May 23, 2011

Getting the call to the Hall

The Maine Sports Hall of Fame adds six members, including Seth Wescott.

By GARY HAWKINS Kennebec Journal

This story was revised at 12:06 p.m., May 23, 2011, to correct the name of Kaitlyn Hall of Thornton Academy.

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Seth Wescott hasn't retired yet from competition, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist has already earned a place in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Harold "Tank" Violette receives a hug from his granddaughter, Allison Hegarty, 6, after getting an autograph from fellow Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee Seth Wescott.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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AUGUSTA - Two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott choked back tears as he expressed his gratitude for support from Maine residents during induction ceremonies Sunday for the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

The crowd of several hundred at the Augusta Civic Center gave the Farmington native a standing ovation at the conclusion of his acceptance speech. After assuring fans that he would pursue a third gold medal in snowboardcross at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Wescott spoke of the inspiration he got from watching Maine's Joan Benoit Samuelson win a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

"It was a very impactful thing for me," he said.

He also talked of a conversation he once had with skier Phil Mahre about how Mahre felt on the Olympic awards podium as he received a gold medal and watched the American flag being raised. At the time, Wescott didn't know he would be in the same position himself some day.

"It was just an amazing feeling to know what you've done for your country, and in so many ways for the state of Maine," Wescott said. "It's truly been an honor."

Wescott was one of six inducted into the Maine Sports Hall. Joining him were former Lawrence High football coach Earle "Pete" Cooper, former basketball coach Art Dyer of Orrs Island, Fairfield's Dick McGee, who coached high school and college football, Doug Roberts of Springvale, who led Rumford to two high school basketball championships, and Harold "Tank" Violette, who coached Winslow to 11 state championships in football and hockey.

Five high school seniors received scholarships of $5,000 in recognition of their athletic and scholastic achievements. They are Kaitlyn Hall of Thornton Academy, Mike McCann of Winslow, Evan Nadeau of Brewer, Taylor Seeley of Washington Academy and Caroline Summa of Cheverus.

Family and community support were common themes mentioned by the inductees. Violette, a standout football player at Maine before coaching Winslow to five state titles in football and six in hockey, was the youngest of 17 children. He described the move his family made from northern Aroostook County to central Maine during his youth.

"We were a family of 19 loaded in the back of a potato truck from Van Buren to Waterville," Violette said. "Coming into town, we must have looked like the Clampetts."

Dyer, who posted an overall record of 336-50 in 10-year stints at Medomak Valley and Westbrook and also coached at Fairfield University, praised the spirit of sharing information among basketball coaches. He spoke of the infamous Camp in the Woods, where recently retired Colby coach Dick Whitmore, Cheverus coach Bob Brown and former Morse coach Tom Maines would gather annually to discuss and dissect the game.

McGee told a number of anecdotes, including how he played for the Providence Steamrollers, a semipro football team coached by his father.

"There were 40,000 fans," McGee said. "When we found out they didn't have any money to pay us, we left at halftime."

McGee, who grew up in Rhode Island, was encouraged by one of his coaches to attend the University of Maine where he played on a team that went 7-0-1.

"The best thing that ever happened to me was finding out where the state of Maine was," he said.

Roberts, who led Rumford to a New England basketball championship in 1976, knew McGee because he roomed with his son, Mike, when both played at Clark University.

"The sports community is so small in this state," he said.

Cooper, who coached 28 years at Lawrence, is now an assistant for his son, Kevin, at Bonny Eagle. He'll be starting his 46th year as a high school football coach this fall.

"I loved every minute of my job at Lawrence," he said.

Cooper had special praise for his wife Lois, to whom he's been married for 46 years and has dealt with recurring bouts of cancer.


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