ORONO — The scene at Orono High School on Wednesday afternoon was a highly emotional one as the Red Riots’ tightly-knit athletic community came together to remember Orono boys soccer coach and teacher Larry Berthiaume.
Berthiaume, one of Eastern Maine’s most respected coaches who had a knack for diligently preparing his teams, died of pancreatic canter in June at age 53.
Before the Red Riots played Dexter in their home opener, a ceremony was held to honor the late coach, with the Orono players and Berthiaume’s widow, Cathy, and daughter, Angie, alongside Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer, while all the other Red Riot teams took time out of their practices to pay their respects.
The tribute included Cathy and Angie being presented with flowers, which were planted in a garden commemorating Berthiaume following Wednesday’s game, a 1-0 Orono victory.
“This was a very touching tribute to my husband. He would’ve been really proud,” said Cathy Berthiaume. “He got a chance to see this garden before he passed away and this was just an amazing tribute to him.”
When the Red Riots were warming up, the players wore T-shirts with their late mentor’s name on the back while Orono coaches Waldo Caballero and Ben Poland donned them for the entire game.
“The shirts the boys have on with Berthiaume on, it’s just amazing,” Cathy Berthiaume said.
During the ceremony, Orono principal Jim Chasse read an exert honoring Berthiaume.
This marks the second time in two years an Orono sports team has had to play with heavy hearts, as the Red Riot community had to deal with the death of former athlete Collin Bates last fall, with the school’s girls soccer team wearing “Bates” armbands in his memory, as his sister, Alyssa, was a senior on that squad.
The boys are doing a similar tribute this season, with the initials “LB” on their bands.
When it came time to take the field, the Red Riots came out flying and played hard, aggressive soccer, controlling play and dictating possession.
“We wanted to come out flying as a team, we knew there would be a good crowd to support us,” senior captain Phil Holmes said. “We knew we had to represent the town, really just come out as a team and put forth the best effort we could.”
The emotional, hard-working Riots were stuffed numerous times by talented Dexter goalkeeper Vincent Malinaukas throughout the first half, but Miguel Caballero, one of two sons Waldo Caballero has on the team, took advantage of an opportunity in the final 10 minutes of the half.
The Riots were awarded a penalty kick after a foul in the penalty area, and Caballero subsequently sent the shot to Malinaukas’ right for the game’s only goal.
Waldo Caballero was a bit concerned how his team would come out given the circumstances, but as the game wore on, the Riots settled in a lot more.
“The entire first half was pretty hard for them, the second half we came out a little bit more fresh, and we cleared our thoughts a little bit better,” Caballero said.
Even though the Riots certainly wanted the victory for Berthiaume, that’s not the way their late leader would’ve wanted them to handle the match as he would want them focusing on their team.
“We definitely played with him in our hearts but this season’s not dedicated to him, it’s for us, and that’s how he would’ve wanted us to play,” said fullback Phil Benoit. “He was that kind of guy. We’ll play with coach B in our mind and in our heart.”
There were few dry eyes during the ceremony, and that only bolstered the Red Riots’ drive.
“I feel like the ceremony gave us a little bit of mixed emotions to say the least,” Benoit said. “I feel like we did a lot of things right, we controlled the ball for the most part but (there were) a lot of defensive breakdowns we can’t afford to have.”
Orono had a couple of chances to pad its lead late in the match, but had one goal disallowed by a foul and another by an offsides call, while goalkeeper Alex Caballero, also the coach’s son, made some solid saves to preserve the victory.
Even though the Riots are still grieving, they know they still have to go out and play the game.
“It’s a little tough to have a coach die on you like that, but we got to play the game and we’ve got to remember him and those are two different parts of life,” explained midfielder Nick Peterson.
Cathy Berthiaume said her husband would’ve been touched by the tribute, just like he was when the commemorative garden just behind Orono’s bench was unveiled last spring.
“He was beside himself, he was just speechless, Larry was never speechless,” she said. “It just amazes me how much (the kids) loved him and he loved them just as much. They’re all like his children.”
Peterson thinks the garden was a touching way to honor his coach.
“It’s good to have that memorial for him, he was a great coach, great teacher, great mentor,” Peterson said.
Cloudy skies hovered above Orono’s field for most of the match, but as the clock wound down and the horn sounded, upping the Red Riots’ record to 3-0, the sun broke through.
Malinaukas came up with 18 saves on 19 shots for Dexter, which falls to 1-3-1 while Alex Caballero collected six saves on six Tiger shots.