Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By STEVE CRAIG Staff Writer
Diana Walker and Nancy Neubert were simply applying for appealing jobs, looking to make positive moves professionally and personally.
Diana Walker, left, and Nancy Neubert have guided Sanford to two Class A state titles and 27 playoff appearances in 30 seasons.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Ronald Reagan was in the White House. "Dallas" and "Dynasty" dominated television ratings, "Flashdance" would soon make leg warmers cool. And Sanford High School had openings for field hockey coaches. It was 1983.
Walker was a physical education teacher and coach at Woodsville (N.H.) High. A Saco native and Thornton Academy graduate, she saw the vacant position for a teacher/varsity field hockey coach as a chance to move to a larger school and come home to Maine.
Neubert, a junior high music teacher originally from Gorham, was in her second year in the Sanford system. She'd played field hockey in high school and her first two years at Bowdoin College. The junior varsity coaching position looked like a great way to get back into her favorite sport.
Walker and Neubert didn't know each other when they took over as varsity and junior varsity coaches in 1983.
Thirty seasons and one school nickname change later, Walker and Neubert are still coaching together in Sanford and still thriving.
"I think we work so well together. We have the same philosophy. I can't tell you how many times the exact same thing will come out of our mouths at the same time," said Neubert, 56.
"It's pretty scary. And it's happened that way for a number of years," said Walker, 54.
A LONG HISTORY OF SUCCESS
Sanford finished its regular season Monday with a 5-0 win over South Portland for a record of 9-4-1 and is expected to host a preliminary-round game Saturday in the Western Class A playoffs. It will be Sanford's 27th tournament appearance in the last 30 seasons.
In Walker and Neubert's first season together, Sanford had its first winning season. Multiple trips to the Western Maine final followed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the program won back-to-back state titles in 1999 and 2000. In 2007, Sanford was the Western Maine champ.
Walker said the fundamentals of the program are the same now as when she first started.
"I don't think I've changed that much. I'm getting (children of former players) now, and I mean I still demand commitment. Honesty. I think your family comes first, your academics come second and our sport is third," Walker said.
"I've never penalized a kid for missing something because of family or because of school. I haven't changed that at all. I believe weekends, if we don't have games, are for them to do something else. I don't practice on the weekends. I was one of the few that didn't (30 years ago) and I still don't."
Walker has always been the head coach and Neubert the junior varsity coach, though a few games required an unofficial role reversal. For six seasons, the star players for rival Massabesic were Diana and Steve Walker's daughters, Jennifer and Stephanie.
"I used to have to double-team them and we always knocked them out of the tournament. That was the sad thing," Walker said.
"That was awful. No matter what happened, Diana lost," said Neubert, who has two children in college (Kathleen and Adam) and a son (Mitchell) at Noble High. "That was really hard for her. I do remember her saying, 'you're going to coach most of the game tonight because it's getting too intense.'"
Both coaches have the respect of the players in the program, said junior goalie Taylor Zuk.
"In practice, we practice with all the teams and they both give us feedback. We get both of their opinions so we have more than one thing to work on at once," Zuk said. "(Neubert) really is like our co-varsity coach."
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