High school football coaches and friends Tim Roche, left, of Wells and Joe Rafferty of Kennebunk were elected to the Maine Legislature on Tuesday. Roche, a Republican, will be in the House of Representatives and Rafferty, a Democrat, is the new state senator for District 34. It’s the first time either had run for the legislature. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Football coaches know how to win. At least ones that stay at the same high school for decades.

So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Joe Rafferty, Kennebunk High’s head coach for 42 years, and Tim Roche, the head coach at Wells High for 21 years, would win elections in their first crack at the Maine Legislature. They know what it takes to build a consensus, commit to a task and see it through.

They also understand the cache, name recognition and community respect that comes with being a long-tenured football coach.

“Absolutely. My sign said ‘Coach Roche’ and Coach Rafferty’s sign said ‘Coach Rafferty,'” said Roche, 55, a Republican who defeated one-term incumbent Daniel Hobbs with 52 percent of the vote for the District 7 seat in the Maine House that serves Wells.

“I think just the visibility of being a coach helped a lot. Especially when I was going down to the Berwicks where we had played Noble over the years,” said Rafferty, 65, a Democrat who took 52 percent of the vote in the vacant District 34 Senate race against Kennebunk Town Manager Michael Pardue.

Rafferty will represent six towns: Kennebunk and Wells along the coast, as well as Berwick, North Berwick, Lebanon, and Acton.

“I feel like there’s a view that teachers and coaches are problem solver and they dedicate themselves to helping others. That just comes with the job and it goes a long way with the general public,” Rafferty added.

Rafferty and Roche are among the most recognizable coaches in Maine. Rafferty got his 200th career win in 2019 and has an all-time mark of 204-177, with one state title (1991) and three runner-up finishes (1999, 2013 and 2016). Roche, a former assistant coach at Wells, has directed the Warriors to four state titles (2011, 2016, 2017, 2018) in three different classes, posting a career record of 155-65 and building a football identity around his old-school wing-T offense and a long line of top running backs.

Wells football coach Tim Roche gives a postgame speech after the Warriors won the 2018 Class D state championship. Roche has compiled a career record of 155-65, and his teams have won four state titles. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

While they represent different political parties, the two good friends share many common traits, starting with a deep devotion to their adopted communities.

Roche is originally from Hicksville, New York, the same Long Island community where Billy Joel grew up. Roche’s family moved to Wells when he was in seventh grade.

“(Roche) just really cares about the town,” said Sean McCormack-Kuhman, 20, a two-way standout on Wells’ 2016 and 2017 championship teams and now a redshirt sophomore playing football at the University of New Hampshire. “He’s been a selectman for a long time. You always hear him talking about the history of Wells.”

Rafferty, a native of Woburn, Massachusetts, got his first teaching job in Kennebunk in 1978. After one year as an assistant coach, he took over as head coach the following fall. He retired as a physical education teacher two years ago but has continued to work in the school district as both a substitute teacher and bus driver.

“The reason (Rafferty) is so respected is he was teaching how to be a good citizen, a good adult, a caring person,” said Chris Babbidge, Kennebunk’s representative to the Maine House of Representatives, a close friend of Rafferty. “He was building character through the football program and the physical education curriculum.”

Both men also hope their political successes and failures will be judged by more than party affiliation.

“Regardless of your political view, local politics are about local needs,” Rafferty said.

Roche pointed out that Wells, as a town, favored Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential election.

“I think it does speak to Wells. They look at what you can do for the town, not necessarily the party. And that’s a good thing,” Roche said.

Roche has been a selectman in Wells for 10 years and is currently the vice chairman. He intends to continue to serve on the select board.

“I’ve always enjoyed politics but I never thought I would run for anything,” Roche said. “The interesting thing was when I ran for selectman the first time, it was shortly after my father died. He always thought it was important to serve in some way. Then once you do it, you catch that bug. You’re helping to make decisions that hopefully help, not hurt, people.”

Kennebunk football coach Joe Rafferty works with players during a 2018 practice. In 42 years, he has a 204-177 record, with one state title (1991) and three runner-up finishes. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

This will be Rafferty’s first public office. While teaching, he had been a building representative in union negotiations. He said over the years, several people, including Babbidge, had suggested he consider running for office.

“I had been approached in the past and I always thought it would be something I would be interested in, but it was always, ‘I’m teaching, it’s too much time, maybe when I’m retired,” Rafferty said.

When he retired, “they came back after me again,” Rafferty said, noting the experience was a bit like an athlete being recruited by college coaches, with the courtship beginning in July 2019 with a tour of the state capital and a direct request from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

“The best Maine lawmakers are individuals rooted in their community, who have earned the trust of their neighbors and understand the challenges working families and small businesses in their communities face. Coach Rafferty is that person,” Jackson said in a statement, adding, “At a time when there is so much partisan rancor and bickering, Mainers want a state lawmaker that will bring people together, put politics aside and put their needs first. Joe Rafferty knows how to get things done on the field. I have no doubt Coach Rafferty can get things done in the Maine Senate and deliver for the people who elected him to the State House.”

Both Rafferty and Roche said they fully expect to continue as football coaches. Serving in Maine’s legislature is technically a part-time job. Typically, the State House is in session from January to June.

But as coaches, they are already used to long hours spent preparing so a group can be successful. They expect to work hard. Maybe now more than ever.

“You just take a look at what’s going on and I think people are going to need us,” Rafferty said.


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