The conversation was between Paula Doughty and Allen Holmes. Both would become two of the top field hockey coaches in Maine history, but this was 1974.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘I really have no clue what I’m doing here,’ ” Doughty remembered. “I said, ‘Neither do I.’ “
Doughty coached Skowhegan then as the team wore polyester uniforms and played on the back of the baseball field. Since returning to the varsity full-time in 1981, she has won 14 Class A state titles, including 11 in the last 12 years. On Sunday, Doughty will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at its annual banquet.
The game Doughty coached in 1974 was a different breed. Doughty says she was hired as coach less than a week before the start of the season.
“The first game, we played Gardiner,” she said. “I think they beat us like 10-0. It was really bad.
“The game itself was in its infancy. They had too many whistles. They had offsides then. You could only sub at halftime. Unless someone was dying, you played short.”
Today, many teams have turf fields and every year games between the top teams showcase several college prospects. In Doughty’s career, 78 of her players have gone on to play in college, including 25 at the Division I level.
Has Doughty herself changed?
“I think that I’m probably more patient now that I’m older,” she said. “In fact, my kids from 20 or 30 years ago say I’m way too soft — WAY too soft. I think when you get older, you realize that a lot of the stuff you thought was a big deal isn’t a big deal at all and things that you thought weren’t a big deal at all are a big deal.”
The Skowhegan field hockey team has become a community unto itself. Many of Doughty’s former players will be at the banquet Sunday. Some of her players from the 1974 team still travel to watch Skowhegan play in state championship games.
“It’s a family,” said Andrea Thebarge, a former player at Skowhegan who played four years at Northeastern and now coaches at Thomas College. “That’s one thing that sets Skowhegan apart. It’s not like you graduate and you never see this woman again. I don’t know how many times she drove to Boston to watch me play in college — and I wasn’t her only player in college.”
Doughty says she has never thought about quitting coaching, saying she comes back more determined after setbacks. She blames herself for the 1994 and 1996 teams not winning the state championships. She also takes the blame for Skowhegan losing the state title game in overtime to Scarborough in 2009 — the only time since 2000 that Skowhegan has not won the Gold Ball.
“I made some bad decisions,” she said. “That game has been very hard for me. When I make bad decisions, I practice it in my head so I don’t make those mistakes again.”
The mistakes have been few enough that Doughty has a record of 438-80-17 in her career. Her 2012 team may have been her best, outscoring the opposition 147-2 to shatter the state record for goals in a season. Doughty has said many times that achievements like that are a collaborative effort.
“There’s been hundreds and hundreds of families since 1974 that have sold hot dogs and done anything they can do for Skowhegan field hockey,” Doughty said. “Even being financially challenged, the parents and the community have got it done. The parents have just been great.”
Doughty has also worked behind the scenes to help create that atmosphere. Thebarge remembers entering middle school and training with the high school team. Doughty was teaching — both the game and life lessons — which is part of why she loves coaching.
“I think to be a good coach, you’ve got to be a great teacher,” Doughty said. “Sports, they level the playing field. It doesn’t matter who you are and how much money you have — you have to produce. If you fall, you have to pick yourself up and your parents can’t buy your way out of it.”
“Everybody says to me, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ I’m not ready to. I love what I do.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243