Walton’s last lap

Posted Nov. 30, 2008, at 10:08 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 24, 2010, at 4:02 p.m.

Bangor High School track and field coach Maynard Walton has touched thousands of lives over the years in the classroom and on the track.

When the Rams’ indoor track teams opened preseason practices last week, Walton reached a great milestone in his career: his 50th year in education.

He has taught lessons to Bangor native Gov. John Baldacci and guided such Rams track standouts as Adam Goode, Jennie Lucy, Casey Quaglia, Riley Masters and Emily Capehart.

“He’s a great guy. He got me into running. He’s a great coach,” said Masters, a former distance runner who now is one of the University of Maine’s top runners.

Walton, who taught at the elementary, junior high and high school levels for 42 years and has coached at Bangor for more than four decades, will retire from coaching at the end of this indoor track season.

Described by his peers and former athletes as classy and competitive, Walton began his career in 1958 when he took a student-teaching job for fifth grade in Bangor while pursuing his master’s degree at UMaine.

He then moved on to Union Street Junior High for 10 years before moving on up once again to Bangor High, where he taught U.S. history, current world problems, economics and philosophy among a variety of subjects.

“I taught them all,” said Walton, a 1955 graduate of Caribou High School, where he played basketball and ran cross country and outdoor track.

Walton taught Baldacci in a government class.

Walton’s coaching career started in 1966, when he took over Bangor’s cross country and outdoor track and field teams.

He started coaching indoor track in November 1984 and stopped coaching cross country and outdoor track in the late 1980s.

In the beginning

When Walton’s indoor track coaching career started, the Eastern Maine Indoor Track League was still a fairly young conference.

Ivan Braun, who coached track at Mount Desert Island from 1968 to 1977 and along with longtime Orono coach Cliff McCormick was instrumental in getting the league established in the early 1970s, remembers Walton’s early days as competitive ones.

“In my experiences everybody wanted to beat him because it was Bangor,” said Braun, whose son Ian is the current indoor and outdoor track and field coach at MDI.

Walton quickly formed great friendships and friendly rivalries with colleagues such as Dave Jeffrey of Brewer and David King of Hampden Academy, both of whom retired after the 2002-03 season.

Unlike in other sports, such as basketball and football, coaches tend to speak to each other a lot more during all-day track and field meets while working around the UMaine field house or an outdoor complex to encourage athletes in a variety of events.

“Track’s so much different than other sports. There’s a lot of camaraderie among coaches,” Braun said.

An important skill a track coach must possess, especially in the heat of a postseason meet, is to motivate his athletes, something that Walton was known for.

“He really motivated the kids. He was a good motivator,” Braun said.

Not only that, but Walton is very organized and knows how to dissect a meet, a pivotal factor in knowing a team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Maynard [does] such a great job. You can’t say enough positive things about him,” said Bob Cimbollek, who served as athletic administrator at Bangor from 1979 to 1984.

Dealing with changes

In the classroom over the years, Walton primarly kept the same teaching philosophies while understanding that students have different strengths and weaknesses, thus requiring adjustments.

“One good thing about teaching, it’s never the same because guess what changes — the kids, every year,” he said. “The thing is, you pay attention to the kids coming in, then adjust your teaching style to those kids you have each year.”

The lessons taught in Walton’s classroom have varied through different generations, such as the civil rights period of the 1960s.

“After Martin Luther King [Jr.] was assassinated, I tried to teach morality, to look at the character of people, not the color of their skin,” he said.

Many changes also have occurred while Walton coached track and field.

Nowadays, runners will tune in to iPods and other musical devices while warming up, and medical devices such as heart rate monitors can track a runner’s health, items that didn’t exist when Walton’s coaching career started.

“It really became more technical, the equipment, technology has come right in and the kids are more aware of that, too,” Walton said.

Although he has never coached any of his own three children, Walton, who lives in Orrington with wife, Carol, has motivated hundreds of athletes over the years.

Some of the more memorable include Alby Brille, a distance runner who ran for the Rams in the late 1970s and ran a personal best of 9 minutes, 43 seconds in the 2-mile; Kim Hamm and Karen Watkins, who competed in the late 1980s and own EMITL records of 5 feet, 7 inches and 37-8 in the high and triple jumps, respectively; and pole vaulter Ben Conrad, whose league record of 13-8 stood until a couple of years ago when James Berry of Orono cleared 14 feet.

Finally …

Up until a couple of years ago, only one thing was missing from Walton’s coaching resume: a state championship.

The 2006-07 edition of the Bangor boys had the formula to deliver Walton and the school their long-coveted state track title.

That team had some of the state’s top performers in distance runners Masters and Quaglia, sprinter Cam Cormier and shot putter Robert Seccareccia, along with valuable role players such as Curtis Coleman, Stephen Salinas, Tyler Seekins, Chris Illingworth, Joel Parent and Jimmy Clukey.

Besides the talented athletes, however, the Rams also needed team chemistry to succeed, something Walton helped foster during the state-title quest. “We had the right athletes, we just had to bring everyone together as a team, and Walton helped us do that,” said Masters, who finished third in the 2-mile, second in the mile and ran on the winning 4×800 relay that day at Bates College.

The meet was a classic duel between Bangor and Gorham, and the Rams’ title was cemented with Quaglia’s memorable 2-mile victory over Gorham’s Tim Millett.

That triumph certainly was sweet for Walton, whose boys and girls teams had endured nine state runner-up finishes.

