Mt. Ararat track and field coach Diane Fournier helps set up the timing equipment at the finish line of a five-team meet in May in Topsham. Bill Stewart/Kennebec Journal

TOPSHAM — It took countless pioneers of equality for the sports environment many Maine women and girls enjoy today to materialize. When the next sports season begins, one of those pioneers will no longer be behind the whistle.

Diane Fournier, a trailblazer in the state’s running community and longtime Mt. Ararat High School head track and cross country coach, has retired after 48 years at the Topsham school. Her retirement marks the end of a coaching career for a figure whose impact on Maine running went far beyond the high school ranks.

Fournier, who notably ran the 1970 Boston Marathon despite women being banned from participating, said she made the decision to step away to spend more time with her dog, a 3-year-old samoyed named Bear. She also plans to devote more time to her dog-sitting business, Critter Sitters, which she said has grown busier in recent years.

“I really enjoy spending time with my dog, and it’s getting hard to do that and still be coaching at the same time,” said Fournier, 75. “I just thought about it and decided, ‘You know, why not step aside and let the youngsters do the coaching? They seem to really enjoy it.’”

After two years coaching field hockey at Rumford High School from 1972-74, Fournier led Mt. Ararat girls outdoor track to Class A titles in 1975, 1992 and 2005 and the girls indoor team to state titles in the class in 1993, 1994 and 1997. She also won state championships as head coach of the Mt. Ararat girls (1992, 2004) and boys (1994, 2019) cross country teams.

Although the exact success Mt. Ararat has enjoyed over the years has varied from one season to the next, Fournier’s teams never once fell off. Between regional, conference and state titles, Mt. Ararat has won at least one championship in track and field in each of the past six decades.


“I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and she’s been doing this longer than I have,” said Monmouth Academy head coach Tom Menendez. “She never had a season in which her teams weren’t competitive. She’s coached a lot of state champions and a lot of runners who have gone and done great things afterward.”

Ian Wilson, now the head track and field coach at Thomas College, had some fierce contests with the Eagles during his time at Waterville from 1997-2014. Prior to the Waterville girls’ team’s run of nine straight Class B titles from 2007-15, the Purple Panthers were in the Class A ranks, where Fournier’s squad was always among their top foes.

Mt. Ararat track and field coach Diane Fournier puts a new piece of tape down on the finish line on the track at the Topsham school on April 13, 2018. Portland Press Herald file photo

Although Wilson and Fournier now have a strong relationship, it’s one that, in his own words, “didn’t happen overnight.” After a few seasons of competitive battles and seeing the development of Fournier’s athletes over time, what was once a brusque relationship grew into one of respect and admiration.

“I remember feeling that her gruff exterior, I just took it personally, but I grew to realize it wasn’t me but rather how just she did her business,” Wilson said. “Over time, the more I saw her runners and the development of her runners, I began to respect her. I began to respect what she did, especially the distance runners. Everyone she coached got better.”

Prior to coaching field hockey at her alma mater Rumford High School in 1972 and stepping on at Mt. Ararat two years later, Fournier competed in the 1970 Boston Marathon. Her participation in the race came during an era of social backlash to the growing space of women’s sports, and the Boston Marathon was no exception.

Women had been formally barred from the race since 1968 after race official Jock Semple, who strongly opposed their participation in the event, physically assaulted 20-year-old runner Kathrine Switzer during the 1967 race. Despite that edict and the presence of Semple at subsequent Boston Marathons, Fournier ran anyway in an act of defiance.


“I ought to thank (future Boston Marathon winner) Nina Kuscsik because she said, ‘If Jock tries to haul you out of the race, get on the sidewalk and run down,’” Fournier said. “There were also two guys as tall as they were wide right beside me, and they told me, ‘We’ll make sure that you get past Jock and those guys.’ That was very interesting.”

A passionate advocate for girls and women in sports, Fournier said much has improved since the advent of Title IX, which was not in place when she was in high school in the 1960s. Some archaic rules such as girls’ basketball players only being allowed three dribbles, she pointed out, have gone by the wayside over the years.

Yet for all of the progress that has been made for women’s sports, Fournier knows there is still a long way to go in the pursuit of equality. In sports such as soccer, she said, women don’t benefit from the same facilities or financial investment that their male counterparts enjoy.

“In most places, I think we get an equal opportunity these days, but there are also times when that doesn’t happen,” Fournier said. “That’s just something that’s unfortunate. You have a lot of little things like that need time but also need to get taken care of.”

Opposing coaches were always trying to pick Fournier’s brain, especially Wilson. In one instance, during a meet in Waterville, Fournier left behind a clipboard with her name on the front and some writing that appeared to be shorthand on the back. Trying to crack the code of what it meant, exactly, baffled Wilson for months.

Mt. Ararat student Hannah Minor holds a flag as track coach Diane Fournier waits for the start of a race during a 2018 mock track meet in Topsham. Portland Press Herald file photo

“I kept the clipboard, and for months, I tried to decipher it, (trying) to read her shorthand,” Wilson said. “I figured there had to be some type of magic on the card. The truth is, she probably just jotted down some prerace routines.”


Fournier’s departure leaves big shoes to be filled at Mt. Ararat across fall, winter and spring sports. The search for new head track and field coach and cross country coaches at the school is underway with the first practices for the upcoming winter indoor season scheduled to begin in just two weeks.

“Her name is synonymous with education and coaching here at MTA, but Diane’s mark on running and track and field in general extend far beyond Mt. Ararat High School,” Athletic Director Geoff Godo said. “While sorry to see her go, I know she will enjoy spending time with her animals and enjoying the outdoors as she always does.”

Indeed, now that she’s finally retired, dogs, both her own and those she dog-sits, will have much more of Fournier’s attention. The calendar, she said, is full for the foreseeable future with one pet booked to join Bear in their Bath residence for days at a time.

Other than that, Fournier said she will maintain her presence at local track meets as a volunteer. More likely than not, she’ll have a clipboard with her — perhaps even the very one a colleague of hers has been keeping for years.

“To this day, I still have that clipboard,” Wilson said, “One of these days, I’ll return it to her.”

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