BREWER, Maine — With their shared status as recent retirees, Dennis Kiah and Phil Pushard could have been content this spring with checking out the early bird specials at the local eateries, making sure they had the cleanest golf clubs around and re-organizing their garages a few more times.
But their competitive backgrounds and interest in teaching has led them back to school as assistant coaches for Brewer High School varsity baseball team.
Head coach Dana Corey’s Witches began their preseason regimen Monday afternoon with the first practice for pitchers and catchers.
“It is exciting as heck, I couldn’t wait for this day to start,” said Pushard, who retired in January from a 27-year career as a Maine State Police trooper.
Kiah retired as Brewer’s athletic administrator last June to end his 41-year career in education — albeit temporarily — because there was little doubt that both he and Pushard would continue their lifelong relationship with sports and the kids who play them.
“I’ve always missed coaching,” said Kiah, who began his career as a teacher and coach at Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft during the mid-1970s and also coached at Brewer and at the American Legion level before his work took an administrative turn. “I enjoy teaching the games, and this winter when I was scoring one of the basketball games at the high school Dana came up to me and asked if I’d consider coming out of retirement.
“So I went home and spoke with my wife, and after having been with her for a couple of months since I retired she thought it was a great idea.”
Pushard also has been around the Brewer sports scene for many years — Kiah was his freshman baseball coach at the high school in 1977.
Most recently, he coached middle-school baseball for the last seven years, and he serves as an assistant basketball coach at the high school level.
Pushard also was part of the coaching staff that guided Brewer to a berth in the 2011 Senior League World Series.
“I started coaching baseball 16 or 17 years ago with tee ball, and worked my way up and have been fortunate to be around many great baseball teachers,” said Pushard, acknowledging the likes of Corey, Kiah, former Brewer coach Dick DeVarney and the late “Slip” Corey, Dana’s father and a founding member of the Brewer Little League in 1954.
Dana Corey, entering his fourth year as Brewer’s varsity baseball coach after serving as an assistant coach at his alma mater, is excited about the new additions to his staff.
“This year we have the best set of coaches that I can remember in a long, long time as far as going all the way down through,” Corey said. “I feel very fortunate to have Dennis come back. I’ve kidded him for years about how he and I had to coach together. We had played together before and everything else, but we had never coached together.”
Corey believes the experience his new assistants bring to the team, as well as their ability to relate to the players while providing instruction, will be invaluable in helping the Witches pursue an Eastern Maine Class A postseason berth.
“I just spoke to the players about Dennis and his discipline and his knowledge, and the other thing he brings is loyalty,” said Corey. “He’ll be loyal to the kids, he’s loyal to the school, he’s loyal to his friends and he’s loyal to his coaches.
“Phil knows all the kids, he’s been around them, he knows a lot about them and he’s full of energy. He’s able to crack a joke, he’s able to make a good point, he’s willing to do anything. We’re all willing to do what we need to do to learn, and when you’ve got people that are willing to learn and then pass it on, you’ve got something special.”
Dave Utterback, who was the head baseball coach at Old Town High School until stepping down last summer after being hired to replace Kiah as Brewer’s athletic administrator, similarly is upbeat about a varsity coaching staff that also includes Chris McGrath, whose duties include throwing batting practice and compiling statistics.
“They bring a lot of experience to these kids,” Utterback said. “And no matter which coach they go to for advice, they’re going to get years worth of playing and coaching experience in that advice.
“Coming from my own baseball background, we couldn’t have done any better than what we have now with the baseball coaching staff here. This is a strong group of coaches, and not just good coaches but good people, which is what you want to have around your kids every day.”
But all the commitment to the baseball program does not necessarily mean Kiah and Pushard won’t also share an occasional early bird special given the chance.
“I never realized when I got involved in middle school coaching how much of a release it was, because the boys didn’t care about work and who I arrested or whatever the case may be,” Pushard said. “It was a huge release to do that, and, of course, I love baseball anyway.
“So now to get the chance to do this and not even have to think about work is just extra special. Coach Kiah and I have joked about getting together before practice at noon or 11, go have a cup of coffee and then go and work on the field. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Unfortunately for Corey, he won’t be able to share in those get-togethers. He’s still working.
“I’m jealous,” he said. “I’ve got a son in the eighth grade who will be coming up through soon, so it will be a long time before I retire and hopefully a long time before I retire from coaching sports, but having Dennis and Phil around is certainly going to be a big, big help.”