2016-10-28 / Front Page

Regular season ends with milestone

Kennebunk football coach Joe Rafferty reaches 175 wins and his team is on a roll
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Kennebunk head football coach Joe Rafferty gives instructions to running back Brady Lamontagne during Friday’s victory at Noble. The win was the 175th of Rafferty’s career and sends the Rams into the upcoming Class B playoffs with an 8-0 record. Kennebunk will host Leavitt (2-6) at 7 p.m. on Friday. Right, Rafferty during a game in 1982. (Kevin A. Byron photo/Courtesy photo) Kennebunk head football coach Joe Rafferty gives instructions to running back Brady Lamontagne during Friday’s victory at Noble. The win was the 175th of Rafferty’s career and sends the Rams into the upcoming Class B playoffs with an 8-0 record. Kennebunk will host Leavitt (2-6) at 7 p.m. on Friday. Right, Rafferty during a game in 1982. (Kevin A. Byron photo/Courtesy photo) To put things in perspective, the last time Kennebunk High School played a football game without head coach Joe Rafferty on the sidelines, Jimmy Carter was president, the internet did not exist, and not one person in the stands took a picture with a telephone.

In short, it was a different world. But it was the same old Joe Rafferty.

On Friday, Oct. 21, at Noble High School, in North Berwick, the Rams capped an undefeated regular season, downing the Knights, 27-7.

For Rafferty, it was his 175th win as coach, but in characteristic humility, someone had to tell him he was up for a milestone victory, virtually unheard of in high school sports.

“When you’re in it this long, you just do it, you know what I mean?” he said, on Monday. “You don’t really keep track of it in terms of records and things like that. What’s really important to me is the win to come, or not, the next Friday night. I don’t really keep track of them collectively, beyond that particular season we’re in.”

Rafferty is in his 38th season as Kennebunk’s head coach.

According to Mike Burnham, assistant director of the Maine Principals’ Association, which sponsors high school sports, and Mike Haley, executive secretary of the Maine Football Coaches Association, there is no ready record kept of career win/loss statistics.

“There’s no central database for that kind of thing,” Haley said. “I would have to contact individual athletic directors and schools to see what records they had on hand.”


Joe Rafferty is in his 38th year of guiding Kennebunk High School football players. Above, Rafferty during last week’s regular season finale at Noble. The Rams enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class B West and host Leavitt (No. 8) Friday at 7 p.m. The other Class B West playoff games are No. 5 Westbrook (6-2) at No. 4 Marshwood (5-3), No. 7 York (3-5) at No. 2 Biddeford (6-2) and No. 6 Greely (5-3) at No. 3 Falmouth (6-2). The Kennebunk-Leavitt winner plays the Westbrook-Marshwood winner. (Kevin A. Byron photo) Joe Rafferty is in his 38th year of guiding Kennebunk High School football players. Above, Rafferty during last week’s regular season finale at Noble. The Rams enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class B West and host Leavitt (No. 8) Friday at 7 p.m. The other Class B West playoff games are No. 5 Westbrook (6-2) at No. 4 Marshwood (5-3), No. 7 York (3-5) at No. 2 Biddeford (6-2) and No. 6 Greely (5-3) at No. 3 Falmouth (6-2). The Kennebunk-Leavitt winner plays the Westbrook-Marshwood winner. (Kevin A. Byron photo) For that reason, Burnham and Haley say, no one really knows for sure how many other high school football coaches in Maine have ever recorded 175 wins, or which, if any, has logged as long a tenure as head coach at a single school.

“I’m thinking he would certainly have to be in the top two or three in both categories,” Haley said.

“In this day and age, with all the pressures and the expectation that are on coaches, to see any coach stay at one school for so many years is certainly rare, but he has certainly had a positive impact on many young men who have come through that program,” Burnham said. “It’s nice when you see one of the really good guys be successful.”

Cementing Rafferty’s status as “one of the really good guys,” was perhaps best illustrated by an incident not in his 175th win, but in his 174th, played on home turf Oct. 14 against Biddeford. During that game, one of the referees, having been as fooled by a fake handoff as the Tigers defense, blew a play dead with a Ram rushing unmolested toward a certain touchdown.

With everyone — players, parents, fans, and even other coaches — screaming at the hapless ref, Rafferty quickly quieted his team and told them to move on to the next play.

Then, at the next whistle, Rafferty strode onto the field, put his arm around the embarrassed official, and told him to shake it off.

“Joe Rafferty truly understands what it means to teach, on the football field, and off,” said WCSH sportscaster Lee Goldberg in his Fifth Quarter commentary later that night.

“Coach Rafferty is an excellent role model and leader that genuinely cares about every player on and off the field,” agreed RSU 21 Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman. “He is always helping kids to learn life lessons and knows that football is only a game, but the lessons he teaches them will make them better people.”

“Joe Rafferty is not just a coach. He watches out for his players on and off the field,” KHS Principal Susan Cressey said. “From cooking breakfast for them to washing their uniforms or making sure that he’s there for them in difficult times, Joe is a life coach. Long after the season is over, players remember that coach Raff cared about them and come back to check in with him.”

At roughly 45 players per year, for 38 years, Rafferty has coached more than 1,700 players. Add in his two-year tenure at the old Kennebunk Junior High School before he took on the top job, and the number approaches 2,000 players, just in football.

“I’m very fortunate,” Rafferty said. “I also coach at the middle school and I just enjoy working with kids, bringing them together for a common goal, and watching them grow. Then to see them five or six years later as graduating seniors, having watched them grow up, it’s a blessing for me, from a professional standpoint.”

