Kennebunk High football coach Joe Rafferty works with players during a 2018 practice. “He’s just a great man who cares about kids and everybody else,” Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman says of Rafferty. Gregory Rec photo/Press Herald

Joe Rafferty always made sure his Kennebunk High football players knew what he expected. Hard work, focus and commitment.

In turn, Rafferty’s players knew they could expect the same from their longtime head coach.

Over the past few weeks, Rafferty slowly, after much consultation with friends, coaches and family, decided he couldn’t quite give his team everything they had a right to expect.

After 44 years as Kennebunk’s football coach, Rafferty officially retired Friday when he announced his decision to his team in the high school gymnasium.

“I know what it takes and I didn’t want to shortchange the kids,” Rafferty said. “I know what I expect from them and I know what I expect from myself, and anything less, I was shortchanging them, and I didn’t want to do that.”

Rafferty, who will turn 68 on Wednesday, was a physical education teacher in Kennebunk for four decades.


“The best coaches, those that have the biggest impacts, are doing it day-to-day,” Rafferty said. “Now, I’m just doing it August to November and in a small window of 2:30 to 5 in the afternoon, where before it was 7:15 to 5-5:30, day in and day out and it was all the time, not just football season.”

Kennebunk is in the final stages of finishing a major field improvement project that will include an artificial turf football field, new bleachers and new lights. Kennebunk Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman said Rafferty felt moving into a new facility created a good opportunity for change.

“For him, that was a good transition. Everything will be new. We’ll have a new coach, and he felt like it was the best thing for the kids and the program,” Schwartzman said.

Rafferty agreed, noting, “The program is moving forward with a new stadium. It’s an opportunity for someone to paint their own picture.”

Rafferty, a native of Woburn, Massachusetts, took a teaching and coaching job at Kennebunk in 1978. A year later, he became the varsity coach of a then-downtrodden program.

He finishes with a career record of 217-184. Kennebunk won a state championship in 1991 and advanced to the state title games in 1999, 2013 and 2016.


After moving from Class A to B in 2013, the Rams had the best run of Rafferty’s career, going 71-25, including 11-1 seasons in 2013 and 2016 and a 10-1 season in 2018. Last fall, Kennebunk finished 6-4, losing in the Class B South final to Portland.

“He’s just a great man who cares about kids and everybody else,” Schwartzman said. “He’s the one coach who every day would ask how you were doing and genuinely mean it.

“All he’s done for kids, and not just kids, but the adults who have played for him. Forty-four years is a long tenure. He’s just an amazing man. That’s pretty much how you sum it up.”

Brian Dill joined Rafferty’s staff in 1979 as the freshman football coach and coached with Rafferty nearly every season since.

“I thought he still might go a few more years,” Dill said. “He still coaches the same way he has for 44 years. Last fall, we were pretty competitive, and he did what he always does and I didn’t see that he didn’t have the same enthusiasm.”

Dill noted that the Kennebunk football program lacked continuity prior to Rafferty. From 1970-78, Kennebunk had four head coaches. The fourth lasted one season.


For the past 44 years, Rafferty has been the right fit for Kennebunk, Dill said.

“A lot was just the way he treated the kids,” Dill said. “He meant so much to the school and community and all the families and kids that played football.”

Several of Rafferty’s former players are now college coaches in a variety of sports. Jamie Cook, who graduated from Kennebunk in 1994, is the director of track and field/cross country at the Naval Academy; Nick Myers (1997) and his brother, Pat (1999), are head men’s lacrosse coaches at Ohio State and Lafayette, respectively. Pete Toner (1999) is the Gettysburg College men’s lacrosse coach.

Bill Russell, the associate head football coach at Norwich University, was a captain of Rafferty’s 1998 team, along with Pat Myers and Toner.

“There’s no question that if I had not played for him, I would not be doing what I’m doing at all,” Russell said. “He was a guy who was firm, demanding, but also very supportive. He had a gift of holding kids accountable but taking an interest in their lives and successes, and he really understood how to work with young people.”

“He is Kennebunk football. End of an era is a clichéd term, but it really is,” Russell said.


Throughout Rafferty’s career he was regarded as a coach who was able to connect with his players. In 2018, during his 40th season, Rafferty told the Press Herald he never defined his coaching career by wins and losses.

“I think in terms of coaching, I think people look a lot closer at, ‘Is my son happy? Are they being treated well? Are they being taken care of?’’’ Rafferty said. “You know, wins and losses, some years you’re great and some years you’re not.”

Rafferty’s approach was a major reason why Kennebunk’s program routinely boasted more than 60 players, while many programs in the state struggled with decreasing roster sizes over the past 10 to 12 years.

Rafferty was asked if he realized how many lives he positively impacted, as a coach and also as a teacher.

“I do. I know that. I want to believe that and I think we did,” Rafferty said. “I’ve had great coaches, and anything we did, we did collectively. But I think if you asked a kid I coached in 1978, 1988, ’98, 2008 or whatever, I think they can say, ‘Coach worked hard, he cared for us and we had fun.’”

Rafferty has twice been elected a state senator, representing York County communities from Kennebunk to the Berwicks.

Rafferty and his wife, Norma Nardone, live in Kennebunk, where they raised their three daughters, each a Kennebunk High graduate.

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