GRAY – The young teenager with some heft and quickness hustled to intercept Jim Hersom as Gray-New Gloucester High’s new football coach walked off the practice field. The kid made his pitch.
He wanted to join the team. He didn’t know much about the game, but he had watched practice and believed he was picking up the basics quickly.
Hersom smiled as he listened.
If there are five reasons why Hersom returned to coaching football, this was No. 1. He’s a teacher and a good one. Winning usually follows his lessons.
Hersom is 53 years old and the twin brother to John, the successful coach at Lawrence High. They are their father’s legacy. Lawrence “Doc” Hersom set a standard as the teacher-coach some 40 years ago at Edward Little High in Auburn.
Six years ago, Jim Hersom stepped away from the responsibilities of coaching. He resigned as head coach at Edward Little, four years after guiding his team to the Eastern Class A championship. A cancer diagnosis was one reason. Spending more time with his children, including Jordan, the Leavitt High quarterback and last year’s Fitzpatrick Award winner, was another.
The cancer has been beaten back but the itch to teach football never went away. Before Jordan received his high school diploma last spring, his father searched for another head coaching job and found it.
Gray-New Gloucester, a 10-year-old program, needed new leadership after winning just one game in two seasons.
Hersom had the credentials to apply for openings at Class A schools. Until he stepped down, it seemed he was coaching forever at Livermore Falls, Brunswick and Edward Little. But the situation at Gray-New Gloucester got his attention.
“I really wanted a small community, a small town. The program hasn’t been on solid ground. It’s a challenge that motivates me to see this through.”
The rewards, he believes, will be greater.
Hersom thought of his father when he applied.
After gaining so much respect in Maine’s high school coaching fraternity, Doc Hersom stepped down. Years later he returned to coach Mt. Ararat’s fledgling football program in Topsham. His cancer diagnosis interrupted that.
“My father was a teacher first. He missed that, too. The real pleasure comes in sharing my knowledge of the game.”
Jim Hersom visits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston every few months to hear he’s healthy. He wears a brace to deal with a left knee that needs replacing. Wednesday, his voice was hoarse from the teaching.
He’s learning how much his players do know about the sport after a two-year record of 1-16. “I haven’t really investigated where they’ve been. I know we want to be competitive. They’ve got a background in football but I’m breaking it down to its most minute things. They haven’t looked at it as being boring. They’re excited by the direction of the progress.”
As he talked, the metal bleachers where we sat started clattering loudly. A couple of youngsters chased each other down the aisles. Hersom grinned and didn’t stop answering questions. Stop two active children from doing something so purely physical? He wouldn’t think of it. His voice went up a decibel.
Neither of the Hersom twins come from central casting. They know how to bark but you don’t hear it often. They’re patient men. Teaching football is not about power or egos. Instead of bringing in a coaching staff of loyalists, Hersom looked at the assistants already in place.
“Where I was an outsider, I elected to go with the people who are here. Three of (his assistants) have boys coming up through the system. I thought that was good. This community is ready to embrace the program.”
He knows the examples set by Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, two similar schools where soccer was king in the fall. Football was added, and more recently both have played in Class B and Class C state championship games.
“We’ve talked about goals. I like to have physical football teams. I want them to play together and be prideful.”
He’s told them of the hard times to come and the good times that should come later. The Gray-New Gloucester players should listen well.
Jim Hersom knows from experience.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: