Chuck Lenahan smiles as he greets well-wishers at an event to honor his 43 years as athletic director and football coach in Plymouth. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 17, 2014PLYMOUTH — When it was decided that Plymouth Regional High School would host a celebration of the career of longtime athletics director and football coach Chuck Lenahan, a lot of thought was put into the location.
Superintendent Mark Halloran figured it was fitting to have the event at the high school and for a while, was even considering hosting it on George Zoulias Field, the football home of the Bobcats come spring.
"Then Mr. Parsons (Principal Bruce Parsons) reminded me that no one is allowed to walk on Zoulias Field," Halloran said, generating a healty dose of laughter from the hundreds gathered in the PRHS auditorium on Saturday, March 15. "It's fitting that it's here in the heart and soul of the Land of Lenahan."
Family, friends, colleagues, former and current students and community members gathered on Saturday to celebrate Lenahan's remarkable career in Plymouth. Over his 43 years in Plymouth, Bobcat teams have won 71 state championships and 64 runner-up banners. He won 20 of those titles on the football field as the school's head football coach. Though the 0-6-1 1971 season, his first at the helm, wasn't the way anyone wanted to start.
The evening celebration began, fittingly, in the school's entrance way, where the many state championship plaques Lenahan helped the Bobcats bring home line the walls.
Lenahan greeted each and every visitor, most by name and those in attendance eventually filed into the auditorium, where Halloran welcomed everyone to the event.
"This is a very good occasion for us to recognize the extraordinary career of Chuck Lenahan," Halloran said, also acknowledging the coach's wife Carol and daughter Bridget.
Attention then turned to the screen on the stage for a documentary put together by coach Dave Hand of Hands-On-Video.
"Dave spent the entire year following Chuck around, going through the archives and meeting with players past and present," Halloran said.
Hand noted that he spend about nine months working on the DVD and the copies available for sale were finished up at about 2 a.m. that day.
"I still have ink on my fingers from the DVDs, literally," Hand said.
The documentary, entitled Chuck Lenahan: 43 years of Pride and Tradition.
The documentary was impressive in scope, featuring interviews with past and present players and coaches, as well as other ADs and coaches from around the state. There was even footage of Lenahan heading back to his boyhood home in Mechanics Falls, Maine.
But former Kennett AD and current Concord AD Steve Mello summed up the feeling of many of Lenahan's counterparts, invoking an old statement about the only two guarantees in life.
"It's death, taxes and Chuck wins the big game," Mello stated on the documentary.
Longtime Lenahan assistant coach Jon Bownes chimed in as well, moments after Lenahan was shown given his pregame speech prior to the first game.
"He's been giving the same speech since I started in 1973," Bownes laughed.
On the screen, Lenahan notes that when he visited Plymouth State College, he thought it was a nice place to go to school.
"And I've been here ever since," Lenahan said.
He did leave for a short period to finish schooling in Michigan, but when longtime coach Mike Walsh was leaving, Lenahan got a call asking if he'd be willing to come back.
"It was hard for Chuck to come in here because coach Mike Walsh was so well-liked," former player Jeff Ouellette said.
"Thousands of young men in the community should be grateful that he came back," longtime assistant Tom Donahue said.
Lenahan came on as one of three people sharing the athletic director job in 1971. After working hard in the first year, in 1972 he became the first official paid athletic director at Plymouth.
In 1971 there were six varsity sports and three JV sports and as Lenahan takes his leave of Plymouth this year, there are 24 varsity teams and 19 JV/freshmen programs.
"I'm very proud of the athletic program," Lenahan said in his speech following the documentary. "Our participation numbers are outstanding, every year it's more than 50 percent."
Lenahan estimated that in his time as AD, he filled somewhere around 1,500 coaching positions and praised all the coaches for their work in making the Plymouth programs successful. He also pointed to the addition of a trainer as one of the key improvements, noting Mark McGlone was kind of thrown into the position at first and it has now grown into a vital part of athletics.
As for coaches, Lenahan singled out Tom Underwood, who has been with him for 42 years, while Norm LeBlanc was around for 40 years and served as the backbone of the ski program. He also thanked Pete Cofran, the current Newfound AD, who was instrumental in the girls' program for 25 years.
And he also praised his replacement as AD, Jim Carey, who has been coaching and teaching for 20 years at Plymouth.
"Good luck Mr. Carey," Lenahan said with a smile. "Please don't call me."
He also praised the work of the school board and administration for helping him do the job he does.
"Success starts at the top," he said. "Without the support of the school board and administration, it would not be the successful program that it is."
He also praised secretary Kathy Howard, who he said was instrumental in helping him adjust to the changing technology. Howard has been in the department for 15 years.
"Those first 30 years, I lived on the telephone," Lenahan said. "And then came the fax. And let me tell you, I can run a fax machine."
However, the onset of e-mail was a little different.
"They added this thing called the internet," Lenahan said with a laugh. "Thank you Kathy Howard. I would've been out of her 15 years ago without her."
While admitting that his football coaching career didn't get off to a good start, he praised the work of his longtime assistants, with Phil McCormick serving as a volunteer assistant for all 43 years.
"He never accepted any in all those years," Lenahan said.
Donahue joined in 1982 and Bownes followed in 1984, both continuing through this past season. John Spear came on in 1996 and Chris Sanborn, who will be the new head coach next year, joined in 1999 after graduating from PRHS in 1991.
He noted that in 2000 through 2009, the Bobcats went 106-3.
"I'd love to have those three games over," the longtime coach said with a grin. "But we've had a lot of great years."
He also pointed out one of his happiest parts of the job is when he sees former students come back into the fold and help coaching football, either at the high school level or at the Pop Warner level.
Lenahan also introduced Sanborn as his replacement.
"I really feel good leaving the program in the hands of a former player and a current coach," Lenahan said. "Good luck, and you can call me any time."
He thanked the many parents and faculty members who helped make the program and school special as well as the many players who put on the uniform over the years.
"Pride and tradition, for the kids that have played here, those aren't just words," Lenahan said. "We put the team first. Ninety-nine percent of the time, everyone buys into it."
The longtime coach also thanked his wife and daughter for their support.
"Bridget, you're the most precious thing in the world to me," Lenahan said. "And my wife, she's great luck to me. We married in 1980, we won a state championship. Bridget was born in 1985. We won a state championship."
Hand's documentary certainly revealed how many others felt about Lenahan as well.
"He brings a lot of class to football," Hanover coach Mike Ivanovski said. "He is New Hampshire football."
"Deep down, there is a heart in there," Mello said. "He knows how to do things right."
"He sets the tone," Halloran added. "It's almost like being with the pied piper."
But perhaps former player and current assistant coach Mike Boyle summed up everyone's thoughts.
"I don't know that we'll think he's really retired until he doesn't show up on Aug. 1," Boyle said.
There is no doubt that Plymouth football and New Hampshire high school football in general will be different next year without Lenahan on the Plymouth sideline.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org