WATERVILLE — Jim Begin doesn’t do speeches. He doesn’t seek attention and he certainly doesn’t crave recognition.

All these reasons made Friday afternoon all the more difficult for the recently retired Waterville and Colby tennis coach.

“I like to stay below the radar as much as possible,” said Begin, 69. “This wasn’t supposed to be this festive. It was supposed to be, ‘Hello, goodbye, let’s eat.’ ”
No such luck.

Waterville school officials have tried for years — six to be exact — to commemorate the renaming of the North Street tennis courts in Begin’s honor.

That day finally came Friday after much pressure from the many people whose lives Begin impacted.

“It’s been in the works for years,” said former Waterville Senior High School athletic director Doug Frame, who worked with Begin for 11 years. “We felt we had to get it done now. He was very standoffish.”

In a light yet touching ceremony, the North Street courts were officially renamed the Jim Begin Recreational Tennis Courts.

Begin sat in front of about 75 people, often shuffling his feet and smiling as an assortment of friends and loved ones shared the many stories about a man who was instrumental in the growth of tennis in central Maine.

“He’s always trying to fly under the radar but today he’s been captured,” said Waterville Mayor Karen Heck, who opened the ceremony.

Frame and Begin shared a story behind the 1998 Class A state title that the Waterville boys team won with a stunning postseason run. On April 18, at the cusp of that season, Begin’s mother, Alphonsine passed away. The team, Frame said, then promised a state title to honor its coach. Begin would also pierce his ears and wear one of his mother’s earrings.

“The 1998 season was very tumultuous,” he said. “But the bonding with the team, the effort they put out the rest of the year, it really changed my life around.”

The Purple Panthers would deliver on their promise, beating Edward Little to win the state title.

“Every practice was such a challenge,” said Sean Flood, then a junior on the 1998 team. “We had such a unique team. We had a lot of upperclassmen in doubles and all our singles players were sophomores. We had a great run.”

Flood made the trek from Portland to join the celebration.

“It was a no-brainer being here,” he said. “He was always there for us. He was so dedicated. He was vested in us. He was always interested in our lives.”

When Begin, a four-time Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference coach of the year,  finally took the stage, he thanked everyone in attendance and said he hoped his legacy would be instilling in youngsters a lifelong love for tennis.

“I’m like a grandfather,” he said. “I get to play with all these kids and then send them home.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640
[email protected]

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