BY ROBBY MACDONALD
SPECIAL TO THE BDN
Former students and peers are remembering longtime coach and teacher Bobbi Stoyell for her compassion, patience and teaching skills.
Stoyell died recently in Old Town at age 66 after a second battle with breast cancer.
She taught physical education at Bangor High School for many years and her true love and passion were in swimming and diving. She coached diving at Bangor High and Old Town for more than 25 years and had several state-champion divers.
“It wasn’t just about diving. Bobbi understood diving was a pathway to teach qualities important for life,” Bangor swim coach Phil Emery said. “The divers were her children so to speak. She cared for each of them.”
In 1993, during a 13-year period (1984-1997) when Old Town High won 13 state championships under the leadership of David Ploch and diving coach Stoyell, the boys’ diving team returned talented divers and some promising newcomers along with boys who had no knowledge of how to execute a dive. The diving roster was full, but Stoyell found room for one more, recalled Jarrett Lizotte, a junior member of the team, who now coaches diving at Bangor High and teaches physical education in Glenburn.
“Bobbi had amazing patience with anyone and everyone. She would teach anyone,” Lizotte noted.
So, that year when the fullback/linebacker from the Old Town football team expressed an interest in diving, Stoyell coached him, exercising, according to Lizotte, remarkable patience.
Her patience and teaching skills, as they so often did during her diving coaching career at Old Town and then later at Bangor, resulted in success for students and did so also for Lizotte. The transition from ripping through tackles to ripping a dive entry became complete when Lizotte finished third in the state meet.
“Everything she told us, we believed as though it was in stone. She believed in us and in herself. She inspired confidence in us,” Lizotte recalled.
And, when unexpected failings marked competitions or practices, Stoyell’s ability to instill confidence in her divers did not waiver, Lizotte said.
Lizotte recalled an incident in practice where the divers’ confidence could have been shaken.
“During a meet warmup, a diver struck the board. She remained calm and cool. Her calmness settled us,” Lizotte said.
Stoyell’s response after attending to the diver still remains with Lizotte: “Well, that didn’t work well. Let’s give it another try.”
It was common to hear “let’s give it another try,” Lizotte said.
“She wanted us to succeed and we wanted to do well for her. We knew we finally had it right when all she would say is point your toes,” he said.
It was Stoyell’s patience, her technical knowledge, her understanding of the art of teaching and her sensitivity to each of her divers that helped former Bangor High diver, Emma Chaiken. She was able to successfully overcome, at a defining moment in her development as a diver, one of a diver’s challenges, the mental block often associated with a dive.
“I had a mind block on a reverse dive. I had gone to camps and clinics to work through the block. I just could not do the dive,” she recalled.
Since a reverse dive is required in competition, Chaiken had failed the dive in meets.
“Coach knew I did not want to fail in another meet,” Chaiken said. “She had thrown me off the board in practice and we had practiced on the side of the pool. I wasn’t getting it.”
Because she understood her divers not only technically as divers but also as individuals, Stoyell identified the remedy for Chaiken to combat the mental block. Stoyell entered Chaiken in an 11-dive meet requiring execution of two reverse dives.
“She promised me if I did the dive, she would dive off the board,” Chaiken said.
In a masterful move, Stoyell set the harder of the two reverse dives before the simpler one, which was the primary barrier. Executing the first reverse gave Chaiken the confidence to execute the second one, overcoming the mental block on the dive.
“The next practice, Coach got up on the board and jumped in,” said Chaiken, now a diver at Wheaton College. “She expected the best of you and never gave up on you. When you met your goal, she celebrated with you.”
The celebrations were always about the athletes, Emery added.
“She liked to have the swimmers and divers recognized for their achievements. She did not want the recognition. When her athletes were recognized, she always stayed in the background,” Emery noted.
There was one celebration in which she always participated.
“When we won the state championship, the Bangor tradition was the coaches dive off the board or swim a length under water. She never balked at joining in. She enjoyed it,” Emery said.
For Stoyell, coaching was more than teaching dives and preparing for competitions.
“She could do all aspects of coaching very well,” Ploch, a member of the Maine Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame, said. “She was able to move things forward in their time. There was never a hurry or a rush.”
Emery added, “Bobbi’s greatest legacy was how much she cared about each one of her divers. She always had time for her divers. If they were needing someone on an personal matter or further instruction on a dive, Bobbi was there for them.”
In fact, her willingness to support developing divers extended beyond her own team. One year, following the departure of the Bangor diving coach prior to the Class A state meet, Stoyell accompanied a Bangor diver to the state meet, coached him, and then the next day coached her Old Town divers in the Class B state meet.
Her depth of caring and of investment made an impression with Chaiken.
“One of the boy divers on our team became sick and was hospitalized. She helped us write notes and make things to take him while he was hospitalized. She really cared about each of us,” Chaiken said.
Lizotte is just one of Stoyell’s divers who recognizes her influence on his life.
“She instilled in me an interest in coaching and teaching. I saw how she did it and I try to teach my students and to coach displaying the qualities I saw in her,” he said.
Hearing Lizotte’s powerful testimony on Stoyell’s influence in his life, one understands his characterization of her, shared by many whom dived for her or coached with her.
“She was a great coach, a great mentor, and a great friend,” Lizotte said.