Brian Dill, whose career as Kennebunk High School baseball coach began in 1986, is retiring. He has also served as a football assistant coach for 41 years. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

When Brian Dill graduated from Kennebunk High in 1974, he never expected to return to the school to become a teacher and coach.

Yet, after graduating from the University of Maine, he did. And it became his last stop. Dill, 64, recently retired as the Rams varsity baseball coach and assistant football coach, ending a 41-year stint on the sidelines and in the dugout.

Dill, a special education teacher, had been the varsity baseball coach since 1986 when he replaced Marty Duffy. He has been Joe Rafferty’s right-hand man on the football sidelines from Day One, coaching together in 945 games.

What would have been his 34th baseball season this spring never happened as the Maine Principals’ Association canceled the spring season because of the coronavirus pandemic. He finished with a career record of 241-323 (181-186 against teams from the Western Maine Conference), his final team in 2019 went 7-10.

“I was really hoping that we were going to be able to play this spring, we had a great group of seniors,” said Dill, who will continue to teach. “We were going to be pretty competitive.”

On Monday, Kennebunk Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman announced that Andrew Coulombe would be the new varsity baseball coach. Coulombe, who is also the Rams’ boys’ and girls’ swimming coach, has been an assistant under Dill for many years and was Dill’s choice to replace him.

“I’m hoping I can still do a few things,” said Dill. “I’d still like to throw (batting practice) once in a while.”

That Dill, and Rafferty, for that matter, lasted so long in an era where coaches often leave after a couple of years, is pretty unique.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again,” said Schwartzman. “Forty years is a long time to do anything, let alone coach one sport. The big thing with Brian is that he loves Kennebunk. And I don’t think he would have done this anywhere else. He was very proud of the fact that he went there and coached there and did it the right way.”

“It’s an end of an era,” said Bill Russell, a 1999 Kennebunk graduate who played both football and baseball under Dill and is now the associate head football coach at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. “Those guys (Dill and Rafferty) were coaching at Kennebunk before I was born. Today’s coaches don’t stay anywhere for a long time. It speaks to them as coaches, and it speaks to the community. They’ve had the support of the community.”

But, said Dill, the time commitment in both sports had become too much. “Like all sports, they require more time, more than they used to,” he said. “We did a summer team last year in baseball and that was great for our program. But the time involved for me just was a lot and I felt it was draining … I think this is good timing for me.”

His colleagues and former players praised Dill for his patience, calm demeanor and ability to relate to the students.

“One of his best skills was his ability to hold conversations with any kid,” said Benson Furber, who graduated this year and played baseball for Dill. “Coach Dill made sure we all did our best at all times and he always made sure everything was all right at home and at school. He genuinely cared about what was going on in your life.”

He never lost that ability to connect with his players. “When you’re a good coach and do it the right way, I think it’s timeless,” said Russell, who is 39 and in his 13th season at Norwich. “Deep down, teenagers will be teenagers and a good coach will be a good coach. He’ll find a way to relate.”

Dill said the fact that he was a teacher probably helped him keep in touch with his players. “I’d see the kids at lunch, I’d see the kids in the hallway,” he said. “Obviously the (age) gap became bigger every year but I don’t think they were looking at me like some old man who didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Mark Carney graduated from Kennebunk in 1991 and also played both sports under Dill. He now works for the Kennebunk Police Department and is the school resource officer at the high school. He sees Dill in a professional sense now and said nothing has changed from when he was a coach.

“I’ll tell you, he left a big impression on me as young student athlete,” said Carney. “He was someone I looked up to, his demeanor, his leadership, the way he communicated with young people … He brings those same qualities to the teaching profession. He has true leadership in the classroom and relates to the kids well.”

Dill had long thought he was going to retire with Rafferty, who just finished his 41st season at Kennebunk. “But I think Joe is going to coach until he’s 85,” said Dill, laughing.

The two met shortly after Dill returned to Kennebunk after college. Dill invited Rafferty to play on his slow-pitch softball team and the two became fast friends. Dill got a job teaching special education just three days before Labor Day in 1979 and joined Rafferty’s staff.

“It is a big loss, a big loss for me personally, a big loss for our program and our kids,” said Rafferty, who, for many years was the junior varsity baseball coach. “He was a great asset to our team, a great asset to the program.”

Over the years Dill would call the defenses from a perch above the field. “Brian has always been the guy I talk to at the other end of the line,” said Rafferty. “You need somebody to turn to and also somebody who can read you and understand you as well. He’s been very steady and I know in the heat of the battle, a voice of reason and a voice of confidence as well.”

Dill never expected to be at Kennebunk after college. But once there, he knew he didn’t want to leave.

“Growing up in Kennebunk, I still get chills when I hear the school song,” said Dill. “I used to walk from my grandmother’s house, up Fletcher Street, to go to a football game. For me, it’s been great to be able to work with kids from my home town.”

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