“[The 2007 season] was definitely great for him. All of us wanted that state championship for him,” Masters said. “He really deserved it that year. That was definitely for him.”

Quaglia, now running at Binghamton University, didn’t exactly get off on the right foot with his legendary coach a mere three practices into his sophomore year, his first in track and field.

“I remember my third practice he kicked me out of practice. I was like, ‘What are you doing? I’m your fastest runner,’ and he said, ‘I don’t care who you are. If you’re not going to practice, I don’t want you here,’” said Quaglia.

The Binghamton sophomore learned quite a bit from Walton, in particular the formula it takes to win a state championship.

“It’s the people getting fourth, fifth and sixth places that won state meet for us,” Quaglia said. “He made sure [if] people seeded lower stepped up, we would win.”

However, it was Quaglia’s thrash with Millett in the 2-mile that sticks out most when Walton recalls that meet, one of the defining moments in his long career.

“That was amazing. What really made Casey was the guy who chased him; it took everything he had to beat him,” Walton said.

“When you go to a state meet, there’s 29 schools down there and only two teams walk away with the trophy. The thing is, if you look at that perspective, to really get to that top is a wonder because it’s very competitive.”

It turned out everyone who donned crimson and red that February afternoon in Lewiston played key roles in delivering Walton his long-awaited championship.

Following the footsteps

Maine’s track landscape is flooded with coaches who followed the same career path as their legendary bosses.

Falmouth’s Jorma Kurry, who was a standout distance runner for Bangor from 1987 to 1989, is a prime example of that.

Kurry’s Falmouth teams have been among the state’s well-respected programs, and the Yachtsmen boys have won the last three Class B indoor state championships, success that Kurry owes to Walton.

“[Walton] was a very encouraging coach. No matter who the athlete [was], he was always very encouraging,” said Kurry, who also coaches cross country and outdoor track and teaches math at Falmouth.

Kurry has a great deal of respect for his former coach, particularly because he has stuck with such a demanding job for so many years.

“I remember coming home after midnight on a consistent basis,” Kurry said. “It’s a demanding job. It’s amazing he’s coached for that long.”

Another former Walton runner, Joe Capehart, is the cross country and indoor track and field coach at John Bapst.

Walton also knows how to make practices fun.

A couple of years ago, the Bangor boys made T-shirts for the EMITL championships with Walton’s face on the front and his signature practice quote: “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

According to Masters, what Walton would do was jog in front of the Rams during their warm-up lap in the school hallway chanting “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

“The best way [to get the Rams motivated] was to be 70 years old and beat a bunch of high school kids in the warm-up lap,” Masters joked.

It’s certainly not an easy task handling 70 to 80 athletes on a daily basis.

However, Walton has had a great deal of help from assistants Jamie Cooke and Peter Sund.

And the administration at Bangor, spearheaded by athletic director Steve Vanidestine, who coached the Rams’ indoor teams in the early 1980s before Walton took over, has been instrumental over the years.

“I had tremendous support from the administration. Steve Vanidestine and the administration at Bangor have been very, very supportive,” Walton said.

He added that Bangor, like many schools around the region, values track and field just as highly as sports such as football, basketball and baseball, which has made Walton’s job a lot easier over the years.

His students also have motivated him to keep plugging away on the track and in the classroom.

“I think the people that I have worked with and the students that I have had have treated me wonderful, they’re very supportive, and I think that that helped an awful lot,” Walton said.

Perfect timing

Walton says the timing of his final season in the coaching ranks couldn’t have been better.

He retired from teaching at the end of the 1999-2000 school year, his 42nd year in education, but wanting to reach the 50-year plateau and with the passion he has for track and field, he decided to keep his stopwatch around his neck.

However, after this season comes to an end in February, Walton feels it will be time for a changing of the guard in Bangor track.

“It’s time,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons is that I have [assistants] Peter Sund and Jamie Cooke and they’re young coaches and they’re very good. I’ve got to give them a chance.”

Walton added that he may help the Rams beyond this season in a volunteer assistant capacity.

Things have changed vastly between 1984, when Walton led his first Rams indoor team into the UM field house, and today.

For example, the days of hand timing are gone. The EMITL fields some of the best officials in the state in one of Walton’s longtime colleagues, Dave Jeffrey, who along with Glendon Rand does FinishLynx electronic timing and announces at the EMITL championships, and Mary Cady, who as league director runs a formidable ship.

“Without them [the league] just wouldn’t exist. They have bent over backwards, contributed tremendously,” Walton said.

Bangor, Brewer and Hampden Academy have dominated the EMITL landscape over the last decade, which isn’t expected to change anytime soon.

Walton’s Bangor boys have won the last four EMITL titles, and it’s a safe bet they’d love to send their coach out with a fifth in a row.

His boys and girls have won 12 EMITL championships, including nine this decade.

If there’s one piece of advice that he has for whomever follows in his footsteps, it’s that they should know the technical aspects of events such as the pole vault, long jump and triple jump.

“What really needs to be done in the Bangor program is [to have] someone who knows the skills,” Walton said.

A final memory Walton will always cherish is the 1981 Class A Sectional Cross Country Championship meet in Caribou, where his Bangor boys went in as underdogs and came out on top, running in 6 inches of snow.

“We went to Caribou, my hometown, we were the underdogs, and we had a very young team,” he recalled.

rmclaughlin@bangordailynews.net

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