November 20, 2011

Steve Solloway: Maine football family brings honor to game

Saturday morning, Jane Hersom Fortier wasn't wearing the sweater she had carefully packed in her car before she left her home in Bath. The University of Maine letterman's sweater, first worn by her father nearly 60 years ago. The sweater she promised her nephew she would bring to Fitzpatrick Stadium for good luck in his game later Saturday evening for the Class B state title.

click image to enlarge

Coach John Hersom, whose family is renowned in Maine football, encourages his Lawrence team as they play Cheverus for the Class A state title Saturday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Jordan Hersom is Leavitt High's star quarterback and he faced a very tough opponent in Wells.

She hadn't made the same promise to her little brother, Johnny Hersom, head football coach of the Lawrence High Bulldogs, before his team played Cheverus, the defending Class A champions.

Fortier didn't know how much good fortune remained in the moth-eaten navy blue sweater with the big block M on its chest. Her husband had warned her: Pull it over your head and all the threads might come undone.

He should have known better. The threads of the sweater are probably like the threads that knit the Hersom family together: the strongest.

Jane Hersom Fortier is the only daughter and eldest child of Lawrence "Doc" Hersom. He was a pretty fair football player at Maine in the 1950s. He was a better high school football coach, winning two of three state championships at Edward Little with twin sons John and Jim playing in his backfield. Both played at the University of Maine, both followed their father into teaching and coaching football.

Jim took an Edward Little team to the state championship in 2002, before he resigned for health reasons. John won a state championship with Lawrence in 2006.

"I've thought about my father a lot this week," said Fortier, who has witnessed many of the big games. "He was so proud of his sons. He would have been so proud of his grandsons."

Grandsons he never knew. Doc Hersom, who earned the nickname by using a leather satchel favored by doctors to carry his football gear to high school and back, fell to prostate cancer in 1986.

Among all the football family trees in Maine, this one may be the strongest, bearing the largest fruit. Portland football fans may remember the three generations of Dibiase men who played at local high schools and later at the University of Maine. There are the three generations of the Kilborn family, now centered in Gorham, where two sons played for their father, Dave, who was the son of a football coach.

Or the Cooper clan. Patriarch Peter, so successful at Lawrence in the 1970s through the mid-1990s, is now an assistant to Bonny Eagle head coach Kevin, his son. Grandson Cameron was a senior tight end.

Yes, there are probably families blessed with four generations playing the game at Maine high schools. But there may be none who have been more successful, more intertwined and more unassuming than the Hersoms.

Fortier's son, Michael, played football at Morse High in the late 1990s without reaching the state title game. Twins Mike and Tom and brother Jack, one year younger, played for their father, John, on Lawrence's 2006 championship team. In 2007, Jack won the Fitzpatrick Award, given to Maine's best high school player. This year, Jordan Hersom, the son of John's twin, Jim, should be a candidate.

The Fitzpatrick Award was first presented in 1971. No two cousins have ever won it.

Cousin Rick Hersom is also notable. He's president of the Maine Shriners Lobster Bowl, played each summer by senior all-stars to benefit Shriners Hospitals.

He calls Fortier regularly but had trouble reaching her recently. "What are you doing," asked Rick Hersom. "Too busy reading all those stories on your brother and nephew to answer the phone."

It's a family that deserves the attention simply for what they represent. Twins Mike and Tom graduated from Husson University and moved into classrooms to teach and onto football fields to serve as assistant coaches. Jack also attends Husson and will do his student teaching this spring. Their mother, Roberta, was a teacher and is now a middle school principal in Fairfield.

"I think we just saw how much our parents enjoy what they do," said Jack Hersom, sitting with his aunt and others Saturday. "All we wanted to do was teach and coach."

Even after Saturday. The cousins understand the challenge of picking themselves back up after being knocked down.

Twins John and Jim will deflect accolades, giving credit to their father, just as their own sons give credit to them.

Legacy? Mike, 23, and a third-grade teacher at the Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner, sees strangers approach, asking if he is a Hersom.

"They'll have stories to tell me about my grandfather or I'll find out that the fathers or the uncles of players I coach played with my father and uncle. My grandfather died two years before I was born."

Through the stories of strangers, he and his brothers are getting to know more. Their grandfather stood for something good. He was fair and caring. The good coaches are.

On the field, he was a "wily, sly old dog," said Mike Haley, a contemporary who was in the Fitzpatrick press box Saturday. Away from the game he was a gregarious, sharing teacher and friend.

Cheverus beat Lawrence, 49-7, Saturday. John Hersom and his team could have used that sweater. Jane Hersom Fortier sat with other family members in the huge Lawrence crowd that just about filled the main grandstand on the home side.

She yelled, she cheered, and as the last minutes slipped away, smiled bravely. Afterward, she tried to reach her brother. He's so calm away from the field and so intense on the sideline, she knew from experience how hard he would take the loss.

"It's not quite how we hoped it would turn out," she had said an hour earlier.

She planned to return to her home in Bath while the Class C game between Yarmouth and Bucksport was played.

Then, "of course, I'll be back. With the sweater."

She was at her nephew's game, the Maine letterman's sweater on her back. But lucky talismans can't always turn back talent. Hersom was intercepted during a dramatic and desperate last-minute drive to tie the score. Wells won the Class B championship, 21-13.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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