PARIS — It did not go unnoticed to Chris Downing that he was one of 11 speakers offering remembrances at Saturday’s memorial service for Mike Haley.
“Isn’t that appropriate?” said Downing, a football and hockey coach and Haley’s cousin. “Mike would be quite proud, because Mike was a football guy from the time he developed.”
Haley was more than a “football guy,” though. The 11 speakers not only represented the number of players in the long-time coach, teacher, administrator, official/umpire and mentor’s favorite sport, but also a cross-section of those he influenced in his 42 years as an educator.
A Norway native, Haley died late last month in Auburn at the age of 75. Mourners from across the state filled the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School auditorium to honor him for a little more than two hours.
Haley attended Paris High School and the University of Maine, where he was a multisport athlete, including all-conference football player. He went on to serve as a teacher, coach and administrator at high schools around the state, including Lewiston, Edward Little, Leavitt, Oxford Hills, Oak Hill and Rumford/Stephens High School.
While most of the remembrances focused on Haley’s career and the relationships he forged from it, daughter Michele Haley, speaking on behalf of the family, noted her father’s unshakable positive attitude and devotion to the family that he and his wife, Carol, started when he was 19 and enrolled at the University of Maine.
“He managed to juggle the responsibilities of fatherhood with being a student, playing football and baseball, being a fraternity brother, working odd jobs, and being a husband to his high school sweetheart, Carol (who passed away in 2009),” Michele Haley said. “These years could not have been easy for either of them, particularly for the period of time Dad found himself rehabilitating for months following a car accident that nearly took his life.”
“He seemed to be able to tackle adversity, recover from it, and transform it into something positive,” she added.
Later in life, her father lost a leg to diabetes. A devoted New York Yankees fan, he had his prosthesis “decorated in New York Yankee regalia and proudly changed his email address to include ‘Yankeeleg…’ examples of how Dad could transform adversity into something positive,” she said.
Dave Wing, who met Haley 45 years ago when both were coaching, recalled his first impressions of him as an irascible figure who fought for his players. The two remained acquaintances as part of the coaching fraternity but became close friends over the last 15 years as both served as administrators at Leavitt, football coaches at Oak Hill and announcers calling games on local radio.
“No matter where we went, it was, ‘Coach! Coach Haley!’ and they would come running over,” Wing said. “And (there would be) none of these fish handshakes. We’re talking full-on bear hugs. It was great because they were sending a message of how much he meant to them. And he remembered every one of their names. And he also remembered where they played. I can’t even remember all of the places he coached.”
The breadth of Haley’s career (and memorabilia collection) was on full display in the auditorium’s foyer. Tables were filled with shirts, hats, jackets and other items that he kept from virtually every school that ever employed him, including Maine Maritime Academy. An umpire’s mask stood out among the items at a table commemorating his officiating career.
Other displays chronicled his athletic exploits at Paris High School and UMaine and his contributions to the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, Maine Football Coaches Association and Maine Principals’ Association, which entrusted him with running the state high school hockey tournament for more than two decades.
Edward Little coach Dave Sterling, representing those who played for Haley, said, “Mike Haley was the truest form of wins and losses mean nothing compared to the people he helped.”
“Some ask what was the coaching tree of Mike Haley? It was a tree of life,” said Sterling, who played for Haley at EL in the 1980s. “His coaching created exceptional people: doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, general, officers, highly decorated soldiers in the U.S. military that are men and women, teachers, CEOs, business owners, realtors, directors of non-profits, and yes, an engineer or two.”
Skip Capone, who coached at Lewiston when Haley coached rival Edward Little, paid tribute to Haley’s devotion to football and the role model he was for others.
“I’ve been blessed to be around the game for a long, long time and never seen anyone who’s given more to kids and more to the game of football,” Capone said. “I know I’ve got a debt that I will never be able to repay this game. He repaid that debt ten-fold. He owed the game nothing.”
“If you want to honor this man, do two things,” he added. “One, give back to somebody else … And number two, live every day and every second to the … fullest. Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. That is how he lived his life.”
Legendary Lawrence football coach Pete Cooper recalled a strong friendship with Haley that started when they were teammates at Maine who roomed together when the Black Bears were on the road.
Haley later served as his best man at Cooper’s wedding, and was the first to meet him at his Fairfield home after Cooper’s wife died in an Augusta hospital.
“He knew what I would be going through, because he went through the same thing with Carol. That’s something that you never forget,” Cooper said. “I owe Mike Haley just for that thing alone. I will never, ever forget that. That’s the biggest reason I’m here talking about him today, what he did for me that one day. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
Following the service and a brief reception, Haley was laid to rest with an internment service at Lakeview Cemetery in Norway.
Defensive coordinator Mike Haley addresses players for the East team after a Lobster Bowl practice in July 2002. Haley, who coached at Edward Little, Lewiston, Oxford Hills and in Rumford, died last month. (Portland Press Herald file photo)