DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Gene Philpot, who has coached the Foxcroft Academy field hockey team to more than 350 wins during a career that spans 35-plus years, has taken a temporary leave of absence from coaching and teaching physical education at the school.
Philpot could not be reached for comment and Foxcroft Academy athletic director Tim Smith wouldn’t divulge the reasons behind her leave of absence out of respect to her.
“But she is planning to return to work and coaching. There’s no target date. She’ll come back when she’s ready,” said Tim Smith.
Stephanie (Higgins) Smith, who was inducted into the Foxcroft Academy Sports Hall of Fame last year, is filling in as the head coach and has guided the Ponies to a 2-0 start.
Tim Smith contacted Stephanie Smith after Philpot asked for the leave of absence during the second week of preseason.
He knew Stephanie Smith had started the field hockey program at Bangor’s John Bapst High School in 1992 after graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she played basketball and softball in addition to field hockey, just as she did in high school.
Tim Smith also pointed out that Stephanie Smith, who lives in Dover-Foxcroft, accompanied members of the field hockey team to some clinics and games at the University of Maine in Orono last winter. Varsity coaches aren’t allowed to attend, he said.
The Smiths and their families are longtime friends.
Tim Smith chose not to elevate the JV coach because Danika Brown is in her first year with the program and is also doing her student-teaching at Foxcroft. She is a UMaine student.
“The thing that made it more challenging was I knew we had a very good team and we needed to find somebody who could enable them to reach their potential,” said Tim Smith.
“When Tim called, my first reaction was ‘absolutely not,’” said Stephanie Smith, who works in Skowhegan. “But I talked to my boss to see if we could work it out and we were able to.
“I certainly wanted to help Gene out. She was my high school coach and she was also my mentor. She was the one who encouraged me to take the position at John Bapst.”
“We got lucky,” said Tim Smith. “Stephanie is an excellent coach. She loves coaching and she loves the school. She knew we’re in a pickle. She just had to clear it with her work and they were very supportive.”
The Ponies are 2-0 with Smith at the helm, a 3-0 win over Hermon and 5-0 victory over Central of Corinth.
“We’ve made the best out of a difficult situation,” said Tim Smith.
Tim Smith has been pleased with Stephanie Smith’s performance to date and she said she is enjoying her team.
“It’s a great group of girls. They’re motivated and intelligent. It’s fun,” said Stephanie Smith. “It has been an adjustment. The girls are improving and adjusting to the change. Gene and I have different styles.
“I’m very thankful I can help out,” added the mother of two.