AUGUSTA — As Dick McGee stood at the podium and looked out over a crowd that included his family, former players, assistant coaches and colleagues at the Augusta Civic Center Sunday, he repeated the words, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” over and over again.
He was talking about the Maine sports community, which was the outlet through which he exercised his tremendous leadership qualities and class as a player and coach for many years. These qualities were recognized at the 36th annual Maine Sports Hall of Fame awards banquet where Fairfield native McGee was one of a prestigious class of six inductees.
“It has been long overdue for my father, he’s had a tremendous career,” said McGee’s son Mike, who is the longtime boys varsity basketball coach at Lawrence High in Fairfield. “He touched a lot of lives and taught that it’s not about winning, but about the relationships you gain.”
Other inductees included former Madison High School and Lawrence High football coach Earle “Pete” Cooper of Fairfield, Art Dyer of Orrs Island, a former boys basketball coach at both Medomak Valley of Thomaston and Westbrook, former standout Rumford basketball player Doug Roberts of Springvale, former Winslow High hockey and football coach Harold “Tank” Violette of Winslow, and two-time snowboard cross Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott of Carrabassett Valley.
McGee grew up in Providence, R.I., where his father coached the Providence College football team and where both of his brothers went to school.
After being convinced to take a trip to the University of Maine by the manager of a semi-pro football team he was playing for, McGee was sold that Maine was the place he wanted to play and coach sports.
After playing for the UMaine football team, he took a coaching position at Lawrence High, where he inherited a team that had a record of 1-26 before his arrival. He built the Lawrence program from the ground up and the team went 8-1 in his first season.
McGee enjoyed a two-year stint at Bowdoin College as the football and lacrosse coach before taking the head football coaching position at Colby College, a position he held from 1967-78. McGee’s best year at Colby was 1971, when he led the Mules to a 7-1 record.
He won the Maine High School Coach of the Year in 1964, as well as the New England College Coach of the Year in 1972, and is what master of ceremonies Bill Haggett called, “A Hall of Fame type of guy.”
“Dick is my mentor and is one of the great men on the planet. There isn’t a nicer person out there,” said Dick Whitmore, who recently retired as the Colby men’s basketball coach and is a 1998 hall inductee.
McGee referenced former UMaine football coach Harold Westerman as one of his mentors as a player and a coach, saying he “influenced you on life.”
Dyer was recognized for his 32-year career coaching high school basketball at Medomak and Westbrook, during which his teams went 336-50 and captured five Western Maine championships and three gold balls. He was feeling at home with the all the familiar faces supporting him Sunday.
“It’s nice to celebrate with family, friends, and former players, Things like this force you to look back and it has made me realize I have a lot of people to be thankful for,” he said.
“There have been so many coaches out there that I’ve dissected the game with and shared philosophies and X’s and O’s with, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank them,” he added.
Dyer, Cooper, and Violette cited the hard-nosed, do-anything-to-win type of athletes in the communities they coached in was a truly special thing they’ll always appreciate.
“My respect for Madison and Lawrence will never waver. They are tough, they never give up on a play, and they’re great people.,” Cooper said.
“The support of the community and the athletic commitment Winslow displays is unbelievable, and the kids are willing to do whatever it takes, so I was very lucky,” said Violette, who won six state championships in hockey and five in football at Winslow.
Wescott was the last inductee to speak at the banquet and was emotional.
“When I was on the podium in Turin (Italy) looking at the flag, I knew that my accomplishment wasn’t only for this country, but for this state, and I look forward to a chance to do it one more time for Maine,” he said.
Even though McGee is retired and now in the Hall of Fame, he still plans to visit the playing field.
“Maine will always be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I feel very fortunate to be honored here today,” McGee said. “And I will still remain a spectator at Lawrence on Friday nights, and at Colby on Saturdays.”
Along with the Class of 2011 hall inductees, five Maine high school student-athletes were each awarded a $5,000 scholarship from the Hall of Fame for their outstanding performances in the classroom, on the field and in the community. The recipients included Evan Nadeau of Brewer High, Taylor Seeley of Washington Academy in East Machias, Mike McCann of Winslow, Kaitlyn Hall of Thornton Academy in Saco, and Caroline Summa of Cheverus in Portland.