BATH — The cheering had paused, the hugs were done and the championship trophy was carried off the field. Deb Lebel grinned as she watched, but the shadows of fatigue were already creeping across her face.
She became a new mother and a championship soccer coach in a span of five days. She and her husband had a different plan in place before the week began. Lebel would coach the Windham girls’ soccer team to the Western Class A championship on Wednesday and the state title on Saturday. That done, she would bring Benjamin Edward Lebel into the world by Caesarean section on Nov. 12, 2013, or 11/12/13.
“I’m a planner. We thought we’d have a little fun with the date,” said Lebel. Instead, Benjamin Edward had a little fun turning his parents’ lives upside down a bit early. Lebel’s water broke early Sunday morning and the Caesarian section was scheduled for Monday. When Lebel was told she and her son would be discharged Thursday, she said that can’t happen. She had to be on the Windham sideline for Wednesday night’s game in the Western Maine final.
She left Maine Medical Center about three hours before the game. Thursday, she and her husband Mike, the boys’ lacrosse coach at Falmouth High, tried to settle into some semblance of a routine with their 4-year-old son, Sean. The night before Windham’s game with Bangor for the state championship, Deb Lebel was awake, nursing her baby. She slept for maybe two hours.
“Ben is our rock star,” said Mike Lebel. “Up all night, sleeps all day.” Easy for the dad to say, but Mike Lebel has been a big part of his wife’s support staff. Wednesday night, he and Ben, 2 days old, were at the Western Maine final in the warmth of the family van. Saturday, the van was positioned within sight of the field. Dad had a supply of milk. When I visited at halftime, he was changing Ben’s diaper.
At 8 pounds, Ben looked tiny in his father’s big hands. The same hands that once caught footballs as Alfred University’s tight end. Mike Lebel’s hands were just as soft and deft with the diaper change. “If my lacrosse players saw me now, they’d be in awe,” said the coach known for his bark. He smiled, knowing his wife inspired the awe.
Deb Lebel came back to coach her players within two days of giving birth because she made a commitment to them when they committed to play for her. She thought she would set the wrong example if she turned the team over to her capable assistant coaches, Jeff Fish and Kerry Townsend. Yes, her pregnancy became a learning experience for her players. “They asked me a lot of questions and I answered them,” said Lebel. “There were some things they didn’t want to know.”
“They wanted to know why I wasn’t riding the bus to (Saturday’s) game with them,” said Lebel, who used that time to deliver the milk her husband would feed their baby. Her players asked no further questions on that subject.
“Deb believed she had an obligation to the team,” said Mike Lebel, who walked onto the field with Ben in his arms, bundled in his big brother’s old fleece coverall. “Being a coach myself, it’s a lot easier to relate to that. It’s a lot of work, a lot of long hours, and you want to be there for your players.”
They met through a mutual friend when both started their teaching and coaching careers in prep schools. Deb was the local girl from Westbrook, the basketball player who likes to say she shut down Cindy Blodgett in high school. Mike, who grew up in Massachusetts, has asked his wife how she defines “shut down.” Blodgett scored 40 points that night.
Deb Lebel may not stand taller than 5-foot-5. She’s not big by any physical definition. “She’s tough,” said her husband. Saturday, that seemed like an understatement.
Windham broke up a scoreless game in the second half, scoring its three goals in a 3-0 victory. On the sideline, Lebel became less intense. By the third goal she let a grin escape. When the individual championship medals were awarded, each player hugged their head coach, avoiding her abdomen. “They were hugging up high. They couldn’t know that after a while that wasn’t a good idea.”
“I’m OK, it’s nothing that some Tylenol can’t handle.” The celebration back at the high school awaited but she was looking forward to her next nap. Suddenly, 4-year-old Sean was climbing up and into her arms. “Congratulations, mommy.”
Lebel’s smile got wider.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: