for their schools. The grand-prize winner earns another $50,000 that the school must have a plan for.
“I think it’s pretty important for the school because the prize awards are going to go directly to the school and to the kids,” McGraw said.
McGraw was in third place in national voting as of Wednesday night. Voting began Sept. 19 and ends Oct. 9.
McGraw said he hasn’t kept track of the voting.
“I don’t have to watch it at all,” he said. “People come up to me and tell me that they voted, they tell me where I stand, and I’m just thankful. And I thank them.”
If McGraw is among the final 15 nominees after the voting period, he will advance to another round of voting from Oct. 12 to Nov. 14.
The grand-prize winner will be determined from a combination of five criteria, all equally counting 20 percent toward a coach’s score determined by a panel of judges: national voting, the nominee’s community impact, school impact and leadership impact, as well as the nominee’s proposed plans regarding distribution of the grand prize.
Fuller said he thinks the school’s leadership has a “pretty good plan in place” if McGraw wins the contest.
“I hope we can win this thing, because it would be great for him if he can,” Fuller said. “A great way to truly honor him.”
McGraw is one of five Maine coaches among the 50 nominees. Other coaches in the state include Jim Danala of Mt. Abram, Luis Ayala of Foxcroft Academy, Heather Thompson of Narraguagus and Scott Laweryson of Upper Kennebec Valley. Ayala and Danala were also in the top 15 in voting as of Wednesday night.
Voting can be done once per day at www.themostvaluablecoach.com/vote.
Lewiston High School soccer coach Mike McGraw salutes the crowd at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland in November 2015 after the Blue devils captured their first Class A state title in a 1-0 win over Scarborough.