Monmouth Academy softball coach Rachel Bernier rarely seeks the limelight, so she was a little humbled and embarrassed Monday night when several of her fellow coaches and former players held a ceremony in her honor.
The occasion was her retirement which she announced earlier this year after 25 years as head coach for the Mustangs.
“I was going to walk out quietly,” Bernier said of the ceremony. “They wouldn’t let me do that.”
Bernier didn’t elaborate on her reason for leaving but called the decision a difficult one. And she didn’t rule out a return to coaching, either.
“I feel like I need a year to rejuvenate because it was such a tough decision,” she said.
Bernier brought a combination of intensity and compassion to the dugout that turned the program into one of the best in the state. Her Mustangs have claimed several Mountain Valley Conference titles along with seven regional crowns and four state championships.
“She certainly (brought) quite a bit of hardware for the school,” Monmouth athletic director Patrick Westberry said. “She’s meant everything to the program. She put her heart and soul into it.” Westberry has been athletic director at the school for less than a year, but he was Bernier’s junior varsity coach in 1997, the year Monmouth won its first Class D state championship.
“She brought the best out in kids,” Westberry said. “She had a very impressive balance of being demanding and caring at the same time.”
Bernier taught at Monmouth Middle School for 18 years before moving into administration and began coaching there as well, handling everything from boys and girls basketball to soccer and cross country.
“I’m still going to miss the game,” she said. “Teaching and watching kids succeed who didn’t think they cold succeed.”
Bernier deflected any praise for her success, citing parents, athletes and assistant like Ronnie Grant who has been with her in the dugout for the past 17 seasons.
“You surround yourself with great people and great things happen,” she said. “He was an instrumental part.”
Added Monmouth baseball coach Eric Palleschi: “It went kids, it went program, then it went Rachel.”
Westberry said the search for Bernier’s successor is underway and he expects to make an announcement in the next few days.