AUGUSTA — From the tearful evocations of former Cony High School girls basketball coach Paul Vachon to the polished humor of NASCAR’s Ricky Craven, acceptance speeches Sunday at the 2013 Maine Hall of Fame awards banquet ran the gamut of emotions.
Universal themes of family, friends, players and mentors surfaced in every speech as did values like character, integrity, dedication and goal-setting. So did the pride that all 10 recipients took in their home state.
“I’ll always be a Maine boy,” former Senator and Secretary of Defense William H. Cohen said. “They can’t take the “Me.” from me.”
Master of ceremonies and Hall of Fame president Dick Whitmore remarked the 2013 induction class was likely the most prestigious in the organization’s 37-year history, a fact confirmed by its credentials. In addition to Vachon, who won more than 91 percent of his games and seven Class A state championships, and Craven, an accomplished NASCAR driver and current ESPN commentator, the inductees were a Who’s Who of Maine coaches and athletes.
“I told my son ‘when we go to this event, you’re going to hear from special people,’ ” Craven said.
Craven told of his upbringing on a farm in Newburgh and how milking cows helped him appreciate the value of hard work. Not that he particularly liked cows.
“I despised cows,” he said. “Every time I have a cheeseburger I experience a certain level of redemption.”
Craven also spoke of the fighting attitude his mother instilled in him after she twice battled cancer, then added “it’s not all perfect, mom. You’re not the best cook.”
Each of the inductees told personal anecdotes that helped them along the way.
Skowhegan field hockey Paula Doughty, whose teams have won 14 Class A state titles, once remarked to Vachon that she, Brenda Beckwith and Vachon were the three most despised coaches in the state. To which Vachon replied, “you may be right, but Beckwith and I are retired.”
As did all the inductees, Doughty had a large cheering section of friends, family and former players on hand in the crowd of several hundred at the Augusta Civic Center. As the only woman inducted Sunday, she said there were few opportunities for female athletes when she was growing up.
“Title IX was a game-changer,” she said. “I am blessed to live at a time (today) when women have been allowed to achieve at all areas of society.”
Cheverus football coach John Wolfgram recounted his coaching days that have taken him through 10 state championships at Madison, Gardiner, South Portland and now Cheverus. He’s developed a four-point philosophy that has served him in a coaching career that has spanned 42 years and included six different sports and six high schools.
“We’re teachers first,” he said. “Players win, coaches don’t win; there are no shortcuts; and finally it’s got to be fun.”
Wolfgram also praised his wife Adin, calling her “my best friend for 46 years and my top assistant for 46 years.”
Portland bodybuilder Skip Robinson brought a large towel to the podium with him, cautioning the crowd “I’ve been known to cry through commercials.”
It was Vachon, though, who borrowed the towel and made liberal use of it, tearing up as he invoked family members as well as some of his personal and team triumphs at the Civic Center.
“My mom and dad passed away before I could understand what they gave me,” he said. “To my players, what a great ride you took me on,” he added. “From 206 Mt. Vernon Ave. to the Maine State Hall of Fame, I am proud and thank all of you.”
Augusta native Manch Wheeler was one of the few inductees who kept his speech near the five-minute maximum. A UMaine football star who went on the play for the Buffalo Bills, Wheeler recounted how his high school coach encouraged him to become a quarterback.
“He saw something in me I didn’t know I had,” Wheeler said, concluding “my life has been pretty good.”
The rest of the accomplished induction class included Waterville native and Bowdoin College hockey captain Dr. Douglas Brown, a specialist in sports medicine who has served as medical consultant to US national soccer teams; Gary Fifield, University of Southern Maine women’s basketball coach whose teams have won 20 or more games for 30 consecutive years; and Bobby Russo, Portland Boxing Club owner, who has been selected 14 teams as coach for Team New England.
Also honored was 82-year-old Richard Austin who will aim this year to break a world bench press record in his age category he set last year. Five high school athletes also received $5,000 scholarships from the Hall of Fame. They included Waterville’s Georgia Bolduc, Falmouth’s Caitlin Bucksbaum, John Bapst’s Adrienne Carmack, Leavitt’s Madeline Wiegman and Forest Hills’ Evan Worster.
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638