SANFORD – The first impression for Connor Mayhew of Massabesic was a guy wearing a pink Speedo, singing the Canadian national anthem before the Maine state championship meet for club swimmers, held in New Brunswick because Maine has no 50-meter pool.
The lasting impression for Abbey Auger was her freshman geometry teacher, during Spirit Week, decked out in an enormous orange Tigger suit.
Kevin Broad, who coached swimming at Massabesic for five years before colon cancer cut short his life at 45 in August, didn’t pass through this world unnoticed. On a pool deck, Broad was the guy with the beard dyed green, a Seussian hat perched on his head, a tune forever on his lips.
“He was always singing something,” said Kerry Chamberlain, Broad’s assistant coach for all five seasons and now helping to smooth the transition to a new coach, Christian Niven. “Whenever you were around him, it was la-la-LA-LA-la.”
Broad, a member of Seaglass Performing Arts in Kennebunk for 10 years, would sing the national anthem before meets, Broadway show tunes on the bus and the praises of all his swimmers.
When they deserved it.
Other times, if they fell short of their potential, he might mention, matter-of-factly, that he saw more in them.
“He wouldn’t try to hide things from you,” said Mayhew, who placed fourth in Class A in the 100-yard backstroke and sixth in the 200 freestyle last season.
“If he thought you could do better he would tell you: ‘Yeah, it was an OK race but it wasn’t your best.’ Then we would work on things in practice.”
An engineer who changed careers to teach, Broad not only turned Massabesic into a competitive program, he did it in a way that made every athlete feel part of the family.
This season that family includes 17 boys and 17 girls.
Among high school athletes, swimmers wear the smallest, most revealing uniforms, which in many ways leaves them vulnerable.
Broad created an atmosphere of trust and acceptance by being loud and outgoing and funny, but also by caring and teaching and inspiring.
“I would say that there was never a coach who loved his team more,” Auger said. “All through last year he was going through chemotherapy and was in a lot of pain, and most of the time couldn’t go to school. But he never missed a practice and he never missed a meet.”
When speaking separately of Broad at a recent practice, Auger teared up and Mayhew pulled at his lower lip.
They are Massabesic’s two captains, and both made hospital visits this summer.
Mayhew twice made the trip to Philadelphia, where Broad was being treated.
Auger wrote her senior essay about Broad entitled “My Capeless Hero.”
Naturally, emotions ran high for the opening meet of the season Friday, at the Sanford Springvale YMCA with Sanford High, the team that shares the facility with Massabesic. Many of the swimmers from both teams came up through the Titans swim club, for which Broad coached before taking over the high school program.
Broad’s widow, Barbara, and daughter, Victoria, attended the meet.
After a moment of silence, a Sanford assistant coach asked everyone to join him in singing the national anthem.
“Obviously that had been Mr. Broad’s thing,” Auger said. “It was a really nice gesture. The entire crowd started singing and that was really cool. We all (sang), at least, those of us who weren’t crying. I couldn’t hold it together.”
The Mustangs went out and won the dual meet, 96-71 for girls and 113-45 for boys.
Mayhew, whose best time in the 500 free last year was 5:24, lowered the school record by four seconds with a time (5:12) bested by only three swimmers at the Class A state meet.
Auger, who promised Broad she would get the 100 breast school record, fell five seconds short of her goal but vowed to break 1:11 by season’s end.
“I really needed to come back,” Auger said, “and prove to myself that after such a big loss to our team, we can move on.”
It won’t be easy.
There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be tears.
Niven, who headed the Kennebunk High program for three years, is a sixth-grade science teacher in the Massabesic system. A soft-spoken 31-year-old, he knew Broad as a respected colleague.
“As sad and as heartbroken as I am, there really couldn’t be a more perfect person to replace Kevin at this particular time than Chris,” Chamberlain said. “He quietly gets the fact that we’re all still grieving.”
Chamberlain kept catching herself during Friday’s meet staring across the pool at the spot near the blocks where Broad always stood. Massabesic swims again this Friday against Portland. Soon there will be the first Southwesterns meet without Broad, then the first state meet without him.
They will get through this. They will do it together.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]