Lawrence football coach Pete Cooper, shown during the 1996 Class A state championship game against South Portland, died Thursday at age 83. Cooper won 205 games, three state championships and 10 regional titles in 28 seasons as Lawrence’s head coach. Morning Sentinel file photo

FAIRFIELD — Years before Pete Cooper became a Maine high school football coaching legend, at the very start, Mike Mealey knew something special was being set in motion.

Mealey was a senior captain on the Lawrence High football team in 1969, Cooper’s first season as the program’s head coach.

“We went 7-2, and we had a heck of a year,” said Mealey, who later went on to play at the University of Maine before joining Cooper’s coaching staff at Lawrence. “That was the beginning of Lawrence. … We knew right away that they were going to do some big things.”

Cooper certainly did that over the next three decades at Lawrence, where he became one of the state’s all-time great coaches and where the Bulldogs’ home, Keyes Field at Pete Cooper Stadium, now bears his name. Earle “Pete” Cooper died Thursday night at MaineGeneral Health in Augusta, his son, Kevin, said Friday. Cooper was 83.

“All of my family knew (Thursday) was going to be a tough day,” said Kevin Cooper, who also has become one of the state’s best football coaches at Bonny Eagle High in Standish. “A lot of his former players and colleagues of his have been reaching out, which has meant so much to me. It’s pretty easy to see the impact he has had.”

Longtime close family friend John Suttie, who is the superintendent of RSU 23 in Old Orchard Beach, said Pete Cooper leaves a lasting legacy.


“I’ve had a long life with him,” said an emotional Suttie, who played on Lawrence’s state title-winning teams in 1983 and 1984 before coaching with Cooper at Lawrence and later at Bonny Eagle, where the elder Cooper assisted his son. “When he was (coaching) in high school, he was revered as this larger-than-life figure, and he had a gift for getting us to play really hard; you would do anything for him.”

In his 28 years at Lawrence, Cooper won 10 regional titles and coached the Bulldogs to three of their four state championships (1973, 1983, 1984). Prior to stepping down, he was the winningest active coach in Maine high school football with a record of 205-96-6.

Longtime Lawrence High football coach Pete Cooper, seen in 1996 with some of his varsity players, died Thursday at age 83. Morning Sentinel file

A few years after leaving Lawrence, Cooper joined the coaching staff at Bonny Eagle, where his son, Kevin, was head coach. There, he helped build another powerhouse as the Scots won Class A state titles in 2004 and 2005.

“He came to coach with me in 1999,” said Kevin Cooper, who has guided the Scots to seven football state championships. “At the time, I needed coaches. I am taking this brand new job and I needed help. I needed a quality coach. That’s how I looked at it. It became a whole lot more than that.”

Suttie said his time with Cooper on Bonny Eagle’s staff provided the best memories the two had together. Suttie said Pete Cooper evolved from a stern disciplinarian at Lawrence into a “patient, grandfather-like” figure at Bonny Eagle.

Steve Letourneau, who played with Suttie and Kevin Cooper on Lawrence’s 1983 and 1984 state championship teams, said Pete Cooper was a great communicator. Win or lose, he said, Coach Cooper always seemed to be on the same page with his players.


Cooper’s coaching style seemed to perfectly fit the young Letourneau’s needs. He didn’t just challenge his players, Letourneau said, he helped established a culture in which those players challenged each other – and his authenticity only added to his long list of successful coaching traits.

“He wasn’t the type of coach who was cheerleading and praising you every five seconds, but the minute you improved on something he had been harping on you about, he was the first (to be there), and he showed great enthusiasm and excitement,” Letourneau said. “I’m a little guy, and I needed a little extra push, so that kind of coaching style worked on me.”

A Morning Sentinel news clipping published Nov. 18, 1996.

Maine high school football had quite a few other powerhouses during Cooper’s coaching days. Among them was nearby Winslow, with whom Lawrence shared a rivalry few teams in the state could match in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

The Bulldogs and Black Raiders met in the Class B final three times: 1973, 1984 and 1986. Lawrence won the championship in 1973 and 1984 before Winslow prevailed in 1986.

Mike Siviski, 76, coached Winslow for 35 years before retiring in 2020. He said competing against Cooper and the Bulldogs brought out the best in both programs.

“If you were going to win anything, a lot of times you had to go through Lawrence,” said Siviski, who won seven state championships at Winslow. “Everyone respected him. We had some super battles. It was really intense, and it just wouldn’t be fun without those rivalries. The Lawrence-Winslow rivalry was something special. Pete was just fantastic. I am very saddened with his passing. He will be sorely missed.”


Letourneau, Mealey and Suttie all got one last chance to spend time with Cooper before his passing. Mealey paid him a visit last Monday, along with a fellow ex-Lawrence player and assistant, Dan Dangler. Suttie visited him last Friday and had plans to do so again this Friday before learning of his death. Letourneau saw him Thursday, just three hours before he died.

Those experiences, all three men agreed, will be ones that last forever. Cooper, Mealey said, was still as sharp in the mind as ever, and Suttie, who spent six hours alongside his former mentor, said the two spent time regaling memories of slightly different eras through what he called an “incredible day.”

“When I think about him now, I think about our time at Bonny Eagle, but his mind was still back in the ’70s and ’80s,” Suttie said. “He talked about beating Winslow in the state championship, and I said, ‘That was the best day of my life, Pete.’ We had so many great days. … I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

Central Maine sports editor Bill Stewart contributed to this report.

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