It took my heart about five minutes to begin the slow climb from the pit of my stomach after Lisbon’s how-did-that-just-happen loss to Maine Central Institute in the Class D football championship Saturday night.

‘Twas a powerless feeling, watching the screen in my lap, more than 1,000 miles away, and not being able to slap Tyler Halls, Noah Francis, Tyrese Joseph or Kurtis Bolton on the shoulder pads and mutter at least hollow words of encouragement.

That’s the hardest part about pursuing this career in a small city, whether it’s Maine or Kentucky or somewhere else above the fruited plain. You get to know these kids, same age as your own progeny. You genuinely like them. You start to live vicariously through them. And then sometimes the ending stinks.

My empathy ended, or at least took on an entirely different tenor, as I rocked back and forth in my recliner and realized something.

Those fellas had the honor of playing football for Dick Mynahan.

They had the privilege of growing up in a community that still understands the unsurpassed value of that oft-embattled sport and has a decades-long history of unequivocally supporting the men who coach it.

Advertisement

In a world that is now intrinsically wired to badger, challenge and eliminate authority, even in cases where such rank suspicion is unwarranted, their community gets it.

It’s hard to feel much pain for the Greyhounds in that context. They’re not losers, no matter what those gut-punching numbers on the scoreboard said. They’ve already won on a thousand levels they’re probably not old enough or separated enough to recognize yet.

Lisbon High School has known two head football coaches since 1961. Nineteen. Sixty. One. I have just enough fingers to count how many presidents we’ve had in that time. Trump will make 11.

New York Giants loyalists scoffed at the mention of an expansion team called the Boston/Bay State/New England Patriots. My parents were in middle school. Mt. Blue, Mountain Valley and Oak Hill high schools, all owners today of a trophy case guarding multiple Gold Balls, did not yet exist.

The legacy of Mynahan, inherited from the equally enduring, successful, late Joe Woodhead, is counterintuitive to what we’re all afraid youth sports have become. We live in an era when coaches quit or get fired in midseason over nothing more than personality conflicts. If I had a dollar for every story I’ve written that contained some version of “it’s a personnel matter” or “family concerns,” my 401(k) wouldn’t be such a wreck.

Mynahan prospered through all that foolishness happening elsewhere, but his success never was measured by the 200-plus victories or the three state championships. It’s hard to quantify class, but it’s unmistakable when you see it.

Advertisement

When I think of Dick Mynahan, I think about the grace he showed in losing eight consecutive games to Oak Hill and his protégé Stacen Doucette, so many of them in last-minute, soul-crushing fashion.

I think of the frosty Friday nights or sweltering Saturday afternoons when I waited 5 or 10 minutes for a post-game interview while the coach greeted a parade of former players who’d come out simply to cheer him on. Some were college kids. Some were older than I am. All were glowing with love, loyalty and respect for the man on the other end of the embrace. You can’t fake that. You can’t bottle it up and put it into a plastic trophy.

I think of the respect he unfailingly showed for the game and for overmatched opponents. I think of the way the brightest stars on his team never received preferential treatment, and how the smallest freshman was made to feel equally valuable.

I think of a man who never uttered a cross word about officials. I think of a leader who had old-school sensibility yet never failed to connect with changing athletes and changing attitudes. I think of a larger-than-life character who never big-timed anyone.

I think of a coaching tree that will provide strength and shade for the student-athletes of Central and Southern Maine long after the guy who planted those seeds is gone.

The record book will show that MCI won the 2016 Class D title. YouTube, or whatever file-sharing mechanism future generations devise, will show that it ended on a fire-drill play straight out of a hackneyed Hollywood script.

Deservedly so. But you’d better believe the Greyhounds won, too. They’ll taste that victory when they become good husbands, good fathers, good teachers, good coaches and good citizens. And at least some of the credit will be owed to the opportunity they were given to play football for a really, really, really good man.

Lucky dogs.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal Sports department who covered Lisbon’s championship football teams in 1997, 2005 and 2006. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You may reach him by email at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.