“One of the things I know — and it might sound like a coaching cliché, but it’s true — is that his players really play for him,” Haley said. “He doesn’t always get the best players, but he gets the best out of each and every one of them. He’s a very fundamentally sound coach, but he has stayed up with the current trends as well. He has a base of plays, definitely, but he’s not afraid to utilize some new thoughts.

“He’s a coach’s coach,” Haley said. “He’s always been a favorite among all of the various coaches groups. You can’t help but root for him. He does a great job.”

That KHS has Rafferty to rely on at all is thanks to a tax cutting measure in his home state.

A native of Woburn, Massachusetts, Rafferty was fresh out of Springfield College when he landed a temp job filling in for a high school gym teacher out on sick leave. But that year, Bay State voters passed Proposition 2.5 — named for the ceiling it imposed on annual property and vehicle excise tax increase.

“Essentially, what that meant was that there weren’t going to be too many new teachers hired in the state of Massachusetts for several years to come — they were doing a lot of cutting back them — so, I just went on the road looking for an opportunity.”

Rafferty landed an interview in Kennebunk, starting as an assistant coach and physical education teacher at the old junior high on Sea Road.

He also worked part-time at Kennebunkport Consolidated School, coaching football, wrestling and track. Two years later, he scored the high school job he’s been in ever since.

“I’m just liking what I’m doing,” Rafferty said. “When I first came, I did not imagine myself ever being here as long as I have, because I’d never been to Maine before.

“At the time I thought, well, I’ll get a job someplace and then once I get some experience, I’ll come back down to Massachusetts, but once I got up here and got that experience, I was like, ‘Nah, I’m never going back that way.’

“This was the right fit for myself and my wife Norma [Nardone],” Rafferty said. “We just really liked the community, liked the town. All of the people here are great.”

Rafferty and Nardone, who teaches biology at KHS, raised three daughters in Kennebunk, the youngest of whom is now 24.

“It’s sometimes hard to believe I’ve been doing it this long, but it’s just what I do,” Rafferty said. “I’ve never been just a teacher, or just a coach. To me, in my mind, it’s always been one and the same. I couldn’t separate the two.”

As for that teachable moment against Biddeford two weeks ago?

“He’s out there trying to do his best job, just like I’m trying to do my best job. But on the football field, everybody sees what’s going on when a mistake is made, and of course everybody has an opinion,” Rafferty explained. “But he admitted he made a mistake and owned up to it. And, hey, if I made the right call on every play, we’d score a lot more touchdowns.

“But people are human. Mistakes are made, that’s it, and nothing’s going to change. That’s why, philosophically, we always try to talk to our kids to always concentrate on the next play. We always talk about what’s in our control and what’s out of our control. You can’t control what has happened, but what’s going to happen, we can have some say in that, and hard work is rewarded.”

Rafferty says high school football has evolved over his time at KHS, with more passing and more emphasis on special teams — “we used to just run the ball at each other, now we spread it around a lot more,” he says — but “mentally, it’s still the same game.”

And support from townfolk has remained strong over the decades, Rafferty says, feeling fortunate that KHS is still able to field junior varsity and freshmen teams, despite being reclassified as Class B after more than a decade at Class A, the conference reserved for the state’s biggest schools.

One thing that has changed, he says, is the commitment required.

“Football isn’t just a fall sport anymore, it’s year-round,” he said. And during the season? After getting up at 6 a.m. Monday, and following a full day of teaching, leading practice, watching film and working in plays, and attending a conference meeting, Rafferty was just arriving at home for supper at 8 p.m. Monday night.

“It takes a ton of energy, it takes a ton of time away from family year-round, and the season itself is grueling. It takes hours and hours of planning,” Rafferty said, “but I’ve got to make sure we’re ready. It’s like I tell my kids, hard work pays off, whether its in more time on the field, or in making great plays.”

This year, Kennebunk is heading into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class B West. That’s as much thanks to the players own hard work, and that of the assistant coaches, Rafferty said, noting the value of continuity.

One assistant, Rob Sullivan, has been with the Rams for 24 years, while another, Brian Dill, has been with Rafferty from the beginning.

“So, really, he has 175 wins, too,” Rafferty said.

Together, their overall record is 175- 170, according to records kept by Dill.

This year marks the 17th time they’ve taken Rams to the playoffs, where they’ve scored a 10-15 record to date, advancing to the championship game in their division three times, and taking the state title once, in 1991.

For critics and social media warriors, a won-loss record of just over 50 percent might not be taken as much to brag about, and Rafferty acknowledges some years have gone better than others, with the occasional whispers that it might be time to swap him out.

“There’s always some rumbles,” he said. “But then, there’s some rumbling every Friday night. You’re only ever as good as your last game. It comes with the territory. It’s hard to keep everybody happy, but I’ve been fortunate that people in the position who make the decisions have seen us as having done some good things, so, they’ve been supportive.”

For Rafferty, the important thing, more important than the 175 wins, and perhaps even more important than landing a second state championship, is the Rams undefeated regular season.

“Number 175, that was just another game, really,” he said. “That’s not something I track, honestly. But for the players to go undefeated, that’s what made this past Friday really special.

Very, very, very few football teams do that nationally, so that was a huge accomplishment for them and something will stay with them forever. Twenty-five years from now they’ll still be able to look back on that with pride and nobody can ever take that away from them.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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