HALLOWELL — For years, it was a ritual that brought his players together in the locker room. This time, it brought them together from all over.

Every player who played for Paul Vachon’s Cony girls basketball teams can remember how the team ended every halftime pep talk. After the legendary former coach’s spiel, the Rams met in the middle of the locker room and recited the same mantra: “1-2-3, together.”

It was a different scene this time. No longer teenagers, his former players  now grown adults, were outside on a warm, sunny June afternoon to consume pub fare and cocktails rather than inside the gym on a cold, dark winter evening. They came from near and far, but for a former mentor with a long road ahead, it was the only thing they could have done.

Hundreds gathered Thursday at Hallowell’s Quarry Tap Room for a benefit in Vachon’s honor. The event, “Game on for Vachon,” raised funds for the longtime Cony head coach, who is currently at Tufts Medical Center in Boston as he recovers following heart and kidney transplants.

“I don’t think any of (we former players) would be here today without him,” said Katie (Rollins) DelSignore, who played for Vachon from 2001-05. “It’s sad that we have to be together because of these circumstances, but it’s kind of brought this mini-reunion together. I’ve seen people I haven’t seen in 20 years. He impacted all of us.”

In the wee hours of the morning on May 11, Vachon was rushed to Maine General Medical Center in Augusta after experiencing a heart attack. He was then transported to Maine Medical Center in Portland before being airlifted to Boston, where he learned he needed a heart transplant.


Over the next two and a half weeks, the team at Tufts worked to get Vachon’s body in the right condition for a heart transplant, and on May 31, he was finally put on the list. Amazingly, he had a match within three days and received a heart transplant June 4 and a kidney transplant June 6. He was sedated until June 13 and intubated until June 15.

It’s been a long road for Vachon, who had to have another surgery as recently as Thursday to clean up his left carotid artery. His fight, though, hasn’t been alone — and that’s something his countless ex-players, fellow coaches, family members and friends gathered to demonstrate Thursday.

“Right away, it was all about what we can do for him, what we can do for Ms. Vachon, what we can do for Amy and Adam and everyone else,” said Carrie Foster, who played with Amy Vachon, Paul’s daughter, from 1992-96. “It’s something that’s really united this community in Augusta and all around here.”

There’s not much about the history of girls basketball in Maine that can be learned without Vachon’s name carrying big weight in the conversation. The Maine Basketball Hall of Fame coach won seven state championships with Cony and compiled a remarkable 433-37 record.

More than that, Vachon influenced countless players through his annual Capital City Clinic, a skills clinic held at the Augusta Civic Center open to girls from grades three through nine. He’s also chairman of the Capital City Hoop Classic, which returned this year with all proceeds going to Cony All-Sports Boosters.


“I asked Paul, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and he said, ‘Well, the community’s just been so good to me,’” said benefit co-organizer Bob Moore, who is also the treasurer for Cony All-Sports Boosters. “When he was in the hospital, the big worry was that he was going to have to cancel his clinic. He’s just an unbelievably generous guy.”

Vachon is well-known in central Maine and throughout the state — and he’s become one at Tufts, too. One nurse, Moore said, told Amy Vachon she had never seen a patient receive as many get-well cards as her father did in all her years working at the hospital.

The affinity for the coaching legend goes across the ages. Some players in attendance Thursday, such as DelSignore, played for his later teams. She recalled the time that, on a day when she and her teammates weren’t practicing up to their coach’s expectations, he taught them a lesson they would never forget.

Former Cony players and assistant coaches pose for a group shot at the Game On For Vachon fundraiser Thursday at the Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“He shut off the lights and went out of the gym, and he put up the score from the state championship the year before that we had lost,” DelSignore said. “We stared at that score in silence for about 30 minutes. It was an intense 30 minutes, but it proved a point that we would never let that happen again.”

You don’t even have to ask if the Rams went on the state championship that season — they did, beating McAuley 58-40 in the final. Winning games, after all, is something Vachon’s teams did better than anyone, whether it was from his latter years as coach or his earliest seasons.

Joanna LeBlanc (Levesque), who played on Cony’s first state championship-winning team in 1987, was often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best players. Her coach’s drive, she said, rubbed off on her.


“He instilled such drive and enthusiasm in everything that he taught us,” LeBlanc said. “In every practice and every game, everything he did was built on getting us to put our best foot forward. He was very motivating, and he was always encouraging because he knew what we were capable of.”

Now, it’s Vachon’s turn to fight, and although it’s a fight that’s by no means finished, it’s one he’s showing signs of winning. Unable to even pick up a fork and spoon just two weeks ago, he’s already effortlessly walking the halls at Tufts, where Amy Vachon says he’s been nicknamed, “The President.”

University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon talks about her father Paul Vachon and thanks people for coming to the Game On For Vachon fundraiser Thursday at the Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell. She also read a statement that her father wrote for the event. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He’s done it all, Amy said, with incredible grace and strength and without any complaints about the challenging hand he’s been dealt. In fact, the only complaints he’s had have been about the quality of the hospital food.

Amy Vachon, Paul’s daughter and the University of Maine women’s basketball coach, spoke to those gathered Thursday.

“I’ve always known that my dad was strong and that he was a fighter, but these 49 days have shown me things I could never imagine,” she said in her speech. “He knew from Day 1 it was going to be a long road, and although it’s a scary one, it’s one that he’s been committed to the entire way.”

Those around Paul Vachon are just as committed to him. A dollar from every drink purchased at Quarry Tap Room on Thursday went toward supporting the Vachon Family, and judging from a walk around the patio, that will be a hefty sum. As of Thursday night, a GoFundMe for Vachon had raised more than $3,000 in 12 hours.

“He cared about every one of us,” Foster said. “The biggest thing we want him to know is that this community cares for him, too.”

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