Winnisquam bids farewell to coaching legends
|Winnisquam Regional High School will be losing not just two of their most senior teachers, but also an outstanding field hockey coaching staff when Social Studies teacher Dave Rogacki and Spanish teacher Len Lavin retire in June. The two men have 300 wins for the program, and brought 11 championships to WRHS, all of which are memorialized on special jackets. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)|
May 11, 2011TILTON — When the 2010-2011 school year comes to a close this June, it will also mean the end of an era at Winnisquam Regional High School, as two beloved teachers who have also been the driving force behind the Lady Bears field hockey program retire, signaling a change in academics and athletics at the school.
Len Lavin has taught Spanish at WRHS for an amazing 34 years. He said he came to the school from a previous teaching job in Vermont, and never saw a reason to leave. Loyalty was a trait of his father's, and Lavin said he believes he shared that same loyalty in his own life.
"I liked what I was doing here and worked for some pretty good people, so there was no reason for me to move," Lavin said.
Lavin was the Senior Class Advisor for more than 14 years, and served as Building Representative for the local teachers union. He said he has always enjoyed his contact with the students and sharing fun times such as school prom and other activities with them.
"I really enjoy working with kids. I'm strict, but I think I understand them, and I learn a lot from them, too," he said.
Lavin also played an active role in school athletics, refereeing basketball games and serving 35 years as a softball umpire and coach.
Perhaps he will best be remembered, however, as the coach of the field hockey team, where he led the girls to 11 championships over his 11 years as a junior varsity coach and 23 years with the varsity squad.
"The first year I came here, they needed a JV coach and asked me if I'd like to do it. I'd never seen a field hockey game before, but I was a big ice hockey fan, so I said I'd give it a try," said Lavin.
The first game he ever saw was the first game he coached.
Over his 34 years coaching field hockey, he said the one memory that stands out the most for him was a goal during the first semi-finals game the team had ever played.
"I can still hear the sound of that ball hitting the wood on the back of the net," he said.
His assistant coach, co-worker and friend Dave Rogacki shares many memories with Lavin, since the two began coaching together 22 years ago. Rogacki came to WRHS as a social studies teacher, and after one year with the school, began working with Lavin as the JV coach. He later moved up to assist Lavin with the varsity team, and the two share the honor of having coached their girls to 300 wins each throughout their careers.
"They came a few games apart, but I got my 300th win in the semi-finals in 2009, when we beat Berlin, and Len got his on Oct. 1 that year against Somersworth," Rogacki recalled.
Rogacki began coaching field hockey while teaching in Connecticut earlier in his career, and said he happened to move to Winnisquam at just the right time to continue with the sport. With Lavin and Rogacki heading up the program, WRHS became one of the first schools in the state to have two male field hockey coaches.
Rogacki also coached varsity baseball for seven years and boys' varsity basketball for two years.
Focusing lot of his time on the students, he also served as a senior class advisor and a department and curriculum chair. Rogacki was also named an Advocate of the Year for his work with the Running Start program, which helps students earn college credits while still in high school.
WRHS Principal Dr. Ronna Cadarette credits the success of Running Start to Rogacki.
"Winnisquam offers the most college level courses in the Lakes Region, and that all came about under Dave's leadership," she said.
Rogacki was the 1991 Walmart Teacher of the Year, and was also a nominee for the prestigious Disney Teacher of the Year award.
Looking back over his 23 years at WRHS, he said the greatest rewards have come from the students themselves.
"I've had kids come back from college and tell me how glad they were they had taken one of my classes, and I've heard other people tell kids to take my class because they did and liked it. Those are the kind of memories I like," said Rogacki.
Students, co-workers and administrators are singing the praises of the two men as their time at WRHS now draws to a close.
Athletic Director Jeff Cloos said the pair made remarkable contributions to their sport, developing one of the most respected field hockey programs in the state.
Winnisquam Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Tammy Davis said the two reached beyond sports in their accomplishments, however.
"Their credibility in the district benefited all the students who came through our high school. They have a leadership capacity that kids can relate to, and it shows through student learning and how they've worked with others in the district," Davis said.
Students who had the men as both a teacher and coach say they will miss them the most.
Junior Felecia Demers said Rogacki was a great role model who pushed them all to be the best they could be, yet brought a great sense of humor to both the classroom and the playing fields.
Rachel Willcutt and Brie Campbell said they appreciated Lavin for his great conditioning skills, while Katie Bungay said he was not just a coach who forgot them once the season was over.
"He always walks up in the halls and asks how basketball is or whatever you may be doing at the time. He cares a lot, and keeps up with you all year long," she said.
This chapter in the lives of Lavin and Rogacki may be coming to an end, but the two say they hope to remain involved in some manner with students and athletics.
Cadarette said she hates to see them retire and teased them by warning the two she would be calling them to substitute for classes next year.
"I just want to capture all their wisdom before they leave. They've both been such a help to me since I began as principal here and I'm really going to miss them. So will the students. It won't be the same," she said.