Coach Dana Whittemore and Assistant Coach Bob McPhee share a laugh Friday before practice on the Dirigo baseball field in Dixfield. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Dixfield coaches Dana Whittemore and Bob McPhee, along with several other coaches, recently led the T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School wrestling team to its state championship win in March. The two have coached area baseball and wrestling teams at the middle school and the high school levels for several years. Whittemore says team championships and students’ success is the result of not only his and McPhee’s contributions, but all “the coaches’ efforts, the kids’ dedication and the parents’ support.”

Which sports are you coaching currently and at what levels? Both of you coached the Dirigo Middle School wrestling team to their state championship win in March. How did the team reach that championship level? 

DW: I started my year coaching back in November with the Dirigo High School wrestling team. I coached with Bob McPhee, Bryce Whittemore and Gunnar Bradbury, with that season ending at the end of February. I started filtering in the Youth Wrestling program on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December. I coached with Kyle Miele and Aaron Skidgell, and that season ran until the end of March. The middle school wrestling season started at the end of January, and we combined practices with the high school team. All four of us coached both. Middle school season ended after an undefeated regular season, regional championship and, at the end of March, we finished by winning the Pine Tree League Championship.

The championship was a result of the team’s commitment to the hard work it takes to perform at a championship level, wrestling in the youth program, wrestling at youth tournaments, wrestling out of state at higher-level tournaments and taking advantage of several coaches’ knowledge both within the program and outside. Currently, I have moved on and am coaching the Dirigo Middle School baseball team with my assistant coach Gavin Arsenault.

BM: From Day 1 we put forth that winning the Pine Tree Wrestling League championship was a team goal and the kids bought into that philosophy. Throughout the season, the kids listened and learned the sport, while their direction never wavered.

As athletic coaches what are some of the most important messages you convey to student athletes and why? 

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DW: All of us coaches understand that we are not only teaching a specific sport, but we are also providing life lessons. We preach hard work pays off, attention to detail, being on time, being prepared, being a good teammate, being a productive member of the community (school) and staying current with schoolwork and grades.

We know that we have a great chance to help them become very good athletes but also productive young adults both in school, in the community and eventually in the workplace and family circle.

Each coach reaches different kids more effectively, and in knowing that, we can be sure each athlete gets what they need to succeed. This program is a total team effort and succeeds because of the coaches’ efforts, the kids’ dedication and the parents’ support.

BM: The messages to the student-athletes is to firmly grasp the fundamentals, while instilling having a good work ethic, being/having discipline and being dedicated, while having pride in achieving the task ahead of you. When coaching we tell students to take responsibility for their actions, on and off the mat.

The kids are hopefully here to learn the sport and be part of a team while building relationships among their peers. We try to provide a healthy environment in a positive atmosphere.

Where does your own appreciation for sports come from and were you involved in sports in your youth? Which sports have you most enjoyed participating in yourself, both in your youth and perhaps currently? 

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DW: I played sports from sixth grade on through high school. I enjoyed being part of a team and competing. In middle school I played basketball and baseball. Once I reached high school I added football, continued basketball for two years and then baseball. I left basketball my junior year and became a wrestler. I actually had the opportunity to be on the first Dirigo High School varsity wrestling team. Prior to my junior year it was a club sport.

I ended up being a captain on both the wrestling team and baseball team. I had coaches that I enjoyed playing for and appreciated all that they were teaching me in the sport and outside the sport.

After college, I played on fast-pitch softball teams in the River Valley area and over 30 baseball teams, and I also bowled in bowling leagues. I have always enjoyed competing and being part of a sport.

BM: I was a three-sport letterman at Rumford High School (football, wrestling and baseball). While attending the University of Maine at Orono, I covered sports for the Maine Campus and was sports editor my senior year.

(McPhee suffered a football injury in 1976 that left him paralyzed while playing a game at Rumford High School. Though unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair, he uses his right hand to type messages into a keyboard and processor, which then speaks for him.)

In 2012, I had been employed by the Sun Journal for 25 years as a sports writer and mentioned to former coach Ryan Palmer (at Dirigo High School) that I’d never coached and that I thought that it would be a new challenge. So, Ryan called it a “no-brainer” and asked me to join his staff. The Dirigo (High School) baseball team won Class C state championships in 2012 and 2013. (The then SJ sports editor allowed me to take each spring off.)

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Four or five years ago, Dana (Whittemore) asked me to join his staff also and I love it.

Besides your work as coaches, are you involved in your community?

DW: I spent 15 years as a volunteer fireman for Dixfield Fire Company. When I retired, I was captain of Hose Company 1. I was on the Dixfield Finance Committee for a term, spent time as a Dixfield selectman, for years was a youth football coach, for years a Little League baseball coach.

I have always felt lucky to have grown up in the area, lucky to have been a Dirigo High School graduate and have always looked for ways to give back to the community and the school that gave so much to myself and my family.

Question for Coach Whittemore: T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School Principal Jason Long said he can rely on you to work with him to “help that (struggling) young person do what they need to do school-wise and really blossom with character development.” How do you help those students who are struggling in academics or otherwise? 

DW: All of us coaches preach how important school work is and that students need to stay on top of it not only to remain eligible to be on the team but also because that is the primary reason they come to school each day. We often will send an athlete out of our practice to get extra help once we know that is needed. We work with the teachers not only on school work they are missing or aren’t doing, but also on behavior issues.

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We try to be yet another person telling them the same thing they hear from the teacher, letting them know we believe in the same things as their teachers. As a coach, they sometimes take the same information differently from us. We stress the characteristics that will make them successful both as an athlete, a student, a worker and a parent. We stress being on time, working hard, being prepared, responsible, helpful and an active member of the community (school).

I often sit and have conversations with the kids that are sitting outside of the office at Dirigo Middle School about what’s going on and why they might be sitting at the office. I listen to their reasons and then offer my thoughts on why maybe the teacher reacted that way or how maybe things are different than what they are seeing. I think that maybe I’m an outlet maybe for something they need to say.

How would you each describe one another’s work as coach and assistant coach? 

DW: Bob McPhee is an incredible asset to whatever sports team he decides to coach. Prior to his injury he was a top athlete at Rumford High School. He knows football, wrestling and baseball from experience. Athletes quickly realize that he has incredible knowledge even though he is in a wheel chair. His typed and vocalized assessments are articulate and accurate.

He serves as an inspiration to many because no matter how sore, under the weather or tired you might feel, you look at what Coach Bob goes through each day and know that what you are going through isn’t so bad and get right back to work. He has the athletes’ respect and admiration. He can joke with them as needed and offers so much knowledge in preparing our practice schedules.

BM: Dana’s skill as an organizer and his attention to detail is truly impeccable. He is concerned that the kids flourish both physically, mentally and academically.


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