For Plymouth's Lenahan, what a way to go out
PLYMOUTH - A steady stream of former players and other well-wishers lined up and Chuck Lenahan greeted each of them with a hug and a smile.
After 43 seasons as head coach of the Plymouth Regional football team, his career ended on Saturday. And it ended in fashion befitting the legacy of the Land of Lenahan. Plymouth defeated Portsmouth, 21-14, in overtime to give Lenahan his 20th state championship in his final game.
After completing the storybook ending and greeting a crowd of people wanting to pass on their congratulations, Lenahan couldn't find many words to convey his emotions.
"It's a great place," he said. "I'm going to miss it."
And Plymouth, not just the high school, but the entire region, feels the same.
"We'll miss him. The community of Plymouth will miss him," said Jon Bownes, Lenahan's assistant coach for three decades, who is also stepping down. "It's going to be a big hole there."
Lenahan has always placed the focus on his players and as much as they wanted the state championship for themselves, earning one more trophy for coach Lenahan was important to them.
"To win on this field for him to go out, the 20th state championship, it doesn't get any better than that," said senior quarterback Collin Sullivan, who scored the winning touchdown in overtime. "With so many alumni here, it was nice to be part of that pride and tradition and carry the legacy on. That's what Plymouth is all about, pride and tradition."
You can forgive Portsmouth head coach Brian Pafford for wanting to spoil Lenahan's finale, but there is no doubting the respect.
"I didn't want to add to his storybook ending, that's for sure. I was hoping it would kick off my first season," Pafford said. "He's obviously a great coach. To be around all those years and handle all the other stuff besides football - the football stuff is the easy part. If you can handle being the athletic director and everything else, God bless you."
Lenahan has taught more than football to his players.
"It's amazing the way he teaches you about brotherhood and being a family and that grades come before sports," Sullivan said. "Sportsmanship and everything that goes into being a good human being, he emphasizes that the most."
A native of Mechanic Falls, Maine and Vietnam veteran, Lenahan graduated from Plymouth State and joined the high school staff in 1971. That first year with Lenahan at the helm, Plymouth High football went 0-6-1.
It was all downhill from there. Lenahan's win Saturday gave him 20 state championships and a career record of 356-70-1. He was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in June and is a two-time National Coach of the Year. He has the most wins in New England high school football history.
Football in Plymouth will have a different feel next year.
"I think the time I'll reflect on it will be somewhere around June when I start thinking about getting the (game) film out and what the game plan is and having the dates ready. I think mostly it will hit me next year when he's not there and I'm not there," Bownes said. "I'm sure someone will come in and do a good job, but there's few Chuck Lenahan's around. Education needs those guys. Old school, but genuine."